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No Direction Home

Maybe American liberal Zionism simply isn’t worth saving

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(Photoillistration by Tablet Magazine; boats by Uriel Sinai/AFP/Getty Images; flags by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.)

On the morning of May 31, Americans woke up to a flood of media reports about a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla, and Israel’s liberal supporters in the United States immediately found themselves in a familiar bind. On one hand, pro-Israel hardliners called on liberal Zionists to take a firm stand in support of Israel’s actions, warning—as one neoconservative critic put it—that to do otherwise would mark them as “at best, fair-weather friends and, at worst, little different from open anti-Zionists who implicitly support [Hamas]’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state.” On the other hand, critics of Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza called on these liberals to denounce not merely the tactical wisdom of the raid but the morality of the blockade itself. Most liberal Zionists proved characteristically unwilling to get behind either alternative. While a few spoke out against the siege of Gaza, the majority restricted themselves to familiar admonitions that the raid was “unwise” and “counterproductive” even if the intentions behind it were blameless.

It was a classic illustration of the liberal Zionist predicament. In recent weeks this predicament has received an increased amount of attention, due in large part to a bracing and much-discussed essay by Peter Beinart—a former editor of The New Republic, the very citadel of American pro-Israel orthodoxy—in which he sounded the alarm on the plummeting levels of support for Israel among younger American Jews. “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door,” Beinart wrote, “and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.” Similar concerns led to the formation in 2008 of J Street, a lobby group that aims to represent the views of liberal Jews and serve as a counterweight to traditionally right-leaning groups like AIPAC. If current trends continue, American Jewish attitudes toward Israel may ultimately be transformed in a way unseen since the bulk of the community first got on board with Zionism, in the wake of the 1967 Six-Day War.

How can liberal Zionism be saved? For those aiming to revive the form of American liberal Zionism that marked the generation that came of age after the 1967 war, it is tempting to blame its decline on a betrayal by outside forces. On this logic the collapse of support has been caused by Israel’s own shift to the right in recent years—epitomized by the rise of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—a shift aided and abetted by a right-leaning institutional leadership of the American Jewish community that refuses to criticize Israel under any circumstances. Resuscitating liberal Zionism, this argument goes, will thereby involve siding with Israeli moderates while speaking out against settlers abroad and neoconservatives at home.

But can liberal Zionism, at least in the form that has dominated American Jewish life for decades, be saved at all? And should it be? These are harder questions but may ultimately be more important ones. It may be emotionally satisfying to posit a blameless liberal Zionism betrayed by outside forces, or to suppose that younger Jews are reacting only against the right and not liberal Zionism itself, but it is not clear that either claim is true. For one thing, Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman undoubtedly make good villains, but the aspects of Israeli politics that have alienated U.S. liberals go deeper than the current right-wing government. (To take only the most recent example, it was not the nefarious Netanyahu or the loathsome Lieberman who brought us the attack on Gaza, but rather the supposed “good guys”: Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and Tzipi Livni.)

More generally, the apparently impending collapse of mainstream liberal Zionism in the United States is no accident. Some of the phenomenon may be attributed to the simple passage of time—to a generation growing up farther removed from the looming presence of the Holocaust and without memories of the 1967 and 1973 wars. But we cannot adequately understand this collapse without understanding the compromises and contradictions that liberal Zionism became involved in over a period of decades.


Let me drop the pretense of disinterestedness for a moment. I am a member of the “younger generation” whose attitudes have become the subject of so much discussion, and in many ways I am typical of it. When the last decade began I considered myself to be, broadly speaking, a fairly standard young liberal Zionist—at least insofar as I thought about these things, which was not often. In the years since, my views have shifted to the point that I would not consider myself a Zionist at all. I make no claim to “speak for my generation,” whatever that would mean, and one should never trust anyone who claims that they can. But I have reason to think that my experience was far from atypical, and it might therefore be worthwhile to examine it more closely.

It’s always tempting, when writing a conversion narrative, to exaggerate the magnitude of the shift for dramatic effect. But I can’t honestly claim that I was ever a neoconservative or a hardliner (aside from a brief Likudnik episode in my childhood). Rather, I held a set of views fairly typical of American liberal Zionism. I was largely uninformed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I was against the occupation and the settlements, and I considered myself sympathetic to Palestinian suffering. Still, I did not really question the basic Israeli narrative of the conflict (“we want peace, but they only want to annihilate us”); I believed that everything would be better if only the Palestinians could find their King or Gandhi; I was convinced that the shrill-sounding activists who constantly harped on Israel’s sins were hysterical at best and anti-Semitic at worst. I was a “serious” and “responsible” liberal, I told myself, and much of this identity hinged on differentiating myself from them.

I considered myself a Zionist, in the sense that I supported Israel’s “right to exist,” which I took to mean that I did not want the state to be violently destroyed and its inhabitants driven into the sea. Only later did I come to understand that this was not the meaning of Zionism at all, and equally that non-Zionism had nothing to do with wanting to drive the Jews into the sea; I then realized that I had probably never been a Zionist in any real sense at all. (I now suspect that this is a common phenomenon, and that many if not most American Jews who call themselves Zionists are not so in any strict ideological sense—a misunderstanding encouraged by a pro-Israel establishment that is eager to equate non-Zionism with anti-Semitism.)

Above all, I felt that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was tragic and irrational and complicated. For those who have seen through the simple morality-play version of the conflict, in which a blameless Israel is constantly beset by bloodthirsty Arab hordes, it is a belief in the conflict’s endlessly “complicated” nature that keeps them in line and deters them from taking any firm stand. And of course, the conflict is complicated, with more than enough blame to go around. But all the talk of the complicated and tragic nature of the situation, I eventually came to believe, was partially designed to obscure certain stark realities that were, perhaps, not terribly complicated at all: in particular, the fact that for decades the lion’s share of power has been in the possession of one side, and the lion’s share of suffering has been borne by the other. Once again, however, this realization was a long time in coming.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when or how my views shifted. A great deal of the change can probably be explained simply by the fact that I started paying closer attention to the conflict and its history. I suspect the general disillusionment of the George W. Bush years also pushed me to the left on the Israel-Palestine issue, as it did to so many people on so many issues, and the Iraq war in particular (which I had opposed, but far from wholeheartedly) made me reconsider the merits of “serious liberalism” as an overall foreign policy stance. The fact that so many of Israel’s most vocal supporters were among the leading proponents of the Iraq debacle forced me, like many others, to confront exactly what support for Israel entailed.

But of course, blaming Bush and Iraq does not explain why one should reconsider Israel and Zionism; even blaming the neocons or the Likud does not explain why one should reconsider mainstream liberal Zionism. To do so, it is necessary to examine some features of the liberal debate over Israel as it has been conducted in recent years in the bastions of mainstream Jewish opinion—in the New York Times and on NPR, in campus Hillels and suburban synagogues. It was only after years of following this discussion that I became convinced that liberal Zionism, at least in the form that had reigned among the bulk of American Jewry for decades, was inherently unable to grapple with the problems at stake—that its basic suppositions had forced it into a role that made it marginal, self-indulgent, and ultimately irrelevant.


The first notable feature of the debate that became apparent was its heavily emotive and tribal character. Rather than taking a measured look at the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, at the concrete facts and issues in play, participants spent an inordinate amount of time fighting to claim the “pro-Israel” mantle and squabbling over who could be said to love Israel more. The basic contours will be familiar to anyone who has spent much time following the debate: Hardliners charge liberals with a lack of concern for Israel’s security in the midst of an allegedly annihilationist mass of Arab neighbors; liberals reply with familiar warnings that in the absence of a two-state solution Israel will have to choose between Zionism and democracy. Hardliners contend that a “true friend” would never criticize Israel publicly; liberals argue that a “true friend” must help Israel avoid becoming an international pariah.

It is not difficult to see, however, that the liberal Zionists in these debates will always be at an inherent disadvantage. After all, Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli political establishment are more than happy to weigh in on who they think their “true friends” are—and not surprisingly, it is the friends who are willing to hawk for war against Iran and turn a blind eye to West Bank settlements. Liberal Zionists will never really be able to convince the public that they know Israel’s long-term interests better than Israel itself, no matter if it is true, and therefore will always have trouble answering the charge that they are, as Sarah Palin put it, “second-guessing” Israel’s own decisions. Thus the competition over who can appear to love Israel more is one that, unjustly or not, the liberals will generally lose.

More to the point, by constantly reaffirming their undying love for Israel, by couching every argument in terms of Israeli needs and Israeli security, the liberals sacrifice the most effective advantage they have: their power to make moral arguments. Thus we hear frequently that a two-state solution would be “good for Israel” by solving the “demographic problem,” or that the Gaza assault was “bad for Israel” by harming the country’s international standing. Less frequently do we hear that the real value of the two-state solution would be in ending the misery and injustices of the occupation, or that the Gaza assault was bad, first and foremost, for the people of Gaza. Because they are afraid to make these arguments, because they are afraid to suggest that Israel’s actions might be not merely imprudent but also immoral, the liberals have no good answers when the hardliners reply that the two-state solution imposes intolerable risks to Israeli security, or that the Gaza incursion was a successful response to the rocket fire into southern Israel.

Similarly, the claim that Israel’s “security decisions” are Israel’s business alone invites an obvious answer: namely, that outsiders have every right to question these decisions because they affect millions of people who are not Israelis. But because mainstream liberal Zionists have refused to move beyond a myopic focus on Israeli interests, this is an answer that is foreclosed to them, and the charge of “second guessing” will always be devastating.

The second feature of the debate that became apparent to me was related to the first; it was the obsessive focus on the motives of Israel’s critics. On the one hand, there was the need to ensure that all criticism was restricted to “true friends” of Israel—always Jews, who must constantly reaffirm their Zionist credentials, who must pull their punches in public debate, who must take care not to criticize too stridently or to overstep the innumerable lines demarcating “acceptable” criticism of Israel. On the other hand, there were the unhinged (one might say disproportionate) attacks directed at any critics who were deemed to be “outsiders”—generally Gentiles (and if Jewish, easily tarred as “self-haters”), who failed to abide by the rules of acceptable debate and therefore had to be made examples of.

Recent years have seen any number of examples, from Jimmy Carter to Tony Judt to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt to, mostly recently, Richard Goldstone. In each case, much of the crime was to step outside the prescribed limits of “acceptable” criticism: to say not merely that the perpetuation of the occupation would be regrettable, but that would bring “apartheid” (Carter); not merely that the window for a two-state solution is closing, but that it has closed (Judt); not merely that the Israel lobby is bad for Israel, but that it is bad for the United States (Mearsheimer and Walt); not merely that Israel made unspecified “mistakes” in Gaza, but that it committed outright war crimes (Goldstone). But in each case, the problem was more with the messenger than the message. Thus both Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, for instance, have reiterated Carter’s “apartheid” rhetoric without arousing much visible outrage. Similarly, Beinart is only the latest in a line of mainstream liberal Zionists who have conceded the basic truth of the Mearsheimer/Walt thesis without acknowledging it by name. (I should disclose here that John Mearsheimer teaches in the political science department of the University of Chicago, in which I am a doctoral student, although we work in different fields.)

If the debate over Israel has shifted noticeably to the left over the last several years, this fact therefore owes almost nothing to the “responsible” liberal Zionists and almost everything to those whom the responsible liberal Zionists have tarred as anti-Semites. Yet the mainstreaming of once-taboo positions has not brought a respite in the tone or frequency of attacks; on the contrary, Israel’s defenders seem to have doubled down. It has gotten to the point that when Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz recently compared Goldstone to the Nazi vivisectionist Josef Mengele—an objectively shocking analogy—few observers so much as batted an eye.

This pattern of behavior has by now become so familiar that we rarely stop to ask the obvious question, why? Why focus so obsessively on delineating “acceptable” from “unacceptable” criticism and attempting to annihilate anyone who crosses the line?

Many of those responsible for enforcing ideological conformity on the issue were neoconservatives; their behavior could at least be read as a rational attempt to further their political goals. After all, they liked the status quo as it was—unwavering U.S. support for Israel, expanding settlements, frequent wars—and saw no need to change it. But many of the enforcers were liberals, or at least claimed to be. They professed their support for the two-state solution, their opposition to the settlements, their discomfort with (although never outright opposition to) the attacks on Lebanon and Gaza. Their professed goals actually differed little from those of many of their targets; after all, most of the hate figures mentioned above are fairly moderate proponents of a two-state solution, not one-staters or anti-Zionists. One might reasonably expect that if the liberal enforcers were serious about their “pro-peace” agenda, they would have found a way to make common cause with these critics rather than trying so fervently to destroy them. Instead, they followed a typical pattern: a few perfunctory words in favor of “peace” and against the settlements, followed by torrents of invective directed at anyone who was actually engaged in concrete action to further these goals. If these so-called liberals had devoted one-tenth the time they spent policing the bounds of the debate to actually ending the occupation, the entire situation might be very different today.

This is not to deprecate those liberal Zionists who genuinely acted on their moral convictions; they have performed admirable work against the occupation, often at serious personal cost. But they have always been the exception rather than the rule. When it counted—during the Gaza attack, for instance, or the current debate over confrontation with Iran—the bulk of the liberal Zionists could be counted on to fall into line. They expressed their hopes that Israel would choose, out of the goodness of its heart, to stop colonizing the West Bank or to show more restraint in its military actions. But by conceding beforehand that Israel would have their steadfast support even when it inevitably decided to ignore them, by working to ensure that Israel would face no consequences when it did so, by insisting that only the right people with the right ideologies were allowed to agree with them, they only ensured that nothing would ever change. It became hard to avoid the conclusion that their protestations were intended more to salve their own consciences than to accomplish anything substantive.


At some point, I simply got tired of these fratricidal and self-absorbed debates, tired of the endless rhetorical dance. I stopped caring much about the “pro-Israel” label, or whether others would consider me a true “friend of Israel,” or whether I was abiding by the strictures of “acceptable criticism.” In the face of so much evident misery and injustice, these considerations came to seem self-indulgent and irrelevant. I continue to believe that the policies I support would ultimately be in the best interest of the people of Israel, but I recognize that only a minority of Israelis agree with me, and I frankly have little interest in squabbling with the Likudniks and neoconservatives over the right to call myself “pro-Israel.”

I suppose at this point I should relate anecdotes about my bar mitzvah or travels to Israel, tell shtetl stories about my ancestors, proclaim my love of latkes and klezmer and Woody Allen and Philip Roth. I should talk about “Jewish values” and how my views on Israel-Palestine are an extension, not a renunciation, of these values. I should try to reassure you, in other words, that I am not a deracinated or, worse, “self-hating” Jew; that I am one of “us,” not one of “them.”

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.

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Josh says:


Interesting thoughts. But for all your saying that you understand that the situation is “complicated”, you seem to have a deep need to simplify it — both in your explanation for why Carter, Walter & Mearsheimer were out of line (in my opinion, and the opinion of many others, the problem is that they deeply distorted the facts — a little more than just your superficial labels), and in things like “if only Israel could stop colonizing the West Bank” as if there are not extremely deadly forces at play out there manipulating the situation for their own cynical needs. Look around the neighborhood, Daniel. It’s a very complicated place that in my opinion simply doesn’t embrace your liberal values and desire for peace and harmony and simplicity.

Look at Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and further afield into the Gulf. Look at life, freedom, conflict and progress there. How do those places stand up under your liberal ideals? If you’re honest probably pretty poorly… Even look at the Kingdom of Jordan, a ruling arrangement offered by the British as a consolation prize to the Saudi Hashemites. People there suffer greatly under intensely illiberal regimes (with the exception of Jordan if you excuse Black September and its ever-present legacy).

It would be nice if Israel could just change its policies and fix the situation. That then “everyone can get along”. Except that on a rational level, I reject that simple view of the world. Not in most of the world that I’ve traveled to, and certainly not in the Middle East. As demonstrated by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and Lebanon, seemingly “desirable” actions have consequences (rocket fire and intense armament build-up). On the other hand, “undesirable” actions such as the security fence/wall also have consequences (look mom, no more suicide bombings in Jerusalem!). So when you’re sitting in Tel Aviv and Haifa, things sometimes look a little different than they do on the BBC.

Does this mean that I choose to blindly support settlements or even the Israeli government in general? Absolutely not. No doubt you and I could sit down and agree on many details of what we perceive to be the failings of internal and external Israeli policies and practices. But because I approach the situation from a different context, see the world in what is probably a significantly more cynical context, and probably because of the difference in peer groups in which we associate, I express myself differently.

The world’s a very complicated place, Daniel. I wish Israel was powerful enough to flick a switch and fix all its problems. Sadly, though, it isn’t. And this is the biggest difference I find between myself and self-described card-carrying liberals, regardless of any self-defined support or lack thereof for Israel.

Mati says:

Worthless, weak article lacking courage, perspicacity, and any other attribute needed for survival & prosperity in the world.

Ted Sasson says:


Toward the end of your article, you describe writers who “dispute the facts” of declining attachment to Israel as “defenders of Israel”. Since you link to my recent Tablet article (“Wrong Numbers”) presumably you have me (and my co-author) in mind. But why describe our work as pro-Israel? Why not “pro-social science?” If you have systematic evidence of broad-based alienation from Israel among American Jews then please bring it forward! We don’t say that such a thing would be impossible — but where please is the evidence?

Incidentally, you also claim that most American Jews erroneously describe themselves as Zionists, and further suggest that this tendency is promoted by the Israel Lobby. In point of fact, only a minority of American Jews have ever defined themselves as “Zionist” in opinion surveys. The overwhelmingly majority does however claim to be “pro-Israel.” Perhaps they know the difference?

A.S. says:

This article, in Commentary magazine’s web site, says it much more succinctly: “Liberal Zionists” Must Choose: Hamas or Israel

“Americans who are looking to excuse themselves from the more difficult task of explaining the truth of Israel’s dilemma to a hostile world may seize upon the convoy deaths as a fresh rationale for quitting the ranks of country’s supporters. But if that is what amounts to liberal Zionism these days, then its adherents must be judged as, at best, fair-weather friends and, at worst, little different from open anti-Zionists who implicitly support the Palestinian terror organization’s goal of eliminating the Jewish state. If liberal Zionism in 2010 amounts to the backing of Hamas’s propaganda campaign and the delegitimization of Israeli self-defense, then it is time to admit that such liberals have left the Zionist camp altogether.”

Hilton says:

I think you make an excellent point about the inherent contradiction in being a good liberal and being a good Zionist. The moment I realized I no longer cared to be a Zionist was quite scary for me–I had defined myself in that way for so long. Shedding that descriptor was painful, but overcoming the contradiction that had nagged at me so long in my thinking was an enormous relief.

I’m glad to continue discovering stories from people who have gone through a similar evolution, and especially glad to see such an article on Tablet, which I find is ordinarily pretty conservative/bland on Israel.

David says:

Does Tablet Mag actually do any research on their authors before they give them space to rant about how they’ve been wronged by those evil right-wingers and especially those evil Neo-con Jews! Just because this guy is getting his PhD at U of Chicago doesn’t mean Tablet Mag needs to give this person an audience on why American Jews need to say goodbye to Israel unless Israel does whatever people like Luban saids is good for them.

I am getting tired of people like Luban and Beinart whining about how they didn’t leave Zionism, but Zionism left us trope. This is the true problem with American Jewry today. American Jewry isn’t a religion anymore, it’s more or less culture thing for most people and synagogues becoming more and more like cheaper version of a country club. If liberal Jews are so ashamed of Israel wanting to protect herself from people that want to annihilate them then why don’t you do us all a favor and start telling people that look Jewish but are not Jewish.

Secular Judaism has been the worse thing for Worldwide Jewry since the Holocaust and we seeing this evidence more and more these days. So many of today’s Jews only see themselves as Jews through the prism of love of bagels and lox and Seinfeld. This is becoming the death of Judaism; not on how Israel treats the Palestinians. IF Judaism is going to survive for another 5000 years, we need to go back to our roots. I’m not advocating that we need to be like Chabad movement, but we need an identity that is stronger than what we eat and to what TV shows we can relate too.

But back to my first argument about this guy, if you Google his name the first thing that pops up is his interview with If anyone knows anything about that website, it is full of anti-Semitic dribble and usually goes off in the deep end of Jewish conspiracies of world domination. Shame Tablet Mag for giving this person a place on your website to give his extreme views on why need to be abandon Israel unless Meretz is given control of the Israeli government.

Phyllis Steen says:

We did not survive thousands of years to suffer the inconsequentiality of your awfully long good-bye. What a f*cking yenta… Frankly the shear weight of this bloviation is an unbearably “Great Schlep” on the rest of us. Mr. Luban, please, let us go!

Luban captures the dilemma I feel as a liberal American Jew almost perfectly. He is far more articulate — and knowledgeable — about the situation than I could be. What he captures is the confusion and isolation I feel.

What he does not adequately address is the dilemma I find myself in the concept of Israel itself as a racial/tribal entity. As one who came of age in the 70’s and 80’s, I have an admittedly knee-jerk reaction to the Jim Crow-like place of the Arabs in Israeli society. Having learned to identify with African-Americans, it is all too easy to see Israel’s military in the position of Bull Connor. It just seems weird to me as a witness to the Civil Rights movement that by the accident of my birth to Jewish parents I have a guaranteed place in Israel that others don’t have. It’s too easy to see actions such as the flotilla raid as a government coming down on an ethnic subgroup of its population.

Thank you, Daniel Luban, for your courage in putting into words what I suspect many of us feel. I suspect you’ll be raked over the coals for your effort.

Lewis says:

Thank you for this. Very brave to come to these pages bearing such an honest appraisal. It really is time for some soul-searching about what pro-Israel needs to mean.

BunterHandy says:

Always good to read. Keep it up.

The basic guideline that those who use double-standards to judge Israel versus other nations, that demonize Israel and that deny Israel the right to exist seems to be useful in exploring where anti-Israel attitudes shade into anti-Semitism. And there seems much of this soft anti-Semitism in many of those cited in this article, as well as in the adherence to left-wing or liberal positions.

The problem with the so-called liberal positions is that they seem to be out of sync with the real world. Maybe it is time to cease being a doctrinaire liberal and start seeing how the world actually functions? Certainly that is part of any good graduate education in political science.

J Carpenter says:

9 people were killed in the raid at sea; they were hardly a threat to national security. Zion, schmion—Jerusalem is in heads, hearts, community, not real estate.

Shoshana says:

This essay brilliantly captures the complex and often wrenching situation of so many young American Jews on the left. I’m beyond gratified that there’s finally a voice for us.

While this was an interesting read with many valuable insights, I think the author said it himself: “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.”

The political realities that affect the American Jewish left include the collapse of the Israeli left (symbolized by the Labor Party’s performance in the last elections), the effect of Arafat’s gambit of Sept 2000 on the Israeli public’s trust in the prospect of ever reaching a solution, and even the Russian influx of the ’90s and its effect on Lieberman’s rise.

The author chooses to ignore this reality as “not so complicated after all” and makes the mistake of simplifying the situation into a morality play of reverse David and Goliath: the powerful Israelis against the suffering Palestinians.

I’m sorry to say, but it IS complicated. There ARE many facets to this problem. Israel is not in control of the game, and does not get to choose what happens next. That is why Jews are more interested in their responses and attitudes than the realities. It’s something that at least looks simple enough to debate…

David says:

Too bad the facts are Israel’s side, but as you liberal ‘Jews’ like to say, “Facts, we don’t need facts, “the truth” is on our side no matter if we are right or not.” You people are pathetic.

Since you need a lesson on the facts, here is a link proving Israel was not at fault.

But the real question is whether you have the moral courage of opening up your eyes to reality of this situation and the conflict in general. Only in this upside down world do we live in where the aggressors are the victims and the victims are now the aggressors. Thank G-d I open my mind years ago.

Luban is against the “morality play” version of Israel’s conflicts with the Palestinians and Arab states, and he wants to end the “stunted thinking” that has barred progress, but his article is so dispiriting because he just offers alternate morality plays and the stunted thinking of people whose greatest conviction is that they themselves are sensitive, nice, and good. Instead of a “blameless Israel” scenario, Luban offers another one equally facile: one side has power and the other suffers. (This is akin to the proportionality argument against Israel’s use of force that I heard yesterday on a BBC radio broadcast. The reporter interviewed people in Jerusalem and pointed out that nine activists were killed but not even one Israeli died. For the reporter, this was proof of evildoing. If things were so bad, why aren’t there dead Israelis to show for it?) But Luban likes this kind of simplicity. He tries something simple on the Gaza war. It fits like a glove. “The Gaza assault was bad, first and foremost, for the people of Gaza.” But Israel has something just as simple. The Gaza assault was good, first and foremost, for the people of Israel. Now what? This is where the hard work begins, and it is where Luban deserts us. Yes, a great value of a two-state solution would be ending the “misery and injustices of the occupation.” But Luban too easily dismisses questions of what is good for Israel. Many Israelis are fearful of a militarized Palestinian state that could threaten Israel’s air traffic, and Israel’s full withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza haven’t eased their minds. They know they are vulnerable and are less impressed with their own power than Luban. This makes the desirable two-state solution less simple and offers fewer opportunities for indignation, but there you go. And why is Luban so ominous about the true meaning of Zionism, which he hides from us. After he discovered that Zionism did not just mean believing Israel has a right to exist, he realized that he “had probably never been a Zionist in any real sense at all.” And he suspects that many of us are in the same boat, and that this confusion is practically the result of a conspiracy. OK, I’ll bite, what does Zionism really mean? And then there are the neoconservatives (how does it not bore the iconoclastic Luban to set up that worn-out bogeyman?), happy with “frequent wars.” And this is where it gets so disappointing, where Luban’s immaturity and petulance take over and he indulges in faux bravery by not offering up a set of stale Jewish credentials to assure us that he is one of us. Don’t worry, you are clearly one of us. You are an obvious product of a largely admirable but also frequently tiresome and unoriginal Jewish American culture of education-worship, obtuse moral high-mindedness, and preening rhetorical one-upmanship that is itself part of our problem with Israel. They (rightly) can’t stand this kind of talk and don’t respect it. Neither do I.

DRW says:

You started off very well. Your description of the difficult balancing position of the liberal Zionists seems very accurate to me. But then you went off the rails and fell into the lazy tactic of setting up straw-men.
First, how is the Bibi-Lieberman (and be honest, Lieberman has no power in the government) any more offensive to a liberal than the Shamir government of twenty years ago or Bibi’s first term a decade ago (both of which included Raful Eitan – a much more dangerous and effective man than blowhard Lieberman)? To insinuate that Israel has suddenly descended into right-wing craziness (which the crux of Beinart’s thesis) is both out of context and ignores the right-life pendulum swing of Israeli politics. By your logic, the first Begin government should have been enough to turn off any liberal Zionists permanently.

“The fact that so many of Israel’s most vocal supporters were among the leading proponents of the Iraq debacle forced me, like many others, to confront exactly what support for Israel entailed.”
<<So op-eds by Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Friedman broke your Zionist heart? I can understand Friedman upsetting you, but, as a liberal you were never a follower of the Weekly Standard crowd. What other Jewish supporters of the Iraq War had perviously influenced your politics? (Marty Peretz?).

“Hardliners contend that a “true friend” would never criticize Israel publicly.”
<<Can you give an actual example of such contending? Ironically, true “hardliners” (I assume you mean the Commentary contentions crowd) don’t believe Israel does anything to warrant criticism, public or private, other than being too soft.

“It is not difficult to see, however, that the liberal Zionists in these debates will always be at an inherent disadvantage. After all, Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli political establishment are more than happy to weigh in on who they think their “true friends” are—and not surprisingly, it is the friends who are willing to hawk for war against Iran and turn a blind eye to West Bank settlements.”
<<<Your hawkers must be Kristol and Krauthammer. Can you give a single quotation showing Nettanyahu, since he took power last year, or “the Israeli political establishment” championing such pundits and columnists as “true friends?”

“The second feature of the debate that became apparent to me was related to the first; it was the obsessive focus on the motives of Israel’s critics.”
<<This section really undermines your credibility as a trenchant observer. Again, who is doing the criticism? Give some examples. Why are you so deeply troubled by Jennifer Rubin and the Commentary bloggers? Why do you pay so much attention to Alan Dershowitz and Daniel Pipes? Practically no one else does. They only preach to the choir. Furthermore, to be fair, you have to admit the equally fervent attacks on the motivations, patriotism and ethics of anyone who publicly takes a hard-line on Israel. For an example of this, refer any day to café’s bloggers where every single day you can easily find comfort in mainsteam liberal Jewish bloggers attacking the motivations of right-wing Zionists.

“to those whom the responsible liberal Zionists have tarred as anti-Semites.”
<<<Again, in what universe is Alan Dershowitz a “responsible liberal Zionist”? (sorry, he’s the only example you name). The entire Jewish blogosphere (including half the Huffingtonpost regulars)shrieks in dismay.

“But many of the enforcers were liberals, or at least claimed to be.” <<<Examples please! This entire paragraph makes no sense unless you clarify who you consider a liberal and who is a critic. Where does Jeremy Ben Ami fall on your spectrum?

“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.”
<<<Can you give specific examples? This may be so among a particularly among your set of friends, but I think you are very much insulting the general Jewish community. I see little, if any, of this phenomenon in the real world of public discourse, particularly among the more popular Jewish bloggers who write about Israel (Marshall, Ackerman, Yglesias, .etc.).

Yehudah says:

I totally support your sentiments. Thank you for writing them and I realize how difficult it is to both support Israel and maintain a liberal perspective. I have taken a more truncated point of view. I have decided to no longer call myself a liberal, conservative, Republican, or Democrat. Not only does it obfuscate the issues but it becomes a shouting match. “I yam who I yam – as Popeye sez” and every individual issue must be scrutinized. When Obama, who I supported, claims that off-shore drilling is good, I am against it because of all of its detrimental consequences. When George Bush called for immigration reform and amnesty then I was for it even though I didn’t vote for Bush. And when Israel claims that the flotillas trying to break the embargo in civil disobedience must be dealt with through a military operation, I am against it. It isn’t about taking sides, it is about looking carefully at each situation, seeing it in all of its complexity (as someone wrote above) and not alway responding in a knee-jerk reaction. Not everything is a Holocaust.

Norm Cone says:

Daniel, alone the fact, that you are speaking about Israeli “attacks” against
Lebanon and Gaza shows, that not just your Zionism, but also your Judaism
is a simple birth defect and not worth a dime. But as a future Doctor in
political science you should know, that Israel’s “attack” in Lebanon followed
an invasion of Hezbollah fighters in Israeli territory and killing of Israeli
soldiers; that Israel’s attack in Gaza followed thousands of Hamas-rockets
against the civilian population of Sderot and other communities in Southern
Israel. I don’t know too much about “liberal Zionism”, but as a Holocaust
survivor I know something about anti-Semitism. I can smell it. And believe me: Carter, Walt and Maersheimer are anti-Semites.

Gur says:

“I now suspect … that many if not most American Jews who call themselves Zionists are not so in any strict ideological sense—a misunderstanding encouraged by a pro-Israel establishment that is eager to equate non-Zionism with anti-Semitism.” There’s non- and there’s anti-, and not even all the antis are anti-Semites, and I don’t see who in the pro-Israel establishment has been eager to call the nons anti-Semites. Want to know why it’s reasonable to suspect some of the _anti_ Zionists of anti-Semitism? The answer is that Zionism is no more and no less than the belief in the right of Jews to national self-determination, and if (as a lot of the antis are) you believe in national self-determination for other peoples, and you don’t believe in it for Jews, it’s valid, given a long history in which the Jews have been singled out and denied their rights, to wonder what your motivations are. I don’t wonder that about the writer. I’m certain that he’s only a non-Zionist, and not an anti-Zionist; i.e., he’s against national self-determination across the board, for all national groups. Right?

Annette Smith says:

Not just the young, but some old American Jewish liberals, are also in this quandry! While some good points are made here, I can’t see a conclusion that makes any sense to me. In some places, the article
is confusing and even contradictory. Some statements that carry some weight in my thinking, are without any supporting evidence. For example, the suggestion that recent actions were not taken as a result of right wing Israeli leadership (Netanyahu and Lieberman) but by that of the moderates (Barack and Livni). On what is such a statement based?

I don’t know what it is with self-declared liberals that they have this angst and anxiety about actually standing up for Israel. It’s as if the fact that they have Jewish blood in their veins precludes an excuse to be alive. While you are studying please study some Jewish history and modern middle east history not written by Rashid Khalidi. The rest of us are tired of the self-indulgent whinning from these spoiled American children who do not, not cannot, come to terms with the fact that they cannot be lefties and be pro-israel. The left has inherently been anti-semitically anti-israel since the 6th Day War. You may have come of age after that war, but there are those of us who remember that war and the wars that came after.

Did it ever dawn on you to create your own reality and not worry what other people think. Did it ever dawn on such smart children that you can create your own narrative and not have to follow in the footsteps of the recognized left in the US and Europe? Try being an independent thinker and take each issue as it comes. you do not have to accept the entire platform given to you by someone. The issue is why you need to label yourself at all? Did it ever dawn on you that if they wont let you in the left-wing I hate Israel club, you can creat your own, Left-wing I believe in Israel club.Why do you let someone else create your identity for you?

You say, that you are tired of trying to decipher the motivations for criticism. I have news for you, the motivations matter a great deal. In fact, if you really read what Sharansky said about it, you would have read that he accepts legitimate criticism of Israel, it is the 3Ds criticsm that is specious and rejected. The purpose of criticism is to make someone or something better. When we criticize the US we do so to make this a better place to live, not to make it ok to slaughter her citizens. In the case of Israel, the criticism world-wide is to make another holocaust justifiable.Especially in the wake of both Cast Lead and the flotilla, all actions legitimate under International Law.

If you are unhappy with the way things are going in Israel, from any point of view, do something about it, but do it constructively. Learn about the area and understand the issues. These are not simple issues an these are not simple times. It takes effort to work through everything that is happening in Israel and the middle east. But remember most of what you see is also not what you get. Learn to read between the lines it might make your understanding of the fact that the Middle East is not North America, and Israel’s enemies are not like Canada, heck they make Mexico’s drug war look peaceful.

Bryna Weiss says:

In a word- Bullshit!

Some of these responses are so much more articulate and meaningful than the self-important musings of Lubin, theirs are the words that give me reason to hope. I am young and I am liberal and I do not support settlements and I do support a two state solution, but I also support Israel defending itself, not only against Palestinian terrorists, but against so called “Peace” activists!

. I love this magazine!

Gur says:

One further point: there’s an irony about talking about the contradictions of liberal Zionism when what’s meant by that is the contradictions of Left Zionism. The right of national self-determination is a concept that belongs to liberal theory, so Zionism, simply by its definition of the right of Jews to national self-determination, is in one sense inherently liberal, without any contradiction at all. The use of “liberalism” to refer to Leftism is an American innovation — it’s common enough that there’s no point objecting to it, but given that there’s a complaint against Jewish insularity in this piece, what I want to say is let’s not be so insular as to forget another sense of liberalism (we shouldn’t forget it not least because it’s in that other sense that the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination is grounded as well as the Jews’ is.)

Gur says:

oops: I meant “its definition _as_ the right.”

nikihanna says:

Thank you Daniel from an older Jewish American activist. Some of us have been marginalized in our Jewish communities for decades.

nikihanna says:

Thank you Daniel from an older Jewish American activist. Some of us have been marginalized in our Jewish communities for decades. On being questioned about whether I have a right to express or protest an opinion about Israeli policies since I live in the US I think back to the time when we were asked to be active in protests about Russian policies and treatment of Jews. And my taxes were not being used in Russia as they are in Israel.

Robin Margolis says:

Dear Mr. Luban:

This is a very thoughtful and articulate essay, clearly summarizing a major problem within the Jewish community. I hope that the Tablet will invite you to write other essays in the future, and look forward to reading them.

Robin Margolis

Steven says:

I liked the article a lot and understood exactly what the author intended. I also recognized the merit and insight in several of the opposing comments. The reality is that those of us who care about Israel and who also embrace values of justice and peace are entangled in serious contradictions. That’s just a fact. So what is to be done? One starting point is to consider the wisdom of those who have gone before, and to learn from them. One such person — who just died, but who still has much to teach — is Arie “Lova” Eliav. He was remembered by A.B. Yehoshua in Haaretz here:

Independent Patriot– you are right.
What happens in Sudan and Afghanistan and many other Muslim nations is so much worse, but when Israel tries to protect itself, it gets scalded in the press. This is not a knee-jerk reaction on my part.

Daniel says he makes no pretense of speaking on behalf of his generation, and yet goes on to do just that at length.

He talks about his weariness with fratricidal self-absorption, and yet what is this entire piece but an exercise in bland, unoriginal solipsism and navel-gazing.

And of course, he lectures the rest of us about facing the realities of the Middle East, presumably because he’s seen through the pretenses of the most knee-jerk defenders of the Middle East—as though there aren’t millions of thoughtful Jews who wrestle quietly with these issues who don’t feel compelled to advertise ourselves all over the internet.

Finally, I see he makes common cause with the Jew-haters over at Antiwar, some of whom claim that the Mossad was behind 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks; just read Justin Raimondo’s frothing fulminations about Israel going back a few years.

Why bother listening to a kid with an aching need for attention who offers nothing but tired, fringe bromides about Israel’s sins? Honestly.

I meant ‘knee-jerk defenders of Israel.’

Denouncing liberals as insufficiently radical was familiar in the French Revolution, and, as Daniel demonstrates, is still in currency today.

europamedical says:

Thank you, Daniel Luban for your honesty and courage. It should be required reading for anyone with a real concern for the future of Israel. Wise words indeed and timely in light of this weeks tragic events.

SFMichele says:

How does one define “liberal zionism”?
I wish Luban had thrown in a definition up front.
It’s tough to suss it out of the whole article…

Like Margaret Ingall, this writer betrays a weariness with having to defend Israel, even intellectually, from unrelenting assault, and an unwillingness to confront the consequences of the fact that the Arab side rejects peace, over and over again, and that this cannot be blamed on Netanyahu or any of the others who the writer himself terms convenient villains. How can the Jewish state try to behave decently and morally while engaged in a hundred year’s war for its life? It is a pity that so few people are willing to confront this question honestly.

Shachar says:

Thank you Daniel for this honest and thought-provoking essay, and thanks to Tablet for publishing it. I believe you gave voice to many people (who needs to “represent a generation,” anyway).

Like some of the other people who responded, I think that not only the term “liberal Zionism” is in need of scrutiny (especially after the influential article of Peter Beinart), but the very notion of “Zionism” in this day and age is in urgent need of rethinking. Suffice it to say that for most young people in contemporary Israel, Zionism is an ideology and historical movement that is not part of their life in any way. If you would ask them if they are “Zionists,” they wouldn’t know what you are talking about. In the US, people continue to use the term as if it is still alive, and as if they know what they mean by this term. It’s time to reexamine the role of “Zionism” in contemporary American Jewish discourse and identity.

I hope this conversation continues…

Charles says:

Older non-Zionists in the Jewish community (American Council for Judaism anyone?) have one word in response to all the hand wringing about generational disenchantment:

I’m looking forward to more Jewishly engaged non-Zionists taking some of the thunder from pro-Palestinian solidaristas. Why should folks who don’t really care about the future of the Jewish people get to represent the enlightened Jewish self interest of detachment from Zionism?

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

What do you expect when liberal socialist Jew teach our children that the United States and Israel is no good. Our Jewish children march with the Palestinians in New York. A cousin of mine almost upchucked watching the girls wearing the Star of David and marching against Israel.

As long as Liberal Jews continue to put people like Leonard Jeffries in their fraternities, Professors in Columbia who hate Jews made chairman of the Middle East dept after calling an Israeli girl, baby killer..(liberal Jews voted for him to be chairman of the dept)liberal reporters go on anti-semite televison Chris Matthews programs while he only remembers the names of Jews who are neo-cons and thus it became a code word for Jew…expect the young to disrespect our Judiasm and Zionism.

jdyer says:

Liberal values? What are they?

We can see them on display in the recent ISM and their attempt to fortify Hamas.

How has fanatical Islamicist regime like Hamas been able to convince thousands of well meaning liberal idiots to support it? It’s as if the Franco regime had been able to get the international brigade to support it instead of the democratically elected Spanish government.

There is something sinister afoot when one of the most illiberal and antisemitic regimes in the world is able to count on the support of so called “liberal” young people from around the world including some “liberal” Jews.

It will take a whole brigade of Beinarts to explain this turn of events. It also gives the lie to his views about that “Jewish leaders have turned off young Jews to Israel because it isn’t liberal enough.”

It’s not liberal values that these young ‘progressive” young people support, it’s illiberal antisemitic values.

Peter W. says:

As the Yiddish saying goes, (translated into English), “You can’t dance with one ass at two weddings.”

Zionism is the principle that the Jewish people are entitled to re-establish and dwell in their nation in the land of Israel. The liberalism that Luban speaks of, really leftism, is anti-nationalist, and always seeks to favor the “underdog”. (Who came out and rang a bell and proclaimed that 6 million Jews in Israel are not the underdog, but 300 million Arabs bent on their destruction are, is unclear; but I digress.) I suppose that after a significant percentage of the Jewish population is killed by the Muslims, e.g., Iran or the Arabs, in a conflagration, maybe then we can go back to the pre-1967 scenario where the left didn’t hate Israel because it was perceived to be the underdog.

Ultimately one can only worship one god, and the liberal American, assimilationist, intermarrying, low fertility Jews worship the golden calf of leftism, not the G-d of Israel. At least they’ll be disappearing in a few generations, while the Orthodox population is exploding. Good riddance.

Yehudit Ilana says:

I don’t agree with everything you said, but I think the vitriolic comments here only provide strong support for your assertions.

Walter H. Steinlauf says:

Thank you for reminding me why I cancelled my subscription to The Tablet in the past. I now do so again. Mr. Luban, your struggles with Zionism are at once comic and catastrophic. This in NO TIME for meekness, over-analyzing, over-thinking, and deflecting. Authentic action is required now and for the forseeable future if ISRAEL IS TO SURVIVE. What, shall we have another Diaspora?!?!?! I THINK NOT!

Ariel says:

Couldn’t possibly write it better than the majority of respondents. FW at 15:40 got it right; and that goes double for Peter Beinart. And I don’t much appreciate, Danny, your choice of titles either.

steve says:

Dear Daniel, Maybe because it’s way too late to read your article or maybe because you are struggling to make your points here, I find your article quite confusing. Forgetting liberal and american for a moment how would you define Zionism? As a secular Jew should there be a homeland for Jews albeit in the center of a couple dozen Muslim states? If you say no we shouldn’t have one, then you would fall in the camp of many Jews who just aren’t comfortable enough with their religion to have a place where one can live like a Jew (on the most secular level I find it interesting that Israelis celebrate our Jewish holidays even the ones we americans forget about. Now what about those liberal values? Something basic like women’s rights? Or national healthcare? Citizenship for immigrants? We could go right down the liberal AMerican line and we would find that “post-1967″ Israel is far more liberal (btw do you want their VAT tax too?) than many AMerican policies not to mention the fascist, monarchal multitude of Arab and Muslim states that surround it. Actually Daniel, I think the larger problem for liberal American wannabe Zionists is that they don’t understand Israel very well and they find dictatorial rightwing Arab states mor appealing. Why is that? How did American leftists embrace totalitarianism and reject a liberal leaning Jewish state? I have my opinion but its your article. I’d appreciate your addressing the following issues: why do liberal Americans focus on Arabs who killed Jews in 1948 and fled with such sympathy without addressing the issue that millions of Jews were forced to leave their arab homes penniless? Why do you worry only about jailed Palestinians convicted of terrorist acts but never mention Gilead Shalit? After withdrawing from Gaza and leaving many businesses and structures intact (not all) and with no blockade then, why aren’t Gazans responsible for the missiles and terror they caused? In other words, how did those leftists you write about set an agenda that worries ONLY about those who want to destroy the Jewish State. Finally, if you were there, you would know that the vast majority of Israelis very much want peace there and are willing to make sacrifices for it, including many of the rightists you mention.They tried it when they left Gaza. It’s just not that simple.

Shaltiel says:

Let me put it like this: if a Jewish male is not a Zionist or at least a Zionist sympathizer, he has not met any Israeli girls.

Anyone who believes in the One State solution is a moron. Would you combine Hungary and Romania into one country because there is a Hungarian minority in Romania and because part of present-day Romania once belonged to Hungary? No, because it’s a recipe for ludicrousness.

If you believe there should be a Jewish state and an Arab state, then that pretty much makes you a Zionist of one sort or another. Or, you just don’t give a shit either way. But in that case, why are you writing for a Jew-oriented site?

There are plenty of liberal Zionists around. Could Tablet maybe get some of them to write opinion articles on Israel too?

We’re around I swear. We may not be as loud or write as many articles about our conflictions, but see J-Street, see Americans for Peace Now.

I appreciated Ingall’s article last and this week, but I would hate to see this place turn into Israel-criticism-central. I have enough of that when I’m on other sites.

The choice between liberalism and Zionism is a false one. There’s nothing wrong with supporting self-determination. And like Ingall said, Israel exists, you can’t un-exist it. Look around that region, not like Jews are so welcome in surrounding countries.

Herb says:

I would like to thank the author for showing so honestly and explicitly how liberalism almost inevitably leads to becoming anti-Israel. This is unfortunately true, but the bright side is that it also shows, for those with the eyes to see, the moral bankruptcy of liberalism. Yes, there are still liberal supporters of Israel, but they have to overcome their own world view to remain so; they live in a divided self. Rather than take apart this essay, I cwould like to recommend Ruth Wisse’s If I Am Not For Myself and her more recent Jews and Power.

Herb says:

There are two groups that overwhelming support Israel, and Jews are not one of them: Christians and conservatives. I imagine that this will convince more liberal Jews to renounce Israel, but that’s the way it is. The pathologies that the writer ends his piece with are to be found in people like him; as a psychologist would say, he is projecting.

Jack Kaufman says:

Thank you for this diagnostic example of narcissism.

me be says:

simply brilliant.

I think as you found its more important to see things from a liberal or humanist point of view. seen this way, I/P is isnt complicated.

a bunch of colnialist type people took someone elses land and now the natives are fighting back.

israelis will have to make the difficult sacrfifices to make right with the natives.

americans shouldnt try to pro-long the inevitable. one state. equal rights. give up this zionist idea. move into the future.

Yoni says:

I’d love to see more brave and critical articles like this from Tablet. Well done.

delia ruhe says:

It’s clear from these comments that you hit a nerve, Daniel. Brilliant article–keep up the good work.

Talia says:

Thank you for so eloquently espousing my exact feelings on the situation. Far from an aberration and you certainly don’t speak alone!

BTW, I will start you off in your exploration of historical reality Here is the url to the Council on Foreign Relations discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. If you can pull yourselves out of your self-important angst and self-pity, it is a good place to atart to actually learn about the conflict. Anyone who says this issue is simple is either an idot or a fool or most probably both.

A.L. Bell says:


The problem with the flotilla incident is not really that Israeli soldiers shot the protesters. I think Israel mishandled all of this, but, of course, problems like this come up all of the time. Protesters protest; police or soldiers mess up and kill protesters. That shouldn’t happen, but many things that shouldn’t happen do happen.

The occupation is a serious problem, but, of course, it’s a complicated problem. I think Israel could solve the problem if Israelis were better able to see the people in Gaza as human beings, but, of course, there is plenty of PTSD to go around.

The real problem is that Israeli leaders and groups like Women in Green have responded with self-righteous, hectoring, arrogant statements, press releases, etc. that sound more as if they had come from propagandists in Iran or the old Soviet Union than from people who’ve read the Book of Jonah.

Even if some of the people killed attacked soldiers with clubs, even if some had truly evil motives, the fact is that Israelis — my brothers and sisters — killed people who were on what most, maybe all, of them thought was a peaceful humanitarian mission. Israelis should be showing humility, sorrow and contrition, and, at this point, expressing any excuses for what happened in dry, just-the-facts incident reports. But, instead, they’re trying to bluster their way through this and make it sound as if the people who are upset about what happened are the bad guys.

If Israel is really permanently turning into an intentionally nationalist Jewish version of Iran, that’s just not a good thing. That’s as bad as if we elected David Duke to be president of the United States.

If Israelis freely choose to be a country that takes offense when people get mad at it for shooting protesters, then, arggh. Arggh.

David says:

I love how so many people are judging the Israelis so harshly when they live in the US where they never have to worry about being murder by religious fanatics. It’s so easy to blame the Jews of Israel instead of looking at the real problem. The Arabs and your lefty friends hate, Israel, hate the US and hate Western Civilization.

Norman Podhoretz was right, most Jews in America aren’t Jews, their religion is liberalism.

samg says:

my boy, if liberal zionism isn’t worth saving, neither is israel. it’s that simple. the only country that supports israel is the u.s. the jewish birthrate here is less than replacement, intermarriage is at 50 per cent, and orthodoxy, while gaining supporters in some quarters, isn’t a realistic option (do you believe, as as written in the torah, that if your wife, son, daughter, brother or sister worships other people’s gods, you should stone them to death? maybe you do. in which case you’re an idiot or, at any rate, anything but a realist). so forget about dumping liberal zionists. they’re mostly all israel is gonna have in the next generation.

el lonsico says:

All these comments are stupid, really.

What’s that with “liberal” or illiberal Zionism?

Zionism itself is a request for a Jewish state, i.e. a racially determined state with people born out of a “Jewish” woman the only “real” citizens, necessarily a state on other people’s land*. What does that make it? Something that is different from Nazism only in degree (up to now). It cannot be “liberal”. It cannot be accepted by civilized society. Let’s stop the intellectual masturbation. Either you commit to racial supremacism or you oppose it, and opposing it cannot be done halfways.

* One could imagine restricting first-class citizenship to the religious and having a full-blown theocracy (and expel all the atheists and other non-strictly-orthodox). That would be a way to avoid being in the same category as the Nazis. It would place the state in the same class as Saudi Arabia. Interested?

El lonsico says:

“I suppose at this point I should relate anecdotes about my bar mitzvah or travels to Israel, tell shtetl stories about my ancestors, proclaim my love of latkes and klezmer and Woody Allen and Philip Roth. I should talk about “Jewish values” and how my views on Israel-Palestine are an extension, not a renunciation, of these values”

Right again! You also nicely expose the fact that Zionism has nothing to do with Jewishness in any way or wise, but only with the parochial “national” cultural aspirations of the Ostyiddisch. Sefardis and Mizrahis and Ethiopians and Bukharis and all the other have absolutely nothing in common **except religious and ritual things**. No common language, no common culture, no common nothing.

Except for a shared ugly racism in all groups against the respectively darker one, in addition to that against the owners of the land, as demonstrated by the move into occupied Palestine.

Jonathan says:

Why do people call Palestine occupied? What are you implying give it back to the Ottoman empire?

Larry says:

I’m not tech savvy, but if it were possible, I would upload that well known photo of Jews, hands raised in surrender, being led out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do!
Would the nations of the world have supported those Jews less had a radical faction within the ghetto been able to poison Warsaw’s water supply?
It’s “ghetto time,” boychik.

Deborah says:

Excellent article. I could relate to the words “emotive” and “tribal,” and “tiresome.” The Jewish American community in general has driven itself into a cul de sac in which name calling, obsessive boundary-making, hand-wringing, and escalating hyperbole are characteristic. There IS something not just self-indulgent but narcissistic about the entire way the state of Israel demands and we provide knee-jerk defenses of various kinds for what Israel does. It’s not even sane anymore, and it’s not healthy.

el lonsico says:

Jonathan asks:
“Why do people call Palestine occupied? What are you implying give it back to the Ottoman empire?”

To its inhabitants.

We know you never heard in the Ziobubble about the end of colonialism. Wake-up calls are painful especially when they are over a century old; that’s why I wish you to keep your moronic bliss until death.

Seemore says:

This prolix bit of self-indulgence seems to end at the point of where it should begin. What is the way forward Luban advocates, the pragmatic concrete steps he thinks would make a difference? Or is this just mental masturbation on his part? I pity his thesis advisor.

Absolutely brilliant article, Mr. Luban. Stunning. Don’t let the bastards get you down, keep your head up.

David says:

The author makes such heavy going out of straightforward things.

Of course it is acceptable to criticize Israel. Nobody does it better than Israelis themselves. They have a dysfunctional political system that gives disproportionate power to extremists. They have a growing gap between rich and poor. Religious life is dominated by the ultra-Orthodox, to the detriment of more liberal denominations. The occupation and the building of settlements have been huge and costly failures. What’s the big deal about saying all this?

The trouble is that Israel faces serious threats to its existence, and it is on this issue that liberals (and even more so, those further left) insist on tap-dancing, double standards, hand-wringing, making nice…all of which are exercises in fantasy. It doesn’t matter whether Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians is just or unjust, there is no hope of peace unless and until the Palestinians can field a leadership capable of arriving at – and enforcing – their side of the bargain. When you have one side (Hamas) openly declaring, in writing, that 100% of Israel is an Islamic waqf and that peace conferences are a waste of time (never mind blaming the Jews for eveything from the French revolution to World War II) and another side (Fatah) alternating between robbing its own people and talking out of both sides of the mouth, it is fatuous in the extreme to start worrying about the excesses of Avigdor Lieberman.

Even if Israel were to magically transorm itself to a state that would meet this author’s standards, with whom are they expected to sign a deal? All the parsing and mincing and tut-tutting in the world cannot make that essential issue go away.

The author doesn’t need to be so squeamish. He can criticize Israel to his heart’s content. Some of his ideas might help make it a better place. But as for peace with the Palestinians, let’s get real. Until they figure out how to get out of their own way, nothing will happen. It’s really that simple.

Anna-Marina says:

“The trouble is that Israel faces serious threats to its existence”

The trouble is that you propose moral relativism and a false victimhood of a superbly-armed bully.

The problem is very simple, but you do not want to face the bitter truth: Civilization is based on the rule of law which must be applied universally.
The “treat of existence” rationalizes Inquisition and Stalin’s troyka alike (and Nazis’ longing for the resources of Savic states). And do not forget that you assume that some superhuman beings (Israelis in your case) are entitled, and able, to take the only right decision, as compared to the accountability demanded by the rule of law.

Norwegian says:

First of all, thank you for setting words to what many of us former friends of Israel feel these days.

Second, I wonder why it is that so many of the pro-Likud commenters seem unable to argue without immediatly resorting to namecalling and rudeness? I started reading the Jerusalem Post after Cast Lead, and its comment-section makes white-power hate sites look tame by comparision. Up until three weeks ago, they had a link to Pamela Geller who has openly declared that she sees palestinians as sub-human. Where is the articles on that subculture of hate?

first first second second says:

Very good, as far as it goes, which, regretably, is not nearly far enough. What seems entirely missing is why, in the face of the inherent contradictions so well outlined, Liberal Zionism (so-called) endures, and what purpose it serves, for those who, have been so resistent to getting off that admittedly slightly pathetic fence.

Loren says:

One thing you are not short on is narrative. Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it very much. One question, where are you going to go with this information? I would like to know.

C.E. Amesley says:

Thank you for clarifying some of my thoughts and feelings. I’m encouraged to see other MOTs agreeing, and even seeing the article in a Jewish publication.

I’m on the fence about zionism. The fact is, the history of the world is a history of people conquering others and deciding what leaders and government they will have. In that context, Israel certainly has a right to exist. On the other hand, it daily commits the sort of atrocities which bely that it had a democratic base — just as the US does. I questioned when I was 11 or so why Israel should be more admired and defended than the states around it (this was way before I read about Israel anywhere but his own newspaper). He thought for a minute, and then said, “Well, Israel’s a democracy. I think we need to support democracies before undemocratic governments.”

That kept me not questioning for awhile, but as I grew older, I kept reading about terrible things Israel was doing. And every year I’ve read more atrocities — never once in a mainstream newspaper. G-d bless the internet.

Moshe Ofer says:

Avigdor Lieberman was elected “fair and square” by the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod. Yes, the people that are on the receiving end of Hamas rockets. As a resident of Chicago, IL you lack the moral authority to question their choice.
Traditionally Zionism included members of political movements from the very left (socialists) to the very right (revisionist). That included the liberals as the centrists. The common denominator was always the believe that Jews have the right to their historical homeland. So, if as an aspiring member of “ivory tower” club you question Zionism I presume you made your decision before the recent events.
A-pro-pos, the confession was too long in my humble opinion.

David’s post of June 5 is right on target. I add a couple of observations: If the Jewish conservatives’ obsessive and distorting focus is on the dangers that Israel faces, the liberals’ is on Israel’s sins and numerous imperfections. A rational and generous position would give weight to the positions and sensitivities of both sides (and others in between), yet Luban does not seem to leave any room for this possibility. He simply opts for one extreme on the basis of an understanding of Israel and Zionism that he nearly admits is extremely limited, belated at best, and informed less by direct experience than by the vicissitudes of his life as a Jew in the comfort of the United States. Despite claims that he appreciates the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he bases his understanding of most political facts he adduces about the conflict on the simplistic conclusion that Israel is the most powerful, and hence most significantly immoral actor in the conflict, period. (All other inconvenient facts, such as that Israel is and has for long been politically extremely weak despite if not because of its political concessions to the Palestinians–think Oslo, Taba, Gaza disengagement, etc.–do not enter into his “sober,” non-“narcissistic” calculations.) He is unable to see that this simplistic premise may itself be a self-deluding ideological conceit, especially one that serves people like him, who admittedly never really understood what Zionism is and never experienced a real connection to Israel, to publicly declare their distaste for the Jewish national project and Jewish national solidarity (a la, “Let them eat cake!”). To focus on this aspect is no more an example of Jewish “narcissism” and “dodging the politics” than Luban’s confessional article.

Whether liberal, moderate or reactionary – a true Zionist is a person
who lives in Israel. If more of the liberal Zionists in America had moved to Israel, this would be a very different country. Tens of thousands of well-educated, articulate liberal Jews would have made
a real difference with the coalition politics we have here – certainly
Netanyahu, Lieberman and Yishai would not be in power.

But thanks, Mr. Luban – now I know what kind of dinner-table arguements
I will be getting from liberal friends and relatives on my next visit to
America. I can close the computer and prepare for the next demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, fighting for a more just and democratic Israel. And faced with the Hamas who want to set up an Islamic state
on all the territory here (including my Jerusalem home, well within the Green line) aided by the deligimation and demonization of Israel by
some of the Western media and many leftists, I will also stand up for the right of Israel to exist.

So please, Mr Luban – America has lots of problems – the economy,
2 wars, oil spill – please forget about this tiny country in the

VHJM van Neerven says:

Born in 1952, bearing the marks of World War II, I didn’t study in Chicago where Mr. Pirsig learned philosophies, poor guy. There’s probably more to set me apart from you, Daniel. I do, however, empathize with your adolescent wrangling — I am not that old. But you seem so short of memory. Can one get a degree these days without memorizing?
I memorized Canaan, Israel and Judea and many more biblical names. I learned about the occupiers from Rome suddenly calling it “Palestina,” name the English adopted, following Rome’s footsteps, after they took the land from, indeed, the competing Ottoman Empire. Like it, the English Empire rotted away (hurray!) and the colonial name was forgotten.
Israel was there and the Hashemite Kingdom Jordan and gay Lebanon, where mr. Gibran came from, but he called it Syria, always. And a new Syria. Ancient Egypt was still there and new Monarchy in a new Arabia. Plus weird new creations by European powers: Iraq, Iran, all new places with linear borders and peoples taken for granted by the young — minus that one exception. Where did Persia go?
Anyway, among all the new, no Palestine. Not on any map nor any border sign nor in any big heavy school atlas. That’s how I remember it. Wait, let me check like the internet generation does, that thinks all wisdom and knowledge is on cyberspace, not paper nor parchment. Click Google Earth, wait, type in the “fly-to-box” “palestine” and, here goes: 9 different places spring up. All under the question: “Did you mean?”
Now, did I mean the one in CT, or Al, or the 2 in TN — or any of these 9? I must have. The internet says these are my choices! Nu, there it is. 9 Palestines, all in the United States of America. Phew, I sure am glad my memory served me right. No update necessary, thank you.
Take note, Daniel Luban and others: No Palestine, no problem. You can drop the existential fear and be free! Let’s hope your degree(s) will get you somewhere in these hard times. If not, you know aliyah?

MJ Rosenberg says:

Daniel, I work with young Jews and you do speak, albeit more articulately than most, for your generation i.e. the future.
Actually, I believe you speak for most American Jews who came of age after the late 60’s and were affected by the change of consciousness that took place then.
Neither the Woodstock Generation or their kids (let alone their grandkids) are afraid in America. And, without fear, Zionism in diaspora doesn’t sell.
Hence those scary fundraising letters from AJC, AIPAC, ADL etc trying to scare Jews.
Who are the young Jews who buy into any of it? Are there any? Birthright kids are happy to take a free trip. Big deal.
Americans are Americans are Americans. And, even when we can’t stand this country’s politics, we love this country — the safest refuge Jews ever had.
Zionism is done. But, God willing, when the occupation ends, Israel can and will become popular again.
But, for most of us, we are liberal American Jews and that is exactly what we want to be.
Thanks for a great piece of writing.

Lawrence Weinman says:

my how far the standards must have dropped for the Political Science phd program at one of the great universities in america if this can pass for analysis by one of its students
“But all the talk of the complicated and tragic nature of the situation, I eventually came to believe, was partially designed to obscure certain stark realities that were, perhaps, not terribly complicated at all: in particular, the fact that for decades the lion’s share of power has been in the possession of one side, and the lion’s share of suffering has been borne by the other. Once again, however, this realization was a long time in coming.”

Hit the library my friend try One State Two states by Benny Morris, writings by Dennis Ross, David Markovsky, Aaron David Miller, even Rashid Khalidi among others None of these people are part of the intra tribal debate you write about they are participant observers with real knowledge. Forget about the intra jewish community debate learn how to do research on political issues

Lawrence Weinman says:

so from the comfort of northwest washington an “expert” on Israel declares:
“Zionism is done.”

and the path is clear for israel to meet its most important goal, not heaven forbid security for its citizens based on a durable peace settlement and changes in policies by hamas and hezbollah, not by elimination of the iranian nuclear threat but

becoming the kind of (non zionist) place liberal american jews want it to be. (as long as the hotels are as nice as the W hotel in soho)

“But, God willing, when the occupation ends, Israel can and will become popular again.
But, for most of us, we are liberal American Jews and that is exactly what we want to be.”

the fact that the people in israel might not think “zionism is done any none or that eliminating the occupation might just possibly have something to do with the positions of their counterparties….not to worry mr rosenberg has the answer.

mr. rosenberg I recall awhile ago you writing of the “food police” in Israel want the directions to the pork sausage store right outside the tachana merkazit in TA Want police restricting consumption of alcohol? visit gaza

Caitlin McKee says:

Writing with pseudo-sophistication, you forget that the real question around the world is the demolishment of the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish state of Israel.
Israel, like other nationalist movements around the world, has every right to consider itself a people.
Why are you not taking a stand against Turkey’s genocide of the Armenians? How can you support America’s democracy which was founded on slavery and the absolute demolishing of native Americans who still live in squalor and on “reservations.” As well as the racist treatment of African-Americans who are locked up in vast, vast numbers in prisons around the US? Where is your sense of propotion?
And where are the daily atrocities? What are people talking about?
If you went to Israel you would see that just like America’s internal problems, it has its share of problems but also, in 60 short years, surrounded by millions and millions of people who want to demolish it, it has contributed more to science, medicine and technology than almost any other country on earth.
Yes, it’s going through a tough time, poor leadership (look at George W Bush!) but this will pass. Eventually, the Palestinians will unite under one leader (how can Israel help them declare a state when there are actually two states?) and there will be a two-state solution. Just like all liberal American Jews would not want to live in an Islamic Republic neither do Israeli Jews and that is their right.

Earl Ganz says:

Mr, Luban,

A wonderfully thought out article. You have my respect. But there’s something I think
you left unsaid. If Israel continues in the unjust path it has chosen it will fall some time
in the later part of this century. Actually as a “Lamp Unto Nations”, it has fallen already.

Moshe says:

Bravo Eve!

It is facinating how us Jewish people cling to our Jewish identities even when we are revolted by them. A Jew who embraces his/her Jewish identity has no problem whatsoever with Israel in its relationship with the Palestinians. But a Jew who on one hand wants so bad to be “like everyone else” and apply “universal rules” to Israel even though Israel cannot fit into any of the rules that apply to anyone else – It is a nation that “dwells apart”..this kind of Jew is cursed. And he feels so uncomfortable in his skin. But he knows…he is not a “real” American and will never be. That’s just the way Hashem created the world, buddy.

Read this comment carefully – it’s not on topic it’s just a little something to give you a smile and say thanks for your hard work on this blog!
Learn from your parents’ mistakes: use birth control. :)

So you think you are the first “Jew” to turn on your own people, you are not nor will you be the last but we Jews will survive and your name will be forgotten.

Yesh says:

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David Davenport says:

The Cold War is over. The US military has been all over Iraq.

The USA will soon achieve oil independence. USA will become net exporter of oil.

America no longer has any realpolitik or strategic need for Israel.

For the same reasons, the USA also no great need to try to broker an Arab/Israeli settlement.


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