These have not been easy times for the group known as liberal Zionists, those who support a two-state solution and envisaged an Israel that upheld democratic values and human rights and co-existed peacefully with a Palestinian state and its Arab neighbors. There was always a latent contradiction in the fact that any state that has an official religion and makes laws accommodating it necessarily undermines democracy but liberal Zionists felt that the influence of religion could be minimized and Israel could be Jewish state the same way that England has an official chirch.
What they have observed instead is that Israel has become an increasingly hardline theocratic state. The last election that saw prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu retain power by issuing nakedly racist calls and rejecting completely the idea of ever allowing a Palestinian state, and then forming a coalition with hardline parties whose members have even advocated genocidal policies, has revealed that what he envisages is the indefinite subjugation of Palestinians in an apartheid state or their forced expulsion. This has led commentators like Jonathan Freedland and Bernard Avishai to wonder if liberal Zionism is any longer a viable position.
Some liberal Zionists are scrambling to find a way to counteract this trend and they recognize that only the US that heavily subsidizes Israel has the clout to get that nation to reverse course. Peter Beinart gives his own prescription for what needs to be done to counteract the latest even more extreme right wing Israeli government. He says that the Israel lobby will try and act as if nothing has changed but that will not work because the former key players such as AIPAC are being marginalized by newer figures with loads of money like Sheldon Adelson who think that they can buy support and who are not as concerned about putting a nice face on a terrible reality.
The American Jewish establishment will never admit that its theory of change has been discredited. It will go on insisting, no matter how laughable that insistence becomes, that Israel is serious about creating a Palestinian state. The establishment’s disconnection from reality will gradually make it irrelevant. Already, the trend is clear: AIPAC, which claims Israel will end the occupation, is being supplanted by Sheldon Adelson, who celebrates Israel for entrenching the occupation. Adelson is not taking over the institutions of American Jewish life only because of his money. He’s taking over because he looks reality in the eye.
He says that those who really care about the continuance of Israel as a viable state need to look reality squarely in the eye too and take the difficult decisions necessary to preserve it.
Our principle should be this: Support any pressure that is nonviolent and consistent with Israel’s right to exist. That means backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations. It means labeling and boycotting settlement goods. It means joining and amplifying nonviolent Palestinian protest in the West Bank. It means denying visas to, and freezing the assets of, Naftali Bennett and other pro-settler leaders. It means pushing the Obama administration to present out its own peace plan, and to punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government for rejecting it. It means making sure that every time Benjamin Netanyahu and the members of his cabinet walk into a Jewish event outside Israel, they see Diaspora Jews protesting outside. It means loving Israel more than ever, and opposing its government more than ever. It means accepting that, for now at least, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin.
For many Diaspora Jews, this transition will feel painful and unnatural. It certainly does for me. But there is now no other way. We know in our bones, even without Meir Dagan telling us, that Israel is headed toward moral disaster. We know that a non-democratic Israel is a dead Israel. We know that if Israel makes permanent an occupation that reeks of colonialism and segregation, an America that is becoming ever more black and brown will eventually turn against it. We know the BDS one-staters are winning. We know that if Israel continues on its current path, our children will one day live in a world without a Jewish state. We know that our grandparents’ generation of Diaspora Jews will be remembered for having helped birth the first Jewish country in 2,000 years, and that ours will be remembered for having helped destroy it.
Beinart’s is just one of the many voices raising the alarm at the direction things are going. But unfortunately for people like him, Adelson and others like him are willing to pour immense amounts of money into those candidates who support his extreme hardline Israeli policies. The Republican party seems to have fallen in line and thrown in its lot completely with the most hardline elements in Israel. It remains to be seen if the more thoughtful voices in the debate can overcome this huge hurdle.