January 9, 2013
Why I am a Zionist
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That’s why it can be jarring to open “Prisoners” and find a moving account of a tortured ideological journey, a painstaking attempt to reconcile Zionism with liberal values. I don’t agree with some of Goldberg’s conclusions, but here was a balanced, humane outlook from a self-described Zionist. There was simply no way of reconciling this with my previous frame of reference, and so I found myself unmooring from the anti-Zionism of my early youth.
Countless events combined to furnish me with a different, truer picture of the Jewish state. The flotilla incident of 2010 was another. While I initially jerked my knee and condemned the raid as barbaric, I was then struck by the curious nature of the international response. Certain details had a way of going missing on their way into print: the flotilla’s ties to Hamas and other Nazis-in-keffiyeh; how the “victims” were armed with iron bars and knives; the legality and original purpose of the blockade itself. My initial overreaction caused me to question my own motives. Was I really giving Israel a fair hearing?
Then, the more I learned about Israel proper (as opposed to the West Bank), the more I liked. In late 2010, former president Moshe Katsav was found guilty of rape by a panel of three judges that consisted of two women and an Israeli Arab. Can we imagine the equivalent happening in any Arab country? Can we, in fact, imagine it happening in most Western countries, given that Richard Nixon enjoyed a rich twilight as an elder statesman? These are not the actions of a fascist state. Nor is the high level of tolerance and acceptance extended to the LGBT community. Nor is the incredible explosion of science and technology Israel has husbanded. Nor are a hundred other things, great and small.
In recent years, the single greatest factor leading me to solidarity with Israel has been the threat of a nuclear Iran. Having studied the Nazi period, in a piecemeal and amateurish fashion, it is difficult not to be sensitive to inaction and complacency from the enlightened West when faced with eliminationist Jew-hatred. Here is a regime that openly compares Israel to a cancer while almost-openly seeking nuclear weapons, just one of which could kill millions if detonated over Tel Aviv. Yet the reaction of many left-wing commentators is to make excuses for the Mullahs as cravenly as they can. This is the subject of another essay, but suffice it to say that the failure of the democratic world to stop the Shoah is our deepest shame as a civilization. If we allowed a second Shoah, it would be beyond shame. Beyond words, even. We could never hold up our heads again.
Being the bleeding-heart pinko I am, this is the statutory paragraph in which I set out my disquiet with current Israeli policy, so here we go. West Bank occupation: bad. Two-state solution: good. Settlements: bad. Land for peace: good. Avigdor Lieberman: bad. Salam Fayyad: good. Are we done? Glad to hear it. A nuanced view of the Middle East shouldn’t be the rare virtue it apparently is.
One big help in attaining some degree of nuance, oddly enough, has come from a bona fide neoconservative: David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Having admired his writing for many years, I was fortunate to make his acquaintance via Twitter, and we now exchange trans-Atlantic e-mails on a fairly regular basis.
While Frum and I agree on a great deal, when it comes to the Middle East, our long-running dialogue on the subject has mainly been helpful in reminding me why I’m a liberal. While softer-edged than many of his ideological bedfellows, Frum is — as those familiar with his public work will attest —startlingly callous with regard to the Palestinians. Not without cause, I’m sure, but a sobering reminder that threats to a humanist outlook can come from all sides.
The path of least resistance, perhaps, would be to throw up my hands, as so many have before me, and leave the whole sorry mess to fester in the corner of my mind’s eye. As Americans like to say, I have no dog in this fight. To my knowledge, I have no Jewish ancestry; I’m just another clueless, philo-Semitic goy telling you your business.
To this I say that there is such a thing as a moral call to action. Those words strike me as comically hyperbolic when applied to myself. I’m just a writer, not a soldier, activist or anyone else on the front line. But the fact is that, when examined closely, this choice is no choice. You simply can’t follow politics in any depth, especially not on the left, without coming across the basest slanders against the Jewish state — see some of my examples above. I have no religious or ideological affiliation in this dispute but that of a self-proclaimed liberal secular humanist — something I could no longer keep calling myself if I neglected to stand up for Israel, even if all I have is words. For now, at least.
In 1939, the British government issued a White Paper that called for harsh restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine and the creation of a binational state. At a time when the Jewish people faced an existential threat from Hitler, the Zionist establishment could have been forgiven for leaving this battle for another day. Instead, when war broke out months later, David Ben-Gurion said this:
“We will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper.”
His example, I believe, shows a way forward for all friends of Israel who also seek justice for the Palestinians. Let us challenge the far right, but not forget which is the Middle East’s only democracy. Let us champion Israel’s right to defend herself, but not to the exclusion of mercy. Let us let complexity in. We will fight the occupation as if there are no enemies of Israel, and fight the enemies of Israel as if there is no occupation.
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