Endgame for liberal Zionism?

In Germany slow processes altered the perception of reality to the degree that insanity became the norm, and then we were exterminated. It happened in the land of the poets and philosophers. There it was possible, and here to in the land of the prophets. The establishment of a state run by rabbis and generals is not an impossible nightmare…open your ears and hearts.
Avraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset

From the Six Day War to Lebanon, from Lebanon to the settlements, from the settlements to Gaza, Israel’s credibility has steadily fallen – even as the world’s distance from Auschwitz (the favorite excuse) has lengthened. So Israel is far more vulnerable today than it would have been twenty five years ago.
Tony Judt, late Jewish American historian

It took over 50 years for the veil to be pulled back in Israel but then a lie can’t live forever. The new Israeli historians with access to more material proved beyond a doubt that Palestinians were forcefully expelled from their homeland in the year of the Nakba, 1948. Morris, Shlaim, Pappe, Kimmerling et al revealed a brutal reign of terror as 750,000 innocent victims who had nothing to do with Hitler’s deadly assault on European Jewry paid the price of homelessness.

From the beginning, even from Herzl’s time despite assurances that Jews wished to live side by side with Palestinians, the indigenous people of the land, expansion and statehood was the hidden agenda. When Herzl began his Zionist movement only 3% of Palestine was Jewish and those in the Yishuv (the Jewish community) lived quietly among the natives.


Through a reign of terror which the Israeli government screams now, three terrorists—Begin, Shamir and Sharon became Prime Ministers. With the election of the Likud in 1977 a new revisionist Zionism took hold and remains so today. Gobbling up the remaining Palestinian land at a furious pace and becoming crueler and crueler in the process, it stands as revealed as an ugly expansionist settler project. The biblical Isaianic dream of being lor goyim (a light unto the nations) has become a pathetic joke as Israel rapidly has become a pariah nation

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. The dream of the cultural Zionists was one of enlightened liberal values, human rights and the universal vision of Judaism.

Sadly the fundamentalists had their way and a bitter and hated enemy of the Palestinian people became the Prime Minister, a man obsessed with military power,Binyamin Netanyahu—the ‘destroyer of dreams” as historian Avi Shlaim calls him.

And now many Jews are heartsick that their zionism has been turned on its head. Anthony Lerman’s confession in yesterday’s New York Times says it all:”Everything liberal zionists stand for is now in doubt.”

More and more Jews have been sickened as Lerman says by “shock and awe militarism. The latest assault on Gaza, a disproportionate orgy of wanton murder, the third assault on defenceless Gazans in eight years has broken many. ”It cannot be reconciled with their humanism.”

Forget Hamas and their utterly futile “defence” of their people. Theirs is the cry of the proud madman who does not care anymore. He has been crazed by decades of humiliation, hopelesness and unremitting oppression. Now like The Mexican rebel Zapapta he would rather die on his feet than continue living on his knees.

Lerman will surely be on the receiving end of abuse from the true Israeli believers when he describes ’Modern israel. The attacks on freedom of speech and human rights organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a growing strain of anti-Arab racism, extremist politics and a powerful intolerant religious right, this mixture has pushed zionism to the brink.”

Lerman does not stop with the ugly politics in israel. He goes after the american apologists,AIPAC,the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League “as well as a raft of largely self-appointed community leaders who have swung to the right making unquestioning solidarity with israel the touchstone of their jewish identity—even though majority Jewish opinion is by no means hawkish.
By 2007 the author still thought Liberal Zionism had a role to play. This cri de coeur brings much pain to a non-Jewish readership. Here is an idealist, an Israeli citizen since 1970 who served the Jewish community in “research and philanthropic capacities” who still believed that liberal zionism could play a part by expressing reservations about Israeli policies toward the Palestinians.


Lerman’s heart is breaking as his dream has been trampled on by thugs like Sharon and Netanyahu but wait until 200t he dared to dream “of Israel as a moral and just cause.” It has turned to dust.
“The only Zionism of any consequence today is xenophobic and exclusionary, a Jewish ethno-nationalism inspired by religious messianism. It is carrying out an open-ended project of national self-realization to be achieved through colonization and purification of the tribe”.

This mind-set blocks any chance Israel might have to become a full-fledged liberal-democratic state, and offers the Palestinians no path to national self-determination, no justice for their expulsion in 1948, nor for the occupation and the denial of their rights. I came to see the notion that liberal Zionism might reverse, or even just restrain, this nationalist juggernaut as fanciful.

Well, brother Lerman was vilified then and I fear the true believers will once again descend on him like a ton of bricks. More tomorrow.


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