Left Zionists respond to left critics, Part I

Left Zionists respond to left critics, Part I

On the evening of Tuesday, March 6, Meretz USA and Ameinu jointly hosted a panel discussion on the recent critical writings on Israel and the American Jewish community by Jimmy Carter and Professors Mearsheimer, Walt and Judt. My role was to discuss Tony Judt. The following is from my prepared text:

Like Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, Prof. Tony Judt has left the realm of scholarship and entered into advocacy. Judt is an internationally renowned historian at New York University. He’s an English Jew, about 58 or 59 years old, with a specialty in modern European history. He readily admits to having been the British Mazkir [director] of the left-Zionist youth movement, Dror, in the 1960s and to having lived on a kibbutz in Israel for a year or two.

He 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.

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….

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, but 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….”

Recall that Judt articulates the notion that Israel has arrived “too late,” making it “an anachronism.” But who defines what’s too late? More than one person has told me how this is reminiscent of Arnold Toynbee (a renowned British historian of the last century) calling the Jewish people a “fossil.” Click here for Part II.

By | 2007-03-08T17:04:00-05:00 March 8th, 2007|Blog|0 Comments

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