Israel’s far right didn’t need to “kidnap” Zionism. The vast middle gave it away.

This weekend, renowned Holocaust scholar Shaul Friedlander gave sharp expression to a feeling shared broadly by many Jews, in Israel and the Diaspora. “Zionism has been taken, kidnapped even, by the far right,” Friedlander said in an interview with Haaretz. And all around the world, these Jews shook their heads, and sighed. Yes, they thought, it has been.

I have enormous respect for Prof. Friedlander, but I’m afraid I have to disagree. Zionism wasn’t kidnapped, or even merely “taken,” by the far right. It was handed over, with barely a peep, by the vast middle.

Our Ze’ev Jabotinskys, Geula Cohens, and Meir Kahanes have always had a central role in Jewish nationalist thought, but the 21st century has seen their like rise to new prominence. Centrists, hard-core peaceniks, and leftists have watched grimly as Israel has drifted ever rightward since the second intifada. Every step toward peace seemed doomed from the outset, and Israel’s leadership took care to tell us that there just wasn’t anyone to talk to. More and more settlements were built, but again, Israel’s leadership always kindly clarified that these don’t stand in the way of peace, and really, what’s another road, another red roof?

Wars, incursions, bombings – all are sad, indeed, particularly when innocent Israelis are hurt or killed, but human rights abuses by the military? The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and anyone who says different is probably an anti-Semite. Or, if the source is a Jew, a self-hater. Or, if the source is an Israeli combat soldier, a self-hater and an embarrassment to the nation. Demagogues climbed to the top of Israel’s political ladder, gained government ministries, passed anti-democratic laws, and structured budgets to make Israel’s occupation permanent – and the vast middle has watched, and sighed. And written checks, and sent their kids on Birthright, and floated in the Dead Sea.

Because it’s easier. It’s easier to believe that ethnic anxiety is the only true form of Judaism. It’s easier to believe that boys who look like your boys must be nice boys.

To read the rest of this post, please click through to The Forward.

Oldie-but-goodie: Why two states.

UPDATE: To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV


A while ago, I was asked in the comments why I support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, I in my role as an American citizen am asked to support the maintenance and creation of two single-identity states. I’m a both pluralist in my bones, and, despite my preference for the highly unlikely solution a federated state, quite practical.

So, my question to you: Why should a pluralist support a two-state solution, particularly when that solution explicitly rejects pluralism?

And, if the answer is about practicalities, then I also have to ask how practical is a two-state solution?

I think that this is a very legitimate, and important question, both in its specifics (why should a pluralist support an anti-pluralist political solution? is this solution even practical?), and in general: Why the hell two states?

What with the near parity in current Israeli and Palestinian population figures, and Israel’s endless building in the territories (making a contiguous Palestine a near-impossibility), doesn’t it make more sense to leapfrog over an idea whose time has past and just go straight to something else?

A fair number of people have in fact begun to openly advocate a one-state solution, and I can see why. A single state — often referred to as “a state of all its citizens,” in reference to the fact that a Jewish State cannot, by definition, genuinely be the state of its non-Jewish citizens — is far more in keeping with the values on which I was raised and am raising my children. One person-one vote, for instance, and multiculturalism. Mutual respect, liberty and justice for all. As I have said in the past, these ideas move me deeply and inform both my daily life and my political actions.

And yet for Israel/Palestine, I still passionately support a two-state solution, nationalism at its purest. WTF?

Simply put, at this point in blood-drenched history, the idea that Israelis and Palestinians would readily agree, en masse, to give up on their dreams of national statehood is utopian. At best.

First of all, and aside from anything else, a majority of Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike favor a two-state solution — 64% and 55%, respectively.

The search for a two-state agreement has become such boring conventional wisdom — and so frustratingly unachieveable — that people forget how revolutionary the idea really is. The real achievement of the Oslo Process was that it made a once crazy notion commonplace. Until the early 1990s, both sides roundly rejected the idea of sharing the land: in 1987, only 21% of Israeli Jews were willing to consider it, and Palestinians could be arrested for flying their flag, just as Israelis could be arrested for meeting with members of the very organization with which we now negotiate as a matter of course, the PLO.

Furthermore, there is vanishingly little support for any other resolution of the conflict. Only 11% of Palestinians support “either of the other alternatives under discussion, a bi-national state of Palestinians and Israelis or a confederation with neighboring Jordan and Egypt,” and while I can’t find poll numbers regarding Israeli support for a one-state solution, I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of those 36% who oppose two-states aren’t looking to live in multicultural harmony with their Palestinian neighbors. Some surely are, but the majority (like, for instance, the 25% who oppose dismantling even the “outpost” settlements, recognized as illegal even by the Israeli government) are far more likely interested in continuing to hold the Palestinians down — or just plain kicking them out.

Moreover, an enormous amount of work has already gone into laying the ground-work for the establishment of a two-state resolution. From the 2000 Clinton Parameters, to the non-official Geneva Accord (2003), to the Arab Peace Initiative (2002 and 2007) the basic framework has never been more clear. Today, quite honestly, the only thing that stands between us and lasting peace is a lack of courage and goodwill (well, and a seemingly endless Israeli building program on the West Bank — but that which is built by human hands can also be pulled down by human hands).

But beyond all of that, I believe that for the peace to be lasting, both peoples will need some time to get used to being neighbors without being at each other’s throats. I can’t provide links for this — as it is my gut sense, based in years of exposure to the story — but I just cannot believe that Israel’s Jews and the Palestinians are ready to pay taxes together, develop an educational system, and choose a new anthem. They hate and fear each other too thoroughly, and for too many good reasons. They both need time to lick their wounds, get to know each other as something other than Evil, and build (yes) confidence. It would be a waste of our little remaining energy and too-few resources to try to organize people where we want them to be — like all people, Israelis and Palestinians can only be organized where they actually are. No matter how we feel about where they are.

Ultimately, I believe that humanity will move beyond nationalism. I believe that nationalism will prove itself an important stepping stone to something better, and that, if we are very lucky (very very lucky), the people known today as “Israelis” and “Palestinians” will live in some sort of federation, which will in turn prove itself to be a stepping stone to – what? I don’t know. I can hardly imagine actually. My mind (quite literally) goes to Star Trek, and John Lennon.

But that isn’t now. And we can’t yet get there from here.

If we don’t create the context in which people can begin to heal and realize their self-expressed dreams, I fear the sheer, unmitigated pain and misery we will wind up inflicting on each other — beyond anything we have seen to date. Indeed, I fear flat-out catastrophe, yet another great disaster for both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples. And so, I’m sticking with (am stuck with) the imperfect idea of building two separate states. To my mind, it’s the only choice that has any chance of both being realized, and doing actual good.

Related: In the meantime, I also wrote Why I still call myself a Zionist.

Why I still call myself a Zionist.

5/24/11 UPDATE:
To see me speaking on Russia Today about the Obama speech and Netanyahu reaction to same, please click here:
Israel, Palestine, Obama, Netanyahu & me – on Russian TV.


As I get ready to go to the J Street conference this weekend, I find myself grappling with all those lovely issues that an American-Israeli peace activist must occasionally grapple with. What shoes to wear? What books to bring in the carry-on? Why do I still insist on applying to myself that much maligned descriptor “Zionist”?

I mean honestly, haven’t I gotten the memo? Zionists “barely resemble humans,” as one tweet recently had it. None of the cool, peace-n-justice loving kids are Zionists anymore! C’mon now!

There are a handful of reasons for my mulishness, however, and they start from the most simple: Words mean things.

“Zionist” does not mean “fascist” or “imperialist” or “running dog” or even “baby-killer.” It means “Jewish nationalist.” So there’s that. I am forever getting hung up on the fact that words have actual, working definitions.

And then there’s the fact that I firmly believe that my side (the Israeli/Jewish side) has absolutely no business telling the other side (the Palestinian side) how to define themselves or their terms. They get to define themselves, not me. And so, ipso facto, I’m not willing to say that those who have issues with Israeli government policy — no matter how deep and just the issues may be — now have a right to define my people and our terms for us.

And finally, if I am accepting of — indeed, promoting of — Palestinian nationalism, I cannot find any way clear to denying my own people their nationalism.

I have questions about nationalism. Big questions. I genuinely believe (as I’ve said before) that nationalism is a stage in human development and we will, one day, please God, achieve something better.

But that day is not yet here.

And if nationalism is still the world’s current geopolitical organizing principle (and it is, whether I like it or not), and I accept, promote and support Palestinian nationalism — well then, Jews have the same right to their own nationalist visions and dreams.

Jews had long shared a language and a culture and a deeply beloved land when the notion of modern nationalism first came into vogue in the late 19th century — the fact that we hadn’t lived on that land for centuries was because we had been brutally thrown off it and hounded across the globe. It was not a choice, a usurpation — it was a rolling genocide that failed. My people prayed to return to that land three times a day, in a language and within a cultural heritage that spanned centuries. If that doesn’t constitute the building blocks of the modern construct we know as “nationalism,” I don’t know what does.

And so: If I support Palestinian nationalism, I cannot in good conscience tell my own people to drop theirs. If I believe that my people has no right to tell the Palestinians what to call themselves, I cannot in good conscience tell my people that their words are rank and vile and must be got rid of. And if I believe that we have a duty to use language in order communicate the truth — not pull it and push it so that it fits in the boxes that best serve our political ends — then I cannot in good conscious quietly accept the viciousness and vitriol (and often barely-veiled antisemitism) that pass for “a definition of Zionism” among many who fight alongside me for the rights of the Palestinian people.

I don’t wear the word with much ease, it’s true. Too many have attached too much hate to it now, and, as I said, I’m not entirely sure that I’m fully on-board with nationalism, of any kind, anymore. I surely won’t argue with Jews who say they just can’t apply that word to themselves at this point, particularly if they have transcended nationalism in their own personal ideology.

But until I’m convinced that nationalism is no longer the path we must trod for the forseeable future, until I’m convinced that Israelis and Palestinians alike are willing and able to give up the dreams of decades and centuries and throw in their lot with each other, I will still use the dreaded Z word.

It comes down to this: I cannot believe that supporting Palestinian rights demands that I turn my back on my own people. And so I won’t.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.