Antony Lerman, a disenchanted former “liberal Zionist” in the UK claims in a NY Times op-ed that those of us who support a liberal two state vision should give up and submit to Israel’s anti-Zionist detractors. Read by clicking on the article’s title: “The End of Liberal Zionism.“
Partners board members have been discussing this extensively in the last week, with some of us impressed, others mainly disturbed by Lerman’s piece. With the permission of the following participants, we share some of our views below:
So what this article is telling us should appear rather dumb on the face of it. We are liberal Zionists, and we know we exist. Moreover Meretz, with which we identify, seems to be on the upswing. We don’t need to be told about the right-wing tide in Israel or that we are an embattled minority. We know that and we struggle on nonetheless. Let’s remind Mr. Lerman that we exist and invite him to join us.
Of course we are not threatened by the one-staters either, and we should welcome them as potential allies. One state, Lerman in fact reminds us, is what now exists. The area governed by the Palestinian Authority and Gaza constitute two semi-autonomous regions; the amount of autonomy they enjoy is controlled by Israel. So long as this situation exists the struggle of these people for more rights and more autonomy will continue. What is happening in Gaza now represents one phase of that struggle. And it seems to me that Hamas, despite assassinations of its leadership, is winning. Israel does not dare reoccupy the area, because it is too costly to take back and too wearing to hold one it is won back. Despite the blockade, Israel cannot prevent it from continuing to be an intolerable nuisance. Tight as the blockade was, it could not prevent the rockets and parts and small weapons from getting in.
For now Egypt has closed the tunnels on its side, but it can at any time reopen them. Israel knows also as a result of this war that there is no deterrence. They have bombed as much as they can and Hamas will not submit. The handwriting is on the wall; they know they will have to buy peace by making concessions, loosening the blockade, and in the long run strengthening Gaza. If Israel cannot conquer it, they will have to make peace with it.
The issue becomes two states or three. The PA under Abbas has not abandoned hope either for two states. In that sense they are our mainstay; so long as they continue to work for two states, and they have the support of the U.S., the UN, the Arab states, and everyone else in doing so, they are likely to succeed without violence. Israel will be more and more isolated and the isolation will be costly. But worse than that is likely to happen if Israel fails to settle with the PA, supported diplomatically by the world, the U.N., and eventually the U.S. The relative peace and moderate protest on the West Bank persist only because of the belief that two states are in the offing. Once the Palestinians on the West Bank lose hope they will join with Hamas in the violent struggle. When that happens Israel will become a kind of Yugoslavia. And we know where that leads.
The demand for human rights for Palestinians in the one-state situation that exists will only help to demonstrate to the Israeli Right the impossibility of their position. An autocracy, or dictatorship, is not an option. Too many Israelis will join the Arabs in opposing it. A democracy in one state will make them face a future without a “Jewish” state. Two states there will be. The only question is how much more violence, as in Gaza, will be necessary to get there. History never stops. Each Gaza crisis has been bigger and worse than the preceding one. The next intifada is similarly going to be worse than the preceding ones for both Israelis and Palestinians, although disproportionately so for the latter. We Liberal Zionists understand that Israel is sitting on a powder keg. Far from being obsolete we are in Israel’s future.
I screened my film, CAN YOU HEAR ME? ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN WOMEN FIGHT FOR PEACE, in Berkeley recently. There were more than 60 people there. I am told they never get such a crowd for a film.
I think that there is a post Gaza War depression which the NYT article writer, Lerman, calls disillusionment with Liberal Zionism. Since the film was about women making peace, I had to admit that the women who were involved in making peace, including my two fighting protagonists Leah Shakdiel and Maha Abu Dayyieh Shamas are no longer working at peace making as women per se, and I admitted to the audience that I had lost touch with the Jerusalem Link and that I am asking myself where are the women. At which point members of the audience mentioned JVP and other groups to which I replied that I do not participate with BDS groups. Many in the audience did not know what BDS is. One person wanted to acknowledge the 2000 deaths of Palestinians.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, during the film, corrected my numbers for settlements, in the film completed in 2006, I said 350,000, she yelled out 650,000 and went on to give her very specific political point of view which I’ve differed with for many years, but I gave her space. I did say that I think it is time for new ways of approaching the problem and making new alliances which is something on my mind these days. I shared with the audience that I sent out two emails which surprised me, one about Pres. Ruvy Rivlin speaking on behalf of civil rights and equal rights for the Muslim wedding of an Israeli Jewish woman who converted to marry a Muslim — that drew some Jewish Israeli protestors.I think this is a post-traumatic time for Diaspora Jews. We have to think about what to say and do about fundamentalism, both Islamic and Jewish, but I think the threat of ISIS is primary to the world right now.
A very ahistorical article that denies Palestinians and the Arab states any agency in the conflict. For example, if the Palestinian Arab leadership had not violently rejected the UN partition plan in Nov. 1947 and immediately begun widespread attacks on the Yishuv instead, including a siege of Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that lasted several months — all a half year before the neighboring Arab armies invaded Palestine in May 1948 — would there have been any exodus of Palestinians at that time?
If there had been no terrorism by Hamas and Islamic Jihad during the Oslo years, including critically, the wave of attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in Feb.-March 1996, would Netanyahu have defeated Peres during the election in May? If Arafat had squelched the Second Intifada in late 2000 rather than encouraging it (“Jihad, Jihad, Jihad” he screamed at the time), would not the negotiators at Taba in Jan. 2001 have continued to make progress toward a 2-state agreement?
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but this writer — aside from not going into the history of the conflict at all — demeans and denigrates Meretz and the other left-wing forces in Israel. He also disregards the fact that Netanyahu’s Likud is the weakest ruling party ever in number of MKs. His party is actually down to 19 seats [out of 120], now tied with Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
Polls gyrate wildly in the wake of war; and it’s typical in any country that most people rally around the government in the same way that they rally around the flag in times of war, at the beginning, and then they usually become disappointed, even embittered, and often turn on the government in power.
And what’s his remedy? That Israel become the one-state ethnocracy that it’s in danger of becoming, and deny both Jews and Palestinians their long-term right to self-determination? Or that Israeli Jews will magically embrace all Palestinian Arabs (and vice versa) to live together in perpetuity in a single lovey-dovey country?
I think he brings up a different facet of what I tried to raise earlier about reassessing PPI’s role in this country and among our sister organizations, because this is a time of unusual and perhaps unprecedented crisis. Referencing Meretz’s social democratic platform is necessary but not sufficient.
Like some others in this discussion, I think Lerman’s piece is important and states some truths we have to face. Of course he over-generalizes about the weakness of the Israeli “liberals” (as he calls them) but I think it represents a reality we have to recognize. Meretz indeed stands out as the only consistent representative of what he calls liberal Zionism, but it has only 5% of the Knesset. Even if it doubles that in the next election, which I don’t think is likely, it will only be a mid-size party. The malaise Lerman describes is true, whether or not you accept every aspect of his history.
On the other hand, Lerman is weak on prescription. He implies he’s a one-stater but never says so. I have never understood how giving up on 2 states frees the left to take a more viable position, because I cannot imagine a viable one-state solution. I am happy to consider wide variations on the idea but the touchstone for me is political viability, or at least a path to that. That means coalitions, both to the left and right, especially on ending occupation.
Even if the mystique of liberal Zionism is tarnished, I don’t think it’s gone. When I was in Israel this summer, I surprised myself by realizing how dynamic the place is. My friends – virtually all of whom share my political views to some extent – are happy with their lives despite their discouragement with politics. I agree that the Gaza War is absolutely appalling and totally against Israel’s interests, and that the 95(!)% of the pop. that supports the war at this point is disconcerting (to say the least), but I still don’t see a more viable path than “liberal Zionism.”
P.S. Since we had a spirited discussion of the original article, I wanted to be sure that people saw this surprisingly good response in Ha’aretz. It doesn’t negate the truths of the original, but Michael Gross’s points are particularly relevant to us: “Not the end of liberal Zionism“; its subhead: “American liberal Zionists need to stop handwringing over internal Israeli politics and concentrate on lobbying the U.S. political system — where their influence is crucial and irreplaceable.” — Paul