Why Liberal Zionism Will Never Bring Peace or Justice
Having been following the Israeli Occupation for 20 years now much has changed, much for the worse. As a young liberal Jew, I heard much consternation from representatives of liberal Zionism concerning ways the Israeli government has shifted to the right, how things were ruined by bad leadership on both sides, and how they have just been “fighting each other forever.” What can we do and how can it be solved? It’s just so complicated! These tropes, as expertly pointed out on Nima Sharazi and Adam Johnson’s excellent Citations Needed podcast, have become the air we breathe when talking about the occupation in mainstream discourse. The way these tropes of liberal Zionism are deployed serves as a reminder of the implicit biases in our conversation about not just the Israeli Occupation or the region, but about race, history, and modern political struggle.
No trope is more apparent in its absurdity than the one brought up in the Economist this week, claiming that they have the solution to “end the endless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” According to that august magazine of privileged record, Palestinians need to embrace “genuine non-violence.” This is not to say that there needs to be a movement for all out war against the Israeli government on behalf of the Palestinian people, but the power imbalance between the two sides of the conflict is beyond absurd. Thus, making the liberal Zionist case appear to be no more than a mirage in the desert that turns into a bare cactus once reached.
One of the most striking images from the massacre of protestors at the fenced border between Gaza and Israel was one of a young Palestinian boy surrounded by fire, smoke, and ash armed with a slingshot shooting back. Beyond the extremely literal parallels between the story of David and Goliath, it serves as a reminder of the absolute dominance held by the IDF. Between the strict border controls held on Gaza by the Israeli government and lack of political representation in greater Israeli politics, how exactly do liberal Zionists expect the Palestinians to make change through nonviolent struggle? What were the people protesting the movement of the US embassy to Jerusalem exactly doing anyways? And no, flying kites over a heavily militarized border is not an act of war.
This is actually not an overwhelmingly complex issue, at least not in the way that mainstream Zionists employ complexity as a form of obfuscation. Asking for the Palestinian people to embrace non-violence as the Israeli government constantly commits acts of economic, political, and militarized violence reduces the very recent history of post-colonial liberation struggles to a safe liberal myth. Liberal Zionism seems to expect all Palestinians to be Martin Luther King, but not the real history of the man who spoke of the ills of empire, materialism, and racism. Instead, they wish for some mythical version of a civilized reformer without any actual critique of power.
There is an actual way to end this stage of the violence, democracy. Not the “only democracy in the Middle East” kind they have right now, but a reformulation of what it means to be a citizen. For too long, the system of Israeli Apartheid has made it impossible for democracy or peace. Without complete political integration of Palestinian and non-ashkenazi Jews into systems of power in the state called Israel, there can never be a “genuinely non-violent” movement.
So liberal Zionists, you can have your a Jewish state or a democratic and pluralist state, but you cannot have both. By making impossible demands on the Palestinian people a contingency for any deescalation of the occupation, liberal Zionists all over the world are lying to themselves. Just because the actions of the IDF are a part of the officially recognized state, it doesn’t make it any less humane. In fact, it is those with the most power on whom the moral burden is placed.
There is no contradiction to fighting the history of anti-semitism and recognition of the rights of the Palestinians. For many Jews like myself, the lesson of the Jewish diaspora is not that we need to be more militaristic, more antagonist, and more ethnically identified. Jews have long been the group pushed to the edges of society, put in our own ghettos, and described as animals and inhuman. By continuing the occupation of Palestine, Jewish Zionists are betraying their own traditions of revolution, inquiry, and egalitarian ideals, by swapping them with the ideas that have haunted our people for centuries: theocracy, ethnic cleansing, and reactionary politics. Without a proper accounting of the current circumstances, Israel is just propagating antisemitism and leading to more suffering and theft.