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Lamenting the Decline of “Liberal Zionism” Is a Futile Enterprise Because It Never Really Existed

Allan C. Brownfeld
Winter 2015

In Israel at the present time, almost no one any longer speaks of a “two-  
state” solution. Land that would constitute a Palestinian state is being  
settled by Israel. Palestinian officials say that Prime Minister Benjamin  
Netanyahu has refused to outline the borders of a Palestinian state or the  
size of areas Israel intends to keep or to commit publicly to land swaps to  
compensate the Palestinians for any adjustment to the 1967 boundary.  
Israel seems to feel that it has been given a blank check by the U.S. to  
continue its occupation policies and to abandon any need to pretend to  
support a two-state solution. Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political  
communication at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzlya, Israel said of Mr.  
Netanyahu: “The truth is that he is not really nervous about America or the  
world anymore because until now, nobody has done anything.”  
At the same time, racism and religious extremism are growing in Israel. A  
best-selling book, “The King’s Torah,” by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef  
Elitzur states that, “The prohibition ‘Thou shalt not murder’ applies only  
to a Jew who kills a Jew.” They write that non-Jews are “uncompassionate by  
nature” and that attacks on them “curb their evil inclinations,” while  
babies and children of Israel’s enemies may be killed since “it is clear  
that they will grow up to harm us.”  
Less Tolerant Than in the Past  
Professor Emanuel Gutmann of Hebrew University says that, “Overall, Israeli  
society has turned to the right. Israeli society in general is less  
tolerant, less interested in compromise, and more accepting of force than it  
was in the past.”  
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker (Nov. 17, 2014) writes that,  
“Israeli politicians often speak of the country’s singularity as ‘the sole  
democracy in the Middle East,’ ‘the villa in the jungle.’ They engage far  
less often with the challenges to democratic practice in Israel: the  
resurgence of hate speech; attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their  
property in the West Bank; the Knesset’s attempt to rein in left-wing human  
rights organizations; and, most of all, the unequal status of Israeli  
Palestinians and the utter lack of civil rights for the Palestinians in the  
West Bank. A recent poll revealed that a third of Israelis think that Arab  
citizens of Israel — the nearly two million Arabs living in Israel proper,  
not the West Bank — should not have the right to vote — More explicitly  
jingoistic and racist elements now operate closer to the center of Israeli  
political life. Some well-known figures in the religious world speak openly  
in an anti-democratic rhetoric of Jewish supremacy.”  
These trends have caused many to lament what Antony Lerman, a former  
director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London and author of  
“The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist,” called “The End of Liberal Zionism,”  
in an article in The New York Times (Aug. 24, 2014). He states that,  
“Liberal Zionists are at a crossroads. The original tradition of combining  
Zionism and liberalism — which meant ending the occupation of the West Bank  
and Gaza, supporting a Palestinian state as well as a Jewish state with a  
permanent Jewish majority, and standing behind Israel when it was threatened  
— was well intentioned. But everything liberal Zionism stands for is now in  
Romantic Ideal Is Tarnished  
Lerman laments that, “The romantic Zionist ideal, to which Jewish liberals —  
and I was one, once — subscribed for so many decades has been tarnished by  
the reality of modern Israel. The attacks on freedom of speech and human  
rights organizations in Israel, the land-grabbing settler movement, a  
growing strain of anti-Arab and anti-immigrant racism, extremist politics,  
and a powerful, intolerant religious right — this mixture has pushed liberal  
Zionism to the brink.”  
Author Peter Beinart, in his book The Crisis of Zionism, refers to himself  
as a “liberal Zionist,” and expresses concern about what he sees as Israel’s  
retreat from its traditional “liberal” values. According to Beinart, “When  
Israel’s founders wrote the country’s Declaration of Independence, which  
calls for a Jewish state that ‘ensures complete equality of social and  
political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or  
sex,’ they understood that Zionism and democracy was not only compatible,  
the two were inseparable.”  
Those who believe that Israel is now in the process of abandoning its  
founding philosophy of “liberal Zionism” are engaged in a futile enterprise,  
for that “liberal” Zionism never really existed — it is a convenient myth.  
They have not confronted a contrary thesis, which is supported by history,  
that Zionism was flawed from the beginning, not only by ignoring the  
indigenous Palestinian population, but rejecting the dominant spiritual  
history and essence of Judaism.  
Injustice to Palestinians  
To understand the injustice which history has inflicted upon the  
Palestinians, it is essential to consider the indifference on the part of  
the early Zionists as well as the British government which issued the  
Balfour Declaration, to transfer ownership of a piece of land it had gained  
through war.  
In his book Israel: A Colonial-Settler State, the French Jewish historian  
Maxime Rodinson notes that, “Wanting to create a purely Jewish or  
predominantly Jewish state in Arab Palestine in the 20th century could not  
help but lead to a colonial-type situation and the development of a racist  
state of mind, and in the final analysis, to a military confrontation.”  
Rodinson writes that the colonization by the Zionists seemed “perfectly  
natural” given the atmosphere of the time: “Herzl’s plan unquestionably fit  
into the great movement of utopian expansion of the 19th and 20th centuries,  
the great European imperialist groundswell.”  
The immediate issue for the Zionists in the late 19th century was what they  
called “the Arab problem” in Palestine, an indigenous population 92 per cent  
Arab. The early Zionists, declares Israeli historian Benny Morris in  
Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, saw  
that the establishment of a Jewish state would require the removal of these  
Palestinian Arabs. The idea of removal, he notes, “goes back to the fathers  
of modern Zionism … one of the main currents of Zionist ideology from the  
movement’s inception.” Herzl accepted the removal (“transfer”) of the  
Palestinians, though he emphasized the need for diplomatic caution in the  
face of Ottoman, British and larger Arab vested interests.  
Removal of Arab Population  
In his diaries in 1895, Herzl wrote of the need to “spirit the penniless  
(Arab) population” across the border to Arab countries while being mindful  
that “both the process of expropriation (of property and land) and that of  
the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.”  
According to Morris, the Zionist settlers referred to Palestinians as  
“mules” and behaved “like lords and masters, some apparently resorting to  
the whip at the slightest provocation … a major source of Arab animosity.”  
The only “liberal” Zionism to be found in these early years was that of a  
handful of “cultural Zionists,” who sought to establish a Jewish cultural  
center in Palestine, not a sovereign and exclusively Jewish state. The most  
important of these was the Russian Jewish writer and philosopher Ahad Ha’am.  
He wrote in 1891 that the Jewish settlers arriving in Palestine from Europe  
“behaved toward the (Palestinian) Arabs with hostility and cruelty, trespass  
uniquely upon their boundaries, beat them shamefully without reason and even  
brag about it.”  
He reported in 1893 that, “The attitude of the colonists to their tenants  
and their families is exactly the same as toward their animals … We are  
accustomed to believing, outside Israel, that the Arabs are all desert  
savages, a people like donkeys, and they neither see nor understand what is  
happening around them. But that is a great mistake.”  
Another People in the Land  
Ha’am surmised that aggressive settler attitudes stemmed from anger “toward  
those who reminded them that there is still another people in the land of  
Israel that have been living there and does not intend to leave.”  
The early Zionists used the slogan, “A land without people, for a people  
without land.” In 1891, the Lovers of Zion sent Ahad Ha’am from Russia to  
observe conditions in Palestine. He wrote: “From abroad we are accustomed to  
believe that Eretz Israel is presently almost totally desolate, an  
uncultivated desert, and that anyone wishing to buy land there can come and  
buy all he wants. But, in truth, it is not so. In the entire land, it is  
hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled … If the time comes  
when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of  
encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their  
There were always a few who questioned the prevailing view of Jewish-Arab  
relations. At a meeting in Basel, Switzerland during the 7th Zionist  
Congress in 1905, Yitzhak Epstein, a teacher who had migrated to Palestine,  
raised what he called the “hidden question.” He declared: “Among the  
difficult problems associated with the idea of the renewal of the life of  
our people in its land, there is one question that outweighs all the others,  
namely the question of our attitude to the Arabs. We have overlooked a  
rather ‘marginal’ fact — that in our beloved land lived an entire people  
that has been dwelling there for many centuries and has never considered  
leaving it.”  
Palestine Is Totally Settled  
At the same time, another early Zionist, Hillel Zeitlin, who wrote in Hebrew  
and Yiddish, charged that Zionists “forget, mistakenly of maliciously, that  
Palestine belongs to others, and it is totally settled.”  
These few dissident voices constitute the essence of the alleged “liberal  
Zionism” which existed as the expropriation of the land proceeded. Moshe  
Sharett, a future prime minister, acknowledged that, “We have come to  
conquer a country from a people inhabiting it … the land must be ours  
In the mid-19th century, the area corresponding to Palestine had about  
340,000 people, of whom 300,000 or 88 per cent were Muslim or Druze, 27,000  
or 8 per cent Christian, and 13,000 or 4 per cent Jews. By 1922, after the  
Balfour Declaration, the population had grown to 752,048, of which Jews  
constituted only 83,900, or 11 per cent. The increase in the Jewish  
population had been spurred by the development of the Zionist movement in  
Europe, particularly in the Russian Pale of Settlement.  
Theodor Herzl promised that the new state “should there form a part of a  
wall of defense for Europe in Asia, an outpost of civilization against  
barbarism.” Herzl, an atheist, fit Zionism into the prevailing framework of  
European imperialist policies. The writer Max Nordau, who became Herzl’s  
second in command, agreed: “We will endeavor to do in the Near East what the  
English did in India. It is our intention to come to Palestine as the  
representatives of culture and to take the moral borders of Europe to the  
Opposition to the Balfour Declaration  
In England, Lord Curzon, the representative of the House of Lords in the War  
Cabinet, who would succeed Balfour as Foreign Secretary in 1919, opposed the  
Balfour Declaration. He charged that the term “national home” was  
dangerously ambiguous and would commit Britain to creating a Jewish state in  
a land that “already has an indigenous population of its own of a different  
race.” The Arabs who lived there, Curzon warned, “would not be content  
either to be expropriated for Jewish immigration or to act as mere hewers of  
wood or drawers of water for the latter.”  
According to George Kidton, who served in the Middle East Division of the  
Foreign Office, Balfour promised Palestine to the Zionists “irrespective of  
the wishes of the great bulk of the population, because it is historically  
right and politically expedient that Balfour should do so. The idea that  
carrying out these programs will entail bloodshed and military repression  
never seems to have occurred to him.”  
Balfour recognized very well that by embracing Zionism he was rejecting the  
principle of self-determination for the people of Palestine. In 1919,  
Balfour wrote to Lloyd George: “The weak point of our position, of course,  
is that in the case of Palestine, we deliberately and rightly decline to  
accept the principle of self-determination. If the present inhabitants were  
consulted they would unquestionably give an anti-Jewish verdict.”  
Support for Bi-National State  
Another example of what we might call “liberal Zionism” manifested itself in  
1925, when several prominent intellectuals, most of them natives of Central  
Europe who were teaching at Hebrew University, formed Brit Shalom (Covenant  
of Peace) which backed a bi-national state of Arabs and Jews. The group’s  
members looked to Ahad Ha’am rather than Herzl as their mentor. They  
rejected the attempt to impose a Jewish state on Palestine’s Arabs as  
politically impossible without the use of force, and they saw doing this as  
contrary to the ethical principles of Judaism. Their objective, the  
sociologist Arthur Ruppin, the chairman of the group, said was “to settle  
the Jews, as a second people, in a country already inhabited by another  
people, and accomplish this peacefully.” This group enjoyed the support of  
Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, the first president of  
Hebrew University. It was small, attracted few members and soon faded away.  
Mainstream Zionism proceeded with indifference, and often contempt for the  
Palestinians, an overwhelming majority of the population. The publication of  
the Zionist Organization of America, “The New Palestine,” declared in Sept.  
1928, when the British had won Arab agreement to a legislative council, that  
Arabs “are illiterate and live under indescribably primitive conditions. The  
march of these illiterates to the polls can easily be pictured.” This  
publication, the voice of American Zionism, repeatedly published articles  
urging the transfer of Arab Palestinians to Jordan.  
David Ben Gurion, then chairman of the Jewish Agency, acknowledged that  
frustrated Palestinian national aspirations lay behind the 1936 rebellion,  
as well as fears that a Jewish state was being thrust upon them. He knew  
that the Palestinians had “legitimate fears and grievances.” He stated:  
“Were I an Arab … I would rise up against immigration for Arabs are fighting  
dispossession … the fear is not of losing land, but of losing the homeland  
of the Arab people, which others (we) want to turn into the homeland of the  
Jewish people. When we say the Arabs are the aggressors and we defend  
ourselves — that is only half the truth … politically we are the aggressors  
and they defend themselves.”  
The Whole of Biblical Palestine  
Ben Gurion revealed his strategy clearly. He declared: “After the formation  
of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we will  
abolish partition and expand to the whole of Biblical Palestine. I do not  
see partition as the final solution of the Palestine question … We will  
expel the Arabs and take their places … with the force at our disposal. The  
acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce (acquisition of)  
Transjordan … We shall accept a state in the boundaries fixed today, but the  
boundaries of Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and  
no external factor will limit them.”  
In Nov. 1947 the U.N. recommended partition of Palestine: 56 per cent for a  
Jewish state, 44 per cent for a Palestinian state. There was a clear  
inequity: the Jews, with 31 per cent of the population, were being allocated  
56 per cent of the land. Moreover, Jews owned only 6 per cent of Palestine.  
Palestinians asked what would happen to Muslims and Christians who  
constituted nearly half of the population in the territory allocated to the  
Jews? Now, with so-called “liberal Zionists” in control, we know what fate  
befell them.  
Israeli historian Avi Shlaim sums up what happened this way: “The Arab case  
was clear and compelling. Palestine belonged to the people living in it, and  
the overwhelming majority was Arab. In language and culture, as well as land  
ownership, the country had been Arab for centuries. Geographical proximity,  
historical ties, and religious affinity made Palestine an integral part of  
the Arab world. It was entitled to immediate independence. Jewish  
immigration and settlement could not take place without the consent of the  
country’s Arab owners, and this consent was emphatically denied. Neither  
Britain nor the League of Nations had the right to promise a land that was  
not theirs to promise, the promise was null and void.”  
Israel’s Turn to the Right  
More recently, Israel has turned away even from the Zionism which many have  
found it possible to mistakenly characterize as “liberal” in the past. In  
Nov. 2014, a proposal for a basic law titled “Israel, the Nation-State of  
the Jewish People” passed in the Israeli Cabinet by a vote of 14-6, with two  
centrist coalition parties opposing it. Parliament has to approve the bill  
for it to become law.  
Opponents of the law argue that it would make Israel’s non-Jewish citizens —  
20 per cent of the population — less than equal. In fact, of course,  
Israel’s Palestinians already suffer under less than equal status. Ahmed  
Tibi, a veteran Arab member of the Israeli Parliament said that there has  
long been tension between the halves of the term “Jewish democracy,” as  
Israel likes to define itself. He said that the proposed legislation simply  
“confirms that the Jewish and democratic state is fiction.” He described  
Israel instead as a “Judocracy,” that would “never recognize the collective  
rights of a minority that has long suffered discrimination.”  
The claim that Israel is the “nation-state” of “the Jewish people” is, on  
its face, simply not true. The “nation-state” of American Jews is the United  
States, just as the “nation state” of British Jews is the United Kingdom,  
the “nation state” of French Jews is France, et.al.  
Judaism Is a Religion, Not a Nationality  
The Zionist notion that Israel is the Jewish “homeland,” and that all Jews  
living outside of Israel are in “exile,” is an ideological construct which  
has no relationship to reality. Most American Jews have always believed that  
Judaism was a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that  
rather than being in “exile” in America, they were fully at home. This view  
has been expressed repeatedly in our history. In 1841, at the dedication  
ceremony of Temple Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Gustav  
Poznanski declared, “This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem,  
this house of God our temple.”  
The Israeli government, sadly, has never recognized that Jewish Americans  
were not “Israelis in exile.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has  
repeatedly called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” (emigration) to  
Israel. No other foreign government argues that millions of Americans —  
because of their religion — are in “exile” in the United States and that  
their real “homeland” — or “nation state” — is that foreign country.  
Consider Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the terrorist attack in  
Paris in January. He went to France and declared, “I wish to tell to all  
French and European Jews — Israel is your home.” Netanyahu said that he  
would convene a special committee to promote emigration “from France and  
other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism.”  
Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s former finance minister and head of a centrist  
party, said: “European Jewry must understand that there is just one place  
for Jews, and that is the state of Israel.” Exploiting every development in  
the world which seems to promote the Zionist narrative, Israel’s leaders  
tell Jews in the U.S. and every other country that Israel is their real  
Horrors of Terrorism  
The horrors of terrorism which have been inflicted upon Paris and elsewhere  
are being confronted by the governments involved. French Prime Minister  
Manuel Valls said, “If 100,000 Jews leave, France will no longer be France.  
The French Republic will be judged a failure.” Rabbi Menachem Margolin,  
director of the European Jewish Association, said that far better than  
emigration to Israel, would be the preservation and protection of Jewish  
life in the many countries Jews call home. He regretted that “after every  
anti-Semitic act in Europe, the Israeli government issues the same statement  
about the importance of aliyah rather than employ every diplomatic and  
informational means at its disposal to strengthen the safety of Jewish life  
in Europe.” He said: “The Israeli government must stop this Pavlovian  
response every time there is an attack against Jews in Europe.”  
Yonathan Arfi, Vice President of CRIF, an umbrella group of Jewish  
institutions in France, says that he believes Jews should remain in France,  
which is their home. “We have had a Jewish community living here for more  
than a thousand years,” he said. “We went through bombing attacks, the  
Holocaust, acts of terrorism, and we are not about to leave now. We just  
want to be safe.”  
Writing from Paris in The Forward (Jan. 16, 2015), Laurent-David Samama  
notes that while some French Jews might be considering emigration, “Others —  
including young Jews like me — feel that making aliyah is a too-easy escape;  
it’s simply not the answer. Those of us who remain in Paris, Marseille or  
Lyon are determined not to let the terrorists win. Throughout French  
history, Jews have experienced many periods of crisis. We’ve always overcome  
them, and we will overcome them again. Now more than ever … there is another  
significant communal faction that believes France needs us to stay here, to  
play the role of social whistleblower …”  
Claude Lanzmann, the widely respected French Jewish filmmaker, best known  
for his Holocaust documentry film Shoah, said that following Benjamin  
Netanyahu’s advice would have only one result, giving Hitler, who did his  
best to rid France and all of Europe of Jews, “a posthumous victory.”  
Limited Democracy Is Threatened  
When it comes to Israel itself, the proposed Nationality Law makes clear  
that even the limited democracy which Israel now enjoys, is under serious  
threat. In an editorial entitled “Israel Narrows Its Democracy,” The New  
York Times (Nov. 25, 2014) declares: “Since its founding in 1948, Israel’s  
very existence and promise … has been based on the ideal of democracy for  
all its people. Its Declaration of Independence, which provides the guiding  
principles for the state, makes clear that the country was established as a  
homeland for the Jews and guarantees ‘complete equality of social and  
political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or  
sex.’ That is why it is heartbreaking to see the Israeli cabinet approve a  
contentious bill that would officially define Israel as the nation-state of  
the Jewish people, reserving ‘national rights’ only for Jews … To go back  
and emphasize nationality and religion in defining the country … runs  
counter to the long-term movement among liberal democracies toward a more  
inclusive vision of a state … Having experienced the grievous legacies  
created when a government diminishes the rights of its people, we know this  
is not the path that Israel should take.”  
Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan argues that, “Saying  
Israel is a ‘Jewish’ state in the sense of race would be analogous to  
insisting that the U.S. is a ‘white’ state and defining Latinos as ‘brown.’  
And saying it is a Jewish state in the sense of observant believers would be  
like asserting that the U.S. is a Christian state even though about 22 per  
cent of the population does not identify as Christian (roughly the same  
proportion as non-Jews in Israel) … Netanyahu’s demand is either racist or  
fundamentalist and is objectionable from an American point of view on human  
rights grounds either way.”  
Among other things, the initial drafts of the legislation by right-wing  
lawmakers, and approved by the Cabinet, would relegate Arabic from an  
official language to one with a “special status.” Israeli legal experts said  
that this legislation, in its more radical form, is clearly undemocratic.  
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute and a former  
member of parliament, said that, “It’s an unnecessary piece of legislation  
because Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature is established in judgments  
and parliamentary legislation and in the Declaration of Independence.”  
May Stain Israel  
Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, said  
that any distortion of the balance between Israel’s Jewish and democratic  
character “may stain Israel in the eyes of the free world and distance  
diaspora Jews who are counted as supporters of the Zionist project.”  
Israel has no constitution. Instead, its constitutional character consists  
of basic laws, judgments and the Declaration of Independence of 1948, which  
enshrines the right of the Jewish people to their own sovereign state and  
also pledges to “uphold the full social and political equality of all its  
Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, which opposed the bill, said he  
had spoken shortly before its passage with the family of Zidan Seif, a Druze  
police officer who was killed while protecting Jewish worshipers from two  
Palestinians who attacked a Jerusalem synagogue with butcher knives and a  
gun in November. “What will we say to him? What will we say to them?” Lapid  
asked. “That the deceased is a second-class citizen in the state of Israel  
Mahmoud Seif, Zidan Seif’s great uncle, said that, “The Jewish people have  
suffered as a people more than most. They know what it means to be a  
minority, therefore they need to protect the minorities among them.” Zidan’s  
brother spoke out harshly against the proposed nationality legislation,  
telling Israel Radio that it would differentiate between Druze and Jewish  
blood. He said he would actively encourage Druze teens not to enlist in the  
Druze Are Continually Disappointed  
Most Druze, who follow a monotheistic religion that incorporates elements of  
all Abrahamic religions, are citizens, holding Israeli passports, speaking  
fluent Hebrew and fulfilling compulsory military service. Many later join  
the police force or security services. But Druze leaders complain that their  
towns are underdeveloped and they are forced to build illegally, and  
therefore face government demolitions, because they are often unable to  
obtain construction permits. Rabah Halabi, a lecturer at Hebrew University  
and an expert on Druze in Israel, says: “The Druze community continually  
feels disappointed by the state. They do everything that is asked of them,  
but they never feel full equality.”  
The nationality bill, which contributed to the collapse of Israel’s  
coalition government, was called “a slap in the face” to non-Jewish Israelis  
by Dr. Halabi. Many Israelis agree. Journalist Sarabeth Lukin, writing in  
Washington Jewish Week (Nov. 27, 2014) declares that, “The bill upends the  
concept of Israel as ‘a Jewish and democratic state’ and downgrades  
democracy to a secondary status. It declares that Israel is, first and  
foremost, ‘the nation-state of the Jewish people,’ providing all of Israel’s  
8 million citizens with the vague promise that they will be afforded  
‘personal rights in accordance with every law.’ The proposed law also  
declares that only the Jewish people enjoy the right to national self-  
determination and that housing can be determined by religion or nationality.  
And if Jewish law, Halacha, takes precedence over civil law in both legal  
and legislative proceedings, as some scholars interpret the bill, Israel  
will find itself in the company of other theocratic Middle Eastern countries  
like Saudi Arabia and Iran.”  
According to Lukin, “Israel has no constitution, no bill of rights. Its  
national identity is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, which  
refers to the country as a Jewish state and stipulates that Israel ‘will  
uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without  
distinction of race, creed of sex’ … But Israel’s political character has  
changed since those words were written in 1948, slowly but inexorably  
acquiring a religious and nationalistic outlook.”  
Retreat from Democracy  
Many American Jewish supporters of Israel are dismayed about its retreat  
from democracy. Editorially, The Forward (Dec. 5, 2014) stated: “The test of  
a genuine democracy, or at least a nation that aspires to be one, is how it  
protects the rights of those with a skin color, faith tradition, cultural  
background, political party or language preference different from the  
majority. Are those in the minority to be full citizens? Are they treated  
equally by the laws and its enforcers? Is their difference considered a  
welcome attribute or an obstacle to inclusion? … The absence of  
constitutionally protected rights for minorities in Israel doesn’t only  
endanger Muslims or Christians or Druze. It also oppresses secular or non-  
orthodox Jews forced to comply with the enshrined religious monopoly of the  
Orthodox — who, while the minority in terms of population, exercise majority  
power in matters of conversion, marriage and, thanks to the Law of Return,  
citizenship … Israel can act in far more productive ways to ensure its  
eternal Jewish character than by enacting this law.”  
Even groups that are usually hesitant to criticize Israel in any way have  
expressed misgivings. The American Jewish Committee said that, “The proposed  
Jewish state bill is ill-conceived and ill-timed.” The Anti-Defamation  
League said, “It is troubling that some have sought to use the political  
process to promote an extreme agenda.”  
Israelis seem to recognize something which many American Jews fail to see —  
liberalism and Zionism cannot really be reconciled. In an article, “The  
Crisis Of Liberal American Jews” in The Jerusalem Post (International  
edition, Jan. 2-8, 2015) Ashley Rindsberg writes: “Trying to reconcile  
American liberalism, which at its heart is a doctrine of universal  
integration, with a Jewish Zionism that holds separateness as a defining  
principle … is like trying to mix oil and water. It’s an endlessly  
frustrating endeavor, the attempt at which can only give rise to question of  
It is time to come to grips with the reality that while Israel repeatedly  
says it is “Jewish and democratic,” the reality is far different. For Jews  
who are not Orthodox, Israel is a theocracy in which Reform and Conservative  
rabbis have no right to perform weddings, funerals or conversions. Israel is  
far more similar in this regard to Saudi Arabia and Iran than to Denmark or  
For non-Jews, the idea of Israel as a “democracy” contradicts reality. Omar  
Barghouti, the Palestinian human rights activist, reports that, “Not even  
theoretically are Palestinian citizens of Israel given full rights, with or  
without this new law. Israel already has more than 50 laws that discriminate  
against its Palestinian Arab citizens in every domain, according to the  
human rights organization Adalah. The U.S. Department of State has  
criticized Israel for its system of ‘institutional, legal and societal  
discrimination’ against them … Israel does not recognize a civic Israeli  
nationality, lest that avail equal rights, at least theoretically, to all  
its citizens, and undermine its ‘ethnocratic’ identity.”  
The State of Its Citizens  
If Israel has any hope for a peaceful future, it must content itself with  
being the state of all its citizens and abandon the myth that it is the  
“nation-state” of Jews who are citizens of other countries. In fact, making  
a false god of a sovereign state is not Judaism, but idolatry. Thus, Israel  
is not only not a genuine democracy, but it is in contradiction to the basic  
principles of Judaism itself.  
Prior to the mid-20th century, the vast majority of Jews rejected Zionism.  
In 1929, Orthodox Rabbi Aaron Samuel Tamarat wrote that the very idea of a  
sovereign Jewish state as a spiritual center was “a contradiction to  
Judaism’s ultimate purpose.” He wrote: “Judaism at root is not some  
religious concentration which can be localized or situated in a single  
territory. Neither is Judaism a ‘nationality,’ in the sense of modern  
nationalism … No, Judaism is Torah, ethics and exaltation of spirit … It  
cannot be reduced to the confines of any particular territory. For as  
Scripture said of Torah, ‘Its measure is greater than the earth.’”  
Those who look at Israel’s current policies, such as continued construction  
and settlement of the occupied territories, are wrong to blame the right-  
wing. Israeli governments, whether Labor of Likud, have continued the  
occupation. Both right and left wing Israelis, apparently, are comfortable  
with the status quo. Those who lament what they think is the decline — or  
end — of “liberal Zionism” must seriously consider the possibility that  
Zionism, from the start, not only turned its back on the Jewish universal  
spiritual tradition but, by ignoring the rights of the indigenous population  
of Palestine, on Western principles of democracy and self-determination as  
“Liberal Zionism” is not dead or dying. The truth is that it never existed  
at all, except in the minds of those who could not confront what was  
happening at the hands of an enterprise they eagerly embraced from afar,  
ignoring its harsh reality. That reality has now become clear to all, hence  
the current shock and dismay. Many continue to turn away from what is now  
taking place, but this will not be able to continue very much longer. •  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as  
Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and Editor of Issues. The author of  
five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of  
Representatives, and the Office of the Vice President.

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.