I’m still thinking about the phenomenon of left-wing anti-Zionist Jews.
Let’s skip the doctrinaire Marxists stuck in their closed system like Noam Chomsky, the opportunists like Jeremy Ben-Ami, the mentally unbalanced like Norman Finklestein and those obsessed by hatred like Philip Weiss (note that some of the above fall into more than one category).
Let’s talk about the non-pathological ones who have nevertheless come to think that the existence of a Jewish state is fundamentally unjust. Sometimes they even say that Jewish ethics precludes Zionism.
A good example is Rabbi Brant Rosen. A reconstructionist rabbi, he calls himself a member of the “co-existence community.” This sounds like a good thing; Jews and Arabs should co-exist. But Rosen’s approach turns out to be one-sided.
He stopped celebrating Yom ha’Atzmaut last year because, in his words,
As a Jew, as someone who has identified with Israel for his entire life, it is profoundly painful to me to admit the honest truth of this day: that Israel’s founding is inextricably bound up with its dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. In the end, Yom Ha’atzmaut and what the Palestinian people refer to as the Nakba are two inseparable sides of the same coin. And I simply cannot separate these two realities any more.
Obviously there are some serious historical issues buried here. ‘Indigenous’ carries a lot of freight. Were Arabs who came to Ottoman Palestine in the 1830’s from Egypt with Muhammed Ali so much more ‘indigenous’ than the Zionists of the 1890’s? What about Arabs who arrived after the turn of the 20th century to take advantage of economic development fertilized by Jews? What about the Jews who had been in ‘Palestine’ since the exit of the crusaders?
Another important word is ‘dispossession’. We know that some Arabs were forced from their homes in 1948; but we also know that some villages were centers of murder and terrorism waged against the nearby Jewish communities for decades. We know also that the Arab leadership of the time was not prepared to compromise over territory, choosing war instead. And the Jews were up against the wall with nowhere else to go.
For Rabbi Rosen, the sin of the birth of the state was that the Jews won that war, with the consequence that many Arabs left their homes and could not get back — some because they were expelled, many simply to escape the war zone. Objectively there were few massacres. What do you think would have happened had the Arabs won?
Rosen also seems to stop at the nakba. He doesn’t discuss the weaponization of the refugees by the Arab states, abetted by the West in the form of UNRWA, or the viciousness of Arab ‘resistance’, usually taking the shape of terrorism aimed at the civilian population of Israel. He ignores the “Three No’s.” He doesn’t talk about Yasser Arafat’s use of terror throughout the Oslo period, his building an educational and media system designed to create hatred and prevent reconciliation, his misrepresentation of the Camp David and Taba offers, and his rejection of them in favor of still more death and destruction. In general, Rosen doesn’t hold Arabs responsible for bad decisions and wrong actions.
I think this is a key point. He sees these things as irrelevant because in his view the nakba was so unjust that any means are permitted to reverse it. The crime was committed by the Jews in 1947-8 and must be atoned for before there can be co-existence.
But how to atone? Rabbi Rosen quotes approvingly from an article by Amaya Galili of Zochrot, which I’ll talk about another time. Galili says,
Accepting responsibility for the nakba and its ongoing consequences obligates me to ask hard questions about the establishment of Israeli society, particularly about how we live today. I want to accept responsibility, to correct this reality, to change it. Not say, “There’s no choice. This is how we’ve survived for 61 years, and that’s how we’ll keep surviving.” It’s not enough for me just to “survive.” I want to live in a society that is aware of its past, and uses it to build a future that can include all the inhabitants of the country and all its refugees.
Galili and Rosen want Israeli Jews to ‘correct reality’. It’s funny; it would seem to me that Oslo was just such an attempt. But of course it was not enough, just like Olmert’s 2008 offer wasn’t enough, because only reversing the nakba — which means granting an Arab right of return and ending the Jewishness of the state — could be. Only Israel’s un-winning the War of Independence would be enough for them.
So despite Rosen’s attempt to suggest that he wants justice for both sides, he allows just one side to define ‘justice’. While he is capable of seeing the nakba as a disaster for the Arabs, he can’t seem to see the years of terrorism against Jews in the Mideast — before and after 1948 — as a disaster for the victims. When he asks the Jews to ‘take responsibility’, he wants them to take all the responsibility, as if the Arabs have been entirely passive for the last 100 years.
This is not the position of someone who thinks that both Jews and Arabs have similar rights as humans and that fairness is the highest virtue. This is the position of a partisan of one side, who will be satisfied with nothing less than complete, total victory. It is identical with the Arab rejectionist point of view that has prevented co-existence for all of these years.