I think it’s odd that we should still be arguing the rights & wrongs of “Zionism,” nearly 65 years after Israel’s birth. But since anti-Zionists insist, we Zionists should oblige them. Happily, some of their critiques are polite and rational. For example, this is from the NY Times Opiniator by Joseph Levine; Mira Sucharov responds to Levine’s civilized philosophical critique of Israel’s “right to exist” at the Open Zion blog in the Daily Beast. And this is by Jerry Haber also writing at Open Zion; like Levine, Haber is an academic philosopher and critic of Zionism.
|Perhaps the most potent rebuttal to both writers is that Zionism is analogous to affirmative action for a historically oppressed minority group which has all too often suffered grievously due to not having a state of its own. This was Arthur Hertzberg‘s liberal defense of Zionism. Of course, this does not mean that non-Jewish minorities should be subject to unfair treatment undermining their civil or human rights.
Jerry Haber (according to his personal website, not his real name, but “the nom de plume of an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, who divides his time between Israel and the US”) is too clever by half. For example, I’m sure that Peter Beinart doesn’t in principle reject a peace agreement with Syria that would involve a return of the Golan Heights to a future peaceful Syrian regime. And we’d agree with Beinart that as a practical measure, a peace agreement
with the Palestinians would be facilitated by a land swap permitting a majority of Jewish settlers to remain under Israeli sovereignty within new borders that create a Palestinian state.
Where Haber is clearly wrong is in arguing that Israel’s Law of Return empowers Jews as adherents of a religion. Many people have become Israelis under the Law of Return who do not meet the Halachic (religious) definition of being Jewish, yet fit the categories that would have subject them to Nazi persecution as Jews: e.g., people who are only “Jewish” by patrilineal descent or who profess no religion but are Jewish by ethnic background.
And most countries in Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, are “owned” by its ethnic majority, even though one or more other ethnic groups may live there in substantial numbers. Some of these have done well in this regard as democratic countries — e.g., Finland, despite a substantial Swedish minority — while others are very divided and engage in questionable practices, like Latvia and Lithuania regarding their Russian-speaking minorities (barely even a minority in Latvia). Finally, the most extreme examples of majority domination over minorities and ethnic/sectarian conflict occur in Arab and Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East. I cite these examples to debunk the notion that Israel is uniquely egregious as “an ethnocracy” as opposed to a liberal democracy. But I very much favor policies that would move Israel in a more pluralistic and inclusive direction, especially regarding its 20% minority of Arab citizens. [A somewhat different version of this piece is posted at the Open Zion blog of the Daily Beast.]