Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Jewish-Liberal Dilemma

The liberal-progressive movement in the United States and Europe is forcing liberal Jews to make some very difficult choices. The voices who dominate the I-P discussion on the left are telling liberal Jews that they must make a choice; they can support Israel or they can support the progressive movement, but they cannot support both. This is rarely stated explicitly, of course, but it is the implication embedded in the never-ending disdain and contempt heaped upon the Jewish state by those liberals who claim to speak for human rights… even as they almost entirely ignore horrendous human rights violations by China or Russia or various African countries, not to mention the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

On a daily basis, throughout the left political blogosphere, Israel is accused of anything, and everything, that anyone might think of for the specific purpose of delegitimizing its very existence. Israel is accused of being an apartheid state. Israel is accused of being a racist, colonialist entity. Israeli leaders are perpetually compared to Nazis. Israel is accused of being a vile, imperialist regime wholly dependent upon the United States for its existence, even as it is also accused of being the epicenter of a vast “Zionist” conspiracy to control the US government and media. (Just how Israel manages to be both an imperialist tool of the US, even as it allegedly controls the US, has never been made entirely clear to me.)

These accusations are not about policy, nor even about the occupation, per se, but go directly to the very nature of Israel’s existence and the implications of those accusations are obvious. If Israel is an apartheid state (which it most emphatically is not, by the way) than it must be dismantled, just as the racist South African regime was dismantled. If Israel is a Nazi fascist regime then, like Nazi Germany, it must be destroyed. If Israel is some excremental rogue state in perpetual violation of international law, than it must be shunned and opposed. It must be subject to boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. Its leaders must be dragged before the international court at the Hague to answer for war crimes. Its intellectuals must be banned from the world community of scholars. Its agricultural products must be left rotting on the docks of Tel Aviv. The entire world must line up against it on every possible level, politically, culturally, intellectually, and diplomatically, if not militarily.

And if liberal Jews disagree with this assessment? Then we are accused of racism, militarism, and right-wing extremism. We are called “right-wing Zionists” if not “ZioNazis.” Jewish college students who support Israel are hounded, sometimes violently, on university campuses throughout North America and Europe. Each and every Jewish organization that supports Israel is systematically maligned, denigrated, and delegitimized. If we actually have the cojones to stand up for Israel, or to counter the smears it perpetually faces, than we are spat upon and demeaned.

So, just what do you expect left-liberal Jews who support Israel to do? Are we supposed to continue supporting a political movement that insists that of all the world’s people Jews, and only Jews, must be denied self-determination and self-defense, despite centuries of persecutions, pogroms, and expulsions, all leading to the romping good time that we had in the middle of the twentieth century in Europe?

I don’t think so.

Perhaps the biggest lie told by those on the left who continually spit bile at the Jewish state is that their contempt has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews, but merely with the state of Israel. It is the nature of the state, not its people, that is worthy of their hatred, or so we are told.

This is a lie. It is false.

Jews are a tiny minority that represent about .02 percent of the world population. Israel is the lone Jewish state. 80 percent of its population is Jewish and it contains something like 40 percent of the world Jewish population, supported by the great majority of diaspora Jews. Furthermore, as a secular democracy, the behavior of the state is reflective of the will of the people. When Israelis witness the southern part of their country endure years of rocket fire, and when they see the left-progressive movement condemn it for the crime of being a Jewish state, and therefore vote in right-wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu, the will of nearly half the world’s Jews is expressed. You cannot, therefore, condemn Israel without condemning the Jews.

It is for this reason why it is important to make a strong distinction between criticism and defamation. Claiming that Israel should be dismantled as a Jewish state is not “criticism.” Claiming that Israel is an “apartheid state” is not “criticism;” nor is charging that Israel is something akin to Nazi Germany “criticism,” either. These are not criticisms, but vile smears designed to delegitimize Israel for the eventual purpose of destroying the national home of the Jewish people.

And you want my support?

What kind of a fool thinks that the liberal-left can smack around the Jewish people and that the Jews will support them in their efforts to do so?

For the moment, the great majority of American Jews barely realize the level of anti-Zionism, and hatred toward Israel, that infests the grassroots / netroots of the progressive movement and the Democratic party. There is one thing that you can be certain of, however. If the anti-Zionism and Israel hate moves from the fringes to the center, Jews will run for the hills before they will continue to support any such movement.

Of course, that’s probably what some on the left would prefer to see, anyway.


  1. Karma

    It seems to me that the IP dialogue instead of centering on the right of the Jewish state to exist should center on the struggle of the left wing to survive in a reactionary environment.
    The constant state of war endured by the Israelis has moved the state far to the right of even our “tea baggers”.
    Recently on MLW I mentioned to you a column by Uri Avnery, the peace activist with Gush Shalom.
    I am Curious to know if you see Israel’s policies as reactionary (even justifiably reactionary) or if you think those policies are moderate.


  2. Hi Rankle,

    I think it depends on the policy in question.

    For example, if Israel is withholding humanitarian aid from Gaza, than I would definitely see that as reactionary and wrong.

    To the extent that Palestinian citizens of Israel are not afforded equality of citizenship, this too would be reactionary and wrong.

    As you note, the Israeli citizenry has moved right-ward over the years. I suspect that there are a number of good reasons for this. One is unquestionably the rocket attacks. When people feel under siege they tend to move right.

    Also, I gotta say, given the extreme animosity of some on the left toward the Jewish state, it disinclines Israelis to support a movement that it sees as containing hatred for itself.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment and if you have any further questions please lemme know.