May 27, 2010

A false dilemma

Update on the exchange below: Haaretz has picked up this issue arguing for a return to Herzl's vision of liberal Zionism. Here's the gist: "Herzl believed that while the Jewish state should provide room for Jewish religion and Jewish clerics, these institutions should be completely isolated from the state and from politics. He also saw no place for theological notions that Jews had some God-given right to the Land of Israel. He simply believed that they needed a state of their own." Good point, except that the Right also claims to represent the "true" vision of Herzl's Zionism. Name a "big name" thinker on Israel these days and chances are you'll find each side claiming to be their true followers, interpretors,whatnot, while bashing the other side for co-opting the debate with their claims.
The most preposterous and ridiculous accusations that I've come across was Hillel's Halkin's complaint that Tikkun Olam has been co-opted by the Liberal/Liberal Left in the US (mentioned in this month's Moment Magazine). How can one co-opt eternity itself? That is, how can you co-opt an abstract concept that refers to the whole wide world, reaching across time and space, eternity included? One of the most literal meanings of Olam is eternity (the All of everything). And how did the Liberal Left of Jewish America managed to perform this feat that Halkin accuses them of in his ridiculous plaint? From what I can gather, as discussed in the Commentary and as blogged in various places, Halkin et al would rather remove the "social" from "justice" and have Tikkun Olam refer, and be co-extensive, to just plain justice. Sounds good on first sight, but think over this just for a sec, and it sounds not a bit like Tikkun Olam by any stretch of imagination.
A recent article in ZEEK discusses the false choice between "liberal ideals and support for Israel", true enough, but the reasons that led to such false choices being taken seriously by many in the US aren't explored.Yaroni's article follows Peter Beinart's claim of failure for the "American Jewish establishment", published in the NYRB. More notes on that later, but, frankly, has anybody encountered any establishment that's not failed or wasn't bound to fail at some point?
Yaroni's article in ZEEK claims that members of the younger generation "are not stepping up to the plate, and assuming the mantle of leadership, because those who they would replace, like Foxman, like Dershowitz, have made the idea of supporting the Jewish state unattractive". And that's where yaroni makes the same mistake as Beinart. Do people seriously think that it's Deschowitz, Foxman, or even AIPAC who have made supporting Israel unattractive, as opposed to, say, the last Lebanon war, the ridiculous politics of the past five yrs and the rise to power of Netanyahu? Frankly, that's nonsense. If there are people who do think that way, well, who needs them. Unfortunately, that's not just Yaroni's claim which would have been easily dismissed as misplaced. It's rather representative of many in the liberal camp who for reasons not often having little to do with politics find it necessary to distance themselves publicly from pro-Israel associations, organizations and individuals that are part of what Beinart refers to as the American Jewish "establishment". As Yaroni points out in this same article, " more and more Jews who would otherwise support Israel whole-heartedly are alienated by Israel’s behavior, and by the increasingly boorish tactics of Diaspora Jewish leadership in defending Israeli policies". To anybody who's being marginally following the news in the past few yrs and to anybody who's been listening to the left's blaming the right for co-opting Zionism and to the Right's blaming J-Street for alienating itself and everybody from Israel, well,that result sounds unsurprising. On that, at Jonathan Chait from TNR writes that "Liberal Zionism is being squeezed on both ends by opponents who seek to define it out of existence".

[An unusually silly response from the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg: "claustrophobic feeling I've been experiencing lately. It turns out that it occurs when you've been locked in a small room (decorated, ambivalently, in blue and white) with Peter Beinart and Jon Chait and.... well, that's the point, isn't it? Who else is still out there arguing that you can be liberal and Zionist at the same time, meaning, pro-Israel and anti-occupation? There's Leon Wieseltier, of course, but who else? Tom Friedman is in the same camp (and has been there for a long time) but he pays only intermittent attention to the problem."]

The question of what to do about this, the increasing polarization of attitudes towards Israel and the coarsening of the debate between left and right, well, that's not even began to be addressed. Yaroni ends by noting that "ending the Occupation" would be a good start, but in light of current developments that seems more likely to be the outcome than the solution to the dilemma.
As an aside, there's surprisingly none (?) comments or talkbalks on Yaroni's article webpage, and usual sight for Forward.