Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberal Zionists

Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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Two Revealing Quotes on Peter Beinart

Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

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Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

Beinart’s book hasn’t influenced liberal Zionists. Instead he’s repelled them, while encouraging the fringiest of the fringe Israel-bashers, who think it’s only a matter of time before he’s in Mondoweiss territory. Again, it has to be asked: What is Beinart’s end game here? As his audience dwindles, will he pivot back to the center, or venture further into the lunatic asylum?

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What Israel Needs From American Jews

Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and it’s not likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day, if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not listen to their criticisms.

We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for “liberal Zionists” to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of which have some representation in its parliament), and if American Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls it, “for the sake of heaven,” which ought to be conducted with civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal Zionists.

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Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and it’s not likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day, if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not listen to their criticisms.

We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for “liberal Zionists” to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of which have some representation in its parliament), and if American Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls it, “for the sake of heaven,” which ought to be conducted with civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal Zionists.

Much ink has been spilled and great deal of space on the Internet has been wasted debating the dubious merits of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, but as off target as his views about American Jewry may be in many respects, his ignorance of Israel has made it a symbol of all that is wrong with the liberal Jewish critique of the country. It’s all well and good for Beinart and other American Jews to wish for peace or to argue that different policies might bring it closer. It’s that they operate in an intellectual vacuum in which the real world dilemmas of Israeli life and the realities of Palestinian nationalism don’t exist.

That’s why, despite the fact that the vast majority of Israelis desire a two-state solution and are no more enamored of extremist settlers than Beinart, they support the government they elected in 2009 and are almost certain to return it to power when it faces the electorate sometime next year. They do not see their country walking off a cliff bent on suicidal policies as Beinart and others preach. Instead, they believe they are undertaking prudent measures of self-defense and asserting their right to exist in peace and freedom. Israel has achieved much in its 64 years of existence, but it cannot magically transform the political culture of the Palestinians that rejects the legitimacy of any Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

This is a basic truth that most Israelis intuitively understand but which continues to elude some of their liberal American friends. Israeli Independence Day is as good a day as any for some of these preening liberal Zionists to ask themselves why is it that the average Israeli regards their impulse to save Israel from itself with a mixture of humor and contempt? After a generation of territorial withdrawals, peace accords and peace offers that have been consistently rejected by the Palestinians, Israelis are right to view those who act as if the history of the last 20 years never happened as simply irrelevant.

Those American Jews who support Israel against the assault on its existence are often accused by their foes of believing in a mythical Israel and having no conception of the real place. But despite the naivete of some who wish to hear no evil of Israel, it is those liberals and left-wingers who believe that the Jewish state can unilaterally create peace or in any way diminish the ideological and religious opposition of the Muslim and Arab worlds to its existence who are really living in a fantasy world.

Liberal Zionists and other so-called progressives should not feel inhibited from putting forward their vision of what Israel can or should be. But what they first need to do is to show some respect for the people of Israel and demonstrate some understanding of the limits to which their ideas can alter political reality on either side of the security fence. Without that respect and understanding, Israelis are to be forgiven for viewing American liberal Zionism as a thin façade for self-righteous and ignorant claptrap.

 

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