By Benay Blend
For the past few weeks there have been several articles by and about liberal Zionists who are attempting to create an image of a kinder, gentler Israeli state. On June 8, for example, Mitchell Plitnick published an article covering J Street’s efforts to wrest the ear of Congress away from AIPAC. He sees this as a step towards breaking the “cone of silence” regarding criticism of U.S. policy, thereby opening a space for Palestinians to be heard.
If, as Miko Peled states, “Zionism is incompatible with peace,” then J Street’s attempt to come across as a more liberal version of AIPAC is merely one more attempt to whitewash a venture (Zionism) whose very “premise,” writes Peled, “is flawed.”
Rabbi Gerald Serotta’s piece outlining a Jewish-Zionist plan for a binational/federated state further illustrates the fallacies inherent in such solutions. In his case for what he calls a “two-state plus” resolution, Serotta relates that he feels a “weighty obligation” to relieve the “mutual suffering” of both people.
While he admits the asymmetry of the situation, Serotta points out the sorrow that he says “degrades the Israeli Jewish people on a moral level” on a daily basis. There are several issues with this statement, the most important, perhaps, the problem that pervades his thinking, is that he not once alludes to Palestinian agency to liberate themselves.
Moreover, he compares the daily indignities, and often daily deaths, suffered by the Palestinian people with the guilt presumably felt by the perpetrators of that strife, while also suggesting that somehow the Palestinians are responsible for assuaging the culpability of their oppressors.
Presumably, the most efficient path to assuaging national guilt is for the nation to stop doing what caused the guilt in the first place, but that does not seem to be happening. According to political activist Haneen Zoabi, 73% of Israelis support the politics of the Israeli far-right (“In Pursuit of the ‘Normal’: Palestinian Citizenship Within the Zionist Colonial Framework,” in Ramzy Baroud and Ilan Pappé, Editors, Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out, 2022, p. 362), leading to the conclusion that, left to their own devices, Israelis will not willingly be changing their society any time too soon.
That central fact Serotta does not admit, perhaps because he continues to hold on to all of the core beliefs of Zionism. In that scenario, Israeli Jews are connected to the land through family, history, and lived experience, which is true for those Jewish people who have lived in Arab lands for generations but not for those who immigrated from around the world.
Because he feels that the “fears of both people” must be met, he suggests rituals such as the joint Nakba/Holocaust memorial held yearly at the first of May. There are many problems with this event that promotes “normalization” of the apartheid state. Perhaps most relevant here is the asymmetry of both events; while the Holocaust has resulted in generational trauma, the experience itself is over, but the Nakba, by virtue of ethnic cleansing, is ongoing.
What is missing from Serotta’s concept is the presence of Palestinians. Aside from calling attention to what he feels is their deep division, they exist in his analysis only as victims or as victims reacting violently to their victimhood. Otherwise, they have no agency in his analysis, no ability of their own to imagine a future that is different from what the Zionists plan to do.
In response to this cleansing of Palestinians not only from the land but also from envisioning a future of their own, Baroud and Pappé brought together various perspectives into Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out (Clarity Press). In answer to interviewer Mark Seddon’s question as to what inspired him to put the book together, Baroud replied that it was “a sense that while there is a lot of information about the oppression, about the brutality of the Israeli policy, whether analyzing it in the past or understanding it in the present, there was a sense that the Palestinian agency in this is sometimes forgotten.”
Moreover, he wanted to go beyond the view that Palestinians are divided, a perspective that Zionists like Serotta highlight. “We thought that the first mission was to show,” Baroud continued,
“first of all, how this resilience, resistance, sometimes very personal, not as part of an organization, sometimes as part of a larger movement is a daily occurrence which gives us a lot of hope that there is still a Palestinian liberation movement, even if, from an institutional point of view, it seems sometimes that it does not exist.”
If one message besides liberation comes through in the book, it is solidarity, both on an internal level as in the Unity Intifada of 2021, but also on an international level with certain qualifications. As Baroud explains:
“Solidarity is not when you take my place, solidarity is when you stand by my side and try to create networks, support me, help me to communicate my message, but not to replace me. I think that becomes quite clear throughout the book.”
This form if solidarity appears lacking in recent moves by liberal Zionists to make their voices heard, perhaps because Zionism is an ideology that continues to figuratively and literally cleanse Palestinians from the land. If, as Ilan Pappé notes, since 1967 Israelis have constructed a “benign image of a small [state] that became, through no fault by itself, a mini-empire and an occupier,” where is there any room in that delusion of Palestinians legitimately wanting much less being able to bring about liberation?
Pappé concludes, however, that perhaps this “fabricated narrative” might “expose the real nature of liberal Zionism,” such as the examples given here, and also “put an end to all sorts of ‘peace camps,’” along with “believers in the two states solution,” thereby challenging “anyone who claims that Palestine is lost.”