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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

How liberalism and Zionism reinforce each other (Gil Troy)

From the New York Jewish Week (excerpts):

...The increasingly popular claim that Zionism and liberalism are incompatible misreads contemporary Israeli politics, modern Zionism and liberalism itself.

Zionism, like Americanism, is a form of liberal nationalism, one of the world’s most constructive, successful ideologies. Liberalism and Zionism remain not just compatible but mutually reinforcing....

While Israelis quarrel about how to achieve peace, the systematic campaign to delegitimize Israel combined with Israel’s continuing control over millions of Palestinians has helped make Israel politically poisonous to many liberals.

Back in 1975, when the Soviet-Third World alliance in the United Nations labeled Zionism racism, the mainstream American liberal establishment denounced the UN, not Israel. UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that this “terrible lie” assaulting democracy and decency would enter like a toxin into the bloodstream of international discourse. Subsequently, the Soviet Union collapsed. The UN repealed the resolution in 1991. But the poison persists.

Israel remains the only nation on probation, with its legitimacy seemingly contingent on good behavior. Exaggerating Israel’s rightward shift and concluding that the state never belonged in the Middle East internalizes the relentless attacks rejecting its right to exist.

Treating support for Israel as a right-wing phenomenon ignores the longstanding calls for a “big tent” Zionism spanning right and left, and overlooks the common sources that spawned liberalism and Zionism. Both movements stemmed from the Enlightenment, with central values rooted in the Bible. Zionism and liberalism are intertwined with that sometimes ennobling, sometimes cruel, but defining modern movement — nationalism....

Like Americanism, Zionism has never been static or monolithic. Zionism’s founders were charmingly, creatively, fragmented. Labor Zionists battled Revisionist Zionists. Cultural Zionists combated Political Zionists. Today, Religious Zionism and settler Zionism flourish alongside multicultural Zionism, eco-Zionism, entrepreneurial Zionism, feminist Zionism, and two-state-solution Zionism.

Those on the left who so demonize Zionism and romanticize Palestinianism to the point that they ignore Hamas’ violence against Palestinians and Israelis, violate liberalism’s core commitments to individual liberty and fair, rational conclusions. Progressives should delight in the vitality of Israel’s democracy, the vigor of its press, the power of its courts, the creativity of its universities, the dynamism of its population, the brashness of its many patriotic critics, the rights of its minorities, the freedom and equality so many of its citizens enjoy.

The Jewish and liberal traditions of development through disputation thrive in Israel, analyzing shortcomings, advancing reforms. Nevertheless, Israel, facing serious challenges, stumbles, like every nation-state, like all human creations. While criticizing Israel’s faults, without pulling any punches, also reaffirming the historic, harmonic convergence between liberalism and Zionism can help redeem Zionism — and liberalism.
Read the whole thing.