No Direction Home
Maybe American liberal Zionism simply isn’t worth saving
But I won’t talk about these things, not because they are untrue, but because they are irrelevant. One of the least attractive features of the debate as it has been conducted in the Jewish community is the constant insistence on changing the subject from the concrete political issues at stake to issues of Jewish identity and Jewish self-understanding. It is the worst kind of narcissism to insist on talking endlessly about our feelings rather than the political realities that stare us in the face. So I will not dwell on my “feelings” about Judaism, my “relationship” with Jewish identity, because these are simply distractions. Either the Gaza blockade is just, or it is not, either the Lebanon war was wise; or it was not; either the U.S. should bomb Iran, or it should not; either the two-state solution remains viable, or it does not. To reply to these questions with invocations of Judaism or anti-Semitism or the Holocaust is sheer non sequitur, and when someone does so it is generally a sign that they have no good answers. As for the charge of self-hatred, it may once have had bite, but today it has lost its sting. It comes off as desperate, even silly, and I can’t find it in me to muster an answer to it.
You may argue that I am an aberration, that I speak only for myself. Indeed, in recent weeks many of Israel’s defenders have vigorously disputed the notion that anything has changed. They argue either that there is no real drop of support among the young, or that the phenomenon is restricted to a few left-wing elites, or that the U.S.-Israel relationship can get by just fine without liberal Jews anyway. I personally think they’re deluding themselves, both in imagining that the attitudes of American Jews are the same as they’ve always been and that the special relationship can be preserved without the support of mainstream liberal Jewry. But ultimately all I can say to those who dispute the facts of the shift is: We’ll see in due course who is right.
It is also worth noting, in this regard, that I came to political consciousness at a time when events—superficially at least—seemed to ratify the broad Israeli narrative; I first became aware of the conflict through Oslo, the suicide bombings of the 1990s, Camp David, the second intifada. Those who are a decade younger than me are coming to consciousness with the assaults on Lebanon and Gaza as their earliest memories. Thus there is every reason to expect that, if anything, they will follow the same path that I traveled far more rapidly than I did.
But if this is the case, if I am more representative than defenders of the status quo would like to admit, then it is naive to think that the old post-1967 liberal Zionism can be revived simply by speaking out more forcefully against Avigdor Lieberman and the settlers. It is likely that American liberal Zionism was always destined to founder eventually on its own intellectual contradictions and political compromises, and those who are nostalgic for it should consider the possibility that at this point we simply can’t go home again. The way forward can only come if we shed the pathologies that have stunted thinking to this point, and take a hard and pragmatic look at what concrete steps could lead to a better future.
Daniel Luban is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Chicago.
Coach Red Holzman led the Knicks to their only championships and an auspicious 613 wins