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A sad commentary on the state of liberal Zionist discourse

Recent work by authors Bernard Avishai and Gershom Gorenberg reflect the inability of liberal Zionist champions to engage in an honest debate about the core issues of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The noted liberal Zionist writer, Bernard Avishai, has a longish piece on the Palestinian Right of Return (RoR) in this month’s edition of Harper’s Magazine (no online version yet). Before I discuss its content, I believe it crucial to note one general aspect of this piece. We must ask ourselves why an openly Zionist thinker who happens to be a Canadian immigrant is writing about Palestinian right of return without a Palestinian counter article. His penmanship of the article speaks volumes about the ability of the press in the United States on the ability to allow Palestinians to speak for themselves. His voice might be an important one, but the absence of a Palestinian view on an issue of such weight such as the Right of Return should be taken as a sign of how far the American press must go in changing the way it covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Avishai’s article is exhaustive and draws upon a variety of interviews, both from high level officials and intellectuals. While his recollection of history tends to be grounded, it is in the current debate where he gets into hot water. Curiously absent, however, from Avishai’s piece is any discussion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, one of the primary Palestinian civil society vehicles in fighting for the RoR as specified in UN Resolution 194. Also absent is any discussion with rank and file Palestinians living in the West Bank, a mere twenty minutes’ drive from Avishai’s residence in the formerly Arab Baka neighborhood of West Jerusalem. Although to his credit, Avishai does cite anonymous “friends in Ramallah” at points in the piece in order to bring in necessary but vague Palestinian voice in the West Bank.

While narrowly exhaustive, Avishai’s article is potholed with images of Israeli-Palestinian symmetry that do not exist. His choice of imagery carefully conforms to the accepted Western narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which effectively adopts the Israeli understanding of events on the ground. Namely, that the conflict, thought to be fought between two relative equals, is about peace and security. Take this sentence, which comes three paragraphs from the end of the piece, as an example:

The populated areas of Israel and Palestine together are about the size of greater Los Angeles. The peoples share not only a business ecosystem but everything from water sources to the telecommunications systems. Neither side can set up a 4G network, neither side can manage even wastewater, without the permanent cooperation of the other.

You see, it is all so simple. Everyone is sharing and cooperation is crucial to lasting peace. Wait, what about the occupation, you ask? Could it be that Palestinians share a business ecosystem with Israel because Israel is occupying their land and using them as a captive market? The power of the Israeli narrative lays in its ability to ignore these factual components of reality.  Given Avishai’s inability or unwillingness to interview Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon or Jordan or even in the Qalandia refugee camp seven miles from Jerusalem, his reliance on the Israeli narrative is not surprising.

The piece offers an upbeat and almost pleasant outlook. Perhaps, this is only made possible by ignoring the viewpoints of representative Palestinians. Recently, Gershom Gorenberg, one of Avishai’s ideological peers and a fellow North American living in the same formerly Palestinian Baka neighborhood of West Jerusalem, recently noted the following about diaspora Palestinians in the United States, in a piece in the American Prospect:

Diaspora Palestinians with their own overdone nationalism and a small coterie of Jews whose express their disappointment with Zionism through mirror-image anti-Zionism—as if denying Jewish rights to national self-determination were somehow more progressive than denying Palestinian rights. But realistic, moderate progressives always face the challenge of portraying a more complex reality than extremists recognize.

Clearly, Gorenberg does not share the unbridled optimism of Avishai, but the sentiments he expressesd above can certainly be found lurking in between the lines of Avishai’s text. This is especially clear in their shared authoritarian understanding that as Western liberal Zionists living in Israel they are the true “realistic, moderate progressives” who will solve the region’s problems. Avishai’s hopeful look to the future, however, is welcome, due to the cynicism prevalent in Israeli and Palestinian society, but it also precariously borders on the naïve. In the piece, the major sources of Avishai’s hope are the Israeli tent protesters. Those brave revolutionaries provide Avishai with confirmation that Israelis are ready and able to think outside the box and approach the systemic problems of Israeli society with new vigor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Had Avishai broached the idea of the Palestinian RoR to any of the tent protesters at the peak of their social justice movement back in July, the issue would have likely been labelled “political” and thus dismissed. In fact, other than the handful of protests which took place in mixed cities like Haifa, attended by both between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews, as well as one “1948″ tent in Tel Aviv, the tent protests was a movement not interested in Israeli-Palestinian political issues, let alone the Palestinian RoR. On the surface, the reason given for this was the horrible polarization which exists in Israeli society over these issues. But something else was at play.

Arguments over this issue were featured on this website. Many of these arguments are a testament to the fact that while Israelis desperately want to have their society to be understood as “normal,” they are simply unable or unwilling to challenge prevailing attitudes concerning Palestinians. These attitudes help maintain a system of occupation and outright institutional discrimination which has lead to an international consensus that Israel is far from a normal country, but rather one engaged in a form of ethnic racism similar to Apartheid or Hafradah.

The widely-held argument that the tent protesters offer a space inside Israel to negotiate issues like the RoR is at best hopeful naiveté and at worst, an effort to portray Israeli society as something it is not. At its peak, the protesters were able to draw 500,000 Israelis (the proportionate equivalent of 17 million Americans) on to the streets to demanding social justice without any mention of the occupation or the rights of all under Israeli rule. It is hard to interpret this as anything other than the fact that Israel is not ready to end its occupation by itself given the overwhelming support for the protests and their continued reticence on Palestinian issues. If the tent protesters were unwilling or unable to talk bout the occupation, why would anyone argue that they are ready to confront the much more difficult issue of the RoR, and or Israel’s culpability in creating the Palestinian refugee problem?

In 1948, Ben Gurion’s nascent army attempted to put the Zionist dream of separation from the natives into practice by forcibly removing as many of Palestine’s native inhabitants as possible and thus creating the Palestinian refugee problem. The 1967 war of conquest continued the trend and the current Kafkaesque occupation of a bureaucratic permit system has made life as hard as possible for West Bank and Gazan Palestinians, driven with by the misplaced hope that they will simply leave.

The 2011 Palestine Papers– secret minutes from the 2008 negotiations process between Israel and the PA released by Al Jazeera– confirm that “transfer” remains a driving component of Israeli policy towards native Palestinians. In the papers, Kadmina MK Tzipi Livini is quoted in meetings with senior PA officials as negotiating the terms of transferring Palestinians citizens of Israel into the West Bank in the case of a final status agreement.

The West Bank Separation Barrier is perhaps the most concrete confirmation of the Zionist separation principle in action. Its effect, both physically and psychologically, has been profound for Israeli society. Ironically exemplified in the Israeli tent protests, young Israelis no longer have connection with Palestinians outside of their army service in which they are thrust into a position of military power over occupied Palestinians. This has resulted in, among other examples, an Israeli public able to demonstrate for social justice while ignoring the rights of all under Israeli rule.

In order for Avishai to avoid these sober developments in Israeli society as it pertains to the settlement of the RoR issue, he must warp the situation on the ground through the creation of basic symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians. His reliance on interviews with Israeli and Palestinian politicians ensures that voices on the ground dealing with the separation principle in action remain invisible. Add ambiguously hopeful language which confirms the Western discussion narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and one is left feeling as though peace and reconciliation is just around the corner. It is not.

Quoting Ramallah- based political thinker Sam Bahour at the end of his piece, Avishai ultimately draws attention to the absence of equality and partnership between Israelis and Palestinians. In my estimation this is the core problem concerning the RoR issue. Avishai hints at the issue of rights by quoting Adam Shatz’s important piece in London Review of Books. While Shatz’s piece was a thoughtful addition to the discourse, I am unsure why Avishai, a resident of Jerusalem, did not go an interview the same or similar people that Shatz did. Why rely on irrational hope when you can go out and interview people on the ground who possess deep insight on this complex issue? Perhaps Avishai’s (and Gorenberg’s) form of Liberal Zionism can no longer function without a heavy dose of hope and clear contempt for overt Palestinian nationalism, grounded in the notion of the right of return as an inalienable right.

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    1. Richard Witty

      This is another Dana condemnation piece. Those damn liberal Zionists.

      You presume a great deal about what Avishai and Gorenberg think, or even present.

      For example, I observe very little bias in either Avishai’s or Gorenburg’s writing of presuming symmetry.

      I think they they both desire actual reconciliation between living parties, not symbolic justice.

      They regard the process of negotiation, then ratification as a valid process. That as it includes the process of ratification by legislatures and populace, that that would satisfy the objections that Dana raised.

      My impression of Dana’s view is that he has no proposal, short of imposition, also a vanity of knowing what is good for others.

      I saw Bernard Avishai speak about two months ago, and had a very brief conversation.


      I regard Joseph Dana’s attacks as a sad commentary on the state of anti-Zionist thinking. Void of proposal.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard, this is not a proposal rather a commentary on Avishai’s piece and his methods of reporting. However, one clear proposal does come through as I stress that Avisahi discuss the issues of RoR with Palestinians inside the OPT and in exile instead of citing anonymous ‘friends in Ramallah.’ Is it not shocking that a piece on the RoR does not feature a single interview with a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon or Jordan? Those on the civil society forefront of the RoR issue are also completely ignored as if they are invisible. It is all the more ironic that Avishai is himself an immigrant to Israel from Canadian who likely exercised privilege in acquiring citizenship.
      Give the gravity of the subject and the reputation of Harper’s, one would think that such a piece include a touch more research and reporting. I clearly propose that the holes in reporting were done in order to maintain a narrative which is misplaced and has little factual quality. The misplaced optimism of the piece supports this thesis in my estimation.
      Your attacking comments seem to confirm my suspicion that factual discourse on this issue is one of the greatest dangers to the dominant Zionist narrative. Liberal Zionists attempt to use the language of liberalism to disguise this sad reality.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      I have rarely seen the truth declared so clearly and boldly as it was this week by Amos Schocken.

      “And with regard to the Palestinians living in that territory – those who did not flee or were not expelled – they must be subjected to a harsh regime that will encourage their flight, eventuate in their expulsion, deprive them of their rights, and bring about a situation in which those who remain will not be even second-class citizens, and their fate will be of interest to no one. They will be like the Palestinian refugees of the War of Independence; that is their desired status. As for those who are not refugees, an attempt should be made to turn them into “absentees.” Unlike the Palestinians who remained in Israel after the War of Independence, the Palestinians in the territories should not receive Israeli citizenship, owing to their large number, but then this, too, should be of interest to no one.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Sadly, I fail to find anything similar to this sentiment in Avishai’s piece. One would think that this issue would be raised, perhaps not in such a direct way, in a piece dealing with the RoR.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Moshe

      The question begs to be asked, why would newly minted Palestinians want to come live in Israel and or become israeli citizens after finally achieving the dream of a new Palestinian state? Hmmm food for thought

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jalal

      @Moshe: Because that is their original homeland they were forced/ethnically cleansed out from back in 1948?

      Reply to Comment
    7. aristeides

      Moshe – more than a decade before the creation of Israel, the Soviet Union established the Birobidzhan Jewish autonomous region. Why didn’t all the world’s Jews rush to move there? Isn’t one Jewish state the same as the next?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Sinjim

      Avishai really doesn’t understand Palestinians. Over at his website, he’s claiming that without Zionism, we would be indistinguishable from the other Arab Muslims and Christians of the Fertile Crescent.
      This guy lives in a bubble of Jewish privilege in a house stolen from a Palestinian family. He speaks to businessmen like Sam Bahour, who is probably the most cited Arab in his articles, and declares their views the “moderate” Palestinian position (i.e. most palatable to the Israeli status quo) and everyone else who disagrees is a part of the problem. No wonder he buys into such ethnic chauvinism as declaring that another people’s identity depends on his own.
      I take a little bit of comfort in knowing that his and Gorenberg’s condescension towards the Palestinian people will ensure that they will never have an audience among them.

      Reply to Comment
    9. david goldman, esq.


      They were not “forced/ethnically cleansed” – that is Arab lies similar to when Bagdad Bob was declaring victory over US forces. The Arabs lost their homes in the framework of a war that they initiated. Some left, some were expelled, etc…
      It’s interesting that the same events when performed by Arab leaders during the expansion of the Arab empire don’t seem to bother you as much. Or that if there is a statute of limitations on one claim, there must be on the other.
      Well to us – Israel is our “original homeland”. The status of refugee is not passed hereditary and this generation of Palestinians needs to find a new sponsor.

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    10. tell ya what, dannecker – I’ll leave Israel if you leave Atlanta.

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    11. Jalal

      @David Goldman, I hate to ask this question but what kind of history do you read? If you ever do.
      Don’t tell me you’re making those claims because you read some kind of Zionist fiction/drama “history”. I’m not telling you to come read a Palestinians perspective on what happened in 1948, but just read your own historians like Benny Morris or even Illan Pappe. If you keep forcing your eyes to stay shut, you are going nowhere.

      Also, saying “The Arabs lie” because some guy declared victory over US forces in Baghdad? I truly have no idea of what you just said.

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    12. AYLA

      @David Goldman, Esquire (so noir)–after seeing your equally offensive comment on Dahlia S.’s BGU post, I was hoping you were not going to be a regular. Alas. Hoping someone else will have the energy for you. Or not. I don’t. @Dannecker–I can understand that there are practical concerns regarding the Palestinian RoR, but do some research on how many would actually return as citizens. I have to admit, my understandings about this come from listening to a lot of Palestinians, not from polls or quantitative research, because that’s my preferred method of gaining understanding, but from what I understand, not so many (relatively) would use their right. Some would get a Palestinian passport but not live here. Many would simply, and at long last, visit. I also believe that without the Palestinian RoR, we can have no peace. (not the only criteria, and obviously not all of the responsibility for peace falls on Israelis, but lack of Palestinian RoR, coupled with Jewish Ror, is among the biggest obstacles).

      Reply to Comment
    13. Mariana

      Without the Palestinian RoR, we can have nor peace nor justice. And it doesn’t mean that Jewish Israelis will have to leave Israel. OBVIOUSLY!

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    14. LisaB

      @ David Goldman –

      You said – “Well to us – Israel is our “original homeland”. The status of refugee is not passed hereditary ”

      I’m guessing you don’t realize that when you claim Israel as your “original homeland” your are INDEED claiming the status of refugee as hereditary – for you anyway.

      Some animals are more equal than others it seems.

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    15. Joseph – what do you mean by “factual discourse”?

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    16. Joseph – I am also interested as to what you mean by “inalienable”.

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    17. Henry Weinstein

      Meanwhile, Joseph Dana, Israeli Far Right is blossoming
      Quotation from the German Resistance Memorial Center:
      “Because the Communists shunned the Social Democrats as “social fascists” and the Social Democrats denounced Communism as the totalitarian twin brother of National Socialism, no common front materialized”.
      German Resistance Memorial Center – Topic ‘The Republic destroyed’
      Political parties of Weimar Germany
      What’s worth is it to hunt liberal Zionists, when Fascists are hunting you?
      Remember Weimar.
      Food for thought.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Henry,

      Thank you for bringing in the Weimar historical angle. It is a period which continues to intrigue me but usually in reference to the similarities which exist between the current American Jewish community and the Weimar Jewish community (esp. in reference to self identification as Americans).

      In reference to your exact question, I think that liberal Zionism, as practiced and used today, is a dangerous and, in some profound ways, dishonest. While the wave of Israeli far right nationalism is abhorrent, one can’t claim that Liebermann is a dishonest politician. It can be debated that Israeli far right nationalism is the purest form of Zionism due to the fact that zero explanation or apologia can be detected in its rhetoric. Let’s quickly note that it was the Labour Zionists who have had the better track record of building settlements and starting wars. The right, for all of its hot rhetoric, is often left with nothing more than hot rhetoric while the left, the liberal labour Zionists, are the ones that really do the dirty business of starting wars and building settlements.

      I used to think that liberal Zionism was THE proper Israeli political posture for retaining ‘Jewish self-determination’ (an exact definition for this term still evades me despite the compelling arguments of many a liberal Zionist) and exposuing liberal values similar to those I had grown up with in the United States. Then I moved to Israel and meet a number of Mertez voters, liberal Zionists par excellence, who haboured no reservation about serving in the army or sending their children to the army. I found that many ‘liberal Zionists’ I spoke with actually maintained an incredible level of racism toward Arabs. Instead of being an honest about the racism and moving forward, they seemed to wrestle with it. As if in a constant battle of suppression and cognitive dissonace, these liberal Zionist types ultimarly embraced the liberal zionist mantra that “it is the settlers and the crazy right wingers fault.’

      You can see that a narrative has emerged from this type of thinking. Blame the ‘crazies’ but do not change the system which the crazies are a product of. I believe that Noam Sheizaf has written on this website about the notion, popular among liberal Zionists, that there exists a ‘good Israel’ and a ‘bad Israel.’ At its heart, Israel is a good place full of well intentioned individuals with a strong connection with Europe but it is the ‘bad Israel’ of extremists and strange immigrants that are polluting the project for everyone.

      I used to subscribe to this idea, I think that many of us have or still do. The best example of the liberal Zionist conundrum is that more often than not, those that hold this view in Israel will send their children to the army which almost certain knowledge that they will protect the ‘bad Israel.’ Rationalization for such actions seems to me part and parcel of liberal Zionism. Note, I wrote ‘rationalization’ and not ‘putting an end to’ or something along those lines.

      Very sorry for the meandering answer to this complex question. Thanks for bringing up the issue.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Joseph – any chance you can answer my simple questions? They are not merely rhetorical, and I am sincerely interested in your definitions.

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    20. AYLA

      Interesting discussion. I actually won’t use the term “Zionism” anymore; it means too many different things to too many different people so you never know what you’re talking about in dialogue. It’s good to hear you further break down what you mean, JD, and I’m happy that Henry provided the impetus. So, you believe in an Israel without an army (as long as there is an occupation, I’d imagine)? I could never serve in Israel’s army today, nor could I raise children to serve in Israel’s army today. by saying this, I am also admitting to living in Israel, as a Jewish citizen, in a quite luxurious position–one that might rightfully offend many born here, or anyone with children in the army (some of whom are my friends). Last month, on Yom Kippur / Shabbat, I watched a friend bless his son who is currently serving and break down sobbing. While I could never serve or raise children to serve (currently), I sympathize with those reasonable humans who do; it is heart wrenching. You, JD, live in Ramallah, not Israel, so you don’t have to wrestle with hypocrisy as I do by living in Israel. then again, I don’t actually see my life as hypocritical (as some do), because I don’t break things down in such a black and white way. I see my life here more as paradoxical than hypocritical, and I believe that paradox is inherent in everything. Like you, JD, I don’t believe in the all good or all bad (country or citizens), though there is certainly good and bad behavior; more and less educated, etc. The more I learn, the less I know.
      But, so, Joseph Dana–what are you proposing regarding the army, today? That true liberals not serve at all? That they refuse to serve in the West Bank? That they refuse to serve in combat? That there should be no army?

      Reply to Comment
    21. I was not proposing anything in the last comment regarding the army. I was demonstrating one example of the paradox of many subscribing to the liberal Zionist ideology. Massive refusal to serve in the OPT would have a profound effect on the nature of Israeli society and the maintenance of Israeli occupation. However, this will not happen. At least not in the near future.
      I agree that the story you describe is heart wrenching. This entire place is marked by tragedy. Ultimately I claim that the Zionist ideology in so far as it privileges one ethnic group over another is at odds with liberal values. Therefore, liberal Zionist, by definition, is convoluted. One can respect the Zionist dream or idea but understand that its application is a barrier to genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Gustav Landauer once said that socialism needs to be left, not destroyed but left. Perhaps the time has come in which Zionism needs to be left, not destroyed but replaced with something which prides itself on the idea of equality for all under Israeli rule. Is this an ‘anti-Zionist’ statement? Quite the contrary. Perhaps Zionism must be forgotten in order to achieve the Zionist dream of a state living in security and peace.

      Reply to Comment
    22. I’ll take that as a no. Your commitment to open debate remains inspiring.

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    23. AYLA

      @JosephDana–I like and appreciate everything about your last comment. It may work better not to suggest we forget Zionism, but rather that we move into a post-Zionist — complete with new terminology — way of supporting (fighting for) an Israel we can believe in, which for Liberals (possibly with old-fasioned, Zionist ideals) is simply not this Israel. That’s actually how I experience this site (972). Thanks for that. It’s no small thing.

      Reply to Comment
    24. AYLA

      p.s. @JosephDana–please answer Alex. he’s writing to you from India, between weddings, in chinos. (plus he’s a great guy).

      Reply to Comment
    25. Ayla, Given my past experience with Mr. Stein, I don’t believe that he is interested in any ‘honest’ debate. Rather, his programme is one of attacking defense of an ideology he neither understands nor practices. Furthermore, the answers to his questions can be clearly found in the text. For example, I have not expressed a personal opinion of the connection between Palestinian nationalism and the ‘inalienable’ right of return. Surely, a cursory analysis of various strands of Palestinian nationalism will produce Mr. Stein with the answer to his question. However, it should be noted that Mr. Stein’s apparent misinformed understanding of the ‘inalienable’ RoR in connection with Palestinian nationalism demonstrates exactly how Avishai’s adherence to the carfuly script Israeli narrative produces amazing ignorance among even the educated class reading Harper’s.
      In reference to Mr. Stein’s second facile question, this entire piece argues for a more ‘factual analysis’ by noting that Avishai ignored an important group of people concerned with the RoR, namely Palestinian refugees and those overtly fighting for their cause. Given the lack of discussion with refugees and their defenders, Avishai fails to engage in a factual analysis of this most complex and emotional issue. One would expect more from Harper’s. This is the central thrust of this piece.
      Perhaps, Mr. Stein would be better served to explore his personal issues with identity in another forum. I will certainly refuse to allow this channel to become a breeding ground for the hateful rhetoric which is lurking just under the surface of Mr. Stein’s understanding of the issues at play.

      Reply to Comment
    26. Ayla – am now waiting for my train to depart for Delhi. No chinos here. And sadly Joseph doesn’t have the same high opinion of me that you do. That’s ok, though. As any good hip-hop head knows, popularity is overrated.

      Reply to Comment
    27. Henry Weinstein

      Thank you very much for taking the time to tell genuinely what have been your (digested) political journey and to explain what you learnt discovering the locals. Being an outsider, I’m always very grateful when I read authors or commenters who take the time to explain the context. First-hand knowledge on Israel & Palestine is unfortunately too often left unspoken, unwritten, and it’s frustating.
      What stroke me me reading your very exhaustive review was the paradox to discover these authors and their discourse, and in the same time to read your ultra-pessimist presentation of their views. Seems to me that even if you are exasperated or desesperate to see them staying in their comfort zone, like all the Israelis according to you – and it makes me think how exasperated I was reading this summer in The Guardian an op-ed written by the leader of Israeli students pontificating on his “New Zionism”, it was such wooden tongue bullshit and this guy was one of J14 leaders! – , you forgot a lot of your readers will discover these authors like me reading your review. And the big difficulty for me was to read first that you reproached to them certain bias before to get the full picture on liberal Zionism today, the intellectual and political context. I think a short speech & introduction could have been helpful for beginners like me, and also a tone less negative – after all, some of these authors are very interesting – to prevent some readers to commit a suicide!
      Maybe also this dense review deserved to published in two parts, to give space for intellectual breathe.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Henry Weinstein

      Proofreading façon Ayla:
      Maybe also this dense review deserved to be published

      Reply to Comment
    29. Henry,

      I do think that this issue deserves more treatment. I will attempt to publish some of these comments and more commentary on the issue of liberal Zionism in the following days. Thank you and Ayla for stimulating a thoughtful and respectful conversation on the issue.

      Reply to Comment
    30. sh

      “One can respect the Zionist dream or idea but understand that its application is a barrier to genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Gustav Landauer once said that socialism needs to be left, not destroyed but left. Perhaps the time has come in which Zionism needs to be left, not destroyed but replaced with something which prides itself on the idea of equality for all under Israeli rule. Is this an ‘anti-Zionist’ statement? Quite the contrary. Perhaps Zionism must be forgotten in order to achieve the Zionist dream of a state living in security and peace.”
      What you write does not always sit well with me, either, Joseph, but this is masterfully put. For the same reasons as Ayla, I hardly dare use the term Zionist. To prove her point, growing up I saw Zionism as the certainty that we Jews belonged to the holy land and should have the right to live there, because coming from a religious, pacifist home that’s how it was put to me. Different to secular Zionism and even religious nationalist Zionism. My diaspora Jewish school had difficulty with Zionism but caved in to parental pressure concerning the Hatikva (national anthem of Israel) by changing the phrase “a free nation” into “a holy nation”. On immigrating to Israel as a teen, I found freedom of sorts for some, real holiness rarely and eventually concluded that Zionism must have been achieved upon independence. The bits of the declaration of independence that pleased me most confirmed that we were going for equality, which meant that when “they” came around to understanding that we were good people who didn’t want to harm them, they would learn to love us. Words turned out to be one thing and what was happening on the ground quite another, proof that Zionism had already been left. In truth, once the dream was realized, Zionism-on-life-support strait-jacketed Israel and its leaders into unimaginable contortions.
      Again like Ayla, I would not forget Zionism; no more memory blanks please, we’ve more than enough of those already. But I dislike the term post-Zionism too. If we need another “ism” to motivate us – not sure we do – it should refer to how we want to move on, not to what we have left.

      Reply to Comment
    31. AYLA

      Looking forward–such an important subject, especially in a climate where people are shutting down discourse by calling liberal views “anti-zionist”, (not that this is a remotely new or Israel-specific tactic, historically). If I’ve contributed to this conversation, then this is one of those cases when some level of ignorance helps me to cut through theory to the heart of the matter; I do not know the authors to whom you are referring, and am therefore learning them through secondary commentary (you all). Because I trust @Sinjim, I take it you’ve touched on something deeply true, JD, and if we can’t count on Harpers, we are indeed in trouble. And @Henry’s question is poignant. @Alex–I don’t know what to say. You’re hardly the most antagonistic voice on this site, and it helps that I know you, but this has been an example of an exceptionally thoughtful 972 comment thread discussion despite some early appearances from estate lawyers in Florida (Esq.), so maybe the author knows what he’s doing.

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    32. Knows what he’s doing, but perhaps doesn’t know the meaning of “inalienable” or “factual discourse”. I guess the pot will forever call the kettle black.

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    33. I think that these comments are wonderful and this is clearly a debate which needs to be had. I am sorry if you felt my critique of Avishai appeared to be harsh. Perhaps it needed to be in order to engender this conversation. Regardless, I will be posting some of these comments soon with more commentary in the hope that more honest debate will come of it.

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    34. AYLA


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    35. aristeides

      “Convoluted” Joseph? Try “Self-contradictory.”

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    36. I love it that the Mondoweiss headline for this piece is “The liberal Zionist inability to confront the right of return”. I would call this type of dishonesty Orwellian, but I prefer to leave those cliches to the Joseph Danas of this world. In any case, what they mean is “The liberal Zionist inability to accept the right of return”. It would be nice if they had scrutinised the factual discourse sufficiently to see that the demand for RoR is exceptionalist rather than inalienable, but the anti-Zionist camp has never been particularly strong on the subject of its own appalling double standards.

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    37. And I apologise – I didn’t spot Joseph’s belated reply. Here is my response. First, the sentence “his programme is one of attacking defense of an ideology he neither understands nor practices” doesn’t seem to make sense. If you could explain it to me I’d be happy to respond (I’m not going to ape your childish habit of speaking of me in the third person). “I have not expressed a personal opinion on the connection between Palestinian nationalism and the ‘inalienable’ right of return” is irrelevant. I simply asked for your definition of inalienable, which I am sure you’re capable of producing (given that you used the word) without me having to read the classic Palestinian nationalist texts (unavailable to me on this particular Indian train).

      All I did was ask what you meant by “inalienable” and “factual discourse”. Could you please give a simple answer? I agree with you that Avishai not speaking to prominent Palestinian RoR advocates for his article is remiss, but I don’t understand how that means he doesn’t have a “factual analysis”.

      And there’s no hateful rhetoric, Joseph. I don’t hate you. I do, however, think you are wrong, and I feel that I should be free to express that view as robustly as I possibly can. You, Mr Dana, are welcome to do the same.

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    38. AYLA

      @Alex–with respect, please drop the “anti-zionist” crap. Don’t put yourself in the same duality-camp as commenters such as Bosko (to whom I often refer in the third person); you’re better than that.

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    39. Ayla – if Joseph thinks that anti-Zionist is an unfair way to describe his views, then he should say so. In the meantime, I will continue using the term to describe those who advocate policies that would mean replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state.

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    40. AYLA

      are you talking about the Palestinian RoR? If so, I guess you’d call me an anti-zionist. you wouldn’t be the first, but to your credit, I don’t think you’d enjoy the company of the others.

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    41. Ben Israel

      Let’s define “Zionism”-
      I believe it is an idea and a movement saying that the Jewish people should mobilized as a group to set up and maintain a Jewish state in Eretz Israel and that state should be open to ALL Jews around the world to make aliyah and that this state should have the goal of an eventual “kibbutz galuyot” (ingathering of the exiles) and for fostering and developing Jewish identity and culture (we can include or exclude “religion” from the culture section for the time being, as you see fit) in addition to its primary goal of Jewish self-defense.

      One of the regulars here at 972 has stated that he does not view the Jews as a people and Jews had no right to make aliyah against the wishes of the Arab population BUT now that it exists, it can continue to exist in some modified form. According to my definition of Zionism, this person would be an anti-Zionist, but this person supports the continuing existence and defense of the state (under some circumstances) so that does sound like Zionism.
      I would define “post-Zionism” as saying that up until 1948 the Zionism I defined above was legitimate, but there is no longer a need for it (for whatever reasons) so the state should become a “state of all its citizens” and anything the Arab minority finds offensive such as state symbols (e.g. the flag and national anthem) should be removed, although the state would still be primarily Hebrew speaking and the Jewish holidays would remain state holidays, etc (what about kibbutz galuyot?).

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    42. Mr. Stein,

      Thank you for demonstrating my comments about you in action. I have never “advocate[d] [for] policies that would mean replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state”

      I do believe that another forum would be a better fit for the debate that you are attempting to have.

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    43. AYLA

      @BenIsrael! I was just beginning to wonder how you were; it’s been a while! (seriously!). Also, good for you; if I ever disappear for a few straight days, please, too, be happy for me. (or maybe we’re just hanging out on different threads ;).) I actually concede to SH and take back my term “post-zionism”; SH is right. Also, you, BI, are right to imply that it is not true that we, Jews, no longer need refuge. I’m seventh generation american, so it’s easy for me to think we don’t, but I know we do. There was a guy in my ulpan from Iraq whose mother didn’t tell him they were jewish until they reached London when he was 18. His father was killed because he was Jewish, after which they migrated to Lebanon, then Syria, then London, and all along the children were not told they were jewish, for their safety. He’s now an orthodox jew, and when he told me about Ben Gurion Airport Security telling him “welcome home” when he arrived, he broke down. So did I. I also met a woman in my new ulpan who is Christian and Dutch, who married an Israeli Jew and moved here (her parents actually named her “Shifra” because they came to Israel when they were pregnant with her). When she first got involved with her husband, all of her so-called friends disowned her for having a Jewish and Israeli boyfriend (not just Israeli; also because he was Jewish). I’ll admit, this shocked me, and I’m not generally naive about anti-semitism particularly in Arab majority countries.
      Although I enjoyed reading *your* definition of “zionism”, and although I found it to be thoughtful and probably a popular definition, I still won’t engage with the term in the real world because there are too many different operating definitions, and it actually sounds hateful to Palestinians, whether that’s fair or not. (“Jihadist” also has beautiful, spiritual meaning at its root, but for some devout muslims to try to reclaim that term would not be worthwhile, in my opinion. that example may seem no where near parallel, but believe me, the word “zionist” sounds very different to some arab ears, which came as news to me a few years ago).
      It took some journalist friends to convince me of this, but I do now believe that it is possible for Israel to be a State for all her citizens AND to have jewish interests in its constitution, including not only a jewish calendar, but also a state of refuge for jews. Perhaps this democracy would never be perfect, but it could be a lot closer than it is now. I have also grown to believe that a Palestinian RoR would not have to threaten this.
      at any rate, @Alex, I don’t think we should shut down thoughtful, intellectual discourse by calling each other “anti-zionist”. One thing I really admire about Joseph Dana is his heart in all of his beliefs, and the way he’s living according to his heartfelt beliefs, as you are, @BenIsrael. And I personally hate when we use our intellects to shut down our hearts on any matter. If could name my number one personal bias, that might be it.

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    44. aristeides

      Go ahead and call me anti-Zionist.

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    45. Henry Weinstein

      Post-anti-Zionist, Aristeides!

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    46. I think that the Palestinian people deserve the same “Right-Of-Return” and the same sense of justice that the Jewish Folks insisted upon in every courthouse in the land.

      Never once did I hear any Jewish Person suggest that the “Facts Had Changed On The Ground” and thus the Jews we’re not entitled to compensation for losses incurred under Hitler … but this is the claim that the Jewish Folks make with the Palestinian People and their “Right-Of-Return”.

      What really puts me over the edge is that at the same time (1948-1949) when the world was parading pictures of holocaust survivors within the media, the Prime Minister of the newly formed government of Israel was promoting and encouraging a holocaust against the Palestinian’s.

      These are the words spoken by the very first Prime Minister of Israel

      “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.”
      –-David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978–
      –Israel Koenig, advisor to the Israeli Knesset, The Koenig Memorandum (Al Hamishmar newspaper, September 7, 1976)–

      And worse ….. Ben-Gurion said this at the same time that our media was parading holocaust victims across the universe and showing Jewish Folks crying and screaming “Never Again”.

      In 1948, with Hitler dead less then 2 years, …. At the very heart of the newly formed country of Israel, …. at the highest levels of government, …. within the Israeli cabinet, the Jewish folks were actually talking about committing a holocaust against the Arabs and which is the exact same crimes as Hitler was being chastised for.


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    47. Joseph – do you support the right of return for Palestinians to the borders of pre-1967 Israel? If the answer is yes then you support replacing Israel with a Palestinian-Arab state (even someone like Chomsky acknowledges that this would be the result). And if you don’t then you can’t believe the right of return is quite so inalienable.

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    48. Bosko

      Ayla …
      “@Alex–with respect, please drop the “anti-zionist” crap. Don’t put yourself in the same duality-camp as commenters such as Bosko (to whom I often refer in the third person); you’re better than that”
      LOL a touch of arrogance from our Ayla. Maybe superiority complex? Never mind, I have lots of self esteem. I won’t be put off by nonsense.
      Ayla, the reason you don’t want to talk to me too much is because you cannot argue your case with me logically, beyond one or two posts. So you pretend to be dismissive and pull out of further discussions. Never mind, I still think you have the right intentions even though you are impractical and misguided.

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    49. Instead of letting false dichotomists (BTW, look at the name of Alex Stein’s blog) push you around and drag you into the apologetic “I am not an extreme anti-Zionist” game , it would be better to push them around (just a little, in a harmless manner) and ask why they are absent from the civil disobedience scene (disobeying war crimes and apartheid).

      Good posting, Joseph

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    50. Ofer – first of all because I’m in India. Second, I don’t think that people who do stuff are automatically better than people who don’t. Being moral – or having you think me immoral – really isn’t much concern to me. That being said, I still admire those who manage to do positive activism such as you describe without giving succour to those who wish to eliminate the State of Israel.

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