At a discussion I ran at UIC [University of Illinois at Chicago] about 10 days ago, I asked the liberal Zionist participants what might be the point at which they would give up on the possibility of a Jewish and democratic state in Israel. For me, we have just passed that point. I have friends I respect deeply who think differently, but to me it is as clear as it is ever likely to be that the election on Tuesday marks the end of liberal Zionism. Consider: Netanyahu calls out just before the election that he will make sure there is no Palestinian state and the response – far from the utter rejection of this suggestion for which I and many others had hoped – was an overwhelming endorsement of him by the Jewish voters of Israel: and certainly by its Zionist voters. Set aside the Joint List, for which very few Jews (and virtually no Zionist Jews), voted. Of the remaining 106 Knesset seats, 67 went to parties that either actively agree with Netanyahu or are indifferent enough to his views on this issue that they are willing to sit in coalition with him. Which is to say: about TWO-THIRDS of the Jewish vote essentially said, “We are happy to end the peace process and instead rule over millions of Palestinians indefinitely; we are happy to have them have no vote, ever, either in their own state or in ours.” Which is to say, in what turned out to be as close to a referendum on the peace process and the two-state solution as we are ever likely to get, two-thirds of Israel’s Jews have just voted for the undemocratic version of the one-state solution: Israel has become, this week, the Herrenvolk ethnocracy its detractors have accused it of long being. We have long faced the possibility that we will have to choose between a Jewish but undemocratic Israel and a democratic Israel that is no longer a Jewish state. The choice is here now and I favor democracy. The thing to work for now is one person, one vote, from the river to the sea: voting rights for all Palestinians under Israeli rule. And if BDS will help bring that about – not sure that it is, but that’s a strategic matter, not a moral one – then BDS is a good thing. It breaks my heart to say this, but today I don’t feel I can call myself a Zionist any longer.--Samuel Fleischacker quoted at Corey Robin. [HT Brian Leiter]
I have known Sam for almost two decades. He is a world class, philosophical Adam Smith scholar, and I participated in a memorable graduate seminar with him at Circle. I am still very pleased and honored to have had him as one of the outside readers on my PhD dissertation. In addition, Sam introduced me to the significance of not overlooking the moral dimensions to the practice(s) of professional philosophy (and philosophers). He is also a distinguished philosopher of religion (recall). So, when he speaks I pay attention. Furthermore, Tyler Cowen reports that the prominent young economist, Glen Weyl (recall and here), announced that he would join BDS (that is, the Boycott of Israel). Cowen's piece is worth reading in full (e.g., "Western commentators don’t know where to turn, because the prevailing progressive narrative is one, not surprisingly, of progress.") [Update: see also this smart piece by Jonathan Marks (which is considerably more hostile toward BDS). (HT Daniel Doneson).]
While I am not inclined to join it (recall), I respect the BDS movement. While I have come to prefer keeping conversations going (recall this post), especially in the contexts where there are so few anyway, boycotts are legitimate forms of moral sanction and there are plenty of solid reasons to offer moral sanction of Israel and (the long list of) those complicit in its dehumanizing and cruel policies toward Palestinians.
Moreover, during the election campaign, prime-minister Netanyahu did not just reject the two-state solution, but he also made remarks that were extremely derogatory toward Israeli Arabs. Much of Netanyahu's behavior is not a bug of Zionism, but a now-near-permanent-feature. (More astonishing is that also took a bet on the future of Israel's political relationship with its most important military and political patron, by aligning Israel with the Republican Congress against the Obama Administration. Even if a Republican were to win the next Presidential election, s/he will be wary of betting on a politician from a client state that assumes s/he can be truly independent of American foreign policy.)
This election changes little about the character of Zionism. Zionism is a political and ideological response to the past and ongoing failures and limitations of Liberalism as it exists (recall); Zionism reminds all true Liberals of Liberal Democracies' shortcomings (no open borders, inability to protect minorities in need, a lack of true respect for cultural difference, etc.). This is not to deny that one could make Israeli policies and ideologies more Liberal (and as Finance minister Netanyahu did so a bit on the economic side). But a fully Liberal Zionism is only possible in a world in which it would not really be needed. (This is also not to deny it is an ideal worth striving for.) So, I reject Liberal Zionism as a viable option.
Even so, there is no reason for permanent despair for those of us who wish for more humane, Israeli policies. There are no signs at all that the Israeli government will abolish elections; and the beauty of regular elections is that they allow one to regroup, rethink, and return to the electorate at some later date. For those of us that recognize the enduring need of Zionism, it is an important task to help renew it such that it will become more humane and wise.
Where might a renewal of a more humane Zionism start?
The first aim is to offer a strategic (yes!) alternative to the Schmittian logic of open-ended war and war-preparation that has become a core commitment of political Zionism and Israeli strategic thinking. Most Israelis I know think of this as simple prudence. But it is not: if you place all your bets on winning wars, then a single lost war will be catastrophic (it is no surprise that the memory of 1973 is now suppressed). As Hobbes teaches, if you are constantly preparing for war, you have not escaped the state of nature but you are generating it. So, what we desperately need are articulations of Zionism that offer a trajectory out of open-ended war. It is also imprudent to farm out a considerable amount of one's security needs to the dictatorships that rule Israel's neighbors (including Gaza and the West Bank). It is also unnecessary: there are plenty of real-world examples of former, mortal enemies sharing utterly peaceful borders (e.g., France/Germany), including ones (e.g., Ireland/England) that have a colonial/imperial past.
For, as I have noted before the Schmittian logic is inscribed in two (out of three) failures of Zionism as a political project: (i) its failure to establish and project permanent borders for the state of Israel and, in conjunction with this, (ii) to settle what kind of political entity Israel should be so that it can end its near-permanent war-footing and occupation of hostile populations. Even if it is true that possible solutions to (i) or (ii) cannot be imposed at will, there is no unambiguous Zionist position on either issue.
Fleischacker's advocacy of "from the river to the sea: voting rights for all Palestinians under Israeli rule" offers an unambiguous stance on (i-ii), and so addresses the most important existing problems of Zionism. Even so, given that gaining voting rights for all would have to rely on the very same electoral process that is now written off, it is hard to see how such an eloctorate will be persuaded if it is understood and approached in the terms of Fleischacker's analysis. Moreover, while Fleischacker's democratic single state is compatible with maintaining a Jewish right of return, it does not seem to be its aim; it (the Jewish right of return) would become hostage to the wishes of future voters that have excellent reasons to be hostile to it.
Above I already noted the folly of relying on the interests of (petty) military dictatorships to secure one's borders. But, as an aside, the current status quo has another obvious economic consequence: ordinary goods and services are much more expensive in Israel than they ought to be thereby contributing to considerable economic hardship for quite a large part of Israel's population (not to mention that recent Israeli policy has deliberately impoverished Palestinian neighbors). One reason to aim for a Zionism that rejects the Schmittian logic is that, then, Israel's neighbors could supply it with cheaper goods (and workforces that do not increase Israel's population density).
The second starting point is the recognition that Israel's strategic position will never become better than it is now. Local terrorism is now no more than a relatively minor nuisance to Israeli daily life. All of its neighbors are militarily and economically weak if not consumed by outright civil war; Israel has considerable technological superiority. Many Sunni Arab governments are eager to enlist it in blocking Iran's sphere of influence. Israel could well have new Kurdish allies in the region. (This is not to deny that Israel has genuine, lethal enemies. But these have plenty to fear from Israel, too.) Israel is a success story in many ways. It should finally capitalize on its strength to make its advantages more robust.
I conclude this post (there is a lot more to be said, of course): the renewal of Zionism starts with an aspirational map (not facts on the ground) and with an unambiguous rejection of the logic of open-ended war. To say and conclude that one has no 'peace-partner' becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that only facilitates open-ended war. (If it is wholly true there is no need to say it; for more on responsible speech & zionism see here.) All attempts at ending the state of open-ended-war by negotiations have always postponed the difficult issues (Jerusalem, mutual compensation, etc.) to a later day. Supposedly that makes good bargaining sense, but experience has taught us otherwise.