Posts Tagged ‘Abe Foxman’

Can there be a Liberal Zionism?

May 22, 2010

A version of this article appeared in Zeek Magazine.

Peter Beinart’s essay in the New York Review of Books about the demise of liberal Zionism has caused quite a stir. But I don’t really want to add to all the commentary surrounding it.

Instead, I found interesting one small piece of an exchange between Beinart and Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. During their discussion, they touched briefly on Israel’s raison d’etre. Beinart  was the one who, at least initially, stressed the need for a place for Jews to flee to in case of persecution (an under-appreciated aspect of the Holocaust was the fact that, after so many episodes of persecution and flight by Jews over the centuries, a great many of Europe’s Jews had nowhere to run tp from the Nazis). Goldberg emphasized Israel as a homeland and center of national

A peace rally at Rabin Square

expression for Jews.

These two notions were both symbiotic and a source of tension for most of Zionist history before the creation of the State of Israel. There is obviously overlap between them, particularly when it comes to building a strong, independent, Jewish society, which was Zionism’s ultimate goal. But there is also tension.

Theodor Herzl, as is well known, was inspired by anti-Semitic events, notably the Dreyfus Affair, to develop his vision of Political Zionism. But Herzl didn’t envision a state whose pride and identity were wrapped up in its military might, but in its wisdom and enlightenment.

This question has largely disappeared from the landscape. In the pre-state years, Zionism, whatever else it may have been, was a liberation movement with a revolutionary discourse. It could be whatever it wanted to be, and as such was wide open to all sorts of ideological, even utopian, thinking. The establishment of the state changed Zionist discourse from a significantly theoretical one – “what kind of state shall we build?” – to a more practical one – “how does our government deal with the current and future situation?”

Israel held on to a liberal model of ideological thinking for a long time after that shift, but, in combination with a permanent state of conflict, the ethnic nature of that conflict, the occupation and a significant rightward drift over the past 35 years, Israel became a state of refuge for its Jewish supporters in the Diaspora and its citizens were cemented into a bunker mentality. (more…)

Prescription for Survival

May 7, 2010

Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian Israeli citizen who lives in Haifa has been arrested and a gag order has been placed over the case, demonstrating that the embarrassing Anat Kamm affair taught Israel nothing. I wrote about this and the implications for Israeli democracy for Zeek Magazine.

Forcing Peace

April 9, 2010

(A version of this piece appears in Zeek Magazine)

Now, here’s a sequence of events.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu states that Israel would not be bullied into peace. The implication, that peace is something the Netanyahu government is, at best, not enthused about, was lost on most of the media.

Where did this tough stance in the face of pressure come from? Well, it turns out that he was referring to an idea that was soon reported by David Ignatius in the Washington Post. According to Ignatius, President Barack Obama is seriously considering putting forth an American peace plan that would be accompanied by American pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians to accept it in principle.

One day later, Netanyahu decided not to attend a summit on nuclear weapons being organized by Obama in

Netanyahu is increasingly being forced to make it clear that he just doesn't want peace

Washington. The excuse he offered was that Arab states intended too bring up Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its possession of nuclear weapons. Bibi defines this as “Israel-bashing,” a fairly absurd characterization since Israel is well-known as having nuclear weapons (and really makes no secret of it), and it’s more than fair that this be brought up.

More to the point, Bibi surely knew that Arab states would raise this issue in a private meeting long before he accepted the invitation to attend. No, his reason for cancelling is the ongoing tension with Washington over building in Jerusalem, the fact that he would not have had a personal meeting with Obama on the trip and the new idea of an American peace plan.

What can be gleaned from these events? The most obvious point is that the Obama Administration is forcing Netanyahu to make it more and more obvious that he does not want peace. The mantra that Bibi has repeated — “Israel desperately desires peace but has no partner”– has been exposed as paper-thin dissembling. The current Israeli government has no interest in evacuating any settlements, sharing Jerusalem in any way or withdrawing Israeli troops from any of the West Bank. They certainly have interest in finding a way to connect Gaza to the West Bank, much less see the establishment of a Palestinian state. (more…)

The Crisis of Jewish Democracy

April 2, 2010

In my latest piece in Zeek, I look at the new clarity of so-called “pro-Israel” voices which are not actually pro-Israel but rather anti-peace. These voices are taken to represent Israelis and American Jews and in fact are not at all representative of either group, but stand for views that the majority of those groups reject.

Readers may also want to check out MJ Rosenberg’s latest piece, which appeared just after I posted mine. It’s got a similar theme.

Jerusalem, the Capital of War

March 19, 2010

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I continue to follow the developments in the US’ conflict with Israel over East Jerusalem, and how important it is that the US stand fast on the new reality here: that the world can no longer tolerate Israel treating what even they agree as a final status issue as having already been decided.

Obama Starts Rising to the Challenge

March 15, 2010

Well, color me stunned.

In my most recent article, I described Benjamin Netanyahu as having won his roll of the dice in the wake of the Israeli announcement of new Jerusalem building while Joe Biden was trying to restart the peace process.

I spoke too soon. Perhaps one can say my expectations of the Obama Administration had been lowered and so the recent developments come as a pleasant surprise. But pleasant it is, and the welcome stance from Washington is going to force some recalculations in Israel. How much of a recalculation is going to depend on how steadfast Obama can remain in the face of what is likely to be a growing backlash.

Obama is explaining things these days to Netanyahu

The Obama Administration may have accepted the excuse that the timing of the announcement of 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo was a bureaucratic foul-up. But the Israeli apology, which went out of its way to make it clear that it was only the timing that was seen to be at fault, was not sufficient for Washington.

By stressing that the only problem was the fact that the announcement came while Joe Biden was in Israel trying to start “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel put the Obama Administration in a bad position. If Washington accepted the apology and let the matter go, the talks were doomed because it would have meant, to the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, that the US was not objecting to the expansion of a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Even if they had continued, American credibility would have been so low as to make the talks pointless.

It is almost certain that such would have been precisely the course the Clinton or Bush, Jr. Administrations would have followed. But, recalling the early days of his administration, Obama broke that pattern. (more…)