How to respond to novelist Ben Ehrenreich’s maddening oped in the Los Angeles Times (“Zionism is the problem“), arguing that the very idea of Israel is fundamentally flawed and inevitably oppressive because it is based “on a single ethnic or religious identity in a territory that is ethnically and religiously diverse”?
I’d start with Gadi Taub’s 2007 piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Liberalism, Democracy, and the Jewish State,” which neatly undermines the liberal anti-Zionists’ assault on Jewish nationalism.
Taub wonders why the Jewish brand of nationalism is considered exceptional and what is it that makes the “idea of a Jewish democratic state seem more contradictory to so many critics today than an English democratic state.”
Is it religion? Israel is a hybrid of secular institutions and religious influence, but England, Denmark, and Norway all have state churches, and the Poles and Greeks have a clearly religious national character.
Does secularism guarantee “democracy”? While militantly secular France denies basic religious rights to Muslims, for instance, Israel has an Arab-language school system and state-sponsored Muslim family courts.
What about the Law of Return, granting automatic citizenship to Jewish immigrants? Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, and Poland have similar laws for their citizens.
Or is it “ethnicity”? “Despite repeated usage,” writes Taub, “it is still not clear why the term “ethnic” is useful for describing Israel, which is far less ethnically homogeneous than, say, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Poland, or Sweden. In what sense does “ethnic” describe the common identity of Israeli Jews from Argentina, England, Ethiopia, Germany, Morocco, Russia, and Yemen?”
Is it the existence of a national minority (Israeli Arabs) within Israel’s boundaries? Writes Taub:
Other nation-states also have national minorities that want to preserve their separate identities: the Basques in Spain and the Germans in Poland, say. Few observers, however, make that grounds for denying the rights of the majority in Poland or Spain to national self-determination.
No, writes Taub, the problem is that the anti-Zionists want to impose an American brand of nationalism that they only confuse with liberal deomocracy. He concludes:
Imposing America’s model of one liberal state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would mean suppressing the aspirations of both Jews and Palestinians to self-determination. [According to Israel's critics,] American notions of democracy are what count, not what Iraqis, or Palestinians, or Israeli Jews want. A peaceful future will be tied to national self-determination. It will have to rely on stable nation-states. Transcending nationalism would be, in this case, promoting civil war.