The Volokh Conspiracy

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


The phony "end of liberal Zionism" meme, Part 3


In two previous posts, I noted that some Jews with far left political views have been publicly denouncing and disassociating themselves from Israel. There are two possible explanations for that trend. One, favored by the denouncers, is that Israeli politics has moved so far to the right such that the dream of "liberal Zionism" is dead forever. While it was fine to be pro-Israel through the 1990s, when the dream still lived, now they can only regretfully watch from afar as Israel sinks into militarism, chauvanism, and general illiberalism.

The second possible explanation is that Israel has not actually become more illiberal (indeed quite the opposite), but left-wing politics has become so hostile to Israel that it's virtually impossible to be a left-winger in good standing and be pro-Israel. Indeed, while the far left has long been hostile to Israel, it's only recently that it's become a major litmus test. Left-wing Jewish intellectuals (and here we're talking about, say, The Nation and further left in American terms), if they want to maintain their standing in their political circles, are now expected to ritually denounce Israel, to show that any possible ethno-religious ties to the country area subsumed by their greater commitment to solidarity with the politically correct positions taken by fellow leftists. And so they do.

I've argued that the empirical evidence favors the latter explanation; as discussed in my first two posts, far fewer Israeli MKs oppose territorial compromise with the Palestinians now than in the late 1980s, and Israeli Jews have become more tolerant of Arab citizens of Israel over the last several decades.

For this, my third post in the series, I refer you to this article pointing out that just before his assassination Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, representing the center-left Labor Party and hailed as a great peacemaker, took public positions on negotiations with the Palestinians that overally are to the right of the positions taken by the current Netanyahu government. In particular, Rabin did not endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state. Thus, the center-left government of the mid-1990s was more "right-wing" than the current purportedly illiberal, ultra-right-wing government-and that was before the two wars in Gaza after withdrawal from Gaza, the war in Lebanon after withdrawing from Lebanon, and the Second Intifada. Once again, the empirical suggests that if liberal Zionism was acceptable a couple of decades ago, it should be even more popular now. It's not liberal Zionism that's failed, but it's left-wing Jewish detractors.