Monday, June 24, 2013

The Failures of Progressive-Left Zionism: Frenemies

Mike L.

{Cross-posted at the Times of Israel.}

If the first way in which progressive-left Zionism is failing is in its ostrich-like reluctance to acknowledge, and seriously discuss, the rise of the Jihad throughout the Muslim Middle East, and another way is through their justifying bigotry against their own people, and yet another is in the fact that they always play defense, and yet still another way is through the tendency to fall into the moral equivalency canard, and if they also fail to place the conflict within the context of Jewish history, yet another failing is in their inability to stand up to their own movement.

I feel bad for progressive-left Jews who care about Israel and who care about America and American politics.  They are in an entirely untenable position and have been put into that untenable position by their own frenemies within the larger progressive-left.  A recent comment by Ziontruth says it neatly.

He writes:
The sad thing is that Jewish Progressives don't need to abandon any Progressive positions except anti-Zionism in order to be considered Zionists even by the rightmost of right-wing Zionists, yet they do, increasingly, have to renounce just that one tenet—Zionism—if they don't want to be ostracized by their fellow Progressives.
That is correct and directly to the point.  I am not of the Jewish right-wing, nor am I of the American right-wing, but there is no question that even right-wing Zionists do not push any Jews out of their tent besides anti-Zionists.  Anti-Zionists, including Jewish anti-Zionists, are bigots who work directly against the well-being of the Jewish people because they would deny to us precisely what they accept for everyone else on the planet, i.e., self-determination.

At the same time it is becoming, year by year, increasingly difficult to participate on the progressive-left if one is out as a Jew and supports the Jewish State of Israel.  Polls have consistently shown that Republicans and conservatives are far more friendly toward Israel than are Democrats and progressives.  As anyone who follows Jewish politics - or, at least, American Jewish politics - knows, during the last Democratic Party national convention Israel was literally booed by Democratic Party officials who whittled away support for that country in their party platform.

As someone who participated for many years on the progressive-left, and within the grassroots / netroots of the Democratic Party, I saw the acidic erosion of support for Israel among them first-hand.  In prominent journals such as the Huffington Post or the Guardian, not to mention formerly prominent blogs like Daily Kos, to be pro-Israel is fine so long as one is anti-Israel in the process.  This what David Harris-Gershon, of Daily Kos and Michael Lerner's Tikkun Magazine, has done much to prove.

One can only be a Jewish "pro-Israel" advocate on the progressive-left if one agrees that Israel is a racist, colonialist, imperialist, militarist, apartheid, racist state that, perhaps, should never have come into being to begin with.  So long as one accepts that proposition one can participate on the left as a "pro-Israel" advocate.   If, on the other hand, one honestly supports the rights of the Jewish people to peace and sovereignty on historically Jewish land, and if one is willing to stand up and say so, then you've got trouble.

It is like waving a red banner before a charging bull.  It is not, by the way, that most progressives despise Israel.  It is simply that they tend to agree that Israel is a racist, colonialist, imperialist, militarist, apartheid, racist state and are thus in sympathy for those who would see the Jewish people robbed of self-determination and self-defense on moral grounds.  It is for this reason that anti-Semitic anti-Zionism has made a cozy home for itself within progressive-left venues.  Without the acceptance and approval of the larger left, progressive-left anti-Zionism could not have made a place for itself within that movement.

And this represents the dilemma for progressive-left Zionists.

The Jewish left has failed on so many levels and part of what we do at Israel Thrives is discuss this sad phenomenon.  The reason that we do so is because many of us are refugees from the progressive-left, itself.  Progressive-left Zionists, however, are trapped like rats.  As progressives they cannot really support Israel and as Zionists they cannot really not support Israel.  This makes them something like a still living bug pinned to a board.  They can wave around their six or eight legs, but they cannot actually get anywhere.

There are any number of ways to react to this situation.  The way that I have chosen is to withdraw all support from the progressive-left and the Democratic Party and to be a critic of that movement and party so long as they persist in accepting anti-Semitic anti-Zionism as part of their larger coalition.  This is not the only option, however.  I see no reason why a genuinely pro-Israel person cannot remain identified with the left if they wish to reform the movement from within.

For most diaspora Jews being pro-Israel is simply one position among others.  It is often a prominent position, but it is not our sole concern.  A pro-Israel advocate on the progressive-left need not make their pro-Israel advocacy their foremost defining political feature.  One can work for women's rights and for Gay rights and for the anti-war movement and for the environment and for a tax code more genuinely fair to the poor and the working class.

What one cannot do, however, is deny the truth about left-wing disdain for Israel.

There is no reason that a pro-Israel advocate cannot remain on the left so long as he or she understands, and is willing to acknowledge, that the progressive movement - which is the home for the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel - is not a friend to either the Jewish people or the Jewish State of Israel.

It seems to me, as one who comes out of the Jewish left, that the Jewish left has much to answer for, whether they like it or not.  As a general rule, they refuse to seriously address the rise of political Islam.  They justify bigotry against Jews who live in Judea and Samaria.  They seem always to play defense in their support for Israel.  They often fail to understand that Jewish self-defense is not morally equivalent to anti-Jewish violence.  They fail to place the conflict within the long history of Jewish oppression under the boot of Arab-Muslim imperialism.  And they do not do a very good job of standing up to their own movement, their own frenemies.

Progressive-left Zionism, in its current form, is a failed movement.

I say it's time to move on.


  1. Just as many in the world are afraid to offend or stand up for values because some will call them racist, the progressives as described live in fear of being called privileged imperialists and the like. This fear blinds them from being firm in doing and saying what is right.

    When these people finally understand that those who call have no legitimate claim to morality, then perhaps there will be a change in a positive direction.

    1. My suspicion, School, is that this is beginning to happen.

      There seems to be a fraying of Jewish allegiance to the Democratic party and to the progressive-left very much for the reasons that we have been discussing.

      You cannot continue to kick people in the head and then expect them to kiss the boot... not even Jewish people for long.

  2. It's easier to understand left wing Zionism as an anomaly or outlier. It's noteworthy because it's so odd and unnatural. In truth there's never really been much of a left wing Zionist movement and the groups and individuals in it tend to wander in and out of the Zionist at will. Sometimes they're sort of Zionist other times no. But usually the left wing check box of issues, loves and hatreds wins out and when it does they're left with a vacuous statement, like Beinart's that sound like 'My antizionism is PROOF of how Zionist I am and how much I support Israel!!" Which of course is babble and nonsense. I suppose if someone were a psychologist from the 1960's they go on about Maslow's hierarchies or some such stuff. The "Jewish" is fine for them as a secondary goal for as long as it serves their primary goal. But since it's really at odds with it, they jettison it as soon as practical. And why shouldn't they? Far left "Judaism" has almost nothing to do with Judaism as the rest of us understand it and practice it. There's nothing to hold them to it. So it's easy to give up.

    1. It is a fallacy to say there has not been much of a left wing Zionist movement.

      There are right wing Zionists that I would not feel so cozy with as well.

    2. "It's easier to understand left wing Zionism as an anomaly or outlier."

      Today, but not historically. Just two decades ago left-wing Zionists were still accepted by their left-wing peers. The entrenching of the view of Zionism as a "European colonial movement" on the worldwide Left over time has meant that most left-wing Zionists can now be found only in Israel.

      "In truth there's never really been much of a left wing Zionist movement..."

      Left-wingers led the Zionist movement from 1930 to 1977. The fact that the views and opinions of those left-wingers would nowadays be mistaken as right-wing is testimony to the changes in the worldwide Left, not to any incompatibility between left-wing politics and Zionism. One can be a left-wing Zionist as long as he accepts that the Jews have their nation-state in the Land of Israel by right, regardless of his other political opinions. But since it is becoming increasingly prevalent in left-wing circles today to regard the state of Israel as a mistake that should be grudgingly accepted at best, left-wing Zionists find themselves more and more shunned by their non-Zionist peers.

    3. No, that's only true where you are, in Israel. Not here in North America. Left wing Judaism has always been firmly assimilationist. At best, in the 1970's with the issue of Soviet Jewry the left wing Jews in North America wanted all those Jews to be come HERE not Israel. What I'll give you is that from say 1919 to 1960 there was a strong left wing and new left movement in the US which happened to adopt certain principles that appear on the surface to align themselves which what we commonly call "Jewish values". But isn't that a luxury? After all the REAL left wing movements like Soviet communism, the Eastern European communist nations, Tito's Yugslavia as well as the French communists have always been antizionist if not overtly antisemitic. Certainly they were in the 3CP, Poland, East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. And in the 1970's to mid 1990's all of the far left factions in Europe, the RAF, Direct Action, Baader Meinhof were rabidly in bed with the PLO. Even in your Israel, the far left is what you have to call antizionist; they say they are.

    4. "No, that's only true where you are, in Israel..."

      The Left in Europe and South America was pro-Israel before the 1970s, if that counts.

      "Not here in North America. Left wing Judaism has always been firmly assimilationist."

      Ah, you're talking about American Jewry. Well, with assimilationism a strong force, a lot of American Jews didn't want anything to do with Zionism before the Holocaust, and now that American Jewish supporters of Israel are being accused of dual loyalty by the Progressive Left, that situation is set to return.

      "After all the REAL left wing movements like Soviet communism, the Eastern European communist nations, Tito's Yugslavia as well as the French communists..."

      I disagree with your term "real left-wing movements" for the Marxists. The two main branches of left-wing politics, Social-Democrats and Marxists, are both real left-wing movements, although the former rejects the anti-nationalist utopianism ("Dictatorship of the Proletariat," "Citizens of the World") of the latter, hence its compatibility with Zionism. As I have said here numerous times, what has happened from the 1960s onward is that the Social-Democrat branch has been marginalized by the Marxist branch—if not in actuality then in the acceptable thinking of today's Left, which includes anti-Zionism to a large degree.

      The Communists have always been anti-Zionists, as far as back as 1920, and today many of their tenets have gained mainstream acceptance in the Left, among them the Soviet-fabricated narrative of Zionism as an "offshoot of Western imperialism." For a right-winger like me this is of little concern, but left-wing Zionists are up against mighty forces in their movement. An attempt to revive the old Social-Democrat Left, the Euston Manifesto, was once made but failed to gain much traction.

      An interesting discussion, though in the world of practical considerations I care little about the distinctions among the various anti-Zionists—whether Far Left, Far Right, Islamic, Ultra-Orthodox (like Neturei Karta) or anything else I haven't thought of, anti-Zionism is for me the same illegitimate political movement centered on the idea that it's acceptable to rob the Jewish nation of its self-determination on its own land. Whatever their political orientation, no one of them gets a pass from me, and no one of them should be accorded legitimacy by any decent people.

    5. Well if you want to box white middle class urban American college student dilettantes as 'the real left wing' you're free to do so. They have almost no legitimacy as any meaningful political movement that derived any results. Even Todd Gitlin, one of the founders of the SDS and the Port Huron Statement said 10 years ago it was all a waste of time and mostly it was to get high and laid.

    6. Let's say that if the Social-Democrat Left were still an extant political force in today's world, I'd consider them as real left-wingers as the Marxists are. But as they've been steamrollered by the Gramscian March, it's a moot point. No point discussing whether they're real left-wingers now that they no longer significantly exist.

  3. I am one of those people that you spoke about in that I am a passionately committed Zionist, and have been for nearly 50 years, and I am also a strong Progressive in my working for women's rights, LGBT rights, and the environment which means that I simply can't attach myself to the Republican Party. I agree that this state that I am in is often very uncomfortable. I have not sat on the sidelines concerning Israel as anyone who knows me either personally or through my articles and commentaries, would readily verify. However, Israel would have a better chance of attracting more Progressives if there weren't so many Israelis like Olmert, Peres, and even Netanyahu who pander to the worst elements of the Left. These people constantly betray Jews everywhere by giving the Palestinians whatever they will take and accepting the fact that nothing is given in return. They have bought into the fantasy of peace with people whose only goal is to eradicate Israel and subjugate or kill all the Jews. So, for now at least, I'll continue being a Progressive Israeli-American who loves Israel above all else.

    1. Dafna Yee,

      Your political position of being a Zionist but left-wing on most issues would be perfectly in line in Israel, where, unlike in America with its package-deal politics, it's just fine to be hawkish on the Jewish–Arab Conflict but left-wing on all other issues. In the latest Israeli elections, the vote went big to Yair Lapid's socialist agenda while the Israeli Jewish populace has budged very little on geopolitics.

      I don't know how it is in the rest of the world (I except in Europe it's much worse), but America doesn't strike me as a comfortable place for left-wing Zionists nowadays. Kudos to you on your efforts, and hang in there.

    2. I suggest that you may more appropriately be defined as a liberal than as a progressive, in that the latter seems more apt to have adopted the relativistic framework that cannot bring itself to stand up for universal rights and values or to call out bigotry without discrimination.

      Moreover, progressives are less hesitant to use the power of the state to instill their views of social justice even if it may infringe on the individual's right of self-determination.

    3. I would call it conservative. Classically conservative in the model of Edmund Burke, JS Mill, Russell Kirk, Wendell Berry, Joseph de Maistre, Alexis de Toqueville, Enoch Powell, Robert Penn Warren, John Ruskin, Jacques Barzun, Kenneth Minogue, Jean Francois Revel, Alain Finkelkraut, Pascal Bruckner and possibly Pierre Manent. I'm not sure where Isaiah Berlin fits in - possibly Romantic Liberalism?

      They would all call themselves liberal, in the classically liberal tradition. It's only since 1940 or so the west began to call them conservatives or agrarian conservatives or whatever handle was vogue at the time.