Brooklyn College battle reveals hidden agenda of “liberal Zionism”

12 February 2013

130212-two-states.jpg

Liberal Zionists don’t bother to detail what a two-state solution would mean in practice.

(Issam Rimawi / APA images)

As soon as it was clear that the pro-Israel forces opposed to the forum on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) held at Brooklyn College on 7 February had badly overreached, and that their crude invective and histrionic behavior was alienating broad sectors of mainstream intelligentsia, liberal Zionist writers and activists injected what seemed like a much more sensible narrative into the debate.

Presenting themselves as progressive advocates of academic freedom, the pro-Israel liberals pushed back against the zealots who demanded Brooklyn College’s political science department withdraw its sponsorship from the BDS forum. At the same time, however, they warned political fellow travelers against falling for the appeal of BDS, characterizing the movement as dangerously radical, and potentially destructive to Jewish life.

An editorial published in Tablet Magazine by the pro-Israel writer Yair Rosenberg typified the liberal line against BDS. After issuing his token support for the Brooklyn College political science department’s “right” to sponsor the BDS panel, Rosenberg lashed into the progressive MSNBC host Chris Hayes and The New York Times editorial board for supposedly “whitewashing the movement’s radicalism” (“New York Times, MSNBC whitewash BDS,” 6 February 2013).

Hayes and the Times had erred, Rosenberg argued, by failing to acknowledge that the BDS movement not only seeks to end Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land, but that it also calls for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land forcibly expropriated from them by the State of Israel. According to Rosenberg, the right of return is a “radical goal” because it “denies the Jewish right to self-determination.”

No detail

What does “the Jewish right to self-determination” mean, and from where did Jews (whom Rosenberg conflates with Israelis) receive such a right? Was it guaranteed by a binding international legal treaty? Or was it derived from the Torah, the holy book that the self-declared messianist and Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion described as his “blueprint” for building the Jewish state?

Rosenberg did not explain. All readers needed to know, according to Rosenberg, was that this right necessitates the establishment of two states though a “peace accord” so sensible he did not need to provide details of what it might look like, or how it could be implemented.

In another recent attack on BDS, published at Newsweek’s liberal Zionist online forum, Open Zion, a Canada-based associate political science professor and analyst for Freedom House named Mira Sucharov reinforced Rosenberg’s argument. Like Rosenberg, Sucharov condemned BDS advocates for not respecting “Israel’s desire to maintain its core Jewish identity.” And like her counterpart, she failed to provide a scintilla of detail about the implications of such an endeavor.

Sucharov went on to denounce the BDS movement’s “demand that the Jewish nation give up national self-determination,” piling meaningless language atop subjective terminology (“Why BDS isn’t compatible with two states,” 8 February 2013).

The Nation columnist and Brooklyn College professor of English Eric Alterman produced what was probably the sharpest attack on BDS in the past week. Hammering on the allegation that BDS advocates rely on deception to mask their radical goals, Alterman likened them in an editorial for The Daily Beast to the American Communist Party cadres who campaigned during the 1940s as earnest progressives while secretly taking cues from Stalin’s Politburo.

According to Alterman, the real agenda of BDS — an “intellectual masquerade,” he called it — is to force Jewish Israelis to “commit suicide” by “forfeit[ing] their commitment to their history, their national identity and their understanding of Jewish history” (“Brooklyn College and the BDS debate,” 7 February 2013).

Gross distortions

Leaving aside the gross distortions leveled by Rosenberg, Sucharov and Alterman, it is instructive to note what they omitted.

While each writer ignored the clearly articulated guidelines of the Palestinian-led BDS movement, along with the scholarship on how such tenets could be implemented, either in the framework of two states or a bi-national arrangement, they accused the BDS movement of deliberately obscuring its real goals.

At no point, however, did any of the liberal Zionists who weighed in on the debate about Brooklyn College’s BDS panel attempt to explain in any explicit fashion what it was that they wanted.

Liberal Zionist critics of BDS proclaim their passionate commitment to two states, or at least, to the established proposals for partition that have emerged through the US-led peace process, but few are willing to provide details. And even fewer have attempted to explore what the established proposals for two states will mean for the Palestinians who would have to live with its consequences.

How do they get away with such reticence on a core issue of contention while simultaneously blasting their opponents for deception and ambiguity?

Detached from reality

Perhaps the pablum of “two states for two peoples” has become so entrenched in mainstream discourse that progressive Zionist supporters see little need to explain what it actually means in practice. There is also the possibility that their rigorous, all-consuming academic and intellectual pursuits in North America have left them with little time to experience the daily reality in occupied Palestine, relegating them to a superficial, detached relationship with the situation that they invariably describe as “complicated.”

There are myriad factors influencing their curious behavior, but none is more salient than the inherent contradiction between liberalism and Zionism.

Like the right-wing Likudniks they claim to abhor, liberal Zionists are staunchly committed to the maintenance of an ethnically exclusivist Jewish state. They will fight any political campaign (BDS) or natural trend (Arab babies) that threatens to upend the Jewish demographic majority inside Israel, wherever its borders are.

That is why they claim that BDS, with its call for Palestinian equality and the right of return, will “destroy Israel.” And it is why they are so passionate about reigniting the US-led peace process. From their perspective, the establishment of two states would provide the most effective bulwark against the non-Jewish “demographic threat.”

In the words of Yossi Beilin, the liberal Israeli politician credited as the godfather of the Oslo accords, the two-state solution under the guidelines of Oslo is “the only way to save the Jewish state from an Arab majority” (Tikva Honig-Parnass, Between the Lines, p. 97).

Racist measures

Every major proposal for two states — even the supposedly progressive Geneva accords — has included measures to combat the presence and proliferation of the non-Jewish population inside a Jewish state. These have included separation barriers, Bantustan-style cantons ruled by unelected strongmen, annexing the major settlement blocs that sever Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, and instituting a program of de facto population transfer described in anodyne terms as “land swaps.”

During the Annapolis track of Bush-era Road Map negotiations, then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni proposed transferring the populations of entire Arab villages inside Israel into the hands of the Palestinian Authority in order to help resolve Israel’s demographic problems (“Livni: A lawyer against Law?,” The Palestine Papers, Al Jazeera English, 24 January 2011).

A more recent plan conceived by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and promoted by the progressive Zionist writer Bernard Avishai in The New York Times called for linking Gaza to the West Bank through a 25-mile underground tunnel, tacitly designating Palestinians as untouchable Morlocks who must be hidden from the view of the enlightened Israeli public (“A plan for peace that still could be,” 7 February 2011).

Even the most acute liberal Zionist mind would struggle to sell a progressive peer on the logic of advocating for an immigrant-friendly, multicultural society in the United States while simultaneously defending a colonialist ethnocracy in a far away, Middle Eastern country that offers them the right of “return” on the basis of their supposed kinship with Early Bronze Era desert nomads.

This may be exactly what US-based liberal Zionists are doing, but for obvious reasons, they must find ways of concealing their agenda, either through strategic reticence, or by masking their extreme positions in flowery, essentially meaningless language.

Not a pretty picture

To be sure, a few major US-based liberal Zionists have been willing to sketch out the broad outlines of the kind of two-state solution they might support. It is not a pretty picture.

Peter Beinart, the editor of Open Zion, recently joined with Harvard University professor of law Alan Dershowitz, an outspoken proponent of torture and the collective punishment of Palestinians, to call for Israel to “divide the West Bank into three chunks” (“The conversation Israel and Palestine needs to have,” 3 December 2012).

And Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of the “pro-peace” J Street lobbying outfit, insists that the separation wall and major settlement blocs must be permanent features of the landscape of Israel-Palestine. A future Palestinian state should have no control over its borders or airspace, according to Ben-Ami (“A voice in the wilderness,” America Magazine, 2 April 2012).

Is unilaterally deciding how Palestinians will be controlled and dominated what liberal Zionists mean by “Jewish self-determination?”

Questions like this are not easy to answer, which may be why leading liberal Zionists stringently avoid engaging in forums where their onerous proposals might be placed under tough scrutiny.

Beinart has staged collegial debates with Dershowitz and Rabbi Daniel Gordis, a political hardliner who has suggested a new wave of ethnic cleansing to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority, but he has never met a figure like Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel founding member Omar Barghouti on the same stage.

Ben-Ami, for his part, has openly stated his preference for keeping discussions about BDS “within the Jewish community,” refusing a request to debate a Palestinian like Barghouti (“J Street’s Ben Ami: “Our discussion” on BDS should stay “within the Jewish community”,” MaxBlumenthal.com, 15 April 2011).

What are they afraid of? Do liberal Zionists have something to hide? If not, they should end the intellectual masquerade and bring their real agenda out into the open for all to see. Then we will know who the radicals are.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.

Comments

"What does “the Jewish right to self-determination” mean, and from where did Jews (whom Rosenberg conflates with Israelis) receive such a right? Was it guaranteed by a binding international legal treaty? Or was it derived from the Torah, the holy book that the self-declared messianist and Israel’s first prime minister David Ben Gurion described as his “blueprint” for building the Jewish state?"

-- Every people has a right to self-determination, it's not something you receive.
The Jews' homeland is Palestine, and they, as well as the Arab Palestinians, have a right to a country of their own in this land.
Ben Gurion thought highly about the Tanakh, but he based the right of jews to self determination on international treaties and history. Not religious beliefs (which he didn't have).

"Liberal Zionist critics of BDS proclaim their passionate commitment to two states, or at least, to the established proposals for partition that have emerged through the US-led peace process, but few are willing to provide details. And even fewer have attempted to explore what the established proposals for two states will mean for the Palestinians who would have to live with its consequences."

--- the details of these proposals are well known. two states based on the 67 borders with land swaps (which no, doesn't mean population transfer) and a special solution to Jerusalem's old city. This formula is so well known that it's boring to repeat it. If it's well forced, the consequences of such a peace agreement to the Palestinians are end to the occupation, independence, better lives, civil rights and end to the bloodshed. how horrible.

Amit, does a people's right to self-determination justify an "ethnically exclusivist state," created by the violent displacement of another people and predicated on "supposed kinship with Bronze Era nomads?"

The details of a two-state solution are _not_ well-known, because "two-state solution" can mean all sorts of different things. It certainly doesn't always mean 1967 borders (Netanyahu talks about a "two-state solution" while yelling at Obama for so much as mentioning 1967), so Rosenthal is right to call out liberal Zionist commentators for their vagueness. The motive he offers for that vagueness is supported by the details under "Not a pretty picture."

"does a people's right to self-determination justify an "ethnically exclusivist state" "

-- Liberal pro-Israelis don't wish an "ethnically exclusivist state" for Jews, they just don't want Jews to become the minority in Israel. It's not the same thing. Esspecially not when the mean to keep this majority is ending the occupation and not expending Israel behind its current borders.

"It certainly doesn't always mean 1967 borders (Netanyahu talks about a "two-state solution" while yelling at Obama for so much as mentioning 1967)"
-- In Israel's political scene, part of the definition of what is a moderate left wing Israeli\zionist is - someone who supports the two state solution based on the 67 borders, minor land swaps, special solution for Jerusalem's old city, and only very restricted return of 48 refugees. If you hear a liberal zionist mentioning the two state solution, you can be pretty sure this is what he means. no vagueness about it. Netanyahu is not an example for a "liberal zionist".

"Liberal pro-Israelis don't wish an "ethnically exclusivist state" for Jews, they just don't want Jews to become the minority in Israel"

That rhetoric sounds an awful lot like the "nativist" demoguages in the US who fawn at the mouth at the thought of immigrants outnumbering the white population here. What is so wrong about having a jewish minority? In an NON ethnically exclusivist state, this wouldn't be an issue....

"...and only very restricted return of 48 refugees."

And only VERY RESTRICTED return of people who were all forcibly removed from their own villages by an israeli military terror campaign? Why? To preserve your precious ethnocracy?

"does a people's right to self-determination justify an "ethnically exclusivist state," created by the violent displacement of another people and predicated on "supposed kinship with Bronze Era nomads?"

No, Joel, it certainly doesn't. Fortunately, no one's doing anything of the sort.

There have been some Jews in Israel continuously, since the days of the Israelite kings---not many, since the Romans & others violently displaced the vast majority of Jews---but enough to personify the solid, Jews' unbroken connection to the land. In modern times, the Jews returned to Israel from long exile to reconstitute what had only ever been a Jewish kingdom---never in history had the land been an independent nation of Muslims, Arabs or "Palestinians". This is all very elementary----but guys like you are living proof that people don't understand what they don't want to understand.

There's much irony in your sneering characterization of the Jews' "supposed connection" to their own historical past in "the Bronze Era"---even as you stand up for the heritage of a "Palestinian nation" that was invented out of whole cloth, no such nation ever having existed prior to the emergence of the Zionist movement.

But then, irony, paradox, inconsistency & illogic probably don't register with you as unusual; that's just the way you think.

The right to physically remove a population using military means ended after WWI. It is illegal to invade. Period. The Israeli's missed that memo during their short time with the Brits, and have caused major upheaval not just for their victims, (the Palestinians), but the honest liberal Jewish population that would rather live in peace. Even then, the entitlement mentality and social welfare given to the Jewish population while starving the Natives is not sending a very positive message of bi-lateral interests.

Try reading the paragraph again, the point is pretty clear: "where did Jews, whom Rosenberg conflates with Israelis, receive such a right ".
Regarding "International treaties and history" - Israelis as a people have the right to self-determination. But Jews, Christians, Muslims, Women etc... only have the right to self-determination in as much as they share these rights as citizens where ever they are.

The solution to all the ambiguities in the "two state" and/or "liberal Zionist" rhetoric is the simple demand that the recognition of any state -- Israeli or Palestinian -- be predicated on the accepted norms of statehood: defined borders, equal rights, and living within the bounds of international law. That Israel abhors all three speaks volumes about the inherent agenda of Zionism, which has always insisted that Israel -- alone among nations -- be exempted from these norms.

It all comes into focus if we imagine a Palestinian call for statehood with undefined borders, a ban on the immigration of Jews to Israel, Palestinian control of Israeli airspace and ports of entry, and a caveat that Palestine's very existence depends on its being exempt from international law. And yet this is a mirror image of what Israel has always insisted on being.

It's pretty disturbing when the supposedly left J Street has a position that is to the right of the Ministry of Defense, the Army, State and High Court. In defense of the wall, as per their attempts to circumvent international law, these institutions attested that the wall is just temporary. This was their main defense against claims of violating Geneva 4 as well as against army leaders who testified the wall is untenable to defend indefinitely.

American Zionist follow the Israeli lead. Shift to the right.

Israel's racist and bigoted policies since 1948 has backed it into a corner and there's no way out for them, except to acknowledge that they've made a huge mistake and try to make amends for all their thefts, hurtful lies, murders and genocide.

But that won't happen, not as long as psychos like Netanyahu are in charge.

""[Israel needs to] make amends for all their thefts, hurtful lies, murders and genocide.........But that won't happen, not as long as psychos like Netanyahu are in charge.""

Yes, yes, genocide, theft... you forgot to mention Israel's hand in spreading AIDS, global warming & lousy TV shows.
And of course, Israel's leader---by free & fair democratic elections, something utterly unknown in virtually all Arab countries--- is a psycho.

What about Arafat---who led or was intimately involved in, numerous terror attacks on Israeli civilians in the 1970s? Was he a psycho?
How about the Mufti of Jerusalem, who collaborated with Hitler?
The Ayatollah Khomeini? Ahmadinejad? Does anyone else meet your criteria of being a psycho----or only Israelis who advocate right-wing policies?

The term moral blindness comes to mind---to be completely incapable of distinguishing between opinions or political positions that differ from your own, and large-scale acts of pure violence.

Quetion, what does Khomeini and Ahmedinejad have anything to do with palestinians?
Good mention on the Grand Mufti, you should also mention Stern Gang and the Lehi and their dodgy relations with the Nazis.
But just for clarification, yes Netanyahu is a psycho, and so is Ahmedinjad . And so is Assad. I would put Putin in the category as well, for fun. Anything else?

Mr. Blumenthal wrote: "Like the right-wing Likudniks they claim to abhor, liberal Zionists are staunchly committed to the maintenance of an ethnically exclusivist Jewish state."

I cannot speak for liberal Zionists -- I am not one. I am not sure of the ethnically "exclusivist" claim. Perhaps a Jewish majority? I suspect the desire for an ethnically Jewish majority in a Jewish state is more about Jewish history - the way Jews fared historically in societies where they / we were a minority - than about racism.

How does a state enforce an ethnic majority without a raft of racist policies and actual ethnic cleansing?

I dont see that histories of racism can ever offer justification for further racism, which is what you seem to suggest.

To me racism means you think your race is inherently superior and the other race inferior, like we saw in Germany (the Aryan race) during the nineteen thirties, early nineteen forties. I am sure there is some of that in both camps within Israel but it seems to me much of this is driven centuries of mutual hatred (enmity, rivalry, etc.) between these peoples rather than so much by racism. I am reminded of the story in the book of Genesis:

"And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. Now the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.

So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, nor between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are brothers.

"Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me; if to the left, then I will go to the right; or if to the right, then I will go to the left."

The Bible says, "And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together..." Ultimately the sons of Lot dwelt in Ammon and Moab.

Could it be the same in this instance? You speak of ethnic cleansing. White Europeans decimated North American Indian tribes, forcibly removing them, expropriating all of their land, thereby subjugating them and robbing them of their culture -- through assimilation and forced conversion -- and their will to resist. I do not see a repetition of the American example in Israel. The Arab inhabitants will not surrender like the American Indians did. Nor will the Jews. I see perpetual conflict between these peoples dwelling in the same tiny piece of land land. What do you see? Do you see the greater Arab world (much less the Palestinians) reconciled to a sovereign Jewish state in the region, within any borders?

Let's try a little thought experiment here: I wonder how many Palestinians would be in favour of a bi-national state, in the area consisting of Israel and the Occupied Territories, if the demographics were such that the Palestinians would be destined to be always in the minority compared with the Jews?

Beinart and Dershowitz's article does not call for the West Bank to be separated into three chunks, but for a partial settlement freeze that will distinguish between those areas that the Palestinians will surely retain, those areas that the Palestinians have conceded or will likely be required to concede (such as Maale Adumim) and those areas that are a matter of contention (such as Ariel).

You are absolutely correct to call the whole argument between the Israeli / Palestinian property boundary debate a farce. Their is no debate, just showmanship to distract the wandering, ambivalent reporters, their camera men, and the studios that produce the "story" from the actions taken by Israel to destroy lives in order to procure property, and resources. A comic book is more valid than these news sources that even cover the "debates".

There will be no peace if the Israelis have anything to say about it.
Look at the comments here- some of those apologists for Israeli actions deny that the Palestinians exist as a people. I can only imagine the furor that would erupt if one said that there are no such thing as Israelis, since the jews living there come from all around the world and weren't born there.
I hope there will be an Arab majority in Palestine soon.

Dear Max Blumenthal:

I take issue with this sentence in your article:

"Even the most acute liberal Zionist mind would struggle to sell a progressive peer on the logic of advocating for an immigrant-friendly, multicultural society in the United States while simultaneously defending a colonialist ethnocracy in a far away, Middle Eastern country that offers them the right of “return” on the basis of their supposed kinship with Early Bronze Era desert nomads."

First, Jews were the majority population in the area at least till 70 AD when it was known as Judea, a millenium after Bronze age. Second, the Jewish population in the diaspora remains culturally and genetically distinct so the kinship is more than "supposed." Correct me if I am wrong. I generally agree with you, but you can't make mistakes like this.

You are wrong. Read Shlomo Sands "The Invention of the Jewish People."