Liberal Zionists are ‘terrified’ (yet again) by Israel’s rightward shift

In recent days the idea of a two-state solution has been dealt yet another fatal blow in Israel. Netanyahu’s biggest rival, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party, said he would move forward as prime minister on a plan to annex the Jordan Valley.

That puts a strong majority of the Israeli political establishment in favor of some annexation of the occupied West Bank that was supposed to be a Palestinian state. And it shows that a centrist Jewish leader believes there is No political hay to be made in appeals to the left. He has to appeal right to gain seats.

Israeli liberal politician Tammy Zandberg is frankly “terrified” by Gantz’s collapse. The Meretz leader tells American progressive Zionists that it represents the “crumbling” of the two-state solution and threatens Israel’s relationship to Arab neighbors, and could bring more violence to Israel and Palestine.

“We warned Blue and White not to play with this card,” she says. “I’m terrified by the option and the fact that it is being thrown so eaily by a center candidate is very worrying.”

Gantz’s move puts the entire burden of maintaining a two-state solution on the Jewish left, she says: the new political slate of four liberal Zionist parties, Meretz/Labor/Gesher/Democratic Party.

But how strong are the shoulders of that slate? It is polling at a mere 8 to 10 seats out of 120. No wonder Gantz isn’t appealing to the left wing. The Israeli left has been smashed.

“Meretz running by itself for the first time in 1992, got 12 seats,” observes Evan Gottesman of Israel Policy Forum. The former proponents of the peace process in Israeli politics don’t even talk peace. “Labor has completely stopped talking about the diplomatic arena, security, the conflict with the Palestinians,” says Eli Kowaz of IPF. “And that is something that they were really leading for many, many years. They’ve become… a really niche social economic focused party.”

Zandberg agrees: “What used to be called the peace process is totally stuck.”

Trump has accelerated the crumbling of the two-state solution, Zandberg explains. Liberal Zionists always counted on the White House to do lip service to the two-state solution. Now Trump’s alignment with rightwingers and settlers in Israeli politics has facilitated the destruction of the liberal Zionist camp. And Gantz goes along with it — shifting right in an anticipation of Donald Trump’s long-awaited deal of the century.

Yossi Alpher tells Americans for Peace Now that Israel continues to shift right, with the “ongoing legitimization of Kahanist-fascist political actors on the far right.”

He sees the best hope for the two-state solution today in some members of the Palestinian Joint List, which polls far stronger than the Jewish liberal parties.

the only hope for a viable Israeli left wing advocating a two-state solution could well become some sort of Jewish-Arab alliance based on Meretz and the less extreme members of the Joint Arab List. This would reflect at one and the same time the shrinking of the Zionist left and the persistence of the Joint Arab List in hanging together and gaining votes (projected at between 13 and 15 mandates in the coming election).

This helps explain the hero’s welcome that Aida Touma-Sliman, a Palestinian legislator in the Joint List, has gotten from liberal Zionists in America recently. Palestinian votes are all that is keeping the two-state solution alive.

But bear in mind: Touma-Sliman is not a Zionist and wants Israel to be a state of its citizens, not the “nation state of the Jewish people,” and she regards the West Bank as “apartheid.”

Peter Beinart and Aida Touma-Sliman recording a podcast, Jan. 2019. From her twitter feed.

Touma-Sliman’s importance to liberal Zionists is a healthy reminder of… liberalism.

In the United States these Jewish organizations are all for refugee and minority rights, but they abandon those principles when it comes to the Jewish state.

Those liberals make excuses for rightwing Israeli policies by saying that Israel is afflicted by Netanyahu the same way the United States is afflicted by Trumpism.

But Gantz’s collapse strips away that excuse, as does the continuing rightward shift in Israeli politics.

This ought to be a wakeup call to liberal Zionists (or yet another one). How many of them will accept that their natural alliance with the likes of Aida Touma-Sliman means that they should abandon Zionism as an ideology? I am hopeful that some will see the light.

Henry Siegman made that shift from being a Zionist leader, and his latest column on Israel’s shifting culture avoids excuses. The two-state solution ended under Barack Obama, who caved to the rightwing Israel lobby, AIPAC, which had a strong following inside the Democratic Party.

The root of the problem is Zionism itself, Siegman writes:

Yet deeper and more troubling questions are raised by the choices that now face Israel, including whether the original idea of the Zionist movement of a state that is both Jewish and democratic is not deeply oxymoronic, a question that not only Israelis but Jews outside of Israel must address.

Are Jews to take pride in a Jewish state that adopts citizenship requirements that mirror those advocated by white Christian supremacists?

Gantz’s collapse ought to be prompting reflection. And reflection’s natural result: action.


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