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The biggest loser in this election: Liberal Zionism

Israelis consistently vote against the idea of a Jewish and democratic Israel alongside a Palestinian state. It is now impossible to see how that could ever be realized.  

Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh (R) and party member Ahmad Tibi arrive for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh (R) and party member Ahmad Tibi arrive for a meeting with party members at the Knesset on September 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, met with President Reuven Rivlin to announce his party’s noteworthy decision to endorse Benny Gantz, chairman of the Blue and White party, as prime minister. In an effort to thwart another Netanyahu term, Ayman Odeh did what no other Israeli politician is doing — he articulated a vision for the country’s future: “We want to live in a peaceful place based on ending the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, true equality, on the civil and national level, social justice and certainly democracy for all.”

This is not a new or radical position. If anything, it represents the spirit of the Israeli peace camp in the 1990s. It is a bedrock liberal Zionist approach, but the only Israeli politician articulating it is a Palestinian Muslim politician from Haifa. Odeh chairs the socialist Arab-Jewish Hadash Party, which together with the three Arab-dominated parties forms the Joint List; having won 13 seats following last week’s election, the Joint List is now the third largest party in the Knesset.

Odeh’s op-ed in The New York Times Sunday translated for an American audience what many Palestinian citizens and a paucity of Jewish citizens believe: “[T]he only future for this country is a shared future, and there is no shared future without the full and equal participation of Arab Palestinian citizens.”

If you are a champion of liberal democracy, or even just a realist, it is hard to argue with this statement, especially given that Palestinian citizens make up 20 percent of Israel’s population. Yet it remains not only a minority position in Israel, but a persecuted and delegitimized one. With or without Netanyahu, there is no realistic prospect of the Joint List being invited to join a governing coalition (since the founding of the state, no Palestinian-Israeli party has been in the government) or even of heading the opposition. Palestinian citizens of Israel have shown they have enough power to be on the political map, but not enough to change it.

After election results came in last week, Netanyahu spoke of the need for a “strong Zionist government” (code for Jewish-only) and labeled the Joint List “anti-Zionists.” Similarly, the Blue and White Party, like the majority of Israelis, maintains that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people where Jews have a unique right to self-determination. Blue and White ran on an anti-Netanyahu platform; during its campaign, the party championed pluralism and insisted it would push back on Israel’s discriminatory Jewish Nation-State Law.

Ultimately, however, the Jewish Nation-State formalizes precisely what they believe in. They are emotionally and ideologically attached to the notion that Israel must be a state that prioritizes Jewish rights over those of non-Jewish citizens. No matter how liberal they are or claim to be, this fact always trumps the other, leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens inherently deprived of equal rights and denied a path to achieving them.

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A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute shows 76 percent of Palestinian citizens favor the Joint List joining a ruling coalition and having their representatives serve as ministers in the government. Nearly half of Jewish citizens (49 percent) oppose the idea. This renders meaningless the claim that Palestinian citizens are anti-Zionists or rejectionists, since they are demonstrably taking an active part in the political process.

After two elections in one year, both of which failed to produce a clear majority, the country is in a political deadlock; the situation reflects the predicament of both the liberal Zionist model and the obstinacy of Israeli consensus. A Jewish ethnostate cannot, by definition, also be a liberal, democratic one — particularly when its population includes a large indigenous minority with a separate national and cultural identity.

Since the founding of the state, Israeli political leaders from both the right and the left have prioritized land appropriation and Jewish settlement over providing the same civil rights to all citizens, regardless of nationality or religion. This policy has come at the expense of finding a political — not to mention a sustainable — solution that recognizes the rights and aspirations of both peoples.

Thousands of Jewish wave the Israeli flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day in Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall. Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Thousands of Jewish Israelis wave the Israeli flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day in Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, May 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Blue and White, Likud, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, the Orthodox parties and even the center-left Democratic Union and Labor-Gesher parties all face this same crisis. They claim to be liberal and insist they are democratic, but they still haven’t figured out how to deal with Palestinian citizens of Israel, as currently represented to them by Ayman Odeh, or the Palestinian people in general. It is interesting, for example, to note that the Israeli center-left party was called the Zionist Union in the 2015 election, while this year we saw the formation of the Democratic Union (a merger of Meretz, Ehud Barak and Labor’s Stav Shaffir), exposing the tension between Zionism and democracy and, seemingly, conceding that to be a leftist in Israel, you have to ultimately champion one over the other. This says a great deal about the current state of Israeli politics.

The biggest loser of the second Israeli election of 2019 is liberal Zionism. The idea that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state with internationally recognized borders, which both acknowledges its national Palestinian minority and reaches an agreement to establish a Palestinian state, has absorbed a fatal blow. Israelis have consistently voted against this idea; it is now impossible to see how it could ever be realized.

Ayman Odeh is a practical, effective leader with integrity. By insisting in his New York Times op-ed that “there is room enough for all of us in our shared homeland, room enough for the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and the stories of our grandparents, room enough for all of us to raise our families in equality and peace,” he is challenging liberal Israelis to look in the mirror and find a way to reconcile their particularistic political views (their Zionism) with their values. They can only do this by accepting that Palestinians — whether citizens, residents or stateless people under occupation — are not going away. The precise nature of the political solution, whether it’s one state or two, is of secondary importance to finding a formula by which Jews and Arabs have equal rights and live in peace and dignity.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Tommy Goldberg

      Yep. The only actual “liberal Zionists” are Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      There is nothing “fakestinian” about Israeli Muslims aor Christians. It is just putting them into a box belonging to an invented fake nationality. Nobody deserves to be treated as a nonsense people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Lewis: Do property taxes “exist”? Does the law exist? Does Judaism exist? Yes, these things exist, but not in the way rocks or trees exist, they exist as products of the human imagination.

        If enough people around the world think that a Fakestinian state should exist on the West Bank, then Rand-McNally will start printing maps showing Fakestan in exactly that spot.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Lewis From Afula: True enough. They should be called Palestinians. You’re quite correct. Thanks for your sensitivity and caring, and your support for human dignity and human rights.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      “Arab Palestinian citizens cannot change the course of Israel alone, but change is impossible without us.” -Ayman Odeh

      Odeh is like an x-ray, a test of rejectionism. With the result suggesting the Israeli Jewish populace and their politicians at all ends of the spectrum (not much of a spectrum these days) will at this point begrudge even the most peaceful, good will-harboring and modern, democratic-minded Arab politician. They don’t want to know him and they definitely don’t want him inside *their* government.

      The Likud hates Hanin Zoabi but they hate Ayman Odeh even more. (Not that they will admit this.) Of course Netanyahu works day and night to stoke the fear and rejectionism. It’s his bread and butter and his stay out of jail card.

      Jerusalem Post reporter Lahav Harkov: “Instead of putting out a press release, Odeh published an op-Ed in the NY Times, because it’s not like he was elected to represent people in **this** country, right.”

      Lisa Goldman: “Lahav Harkov’s racism is so overt. Israeli Jewish politicians publish op-eds in the NYT all the time and she says nothing. But if it’s an Arab citizen of *her* country, she freaks out.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      “A Jewish ethnostate cannot, by definition, also be a liberal, democratic one — particularly when its population includes a large indigenous minority with a separate national and cultural identity.”

      True. The problem is well-analyzed here:

      By Noam Sheizaf |Published September 11, 2013
      Why I oppose recognizing Israel as a Jewish state
      A country can, at least in theory, be ‘Israeli and democratic.’ It cannot and will never be ‘Jewish and democratic.’
      https://972mag.com/why-i-oppose-recognizing-israel-as-a-jewish-state/78751/

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        More theoretical, Neo-Marxist analysis from our resident Social Justice Warrior.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You’re fond of this mindless “Marxist” and “SJW” comeback but neither I nor Noam Sheizaf has engaged in an economic analysis. The principles of liberal democracy are hundreds of years old and were developed before the rise of capitalism or Karl Marx’s critique of it. If you stepped back and actually thought about this you’d realize that it’s almost as if you are peddling the simple-minded idea that the occupation is merely a capitalist enterprise, attached to a latent anti-Semitic trope about Jewish capitalists controlling the world. That is, if you actually thought about it.

          An intelligent and un-simpleminded historical-sociopolitical-economic analysis of the occupation/colonization has been made by Israeli economist Shir Hever:
          https://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/7331-the-political-economy-of-israels-occupation-repression-beyond-exploitation

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Why Does Israel Still Occupy the Palestinians?
            by SHIR HEVER
            https://www.counterpunch.org/2010/09/24/why-does-israel-still-occupy-the-palestinians/

            “…So how can those who hope for a better future deal with an Israeli society that refuses to seriously consider the rights of Palestinians? The first step is to abandon the notion that Israeli society is an agent of change. There are no historical precedents of empires willingly giving up their colonies. Only the subjects of occupation can win their own freedom. Israeli society is a decadent society in an unstoppable decline, resistant to internal calls for reform and politically paralyzed from within.

            Only external pressure can truly bring change to this society, and allow democracy to take hold in the region, not only for the benefit of Palestinians, but for the benefit of Israelis too. External pressure, by using political and economic tools such as sanctions and boycott, returns the issues of civil rights and democracy to the fore, and deprives Israel of the option to use its military might to make the problem go away.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The Neo-marxist Leftist discourse continues indefinitely.
            All from a libtard nutter who lives 5000 miles away.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Neither you nor I live in the OPT and you are just as far away from the OPT as someone living in Europe or the US, conceptually and practically, when it comes to knowing what is happening to the people there and it affecting your life–except for the taxes and corruption costs you pay to keep the whole irrational, nasty shebang going–see: Shir Hever. I’ll bet you haven’t been there in years and that I’ve been there more than you have. So much for that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            If Israel was ever to follow Comrade Ben’s advice, I’d experience the ensuing katusha strikes whilst the nutter living 5000 miles would not.

            PS: There is no such thing as “OPT”. The land is named Judea & Samaria.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Spare us the usual ruse, the usual feigned helplessness in which the resourceful and “we will know what to do” Israelis suddenly develop fainting spells and mental confusion and helplessness when tasked with making a two state solution work. Everyone knows that the Israelis could definitely craft a katyusha-free, secure, two state solution if the Israelis wanted to. Everyone knows that in fact a fair two state solution is the only TRUE secuurity solutuion. But the Israelis are not actually interested in security. In fact the right wing would see it as their worst nightmare if the Israeli populace were to be in a state in which they felt secure because the whole raison d’etre and justification of the right wing would be gone. The right wing nutures fear and feeds off it.

            It’s like the hasbara crap Micah Goodman churns out in which the Israelis are supposedly helplessly “trapped” between two alternatives: Withdrawing from the territories (would jeopardize their “national security” he says) versus annexing the territories (would jeopardize their “national majority” he says), thereby erasing millions of Palestinians in the OPT and erasing Israelis’ horrific treatment of them. Of course it’s a false choice posed. No one buys it who knows anything. Goodman and his like thrive on it only because vast numbers of Americans do no know much if anything, couldn’t find the OPT on a color-coded map. But that is changing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            I urge Ben to vote with his feet and move to Sderot.
            There he would experience eternal, on and off rocket attacks from his Hamastani friends.
            It would be fun to see Comrade Ben gradually drop his Leftist appeasement views and join the Real world.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Michele Stanelun

      Thank you for your news. I am going to use it as a source for my teaching of this conflict in school.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Eliza

      ‘The idea that Israel can be a Jewish and democratic state with internationally recognized borders, which both acknowledges its national Palestinian minority and reaches an agreement to establish a Palestinian state has absorbed a fatal blow’

      But really it is the illusion that the Zionist project could evolve to achieve these ends that has received the fatal blow. And now it is time to celebrate this death as the truly blessed release that it is and start to get on with things and work towards bringing into being a truly secular society where all, regardless of religion, are equals with equal political and civil rights. That includes the Palestinians herded into Gaza and the refugees who have never given up their rights to return to their ancestral home.

      There is no point substituting the illusion that Zionism could ever deliver a secular, Jewish and democratic State with the illusion that Israel can resolve its conflict with the Palestinian people by coming to a fair reconciliation with the Palestinians in EJ and the West Bank but excluding those herded into Gaza or the refugees denied their right to return to their ancestral homeland.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        The so-called “herding” was initiated by the 1948 Arab declaration of war on Israel.
        Hence, the Gazans have no one to blame but themselves !
        Given the perpetual Gazan rocket attacks, Israel should expel the lot of them back to Egypt.

        Reply to Comment