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Liberal Zionists fear equality More than Israeli Right

MONDOWEISS April 7, 2020
News & Opinion About Palestine, Israel & the United States

Liberal Zionists couldn’t end the occupation because they feared equality more than Israeli right
Opinion Philip Weiss on April 7, 2020 0 Comments
Flags at Peace Now rally, May 27, 2017, Tel Aviv.

It appears that Benny Gantz is going to fold right in with Benjamin Netanyahu to undertake annexation of the West Bank, or large portions thereof.

This is a huge blow to liberal Zionists who counted on Gantz as head of a centrist anti-Netanyahu party to move Israel away from the settlement project. Now he’s doing the opposite. The insult was redoubled when Amir Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party, with all of three members of parliament, announced that he was joining forces with Gantz.

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Bottom line, there is no political force in Israeli Jewish politics for ending the occupation. The only force inside Israel against occupation is the Joint List of Palestinian legislators; and they’re not allowed anywhere near government.

Yesterday on a J Street Zoom conference, two alarmed Israelis were imploring Democratic politicians to warn Israel that if it continues on this course, it will alienate the Democratic Party and undermine bipartisan consensus for Israel. In other words, Democrats should be threatening Israel with actual reductions of aid if Israel continues on this course.

But liberal Zionists never endorsed such threats over 25 years of Israeli expansion and feckless peace processing.

The obvious question about this liberal political disaster is: How did the liberal Zionists get it so wrong? These people hate the occupation, as a threat to the two-state solution. They have documented the abuses of occupation for 20 years. Yet why did everything they did to stop the occupation fail?

The answer is that liberal Zionists mistrusted the left more than they did the Zionist right. They were happy to argue the question with the Zionist right, in a spirit of Jewish solidarity (and lose again and again).

They didn’t even allow the left in the room. Because much of the left is anti-Zionist. And in the end, liberal Zionists really believe in the need for a Jewish state more than an end to the occupation.

So the only tool that could have stopped Israel– economic/symbolic global pressure through the nonviolent Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement– the liberal Zionists wanted nothing to do with. They ran numerous campaigns denouncing BDS. They supported legislation that says BDS is antisemitic.

The rightwing Israeli government is terrified of BDS. Benjamin Netanyahu rails against it as an existential threat, as undermining Israel’s reputation. Israel spends millions to combat it and rightwing Israel lobby groups spend millions here to fight it and try to make BDS illegal. Liberal Zionists largely joined the fight of its rightwing friends. Because many BDS’ers are against a Jewish state, and that was the number one priority for liberal Zionists. Liberal Zionists said the BDS campaign was against the “self-determination” of the Jewish people.

So even though liberal Zionists hated the occupation they became patsies for the occupation. Here are some of their tactical collapses:

–They said that Israel responded to love not pressure, look at Bill Clinton and Camp David, so we shouldn’t pressure Israel and make her feel insecure.

–They said that it was ok to talk about possibly conditioning aid to Israel that paid “for the demolition of Palestinian villages,” as Jeremy Ben-Ami said last October. But that $4 billion in aid must never be reduced. “J Street doesn’t think there is a reason for to reduce the level of the aid.”

–They said that political support for Israel must remain bipartisan. They did not want the aid politicized.

–They said that they would rather have the company of rightwing Zionists than anti-Zionists. Americans for Peace Now is on the board of AIPAC. J Street invites a lot of conservative American Zionists to speak, but never an anti-Zionist Jew (though some young ones slip through the cracks).

The liberal Zionists tried to redline anti-Zionism because they were concerned that anti-Zionist pressure would empower Palestinians who don’t believe in a Jewish state, and the result would be a one-state nightmare, “bloody rollercoaster,” as someone once put it, and possibly some implementation of the right of return under which Palestinian refugees or their descendants would get back homes and property stolen from them during the Nakba. Liberal Zionists were terrified of the right of return, which is a pillar of the BDS campaign, because it threatens the Jewish majority in Israel, and was thought to destabilize Israel. Though as even Leanne Gale pointed out in a rare anti-Zionist dissent at a J Street conference, the two-state solution called for addressing the right of return, and the real fear was BDS’s call for equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

And I actually think that that may be the most threatening plank of the BDS movement to many of us in the American Jewish community. Because it really gets to the heart of Zionism itself. It really gets to the heart of, Do we believe deep down, that there can be a Jewish and democratic state?

The liberal Zionists are Jewish organizations, and in the end they respected conservative codes of Jewish solidarity: Jewish collective support for the Jewish state, because 95 percent of American Jews are for Israel. Jews must speak in one voice in Washington, because our support is existential, we hold the breathing tube for Israel in the courts of the superpower.

And so the one tool that Israel fears, international pressure, the liberal Zionists refused to support. And look what they got, one apartheid state. “That Israel no longer has a political constituency for a genuine 2 state solution or ending Israeli occupation is the most under-reported and under-analyzed realities in all Middle East policy analyses,” writes Khaled Elgindy of Brookings.

The calls to punish Israel now for the colonization of the West Bank are too little too late. There’s one sovereign in Israel and Palestine, Israeli leaders are all for the occupation, and they all take American support for granted. As well they should. The liberal Zionists were all talk and no action.

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