Today I ran a piece in Haaretz in which I examine the fact that for many American Jews — maybe not the Famous Jews, but the ones who most often speak in whispers — the current war in Gaza is a huge stumbling block now standing between them and Israel, or (worse yet) them and their Judaism — and oddly enough, two Famous Jews also wrote today about the challenges they now face in that very same regard. I’ll blockquote them (Roger Cohen in The New York Times, and Jonathan Chait in The New Yorker), and then give you the top of my own piece.
I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinces me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by United Nations Resolution 181 of 1947, calling for the establishment of two states — one Jewish, one Arab — in Mandate Palestine. I am a Zionist who believes in the words of Israel’s founding charter of 1948 declaring that the nascent state would be based “on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”
What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the inexorable growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River; that has, for almost a half-century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolates moderate Palestinians like Salam Fayyad in the name of divide-and-rule; that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state; that seeks tactical advantage rather than the strategic breakthrough of a two-state peace; that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and is then surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and that responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.
This, as a Zionist, I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is. Children over millennia were the transmission belt of Jewish survival, the object of what the Israeli novelist Amos Oz and his daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger have called “the intergenerational quizzing that ensures the passing of the torch.” No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents.
Netanyahu appeared on several occasions to approach the brink of agreement, but pulled back in the face of right-wing pressure within his coalition. Numerous figures in the story attempt to plumb the Israeli Prime Minister’s psychology — does he truly have it in him to go over the brink and make peace, or is he merely bluffing? — but the exercise turns out to be ultimately futile. Either Israeli politics or Netanyahu’s own preferences kept Netanyahu from striking a deal. And since that failure, the most moderate leadership the Palestinians ever had, and probably ever will have, has been marginalized.
Viewed in this context, the campaign of Israeli air strikes in Gaza becomes a horrifying indictment. It is not just that the unintended deaths of Palestinians is so disproportionate to any corresponding increase in security for the Israeli targets of Hamas’s air strikes. It is not just that Netanyahu is able to identify Hamas’s strategy — to create “telegenically dead Palestinians” — yet still proceeds to give Hamas exactly what it is after. It is that Netanyahu and his coalition have no strategy of their own except endless counterinsurgency against the backdrop of a steadily deteriorating diplomatic position within the world and an inexorable demographic decline. The operation in Gaza is not Netanyahu’s strategy in excess; it is Netanyahu’s strategy in its entirety. The liberal Zionist, two-state vision with which I identify, which once commanded a mainstream position within Israeli political life, has been relegated to a left-wing rump within it.
It’s hard to sketch an absence or reproduce a silence. It’s easier to report whispers, but those who whisper often seek anonymity. And anecdotes, of course, are not data.
Yet anecdotally, in whispers and off-the-record comments, in sudden Facebook defriendings or empty chairs at services, Israel’s most recent wave of hostilities appears to be leading to increasing alienation for a number of American Jews, despite the call for solidarity. For many of these members of our community, the sensation comes as a deep, identity-shaking shock.