|Allan C. Brownfeld--November 17, 2014; This article will appear in the January/February 2015 issue of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. |
THOSE WHO LAMENT THE DECLINE OF `LIBERAL ZIONISM` ARE ENGAGED IN A FUTILE ENTERPRISE---SINCE IT NEVER REALLY EXISTED
In Israel at the present time almost no one any longer speaks of a `two state` solution.
Land that would constitute a Palestinian state is being settled by Israel. Palestinian officials say that Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused to outline the borders of a Palestinian state or the size of areas Israel intends to keep or to commit publicly to land swaps to compensate the Palestinians for any adjustment to the 1967 boundary.
Israel seems to feel that it has been given a blank check by the U.S. to continue its occupation policies and to abandon any need to pretend to support a two-state solution. Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communication at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlya, Israel said of Mr. Netanyahu: `The truth is that he is not really nervous about America or the world anymore because until now, nobody has done anything.`
At the same time, racism and religious extremism are growing in Israel. A best-selling book, `The King`s Torah,` by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur states that, `The prohibition `Thou Shalt Not Murder` applies only to a Jew who kills a Jew.` They write that non-Jews are `uncompassionate by nature` and that attacks on them `curb their evil inclinations,` while babies and children of Israel`s enemies may be killed since `it is clear that they will grow up to harm us.`
Professor Emanuel Gutmann of Hebrew University says that, `Overall, Israeli society has turned to the right. Israeli society in general is less tolerant, less interested in compromise, and more accepting of force than it was in the past.`
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker (Nov. 17, 2014) writes that, `Israeli politicians often speak of the country`s singularity as `the sole democracy in the Middle East,` `the villa in the jungle.` They engage far less often with the challenges to democratic practice in Israel: the resurgence of hate speech; attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank; the Knesset`s attempt to rein in left-wing human rights organizations; and, most of all, the unequal status of Israeli Palestinians and the utter lack of civil rights for the Palestinians in the West Bank. A recent poll revealed that a third of Israelis think that Arab citizens of Israel---the nearly two million Arabs living in Israel proper, not the West Bank---should not have the right to vote....More explicitly jingoistic and racist elements now operate closer to the center of Israeli political life. Some well-known figures in the religious world speak openly in an anti-democratic rhetoric of Jewish supremacy.`
These trends have caused many to lament what Antony Lerman, a former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and author of `The Making and Unmaking of. Zionist,` called `The End of Liberal Zionism` in an article in The New York Times (Aug. 24, 2014). He states that, `Liberal Zionists are at a crossroads. The original tradition of combining Zionism and liberalism---which meant ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, supporting a Palestinian state as well as a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority, and standing behind Israel when it was threatened---was well intentioned. But everything liberal Zionism stands for is now in doubt.`
Lerman laments that, `The romantic Zionist ideal, to which Jewish liberals---and I was one, once---subscribed for so many decades has been tarnished by the reality of 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 and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics, and a powerful, intolerant religious right---this mixture has pushed liberal Zionism to the brink.`
Author Peter Beinart, in his book `The Crisis of Zionism,` refers to himself as a `liberal Zionist,` and expresses concern about what he sees as Israel`s retreat from its traditional `liberal` values, According to Beinart, `When Israel`s founders wrote the country`s Declaration of Independence, which calls for a Jewish state that `ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race of sex` they understood that Zionism and democracy was not only compatible, the two were inseparable.`
Those who believe that Israel is now in the process of abandoning its founding philosophy of `liberal Zionism` are engaged in a futile enterprise, for that `liberal` Zionism never existed---it is a convenient myth. They have not confronted a contrary thesis, which is supported by history, that Zionism was flawed from the beginning, not only by ignoring the existing indigenous Palestinian population, but rejecting the dominant spiritual history and essence of Judaism.
To understand the injustice which history has inflicted upon the Palestinians, it is essential to consider the indifference on the part of the early Zionists as well as the British government which issued the Balfour Declaration, to transfer ownership of a piece of land if had gained through war.
In his book `Israel: A Colonial-Settler State,` the French Jewish historian Maxime Rodinson notes that, `Wanting to create a purely Jewish or predominantly Jewish state in Arab Palestine in the 20th century could not help but lead to a colonial-type situation and the development of a racist state of mind, and in the final analysis, to a military confrontation.`
Rodinson writes that the colonization by the Zionists seemed `perfectly natural` given the atmosphere of the time: `Herzl`s plan unquestionably fit into the great movement of European expansion of the 19th and 20th centuries, the great European imperialist groundswell.`
The immediate issue for the Zionists in the late 19th century was what they called `the Arab problem` in Palestine, an indigenous population 92 per cent Arab. The early Zionists, declares Israeli historian Benny Morris in `Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001,` saw that the establishment of a Jewish state would require the removal of these Palestinian Arabs. The idea of removal, he notes, `goes back to the fathers of modern Zionism...one of the main currents of Zionist ideology from the movement`s inception.` Herzl accepted the removal (`transfer`) of the Palestinians, though he emphasized the need for diplomatic caution in the face of Ottoman, British and larger Arab vested interests.
In his diaries in 1895, Herzl wrote of the need to `spirit the penniless (Arab) population` across the border to Arab countries while being mindful that `both the process of expropriation (of property and land) and that of the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.`
According to Morris, the Zionist settlers referred to Palestinians as `mules` and behaved `like lords and masters, some apparently resorting to the whip at the slightest provocation...a major source of Arab animosity.`
The only `liberal` Zionism to be found in these early years was that of a handful of `cultural Zionists,` who sought to establish a Jewish cultural center in Palestine, not a sovereign and exclusively Jewish state. The most important of these was the Russian Jewish writer and philosopher Ahad Ha`am. He wrote in 1891 that the Jewish settlers arriving in Palestine from Europe `behaved toward the (Palestinian) Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass unjustly upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even brag about it.`
He reported in 1893 that, `The attitude of the colonists to their tenants and their families is exactly the same as toward their animals...We are accustomed to believing, outside Israel, that the Arabs are all desert savages, a people like donkeys, and they neither see nor understand what is happening around them. But that is a great mistake.`
Ha`am surmised that aggressive settler attitudes stemmed from anger `toward those who reminded them that there is still another people in the land of Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.`
The early Zionists used the slogan, `A land without people, for a people without land.` In 1891, the Lovers of Zion sent Ahad Ha`am from Russia to observe conditions in Palestine. He wrote: `From abroad we are accustomed to believe that Eretz Israel is presently almost totally desolate, an uncultivated desert, and that anyone wishing to buy land there can come and buy all he wants. But, in truth, it is not so. In the entire land, it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled...If the time comes when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their place.`
There were always a few who questioned the prevailing view of Jewish-Arab relations. At a meeting in Basel, Switzerland during the 7th Zionist Congress in 1905, Yitzhak Epstein, a teacher who had migrated to Palestine, raised what he called the `hidden question.` He declared: `Among the difficult problems associated with the idea of the renewal of the life of our people in its land, there is one question that outweighs all the others, namely the question of our attitude to the Arabs. We have overlooked a rather `marginal` fact----that in our beloved land lives an entire people that has been dwelling there for many centuries and has never considered leaving it.`
At the same time, another early Zionist, Hillel Zeitlin, who wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish, charged that Zionists `forget, mistakenly or maliciously, that Palestine belongs to others, and it is totally settled.`
These few dissident voices constitute the essence of the alleged `liberal Zionism` which existed as the expropriation of the land proceeded. Moshe Sharett, a future prime minister, acknowledged that, `We have come to conquer a country from a people inhabiting it...the land must be ours alone.`
In the mid-19th century, the area corresponding to Palestine had about 340,000 people, of whom 300,000 or 88 per cent were Muslim or Druze, 27,000 or 8 per cent Christian, and 13,000 or 4 per cent Jews. By 1922, after the Balfour Declaration, the population had grown to 752,048, of which Jews constituted only 83,900, or 11 per cent. The increase in the Jewish population had been spurred by the development of the Zionist movement in Europe, particularly in the Russian Pale of Settlement.
Theodor Herzl promised the new state `should there form a part of a wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against barbarism.` Herzl, an atheist, fit Zionism into the prevailing framework of European imperialist policies. The writer Max Nordau, who became Herzl`s second in command, agreed: `We will endeavor to do in the Near East what the English did in India. It is our intention to come to Palestine as the representatives of culture and to take the moral borders of Europe to the Euphrates.`
In England, Lord Curzon, the representative
of the House of Lords in the War Cabinet, who would succeed Balfour as Foreign Secretary in 1919, opposed the Balfour Declaration. He charged that the term `national home` was dangerously ambiguous and would commit Britain to creating a Jewish state in a land that `already has an indigenous population of its own of a different race.` The Arabs who lived there, Curzon warned, `would not be content either to be expropriated for Jewish immigration or to act as mere hewers of wood or drawers of water for the latter.`
According to George Kidston, who served in the Middle East Division of the Foreign Office, Balfour promised Palestine to the Zionists `irrespective of the wishes of the great bulk of the population, because it is historically right and politically expedient that Balfour should do so. The idea that carrying out these programs will entail bloodshed and military repression never seems to have occurred to him.`
Balfour recognized very well that by embracing Zionism he was rejecting the principle of self-determination for the people of Palestine. In 1919, Balfour wrote to Lloyd George: `The weak point of our position, of course, is that in the case of Palestine, we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination. If the present inhabitants were consulted they would unquestionably give an anti-Jewish verdict.`
Another example of what we might call `liberal Zionism` manifested itself in 1925, when several prominent intellectuals, most of them émigrés from Central Europe who were teaching at Hebrew University, formed Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace) which backed a bi-national state of Arabs and Jews. The group`s members looked to Ahad Ha`am rather than Herzl as their mentor. They rejected the attempt to impose a Jewish state on Palestine`s Arabs as politically impossible without the use of force, and they saw doing this as contrary to the ethical principles of Judaism. Their objective, the sociologist Arthur Ruppin, the chairman of the group, said was `to settle the Jews, as a second people, in a country already inhabited by another people, and accomplish this peacefully.` This group enjoyed the support of Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, the first president of Hebrew University. It was small, attracted few members and soon faded away.
Mainstream Zionism proceeded with indifference, and often contempt for the Palestinians, an overwhelming majority of the population. The publication of the Zionist Organization of America. `The New Palestine,` declared in Sept. 1928, when the British had won Arab agreement to a legislative council, that Arabs `are illiterate and live under indescribably primitive conditions. The march of these illiterates to the polls can easily be pictured.` This publication, the voice of American Zionism, repeatedly published articles urging the transfer of Arab Palestinians to Jordan.
David Ben Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, acknowledged that frustrated Palestinian national aspirations lay behind the 1936 rebellion, as well as fears that a Jewish state was being thrust upon them. He knew that the Palestinians had `legitimate fears and grievances.` He stated: `Were I an Arab...I would rise up against immigration for Arabs are fighting dispossession...the fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland of the Arab people, which others (we) want to turn into the homeland of the Jewish people. When we say the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend ourselves---that is only half the truth...politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.`
Ben Gurion revealed his strategy clearly. He declared: `After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and expand to the whole of Biblical Palestine. I do not see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question...We will expel the Arabs and take their places...with the force at our disposal. The acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce (acquisition of) Transjordan...We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will limit them.`
In Nov. 1947 the U.N. recommended partition of Palestine: 56 per cent for a Jewish state, 44 per cent for a Palestinian state. There was a clear inequity: the Jews, with 31 per cent of the population, were being allocated 56 per cent of the land. Moreover, Jews owned only 6 per cent of Palestine. Palestinians asked what would happen to Muslims and Christians who constituted nearly half of the population in the territory allocated to the Jews? Now, with so-called `liberal Zionists` in control, we know what fate befell them.
Israeli historian Avi Shlaim sums up what happened this way: `The Arab case was clear and compelling. Palestine belonged to the people living in it, and the overwhelming majority was Arab. In language and culture, as well as land ownership, the country had been Arab for centuries. Geographical proximity, historical ties, and religious affinity made Palestine an integral part of the Arab world. It was entitled to immediate independence. Jewish immigration and settlement could not take place without the consent of the country`s Arab owners, and this consent was emphatically denied. Neither Britain nor the League of Nations had the right to promise a land that was not theirs to promise, the promise was null and void.`
Those who look at Israel`s current policies, such as continued construction and settlement of the occupied territories, are wrong to blame the right-wing. Israeli governments, whether Labor or Likud, have continued the occupation. Both right and left wing Israelis, apparently, are comfortable with the status quo. Those who lament what they think is the decline---or end--of `liberal Zionism` must seriously consider the possibility that Zionism, from the start, not only turned its back on the Jewish universal spiritual tradition but, by ignoring the rights of the indigenous population of Palestine, on Western principles of democracy and self-determination as well. `Liberal Zionism` is not dead or dying. The truth is that it never existed at all, except in the minds of those who could not confront what was happening at the hands of an enterprise they eagerly embraced from afar, ignoring its harsh reality. That reality has now become clear to all, hence the current shock and dismay. Yet, the organized American Jewish community, and the U.S. Government, both of which continue to aid and abet these developments, continue to turn away from what is happening. This will not be able to continue very much longer.