Liberal Zionists have always been caught between the rock of criticizing Zionist injustice towards the native Palestinians and the hard place of keeping that criticism within the family. The few times that a liberal Zionist critique went outside the family (e.g., J Street’s criticism of Israel’s human rights violations at the beginning of the Gaza Op), a crack of the communal whip brought the liberal group back into the fold. The self-deception of being able to influence the mainstream from within, together with tribal loyalty, has always made liberal Zionists much more Zionist than liberal.
Optimist that I am, I thought the younger generation of liberal Zionists was different. These young activists seemed to have none of the self-induced neuroses of the 67-generation, those of us who had been taught to believe that Israel was on the brink of extinction before the Six Day War, a tiny David surrounded by murderous Arab states (a myth put to rest by historian Avi Shlaim, inter alia, in The Iron Wall.) Unlike their parents, the millennial generation of liberal Zionists had grown up with a powerful Israel that built illegal settlements, collectively punished Palestinians, erected walls ostensibly for security, but actually for more expropriation of land. These young people listened avidly to the testimonies of the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and in some instances were willing to cosponsor events with Students for Justice in Palestine and other Palestinian rights group. This generation of liberal Zionists may not have endorsed the global BDS movement, but it was not shocked or scandalized by that movement, nor did it see it as anti-Semitic or illegitimate.
Well, at the University of Washington, at least, the scales have fallen from my eyes. At stake was a divestment resolution “to examine [the U of W’s] financial assets to identify its investments in companies that provide equipment or services used to directly maintain, support, or profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” and “instruct its investment managers to divest from those companies meeting such criteria within the bounds of their fiduciary duties.” This was a rather modest proposal, not calling for divestment from Israel companies per se, only divestment from companies that profit from the Occupation. One would have thought, one would have hoped that J Street U would have linked arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its disagreements with them on other points. One would have expected that J Street U would stand with the oppressed, even if it meant being barred from the communal tent. Or one could at least have hoped that J Street U would have said, “No divestment this year, but next year, if the injustice continues, we may reconsider our position.” Or that they would have sat this one out.
Nothing of the kind. J Street U at University of Washington decided to link arms not with the oppressed, not even with Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, but rather with AIPAC and with StandWithUS. In a remarkable show of Jewish unity, J Street U combined with the other “pro-Israel” forces and collectively spat in the faces of the downtrodden and their advocates. To the cheers of the right-wingers, another BDS battle had been won by Israel, and now, certainly, J Street U had earned its place at the Jewish communal table. Mazal tov, J Street U at U Wash!
Just like their parents and their grandparents generations, the progressive Zionists of J Street U wimped out, preferring tribal loyalty to fighting for justice, preferring it even to their own principles. Or perhaps tribal loyalty is their principle. Like a long line of liberal Zionists before them, the negotiations took place not between Jews and Arabs but between Jews and Jews. They complained that the other side was not interested in dialogue. What the other side wanted was not dialogue but joint action. That’s the way the oppressed operate.
J Street U made its choice at the University of Washington, much to the crowing of those who were happy to see the Palestinians in abject defeat. They learned their lesson well -- criticize the tribe, but only from within the tribe. Call for boycott, but only the token “Zionist BDS” of the settlements. Oppose the Occupation, but never, never, even begin to punish Israel for the Occupation. Call for peace now, but make sure that the playing field for the negotiations is skewed in favor of Israel.
And above all, never let the present intolerable injustice get in the way of the illusion of a two-state solution “just around the corner if we only work hard enough.”
I welcome a member of the J Street U at the University of Washington to respond. I was unable to find a statement that differed from the self-congratulations of the mainstream. Tell me why you have not become the “useful idiots,” the liberal fig-leafs, of those who support the people and the mentality that brought us this immoral mess.
My response was too large for this comment section so I wrote it here:
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