Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can One be a Liberal and a Zionist without being a Liberal Zionist?

Can one be a liberal (or: progressive) and a Zionist? The debate has been going on for some time now, and recent entries in the debate on the +972mag by Joseph Dana, Larry Derfner, and Abir Kopty, are worth reading.

What’s interesting is that both the advocates and detractors of liberal Zionism agree that there is an inherent contradiction between being liberal and being Zionist. Derfner considers himself a liberal, one who believes, for example, in civic equality, but there are times when his allegiance to the statist self-determination of the Jewish people trumps his liberalism. There is nothing wrong or inconsistent with attaching different weight to competing values.  

I don’t agree with the premise that there is an inherent contradiction between being liberal and being Zionist.  But that’s because of how I understand those terms.

Zionism for me involves a cluster of beliefs and attitudes that contain the following:

a) I am conscious of being part of a Jewish people, and that consciousness provides something meaningful within my life;  

b) As a member of this people, I am conscious of a religious/historical connection to the land of Israel/Palestine

c) The growth of Hebrew culture in Israel/Palestine, that began in the twentieth century, has been, on the whole, positive for the Jewish people, and compatible with the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestine Arabs.

d) The legitimate self-determination of the Jewish people requires nothing more than the ability for the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, within  the limits of a liberal, civic framework.

I find these views compatible with various political arrangements in Israel/Palestine. They are certainly compatible with a one state,  binational framework, and arguably compatible with a national Jewish minority status within a Palestinian state, with rights guaranteed by a constitution.

Still, these principles return us to the arguments within the Zionist movement in the 1920s and 1930s, before the Zionist movement made the (wrong, in my opinion) turn towards ethnic statism in the early 1940s. They are controversial, certainly from a Palestinian standpoint. Particularly problematic is c) which rests on Jewish immigration  – although, it is important to point out that most of the key institutions of the revival of Hebrew culture predated the Jewish state, and were not opposed by the Palestinian leadership.

In any event, we are not in the 1930s. There are now around five and a half million Jews in Israel/Palestine.  The overwhelming majority of Palestinians and Arabs, including the Hamas party, accept the physical presence of Jews within Palestine; their problems are more with a Jewish ethnic state.

I do not accept other principles, which may now be dogmas, of Zionism.  I certainly don’t accept the view that the self-determination of the Jewish people trumps the self-determination of the Palestinian people, or that it justified immigration against the wishes of the Palestinian population, much less the formation of an ethnic exclusivist state with quasi-racist laws and provisions that are unparalleled in liberal, decent societies.

Of course, there will be many whose view of Zionism is such that they won’t consider me to be a Zionist.  They will say that my Zionism is so attenuated as not to be worthy of the name.  And they may be right; the fact that there is historical precedent for my brand of Zionism may not cut the mustard for them.

Whatever. At least folks will know why this blog is called the Magnes Zionist

Monday, November 28, 2011

J. J. Goldberg Should Seek Another "Occupation"

The New York Times Op-Ed page has always been a comfortable place for liberal Zionists, those who genuinely bemoan the 1967 Occupation, the settlements, and its effect on both Palestinians and Israel.  When op-ed writers stray too far from the Zionist consensus, i.e., when they air too much of Israel's dirty linen before the goyim (in New York?), the Times routinely publishes letters defending Israel, and bravo for them. Even this amount of courage on their part loses readers, although, frankly, are there any rightwing Zionists reading the New York Times anymore?

In short, opinion on Israel in the New York Times ranges from progressive Zionist  to liberal hawk Zionist, mostly of the Democratic persuasion. You won't see any regular columnists on Israel who are not Zionist. You barely hear pro-Palestinian voices (unless they are close to the Palestinian Authority or the American Task Force on Palestine,)

Occasionally, though, the Times lets an op-ed through that is actually tough on Israel, and not just on the post-1967 Occupation. Two such cases recently raised the ire of liberal Zionists like the Forward's  J. J. Goldberg and AJC's David Harris (the former is a progressive Zionist; the latter, a liberal hawk Zionist), who, like other liberal Zionists, monitor how much criticism Israel is allowed to get from the paper of record.

The first was an op-ed published by Sarah Schulman about what has been known for some time as "pinkwashing", the trumpeting of Israel's recent record on gay rights as a hasbara tool to deflect criticism on other human rights issues.  In that article, Prof. Schulman cited Prof. Ayal Gross of the Tel Aviv University to the effect that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.” Schulman did not deny that Israel was a better place for gays than elsewhere in the Middle East, only that the
gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration. 
I won't spend much time on David Harris's piece, which shows clearly that he hadn't heard of "pinkwashing" before he read Schulman's op-ed.   The academic who has written about it in the context of what he calls "homonationalism" is Prof. Aeyal Gross of Tel Aviv University. (Gross has a  representative  piece here that will provide some background for Harris, who seems strangely out of touch with the Israeli human rights scene, unless he only reads the New York Times. By the way, Gross himself finds the term "pinkwashing" inaccurate, because, unlike "whitewashing," which implies concealing the truth, there has been relative progress in LGBT rights.)

Harris is thus  unaware of how the Israel recent record on gay rights has been appropriated in recent years by Israel advocacy groups like Stand-With-Us to shore up support for Israel in the  LGBT community, and the Israeli government's encouragement of this. Israel's position here is consistent with its natural desire to garner support with other groups of all persuasions, whether homophiliac or  homophobic, such as evangelical Christians. When it comes to alliances, Israel has always found itself with incompatible bedfellows.

Israel advocacy in  LGBT circles  is a good way of weakening criticism in groups that tend to be leftwing. In a sense, the strategy is reminiscent of Israel's "divine-and-conquer" approch to Israeli Arabs.  By fostering Druze identity, and playing Druze off against their erstwhile Muslim persecutors, Israel attempted with some success to slow the progress of a Palestinian national identity. Why can't the same approach be tried in a leftwing community like the LGBT community, where if Israel can pick up support among mainstream gays who really don't give a hoot for anything outside their parochial interest, why not? And why should David Harris be opposed to this?

Actually, my main gripe is with J. J. Goldberg, who attacks -- get this -- the headline of a piece he likes, Gershom Gorenberg's op-ed against the increasing delegitimization of Palestinian Israelis. The headline, "Israel's Other Occupation," is a bone-headed mistake, according to Goldberg,  because it implies that Israel is occupying territory "within its own internationally recognized borders." Apparently the editor of the Op-Ed page,  put down by Goldberg as "a former fashion and culture maven," simply doesn't understand the Middle East.

The only problem for Goldberg is that Israel has no internationally recognized border. Nor did it ever have. In fact, it never wanted them, and  David Ben Gurion saw  its lack of recognized borders as an advantage, since it gave him negotiating power in future peace talks.  Liberal Zionists like to mislead themselves into thinking that the 1949 armistice lines are recognized borders, but I will be happy to donate money to the Forward if Goldberg can show me serious, diplomatic support of his claim.  In fact, even the UN Partition Plan borders are not recognized borders for the Jewish State, since they never existed except on paper. When the State of Israel was recognized by many countries, and later when it was accepted into the United Nations, there was no claim that these were Israel's borders, and that it was inappropriate for the Palestinians and bordering Arab countries to contest these borders. Can a state without borders be recognized?

Ask Mahmoud Abbas that one.

Ah, you will say, this is pilpul, Talmudic hair-splitting. Even if there are no recognized borders, everybody recognizes that the lands on which the Palestinians sit belong to the State of Israel. However, that is not so simple. Let's not forget that the Palestinian citizens of Israel had their much of their land systematically taken away from them after 1948, often in expropriation, or in land purchases against their will -- and Jews were settled on those lands, or forests were planted after razing villages. While that may  not be "occupation," it is not far from the situation of the Palestinians on the West Bank, with all the differences in status between the two Palestinian populations. And there is something else that they share, and is missed in Goldberg's reference to "ethnic discrimination" -- the feeling of official and foundational exclusion from the state that governs their lives without their having any control over those lives in key areas. Israeli Arabs have the vote, but their vote has no political weight. Palestinians in the territories do not have any vote over policies that directly control their daily lives.

The truth is that the term "occupation" is problematic  both in the case of the Palestinian Israelis and in the case of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. "Occupation" is, as Goldberg points out, used with reference to territory, but the terms that are  relevant here are "domination" and "control. In fact, Israel provides three models of control, or, perhaps four models, corresponding with the four types of Palestinian populations: exile and dispossession (Palestinian diaspora); remote military control (Gaza); direct and indirect rule (West Bank); and curtailment of civil rights based on exclusion from the nation (49 armistice lines).    All this control is necessary, argues Israel, for the sake of its security and in order to guarantee the ethnic character of the state. And, quite frankly, most liberal Zionists don't dispute this. They have no desire for direct control over the lives of Palestinians, but they insist that Israel's security requires some persistent measure of control over a potentially hostile population.

Potentially hostile or enemy populations are often occupied. As long as poll after poll show that the majority of Israelis view Palestinian Israelis as potentially or actually hostile, or an enemy fifth column, they can certainly be considered occupied. The answer for Palestinians, both inside and outside of the 49 armistice lines, is to grant them equal rights, equal authority, and equal dignity.

The political framework is not the issue. Let it be two states, one state, no state, many states. The real issue is ending the control of  the Palestinians's life, liberty, and property -- on both sides of the Green Line.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ben Gurion University's Persecution of Idan Landau

Some of my loyal readers have noticed that I have not blogged for a long time, almost a month. I should explain.

I am now the Director of one of the largest university Jewish Studies programs in the country, and I have no time for anything "extra-curricular" as I learn how to do my job in the best manner possible. I am also working in my almost non-existent spare time on an article for a book entitled, After Zionism. (My chapter is tentatively entitled, "Zionism After Israel". I have decided that Israeli Post-Zionism is soooo 1980's, and that it is now the time for Zionist Post-Israelism.)

Much of my writing has been motivated by moral outrage. But it is hard to keep the story-line fresh if moral outrage is a never ending experience. Whether it is an AP story about how the Gazans cannot press claims against the IDF for Operation Cast Lead because they are not allowed to travel to courts within Israel, or because they are asked to pay ridiculous sums of money to cover court fees; or whether it is an unfortunate New York Times Op-Ed by Justice Richard Goldstone that repeats Israeli talking points and makes NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg happy; or whether it is the hypocrisy of the Israel Lobby-castrated Obama Administration, which works hard behind the scenes to thwart the Palestinian Authority's UN bid in the name of a dead peace process, and "deplores" Israel's continuing expansion of settlements; whether it is the proposed law in the Knesset to tax or limit or control foreign grants to Israeli human-rights NGOs, while right-wing "Jewish-rights" NGOs hide their donors from the public view....the list goes on and on.

So I will just come out of my burrow to express solidarity for my colleague and cohort, the linguist (and blogger) Prof. Idan Landau. Prof. Landau once again refused to do his reserve duty on the West Bank, and for this he was sent again to jail this past May for a week. He took his research with him, and arranged makeup classes for his students. When he returned, he discovered that he had been docked his salary by Ben Gurion University. On what grounds? The university said that since he was in jail, he wasn't doing what he was paid for, which was to conduct research. When it was pointed out to the university that he had taken his books to jail, the university said that National Insurance did not pay compensation to the university for the time lost, which is what is done for academics who do their reserve duty. When it was pointed out to the university that it didn't need to be compensated since Landau was doing his job off campus (not unknown for, oh, virtually everybody who works at a university anywhere in the world), the university had no response.

Landau is now not only defended by the Faculty Committee but by such noted neoconservatives like Ruth Gavison. After all, Gavison must realize that the point of Ben Gurion's exercise is to punish its lecturer for his refusal to guard illegal West Bank outposts, and not to dock his pay because he is studying linguistics off-campus.

Idan Landau is not only suffering for his own "sins" -- he went to jail for that -- but for the "sins" of Neve Gordon, Oren Yiftachel, Lev Grinberg, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, and lesser known leftwingers that cost the university donations.

Landau should sue the pants off of BGU and its president, Rivka Carmy. At the very least he should force a retraction and an apology from the institution. Until the university installs webcams and gps's to follow and monitor the movements of the faculty, the only way they can know whether research has been conducted is when the faculty fills out its annual reports.

But, of course, I am talking rationally -- the last thing to do when conversing with a patriotic ideologue like Prof. Rivka Carmy.