Something’s bubbling up, not so much inspired by Peter Beinart’s call for a “Liberal Zionism,” but drinking from the same well.
From a petition by longtime Jewish-American Zionist doves, to responses to Beinart’s essay, there’s a sense that Liberal Zionists — unapologetically Zionist but insistent on the two-state solution — are seeking to distinguish themselves from a Left that cares more about isolating Israel than they do about its security or future.
They’ll still be attacked from the Right, no doubt, but the “anti-Israel” charges will have less chance of sticking.
Here’s Beinart on the “Liberal Zionist” dilemma:
Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
Jeffrey Goldberg, who intends to debate Beinart but is in many ways sympathetic to his argument, says he feels lonely as a “Liberal Zionist” :
Who else is still out there arguing that you can be liberal and Zionist at the same time, meaning, pro-Israel and anti-occupation? There’s Leon Wieseltier, of course, but who else? Tom Friedman is in the same camp (and has been there for a long time) but he pays only intermittent attention to the problem.
Goldberg puts Beinart in the LZ camp, along with Jonathan Chait of the New Republic. Chait doesn’t buy a lot of Beinart’s argument, but essentially agrees with him on the pressures facing Liberal Zionism:
Liberal Zionism is being squeezed on both ends by opponents who seek to define it out of existence. Conservatives wish to define Zionism as a conservative idea, so that any sympathizer of Israel must support the Republican Party. Left-wing critics of Israel, likewise, have found their most potent rhetorical tool to be describing any supporter of the U.S.-Israel alliance, from Likudniks to Meretz Party doves, as neoconservatives, so as to brand support for Israel as right-wing and unacceptable.
And yet the Liberal Zionists aren’t giving up. A number of important doves, impeccably credentialed in the Jewish world, are collecting names on a petition to support the “American government’s vigorous encouragement of the parties to make the concessions necessary for negotiations to advance.”
The list of endorsers, including Steven M. Cohen (the sociologist), Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Prof. Hasia Diner, Rabbi Irwin Kula, and Prof. Michael Walzer, are reliable doves, but unlike J Street are impervious to the charge that they are “anti-Israel” or anti-Zionist.
You can note the differences in the language of their petition:
Israel faces existential threats, both from without and from within. We do not take these lightly, but we reject the view that they are Israel’s inevitable destiny.
Some of us have lived and worked in Israel; all of us have visited there many times. We resonate strongly with Israel’s Declaration of Independence when it asserts that it is “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” We believe without reservation that “Israel is the national home of the Jewish people,” and we therefore feel both entitled and obligated to make our views known.
Together with all Israeli citizens, both Jews and Arabs, we lament the decades of death and destruction that have plagued the Land of Israel. We categorically condemn terrorism and we mourn the tragic loss of blood and treasure that has afflicted the region over the years. At the same time, we abhor the continuing occupation that has persisted for far too long; it cannot and should not be sustained.
The success of this is petition will be if, as per Chait, it manages to piss off the Left and the Right. I think there’s enought there to do both, and the debate for Israel’s future will be all the richer for it.