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Progressive answers to anti-Zionism — Part 1: A vision of what Israel could be

There are perfectly reasonable, articulate, well-meaning people who share many of the values of progressive Zionists but do not believe the Jewish state should exist.

It is possible to believe this without being anti-Semitic. It is possible to believe this and still denounce protestors against the Jewish state who treat Palestinians suicide bombers as freedom fighters. It is possible to believe this without advocating that Jews currently living in Israel should leave or lose the ability to govern themselves (some one-state advocates are pushing for a federal system).

Too many mainstream Jewish leaders are so appalled by the increasing popularity of anti-Zionism that they want to deprive all of its advocates of all platforms. Sometimes that makes sense, as when arguments against Israel rely on grandiose conspiracy theories about international Jewry that are recycled versions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But dismissing all anti-Zionists as “beyond the pale” is ill-advised. On campuses and on the blogosphere and in polite conversations among educated Americans, this anti-Zionist/anti-Israel train has left the station. It is impossible to call it back. The only response that will help Israel is to explain why it is the wrong train and then offer another, better vehicle to board.

The best essay I have read on this thorny issue is by Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland. Entitled “Is Anti-Zionism Anti-Semitism?” it is included in an indispensable anthology edited by Ron Rosenbaum, Those Who Forget the Past. Alas, I can’t find it anywhere on the Web and I won’t labor to insert most of it here. But suffice it to say that it makes careful distinctions between different kinds of anti-Zionists, culling the alarming ones from those who deserve to be answered:

As the novelist Howard Jacobson puts it, when Jews see an attack on Israel they see an attack on “a version of themselves.” This should at least give anti-Zionists pause: much as they insist that they condemn only Zionists, not Jews, this is not how Jews themselves experience it. The Jewish people has made up its mind since 1945 and it has embraced Zionism. To stand against that idea now is to stand against a core Jewish belief.

Yet we should not use this fact to close down discussion. After all, it’s possible to disagree with someone, even on one of their most closely held principles, without hating them. That should hold true for anti-Zionists; surely they should be allowed to disagree with Zionism without being branded as a hater of Jews. Recall for a moment the Bundists, socialists, and communist Jews of the pre-Holocaust period who believed Jewish redemption would come through revolution rather than return. Were they anti-Semites? Of course not.

What Freeland doesn’t mention, of course, is that many anti-Zionists are Jews. Many of them are furious with Israeli policies and the legacy of Zionism. They do not believe that Israel, in its current form –or, perhaps, in any possible form–has enough of a moral basis to justify their support. Some of them claim the objections they raise are based on decidedly Jewish values.

There was a time when my Labor Zionist parents and grandparents felt compelled to make the case for Zionism and a Jewish homeland, to come up with cogent arguments that could convince fellow Jews as well as the rest of the world. Progressive Zionists should not shirk that responsibility now.

In this post and few others that will follow, I want to suggest some responses to anti-Zionist arguments. These suggestions are offered for the consideration of people who are mortified by the ongoing occupation and the plight of the Palestinians, but believe Jews deserve a state of their own.

Let’s start with some answers to Tony Judt, the NYU professor who has shaken up the intellectual firmament by arguing that Israel is essentially an anachronism and that a single bi-national state is the only answer.

On March 6th, 2007, I participated in a panel discussion jointly hosted by Meretz USA and Ameinu. It focused on recent critical writings on Israel and the American Jewish community by Jimmy Carter and Professors Mearsheimer, Walt and Judt. The response of Meretz USA’s Ralph Seliger to Tony Judt is worth thinking about. Here is a small snippet of his presentation:

…[Judt] opened a new chapter in his public profile with an article in the NY Review of Books on Oct. 23, 2003 called: “Israel: The Alternative.” This instantly made him both more famous and controversial. Let me read a section that gives you the gist:

The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European “enclave” in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded— is rooted in another time and place. Israel, in short, is an anachronism. [Emphasis added by DF]

“In one vital attribute, however, Israel is quite different from previous insecure, defensive microstates born of imperial collapse: it is a democracy. Hence its present dilemma. Thanks to its occupation of the lands conquered in 1967, Israel today faces three unattractive choices. It can dismantle the Jewish settlements in the territories, return to the 1967 state borders within which Jews constitute a clear majority, and thus remain both a Jewish state and a democracy, albeit one with a constitutionally anomalous community of second-class Arab citizens.

“Alternatively, Israel can continue to occupy “Samaria,” “Judea,” and Gaza, whose Arab population—added to that of present-day Israel—will become the demographic majority within five to eight years: in which case Israel will be either a Jewish state (with an ever-larger majority of unenfranchised non-Jews) or it will be a democracy. But logically it cannot be both.

“Or else Israel can keep control of the Occupied Territories but get rid of the overwhelming majority of the Arab population: either by forcible expulsion or else by starving them of land and livelihood, leaving them no option but to go into exile. In this way Israel could indeed remain both Jewish and at least formally democratic: but at the cost of becoming the first modern democracy to conduct full-scale ethnic cleansing as a state project, something which would condemn Israel forever to the status of an outlaw state, an international pariah….”

[Seliger continues]:

I agree with much of this analysis; I don’t doubt that there is an overlap in values and concerns between Prof. Judt and ourselves, but Judt throws the baby out with the bathwater in challenging the legitimacy of any kind of Jewish state — which he defines as “a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded.” But this is not the kind of Jewish state which we in Meretz USA or the Meretz party in Israel support.

I don’t think that our definition would trouble most Labor Zionists or other Zionists either…Meretz supports an Israel that is Jewish in the sense that it respects certain cultural conventions of the Jewish majority of the population: the calendar is influenced by the Jewish week (with the sabbath falling on Saturday, not on Sunday, and the weekend being Friday and Saturday) and that Passover, the High Holy Days, and other Jewish holidays have a significance on a par with Christmas and Easter in this country; Christmas and Easter are not simply honored as religious holidays here, but mainly as cultural conventions of a majority of the US population.

And, vitally important: Meretz supports a Jewish state that is also a state of all its citizens, respecting the aspirations of non-Jewish Israelis to equal rights as citizens. This would mean, for example, that Israeli-Arab towns and neighborhoods should have equal funding for public works and education and that Arab citizens feel an equal stake in Israel as their state — as indicated in Israel’s declaration of Independence: to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex….”

– – –
Now, there is much else that could be said about Judt, notably his advocacy of a one-state solution. Seliger argues against other, specific points the professor has made. But I’ve included that excerpt because it provides something that is often lacking when people try to defend Israel: a credible, moral vision of what Israel could be.

The most troubling anti-Zionist argument is one that treats the entire basis of Israel as an evil ethnic construct, –i.e., it will always confer privileges on a Jewish majority and openly discriminate against an Arab minority. It is insufficient, I think, to respond by pointing to the many other ethnic constructs and national self-definitions that exist throughout the world, and to ask why Jews should not have the same right of self-determination as everyone else. It is not enough to ask why Israel’s accusers are ignoring the practices of so many other states or ethnic groups that are much worse, much less defensible. It is not enough to say, simply, that Jewish refugees had no choice after the Holocaust, there was no place else to go, there was nothing else that could be done, the Jewish state was a moral necessity, but a very high moral price –the dispossession of other people durlng a war for survival– had to be paid for it.

Those familiar are arguments are good ones. But they don’t provide answers to the specific problems currently faced by Israel’s Arab citizens or by Palestinians living under occupation or the Palestinian diaspora.

One answer –a moral answer– is to end the occupation and give Palestinians a homeland of their own. Another is provided by the many liberal Israeli Jews who support the abolition of a wide range of laws and practices that clearly discriminate against Israel’s Arab citizens. They include some practices of cherished Zionist institutions, which should be –and, lately, have been– questioned harshly.

I put the legal structures that govern the use and development of land by the Jewish National Fund in that category. Dating back to the pre-state era, these regulations still prevent Arabs from building and leasing on this land. In my brand of Zionism, they are not justified and should be abolished.

My brand of Zionism is exemplified by the tireless Israeli Jews who are working together with Israeli Arabs to figure out a way for the country to have some kind of Jewish character without denying Arabs full economic, political and cultural equality. There is no good reason why a program that includes aggressive affirmative action, mandatory civil service for Israel’s Arabs instead of military service, the mandatory teaching of Arabic in majority-Jewish schools, and other measures could not be implemented. Will such steps solve every problem? Of course not. But other nations, including the U.S., continue to struggle with the challenge of addressing the plight of historically disenfranchised minorities. Israel need not be viewed any differently, despite its tortured past, despite conflicting narratives about that past.

If you think that is hopelessly naive, check out an optimistic piece in this week’s Forward by Youseff Jabereen, co-author of the controversial document: “The Future Vision of Palestinian Arabs in Israel.” He describes Israeli Jews’ surprisingly positive reactions to many ideas proposed in that ambitious document, which I won’t sum up here. The goal of real Jewish-Arab equality may not be attainable. But there are some very smart, very admirable Israeli insiders who refuse to believe it is out of reach.

When people reject the very idea of a “Jewish state,” one answer is to describe what that state ought to be, and what it can be.

More to come, I hope, in a few days.

24 thoughts on “Progressive answers to anti-Zionism — Part 1: A vision of what Israel could be

  1. This is a noble effort and you don’t seem to be relying on too many rationalizations to excuse what you know, in your heart of hearts, to be wrong. But do you favor getting rid of the Law of Return, changing the national anthem and other more difficult changes that are necessary to end the discrimination?

  2. My thanks to Dan for quoting me on Judt. Victoria’s challenge needs to be answered in a spirit of dialogue. Israel’s Law of Return is basic to its character as a “Jewish state” and should be understood as something for Jews that’s akin to affirmative action for other historically oppressed groups.

    Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day. What the Jews of that time desperately needed and lacked, as well as numerous times before, was a safe haven where they could freely find refuge. The Law of Return fixes that problem. This doesn’t mean that once they obtain refuge, Jewish refugees need to be forever privileged over, say, non-Jewish citizens of Israel who have lived in the land for centuries. And there is nothing anti-Zionist in my saying this.

    As for the national anthem, words can be changed, tunes can be changed. Maybe “Hatikvah,” Israel’s current anthem, can have another stanza with more inclusive wording, celebrating the land’s beauty and ancient heritage perhaps?

    The national anthem is symbolically important, but not concretely so. Israel’s Law of Return, however, is of bedrock importance — but maybe even that can be modified? For example, should Jews automatically be granted citizenship or should they just be granted the right of residency with citizenship provided on the basis of a fully fair and equitable naturalization process? But Victoria has to understand that unless she’s a citizen of Israel, she will have no role in deciding this matter.

  3. Solmon,
    I do not mean to be snide. I am one of the people Dan Fleshler wants to talk to. I am angry that my government in the U.S. has given Israel a blank check to do what it wants. I am appalled by the racist laws that Dan Fleshler and Mr. Seliger would like to fix. If you are unable to tolerate the slightest bit of anger or passion about this issue, may I respectfully suggest that you should not be on a blog that deals with it?

    As for Ralph Seliger’s ideas, is there any chance that they will be adopted in our lifetimes? I suspect there is not, and therefore the fundamental problems will remain

  4. Victoria,

    The odds against solving any of these problems are very big. They will remain. But is there any alternative to working on the kinds of solutions being proposed by Dan and Ralph Seliger? If your alternative is to try to deny the Jews a state where they are in the majority, you are opting for mayhem and violence, because few Israeli Jews would stand for it. That will do far more harm than good to the Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians living under occupation.

  5. If stripped of its conventional signification as a historical and political concept, Zionism becomes nothing but an emotive term with no real meaning. As a political notion, Zionism essentially means establishing a nation-state where Jews are recognized as the subjects of the nation (perhaps, to be added, so as to save Jews from anti-semitism). It doesn’t just mean a place where Saturday is the holiday, or where the star of David is a design-motif. It’s a place where the star of David is the national symbol.

    If this nation-state was homogeneous, or had a claim to unchallenged historical fixity in one location, perhaps Zionism would be just another form of ethno-religious nationalism, like Serbian nationalism, or Turkish nationalism.

    But when this ethno-religious nationalism is overlaid upon a history of settlement, emigration and, eventually, (colonial) conquest, then the concept of anti-Zionism obtains and becomes an imperative.

    Thus, for those who insist that Zionism may be de-emasculated to signify an innocuous set of symbols I must say you are dangerously naive. As a ‘muscular’ nationalism, Zionism has always embraced the supremacist tendencies inherent to many, especially ethno-religious, nationalisms. The additional elements of settlement of conquest only makes the history of Zionism appear that much more sullied to the impartial viewer.

    So, I find no comfort in the idea that some Zionists now argue for a ‘lite’ version of the old ideology. Much better to accept what Judt says – Zionism is anachronistic, inherently flawed, and it’s time for a better vision for the suffering people in that contested strip of land. Binational, one-state, whatever it ends up being, Zionism is simply untenable in any form.

  6. Since you guys are working on a “Progressive Zionism” shouldn’t you, for the sake of consistency, also advocate for a “Progressive Apartheid”, “Progressive Segregation”, and perhaps even “Progressive Slavery”.

    There is absolutely nothing “progressive” (no matter how much you want to prostitute that term–and lord has it been prostituted) about a religious/ethnic/racial/whatever-exculsive state that for its inception needs to ethnically cleanse a million people who do not belong to this ‘group’, and for its continued survival needs to maintain segregationist, racist and discriminating laws in marriage, immigration and land-ownership; and also needs to maintain the suppression of millions of people around it, whose lives, dreams, human rights, freedom of movement and education need to all be considered secondary for this state to survive.

    The crimes of persecution and racism committed by Israel are not a chance circumstance, nor are they an adulteration of the “real” ideals of Zionism, they are part and parcel of an ideology that wants to build an exclusivist nation state for one group on a land that does not predominently belong to this group, and an inevitable outcome of this ideology. You can try for months to engage in redifining this identity and group and argue till you’re blue in the face about whether it’s a religion, race or ethnicity, but that is as irrelevant as it is arbitrarily meaningless. The bottom line is: whatever the definition of this group, it will exclude a majority of the inhabitants of the land, and hence this changes nothing about the discriminatory and racist structure of this state.

    That some people feel the need to write about a “progressive Zionism” does not reflect that such a thing exists, or could even possible exist, it merely illustrates a pathetic crisis that many people who would love to call themselves “progressives” feel when confronted with their inaibility to break with their parochial and tribal commitment to defending Israel’s crimes at all costs.

  7. There is a lot I want to say to Kevin (#5) and Saifedean (#6) but is there anyone else out there who does not believe Israel is irredeemably evil and who is willing to respond, politely and cogently? Is there anyone else willing to point out that very large swaths of history, especially the singular plight of Jews who lacked a homeland, are omitted from their comments?

    I do not want this blog to turn into just another screamfest between people who hate everything about Israel and its history and people who want to defend everything about Israel and its history. I’m hoping to engage readers who, like me, are actually trying to figure out how to fix what is broken in Israel and Palestine instead of relying on angry platitudes. So, I’ll give it a try…Is there anyone out there who will express respectful disagreement with those guys? Or explain why “progressive” and “Zionism” need not be oxymorons?

  8. Dan,

    I would but if you go to Saifedean’s blog, you see that he is all about “spewing venom.” Why engage with a guy who only wants to yell at people?

    Nationalism is not the best answer but it is what we have currently. However, Zionism is no more “evil” than any other nationalism. Yes, Palestinians were displaced as were my relatives from Libya.

    I actually find discussions of Zionism tired now. Israel exists. Deal with it.

  9. Dear Dan,

    I was not, in any way, suggesting that what Israel is doing, and Zionism in general, are reflections on Jewish history and Jews. This is anti-Semitic over-generelizing garbage.

    Zionism does not reflect anything on Jewish people, more than apartheid reflects anything on white people, Bin Laden reflects on Muslims and Hitler on Christians. In summation: what crazed ideologues carry out in the name of their ‘groups’ (whether religious/ethnic/racial/football-teams/etc…) in no way reflects on people who associate with this group. Though you might like it if anti-Zionists would fall into the anti-Semitic claptrap of blaming Jews and Judaism for Israel’s crimes, fortunately, the majority of us do NOT ascribe to such nonsense, particularly because we do not ascribe to any racist ideologies like Zionism and apartheid which are built on warped concepts of exclusivity.

    And that, my friend, is what can be referred to as “progressive”. Viewing a despicable nation state with a criminal army that massacres civilians as the embodiment of the Jewish people and Jewish ideals is NOT progressive; whether you view this army and state favourably or not.

  10. Solomon,

    I don’t actually think it is worth “engaging” with people who only spew venom. You’re right. But there is a larger audience out there (traffic is starting to pick up!) and I am sure it includes the kinds of people I referred to in my original post, the kinds of anti-Zionists or, if you will, anti-Israelists, who deserve an answer. More importantly, I am sure it includes people who have only heard the virulent left’s critique of Israel and have never heard other, critical voices.

  11. Why is it “progressive” to champion the creation of a state for Palestinians but not to defend the rights of the Jewish people to their historical homeland? I generally spend my energies arguing with the Right who believe that there is no such nationality as Palestinian and not with those who argue that Israel is inherently evil.

    I don’t endorse the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or the actions against Palestinian civilians. I do however understand why people who fear for their lives think it is necessary to build barriers to keep out those who would murder them. That doesn’t mean that any human rights violations by the Israeli army are justified–only that the existence of the Israeli army in and of itself is not a human rights violation.

    I was in Israel in 1966 for one of the first post-1948 bombings by Palenstians of a civilian ISraeli target. I was a young teenager and it is seared in my memory because we had left the supermarket where it occurred just hours before this shocking ttck occurred. And so I have no doubt of whether the chicken (post-1967 occupation) or the egg (terrorist acts against civilians) came first.

    I would love to see a two state solution and despair that enemies of peace on both sides always seem to find way to trump any process towards this goal. But the key is to keep working for two states. There will never be peace with one state–Jewish or Palestinian or binational. Israel is the home of over 5 million Jews with no other country to call home–their only home is Israel. And that is why I am a progressive Zionist, committed to a Jewish and democratic Israel at peace with its neighbors, including those in the West Bank and Gaza.

    There are those of us who champion the ideal of a progressive US. That the US commits human rights violations does not mean that American ideals about human rights and lieberty do not exist.Sadly, they are not always actualized but they do exist and they are what American progressives fight to bring to the fore. Similarly, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, the progressive ideals embodied in the Israeli declaration of independence and in its supreme court and it other of its institutions are the embodiment of Jewish ideals abiut human rights. That is what we progressive zionists fight to bring to the fore.

  12. Dsn, I think you’re wrong on this one. Those two guys are never going to admit there is another side to the story or many sides to the story. They don’t appear to know enough basic history to engage in reasonable dialogue. But I would be interested in hearing from others who have thought about the kinds of issues you and Ralph Seliger and Chris and Richard Witty (and I) have wrestled with. There have been some interesting ideas here that I have not heard before (like Ralph’s take on the Law of Return).

  13. In Philip Weiss’s blog Saif and I have had an interesting discussion.

    I contest the notion that Zionism is racism entirely.

    Zionism is the self-determination movement of the Jewish people.

    If Jews are a people, and not just a trivial “fan-club” as Saif dismisses, then we have the right to self-govern.

    The next question is where and how? We can self-govern within our own communities where we live in New York, Florida, London, Tel Aviv, etc, from what I gather of the range of his acceptance of the concept of “self-governance”.

    But, history conflicts with that utopian perspective. Jews have never been accepted over an extended period of time, anywhere. And, in countries adopting Islamic law, Jews have been subordinated to dhimmi status (claiming to be protected “if”).

    In former Christian communities, Jews have been forced to convert, or else.

    Among leftists, Jews are accepted similarly, only to the extent that they accept that their self-identification is an anachronism, not a current commitment, and contrary to “justice”.

    In contrast to the view that the wrongs of Israeli policy emerge inevitably from the ideology of Zionism (including the solely personal definition of shifting from governance by others, to self-governance), I contest that where Israeli policy has been wrong, it results from the same errors that any political entity experiences, strictly human and political failings, failings that are variable and therefore can be improved by vigilant moral attention.

    There is nothing inevitable about it.

    The reality that Said describes is in the either/or nature of exclusive sovereignty.

    He ignores the reality that the scale of jurisdiction is chosen, and is not inevitable. The choice of the Mediterranean to the Jordan as a border of sovereign self-governing Palestine/Israel is arbitrary given the current reality.

    Rather than be a natural political integration of a naturally integrated community and ecology, it would also be an imposition, currently.

    In order to optimize the degree of justice of the choice of jurisdiction, objectively, one would conclude that the two-state solution yeilds justice more closely than the single state solution, by the following math.

    In a single state, even with one-person one-vote, a barely dominant majority would have the balance of power OVER an inevitably large minority. In the best of worlds, that majority would not impose.

    But, that is a grave risk, with the prospect of Likud/Israel Beitanu as dominant party, or of Hamas/Islamic Jihad as dominant party.

    The “leadership” of those parties as dominant, would likely result in such severe civil abuses, that an all-out civil war would likely ensue, likely ending in some partition anyway.

    Currently, different sources quote different demographics. I’ve read recent polls describing 51% majority of Jews in the region from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, and other polls describing 51% majority of Muslims in the region. While one would hope that the civil majority would prevail, the militants on both sides are adept at shifting the prevailing sentiment from acceptance to fear.

    In particular, the single-state solution is not possible with the heightened rhetoric of “Zionism is racism”. The trust that would be necessary to even consider that experiment, is destroyed before it works its way out of the article. The only partners in that trust are those that share the egalitarian utopian view, and can really only do so by denial of the possibility of the ideals not holding.

    For all parties, it appears as a gamble, and no gambling ever permanently succeeds. Entropy (the house) takes all.

    A more rational, and less rhetorical method, might yeild broader trust, and help greatly in increasing the degree of justice and trust between the contending parties.

    In Israel itself, in spite of the “inevitability” of racism, non-Jews have one-person one-vote, freedom of press, freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom to own property, equal rights to due process before the courts.

    Such equality does not exist for Jews in any Muslim dominated country currently. There is no other democracy in that sense in the Islamic world. Lebanon and Egypt are partially democratic. Palestine is a hope, but an unclarified one.

    If the single-state solution is a genuine goal of Saif, then the path of separation into two states (with much interaction), amy also include a path later to a federal or even entirely integrated Palestine/Israel.

    As those that resist Zionism speak in terms of timescales of centuries of resistance, Said can also adopt a more patient, but still determined approach to building the trust and institutions of an integrated single state.

    One fallacy among anti-Zionists is the idea that the predominant actions that brought about the existence of Israel, were militant or military. Often I hear critics condemn the role of Irgun and Etzel, rightfully. I cringe at some of the stories that I know are true (having been confirmed not just by Palestinian activists, but also by Palestinian civilians, and by some orthodox).

    But, the reality is that Israel was created by institution-building far far far moreso than by militancy. Land, community, law, social services, economic development.

    For example, the historical vast majority of Jewish support of Israel has been for trees, hospitals, water purification, etc. NOT for guns.

    The community, and nation (community of communities) Israel was constructed very patiently and determinedly, not by resistance or by any reference of common enemy.

  14. Richard,

    I would really rather that you not misquote me in the way you did, especially in a way that may portray my statements to be so drastically different from what I had said.

    To reiterate, I have no problem with whatever definition you choose for yourself and whatever category you choose to ascribe to yourself and to whatever group you choose to belong to on whatever basis. As a humanist though, all of these constructs matter to me equally: whether it’s religion, race, ethnicity, football team support or horoscope, they all carry equal relevance to me personally and to the way I view myself and other people.

    Therefor, as a humanist, and because I feel this way, I will always be against anyone who decides to get together in a group and kill other people because they do not belong to that group. Whether that group is based on religion, race, horoscope or shoe size matters nothing to me; what matters is that you do not kill others who do not belong to it, or kick them out of their homes.

    Zionism is a movement that chose to make a land available to a section of people based on one of these criteria and decided to ethnically cleanse and subjugate everyone else who doesn’t belong, who also happened to be the majority. I would oppose it no matter who carries it out and regardless of in which group’s names they carry it out.

    As for your idea of Jews “self-governing”, this really puzzles me. Haven’t we seen in history what happens when a “group” decide they want their own piece of land clear of everyone else so they can self-govern? The idea of a nation state built on one of these group identities really is something that is in principle wrong, especially in today’s globalizing world, but it becomes even more problematic when, like in apartheid South Africa and Israel, a “group” decides they want to have this while the land is full of people that do not belong to their “group”.

    Indeed, the worst atrocity of the 20th century, the Holocaust, was brought about particularly through an extension of this “logic”.

    That is why, if everytime a “group” decided that they want their “own” land to self-govern they should not get the right to ethnically cleanse everyone from this land and massacre them. This will simply never end, as there is no coherent or correct criteria to determine who gets to “self-govern” and how many children they get to kill to get their pure piece of land. India on its own has hundreds of “nations”, it wouldn’t exactly be a great idea to get them all to “self-govern” and murder themselves silly. But, with a secular democracy, a billion Indians can coexist in a country with a majority of Hindus, a Muslim President, a Sikh Prime Minister and an Italian Catholic head of the governing party.

    We can all “self-govern” everywhere, if we just keep to ourselves these “group” identities some of us feel so strongly about, and learn to live together in a country that treats us as citizens regardless of what race/ethnicity/religion/hair-color/horoscope we are.

    It really is not such a revolutionary idea, most of the countries of the world are moving towards something like this, if not already there. Notable exceptions of course, include a few criminal funademntalist theocracies in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel.

    It is precisely because I don’t think people should be kicked out of their homes because of their religion/race/ethnicity that I could never get myself to agree to Zionism, anymore that I can agree to apartheid, or any other Fascist nationlist movement built on ethnic cleansing. And it is precisely for this reason that I laugh hysterically when I hear someone call themselves a “Progressive Zionist”.

    And concerning your point on what brought about the existence of Israel, I urge you to read Ilan Pappe’s new book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. The most complete, detailed and thorough documentation of the planning and execution of the wholesale ethnic cleansing that happened in Palestine.

    You can find an excerpt of this book here:

  15. By the way,

    If any “Progressive Zionists” are out here, please take a look at this video of some of the actions of the despicable child-murderers that wear the uniform of the Israeli Criminal Army.

    In this video they are using Palestinian children as human shields:

    Part and Parcel of being the Only Democracy in the Middle East.

    Anyone who can watch this and still call themselves Progressive needs to either get a dictionary, or to confront himself whether he thinks Palestinians are humans or not.

  16. “Therefor, as a humanist, and because I feel this way, I will always be against anyone who decides to get together in a group and kill other people because they do not belong to that group.”

    Me too.

    However I am a Jewish humanist, and a progressive Zionist humanist as confusing as that may be to you.

    My choice of how to be an individual, a family, a community, a community of communities, is to be a kind one, as kind as I am able.

    My effort at being a Zionist, is to urge that it be as kind a Zionism as possible.

    I conclude that humanism is not the ideology that yeilds the most kindness in the world, as although it nobly and desirably urges regard for the other, if applied religiously also diminishes intimacy and in some ways imposes a false feeling of sameness.

    As it takes a human body to actually love, rather than theoretically love, I find that it takes an actual community, an actual nation, to make peace with others.

    If Israel is criminal in any way, its criminality is in specific actions and policies, not in its existence itself, or the assertion that it is based on a unifying identification.

    Please note that all of the major movements that ended up suppressive to the Jewish community, in history have described themselves as universalist.

    Christianity in the name of the universal healing power of Christ, compelled all Jews to give up their parochial identity, under force.

    Islam, in the name of universal justice, compelled all Jews to live as dhimmis, subordinate, apologies.

    Even the humanist applications of Marxism described religion or religiously related self-identification as anti-revolutionary, and again subordinated those that held that as dear.

    And, even the practise of Torah, Jewish ideology of “do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you”, was rationalized by neo-Jews as being driven by the logic of being called by God, to force others from their homes.

    The commitment that I consider necessary is to kindness itself, which requires me to have a body and a community with which to express kindness.

    The either/or prospect of the land being either Israel OR Palestine is problematic, and I hear your fear that that would necessarily require ethnic cleansing, which it has in the past based on combinations of necessity and of ideological brutality.

    Historically, the need for Jews to settle somewhere post WW2 was a need. No state offered refuge. Survival, as living, survival of the identity as Jewish.

    This is now 70 years past, and we are in a position of choice, moreso than need, at least as far as Zionism itself and its behavior is concerned.

    At the same time, the governing party of the prospective state of Palestine, a prospective governing party of a single-state, Hamas regards the land as Islamic, part of the Islamic Waqf, not as democratic. It willingly fights civil war with Fatah over internal power, and over the ideological issue of whether it is acceptable to treaty with Israel, or even regard it as legitimate. States like Iran fund, arm and train terrorists that use the same slogan as you, “Zionism is racism”, and without distinction.

  17. It’s been noted by others than myself that one of the most-abused tactics by lazy commentators on all sides of this issue is to descend the discussion into a blur of details. Close commentaries on religious texts, minute focus on quotes by one or another historical figure, links to youtube videos or websites full of ‘data’, etc. Then the discussion may always be redirected to the riposte – “you don’t know enough”. This is a variant on the “you’re not Jewish” or “you’re Jewish” or “you’re…” argument — a kind of childish exasperation creeps in.

    This is why Judt’s argument was and is so valuable. It asks one central question, at the heart of the matter: if Zionism means a state that represents only one national/religious identity, and favors that identity both symbolically and legally, then is not Zionism a political anachronism? Any sensible person would accept this to be the case — I would argue that all the other questions may be addressed through this first question. The best way to solve this is to do argue against Zionism as a reasonable political ideology in this time. The question of whether Jews who live in historical Palestine have a right to political self-dermination is silly; of course, every individual has a right to political self-determination, and can politically organize as a community. But there cannot be a state that recognizes only one community (even a majority community) as the only legitimate subjects of that state; so Zionist parties may be political actors in a progressive state, but there can’t be a progressive Zionist state.

    In my previous post my point wasn’t that “progressive zionism” isn’t somehow impossible, but that as a label it masks the actual history of the modern political movement of Zionism. Of course other modes of zionism can be traced – the pre-modern variants, and the non-Jewish variants (my favorite is Rastafarian cosmology). These are a totally different matter, and if one wishes to identify with the legacies of “other” zionisms, then that’s of course commendable. But we can’t someone re-make the present ideology and institutions of Zionism by claiming it has a hidden “progressive” side. To do this is incredibly naive, and a betrayal of progressive values such as multiculturalism, legal rights for all citizens (and non-citizens), and fundamentally, restitution for historical injustices (which is written into the fabric of progressive idealism, which in the US includes the civil rights struggle and the rejection of slavery, etc).

    But again, “progressive” zionism can only exist when the modern concept of Zionism is drained of its core concepts — a muscular ethno-religious nationalism based upon conquest and settlement. The notion that Jews in historical Palestine have a right to political self-determination isn’t Zionism. The notion that Jews may be “safe” within a national entity isn’t Zionism. The idea that passover may be a state holidy isn’t Zionism: to call these Zionism while rejecting the ethno-religious nationalism that has defined the ideology means to redefine the term and to rethink its history. I would argue this is only possible when Israel sheds Zionism as ideological underpinning and identity of the state, i.e. in a binational, federal or unitary state within the borders of historical Palestine.

    Sorry for writing at such length…

  18. Zionism has a body. It is not a bodiless form.

    Zionism describes the choice of which identification one adopts, and collectively. That choice is made both internally by hopefully rational selection from a menu of chosen basis of association and worldview, and it is made by others’ definition, as in my wife’s uncle’s statement to me “Hitler made me a Jew”.

    Any entity that has a body, that has finite physical mass, and takes up physical space, by definition will displace.

    My body displaces those that would otherwise live in my home, in my office. My family’s bodies displace those that would otherwise live in my home.

    My human semi-urban community displaces the wilderness that would otherwise be there.

    My best is seeking solutions that are mutually healthy.

    But to do that, I must have a body, and my community must have a basis of association.

    Much of progressive humanist perspective is negative in orientation, critical, describing contradictions, and then defining them as bad for having elements of contradictions.

    But, EVERY ideology has contradictions, every application of every ideology oppresses as it simultaneously liberates from oppression.

    Progressive humanist Zionism is an elegant mix of body with care for others.

    It is not homeless bodiless assimilated progressive humanism. It is progressive humanism with a collective Jewish body.

    It was at least temporarily necessarily exclusive and protective. The present and future are different questions, depending on the condition of the world.

    In an environment of continued hostility towards Jews and Jewish community, it appears to be a current necessity as well.

    There is a difference between ideology and practise. Criticisms of the practise of an ideology do not reflect the validity of the ideology itself, whether temporarily valid or permanently.

  19. Anon — Sorry, but I don’t understand your comment to me. Do you mean to say that the practice of Zionism as represented by the history of the modern Zionist movement from the 19th century through the establishment of Israel and up to today is somehow fundamentally different than something you’d term the ideology of Zionism?

    How is ideology and practice different in this case? I think you raise a key point — even if I disagree with what I think you’re trying to say.

    The question I have for you, Dan and others trying to formulate a progressive zionism is: Is the present claim of the state of Israel to embody Zionist idealism different from something that “progressive zionists” would claim is Zionism? Where did “true” or “kind” Zionism (a la Richard Witty above) diverge from the Zionism that is practiced as state policy in Israel? What is the difference exactly — and please stop putting it in terms of “humanity” and other abstractions. What does progressive zionism actually mean in practice (again the ideology/practice dialectic).

    Allow me a few more questions: At what point did this split? 1967? 1948? I would argue that the Palestinian refugee crisis was a direct and natural result of the core and mainstream concepts of modern Zionism as both ideology and practice. Would you disagree?

    I’m afraid to say the rest of your post and your metaphor of health and the body doesn’t really work for me. Do you mean that Jews as a body needed room and thus Palestinians were somehow predestined to pay the price in space? Does not the Palestinian have a body and seek health, or is hers/his a separate kind of “humanity”?

    And finally, your wife’s uncle’s statement is the most profound comment anyone has posted here. I hope to elaborate on this later.

  20. Anon was me. I posted at work and didn’t fill in the identifiers.

    Zionism as an ideology is a mix of concerns. All of the flavors originated in the response to long-term persecution, and each included a cathartic shift in attitude from accepting subordination as a strategy to live through it, to rejecting subordination as having gone too far, hence the slogan “Never Again”.

    The common concerns include confident safety for the Jewish people (including religious, secular but self-identified, and fully assimilated – but still persecuted), and an experiment of what a Jewish community life would be. (A perennial discussion). Jewish community life has always been inward looking moreso than outward looking. The questions of how do we enjoy our lives more fully, and how do we treat our community neighbors, have always been more important than political questions. Some of that stems from choice and some from externally imposed isolation.

    So, Zionism is partly an effort to continue the experiment, to realize the experiment of Jewish life, for the purpose of refining our understanding of what behaviors righteousness entails, using community (not politics) as its measuring venue.

    I personally don’t believe that Zionism occurred naturally in the timing that it did. We were really not ready to pursue that experiment by choice.

    We were forced to by external circumstances, and therefore adopted the expedient in cases where we should have been more patient and just.

    Long-term Zionism would have spent more time in building the institutions supporting a community of communities, that absent the exageration of persecution would not have resulted in nor required ethnic cleansing if that is an accurate term. (Genocide shifts all other political response. Its like large number theory, ten to the hundredth power. Relative persecution is discernible on a scale of one to ten, genocide enters the traumatic, indiscernible).

    Palestinian experience is most likely in that traumatic zone now, at least for many.

    Is it possible to be distinct and accepted? The issues of our relative separation will always exist, and always be regarded with some contempt by those that measure justice solely or primarily by political reference.

  21. Haven’t we seen in history what happens when a “group” decide they want their own piece of land clear of everyone else so they can self-govern?

    Saifedean Ammous, isn’t that exactly what happened in Pakistan? Some Indian Muslims, on the basis of what they called the ‘Two Nation Theory’, decided they needed their own state. With the help of the British they created Pakistan, clearing out millions of Hindus in the process. In 1971 they waged a genocidal war against Hindus and recently converted (ex-Hindu) Muslims in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), because they weren’t ‘pak’ (pure) enough. (‘Pakistan’, of course, means ‘land of the pure’ in Urdu.) Pakistan still funds separatist militants in Kashmir.

    Now by your own logic, the Two Nation Theory is a disgusting, inherently racist ideology and is directly responsible for the murders and ethnic cleansing of millions. Pakistan is an inherently racist military state and must be dismantled and sublimated into India. Do you or do you not agree with this? Please show you are not a hypocrite by agreeing.

  22. Kevin,
    Apparently you’ve never heard of Kosovo or Bosnia or the Armenian genocide? Hitler used the latter as his model for what to do with the Jews. In Bosnia there was a war started by Bosnian Serbs with the aid of Serbia. This resulted in about 200,000 killed and a massive campaign of deliberate ethnic cleansing. In Kosovo the Serbs settled lots of Serbs and then tried to ethnically cleanse the Albanians in 1999.

    So maybe Israel–or the Israel that exists in your imaginations–is not so different from those normal ethnic nationalisms?

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