The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


More on the phony "end of liberal Zionism" narrative


Readers will recall that in response to a New York Times op-ed by Antony Lerman claiming that the end of liberalism Zionism is nigh because the Israeli Jewish public has grown increasingly right-wing, I pointed out that the underlying critique of Israeli politics was false. I backed that up by showing that since the 1980s, a supposed heyday of liberal Zionism, the Israeli electorate has in fact grown much more moderate on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Both the far left and the far right have lost significant ground to the moderate middle, though the left suffered more than the right.

Another claim made by Lerman, in common with many other left-wing critics of Israel, is that Israel has experienced "a growing strain of anti-Arab" racism. Forgive me for letting facts and data once more get in the way of the narrative, but I just came across a study from 2012 that addresses that precise issue, by the leading Israeli expert on the issue, based on survey data since 1980. He concludes:

There is no evidence in the Index data and in the surveys conducted since 1980 of a toughening of Jewish attitudes toward Israel's Arab citizens. In most cases stability or moderation, not toughening of attitudes, was found. This generalization stands in contradiction to the dominant view according to which the Jews have undergone an unrelenting drift toward religion and the political right, and as a result their intolerance of the Arab minority has been on the rise. The research findings affirm the alternative interpretation that along with the increase in power, prominence, and audacity of the radical right, the main trend in Jewish politics is the formation of a large and viable political center and the convergence of the Jewish public from all sides into the center. This shift overall produces stability and moderation of Jewish attitudes (mainly the moderation of right-wingers who have moved to the political center).

What's especially notable is that the stability and moderation of Israeli Jews regarding their Arab neighbors has come despite (a) growing nationalist and sometimes anti-Jewish sentiment among Arab citizens of Israel; (b) two intifadas, two wars in Lebanon, two wars in Gaza, with prominent Israeli Arab spokesmen often expressing sympathy for "the enemy" (see (a)); (c) an increasing percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tend to have less tolerant attitudes toward Arabs; and (d) the mass immigration of Jews from the former USSR to Israel, constituting about 20% of the Jewish population, who reputedly are more nationalistic and "right-wing" than are native-born Israelis. In short, despite factors that would lead one to expect anti-Arab sentiment in Israel to rise, it has in fact fallen slightly. Once again, Lerman and others are confusing the decline of the Israeli far left in the wake of Oslo's failure with a decline of Israeli liberalism writ large; as I noted last time, to many leftists, anything that not left-wing is inherently right-wing.

So once again, if leftist Jews like Lerman are abandoning Zionism and Israel, it's not because Israel has changed for the worse, but because they have. In particular, they've succumbed to the left-wing political litmus test that requires hostility to Israel before one can be accepted into the ranks of the politically correct, and make up stuff along the way to justify it.

UPDATE: Here's another example, from Sarah Posner writing in The American Prospect. She reports, and apparently believes, claims of "rising anti-Palestinian racism in Israeli government and society." The web address for this article suggests that it's original title was about the "Israeli center collapsing," which is precisely the opposite of what's been going on.