Response to Joseph Dana: A case for liberal Zionism

Yes, Zionism is at odds with liberal values. But it’s less at odds than the alternative; moreover, it has the capacity to be liberalized almost without limit.

I want to take issue with Joseph Dana’s claim that liberal Zionism is a “dishonest system of thought.” I don’t, however, want to take issue with his statement that “the Zionist ideology, in so far as it privileges one ethnic group over another, is at odds with liberal values.” I won’t argue with that second point because I’m an honest liberal Zionist, and I don’t think any honest liberal Zionist, such as Bernard Avishai or Gershom Gorenberg, would argue with it either, because it’s undeniably true. Zionism privileges the Jews over Arabs and other gentiles, and that’s at odds with liberal values. So if I believe in liberal values, such as civic equality, why am I a Zionist, i.e. why do I want Israel to remain a Jewish state?

Because if Israel stops being a Jewish state it will become a Palestinian state, and on the way to that it will be a state at civil war that will bring on the exodus of the Jews – and that’s even more at odds with my liberal values than Zionism. You cannot have two warring nations in one state, and that’s what the Jews and Palestinians are in this part of the world – warring nations. The only way a state can work is if one of those nations is the stable, unchallenged majority, and there is such a Jewish majority in Israel and it should stay that way. I also believe that the Palestinians have as much right as the Jews to be the clear majority in a sovereign state of their own, and the Palestinians’ state – by right – encompasses the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

At home, I think the responsibility of Zionism is to realize that it inherently privileges Jewish citizens over Arab citizens, and to rectify all the inequalities and do away with all the discrimination, except in one area – immigration. While Israel has to get rid of its miserable “Jews-only” immigration policy and allow Palestinians and other gentiles to become citizens, it should still gear its policy so that a solid Jewish majority is maintained. It doesn’t have to be 80% like it is now, but if Israel is going to be a Jewish state and not a Palestinian state, the Jewish majority has to stay pretty solid.

Which means, naturally, that I’m against the right of return. I’m against it both on practical grounds, which I think I’ve laid out, and on moral grounds. It’s not just that the Palestinians started the 1947-48 war, it’s that they, too, carried out expulsions in that war, expulsions of thousands of Jews from the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, Gush Etzion, Kfar Darom and several other kibbutzim and moshavim. As Uri Avnery, a veteran of that war, said in a debate in 2007 with Ilan Pappe: “There can be no dispute that ethnic cleansing took place in 1948 – though allow me to remark, in parenthesis, that the ethnic cleansing was on both sides, and that there was not a single Jew left residing in whatever territory was conquered on the Arab side.” The Arabs were trying to do to the Jews what the Jews were trying to do to the Arabs; the Jews, to be brutally frank, just did it better. So I don’t see that the Palestinians have any right of return, especially since they started the war in the first place.

If there had been a small number of refugees, I personally would have had no objection to letting them come back – not as a matter of right, but rather because there would have been no good reason to refuse. Today, if it would allow the peace to be made, I’d personally agree to let up to a few hundred thousand refugees return to Israel over, say, a 10-year period. But again, not as a matter of right, because I don’t think it is their right.

The above is a capsule version of my idea of liberal Zionism. I don’t see anything dishonest about it.

Related posts on +972:
A sad commentary on the state of liberal Zionist discourse
+972 readers weigh in on Zionism debate