The Volokh Conspiracy

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The phony "end of liberal Zionism" meme, part 4


This series is a response to claims by various Jewish leftists such as Antony Lerman that while it used to be okay to be a liberal Zionist, nowadays Israel politics is so right-wing that being a liberal Zionist is a contradiction in terms. "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, chauvinism, and general illiberalism."

In Part I of this series, I pointed out (a) that "the only feasible alternatives to Zionism are themselves illiberal," and (b) contrary to claims from various leftists who have abandoned Israel, it's entirely false that Israeli politics have taken a sudden swing to the right, and in fact the Israeli polity is significantly more liberal on the issue of territorial compromise with the Palestinians than it was, say, in the 1980s.

In Part II of this series, I noted that claims of increasing anti-Arab racism in Israel are false, and that in fact, "despite factors that would lead one to expect anti-Arab sentiment in Israel to rise, it has in fact fallen slightly."

In Part III of this series, I explained "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 overall are to the right of the positions taken by the current Netanyahu government."

For this installment, I commend to you this article by Evelyn Gordon, who elaborates on all of the points above and more. In particular, she also points to the liberalization of the Israeli economy from its Socialist roots. This might not seem to be something American liberals would inherently appreciate, but back in the days of Labor Party socialism when the government owned most of Israel's largest companies, one's employment prospects were tied to one's connection with the political elite and the extent one was in favor with the Histadrut labor federation, itself an illiberal notion; worse yet, the political elite and labor leadership was overwhelmingly composed of Jews of European origin, leading to what amounted to state-sponsored discrimination against Mizrahi ("Eastern") Jews. More generally, Gordon notes that discrimination against Mizrahim has diminished significantly. (What she doesn't note, but I will, is that Ashkenazi-Mizrahi marriages are so common today that within a generation or two discussions of the social and economic divide between the two groups will be anachronistic).

Moreover, not only are Israeli Arabs becoming more integrated in Israeli society, especially with regard to higher education and the burgeoning high-tech industry, but the progress has been both dramatic and recent.

In short, concludes Gordon, "Israeli politics [with regard to the Palestinian issue] have shifted sharply to the left; ideas once confined to the far-left fringe are now mainstream. And civil rights, democracy, and treatment of minorities have all been improving." So as I've noted before, if left-wing Jews are abandoning ties to Israel, it's not because Israel has changed for the worse, but because they have.