Reply to a disillusioned American Jew: comfort ye, my people

Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, co-author of this blog, has written a heartfelt and touching post about her gradual disaffection with the State of Israel. Outlining her personal journey – physical as well as emotional – to and from Israel, she candidly voiced a feeling shared by an increasing number of liberal Diaspora Jews: that they can no longer defend Israel.

For many, the watershed was the election of the current Netanyahu government in 2009. Its intransigent policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and its all-out assault on the very essential tenets of liberal democracy at home have convinced these anguished Jews, and Romi among them, that liberalism and Zionism can no longer coexist in harmony. They now, more than ever, have to choose between these two ideologies that were the backbone of “Jewish” politics in postwar America. And like the prominent Jewish-American intellectual Peter Beinart said in an article that stirred a heated debate among US Jews, most choose liberalism. Their Zionism, as a result, is cast aside. They can no longer defend Israel.


It is unclear whether this is a result of the illiberal turn Israel has taken over the past decade, or that it has more to do with the changing landscape of domestic US politics, as the declining superpower faces unprecedented challenges. What is clear, however, is that Israel is haemorrhaging hundreds and thousands of loyal supporters, who have so far been instrumental in swaying the American public opinion in Israel’s favour. Whether one subscribes to theories of an omnipotent Israel lobby or not, it is undeniable that Israel is quickly losing a pivotal diplomatic lever.


For those “post-Zionists”, it is a betrayal of a cause they had once consecrated, and all but a disavowal of what had hitherto been an underlying component of their identity. Thus, quite understandably, it takes an emotional toll. This is the reason for the qualms, the contrition, the kvetching – as some would say in Yiddish – and their overall vying for sympathy, which they by all means deserve. A quick look at some of the reactions to Romi’s blog post (at the bottom of the page as well as on France 24’s Facebook page) would attest to the courage required for breaking with the community’s orthodox views.


But their basking in tormented scrupulousness, comforting as it may be, is entirely unwarranted. It wasn’t the Netanyahu government that put Zionism and liberalism on a collision course; its wanton policies have simply highlighted the inherent contradictions between the two worldviews, that previous governments astutely and skilfully played down. What these American Jews refused to understand – and are now starting to, better late than ever – is that the thriving democratic culture that has prevailed in Israel could not offset the structural injustice that the Zionist establishment generates.


And this injustice, most flagrantly manifested in the occupied Palestinian territories, will not disappear once Israel finally recognises the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, though this prospect anyhow seems less and less likely. There are also Israel’s Arab-Palestinian citizens – a fifth of the country’s population – who are inevitably marginalised in the Jewish state by virtue of being non-Jewish. Their plight would not be accounted for by the two-state solution, that Israel is nevertheless not too keen to implement.


Diaspora Jews largely equivocated on this reality, either as an informed decision or out of ignorance. Like the fellow travellers of yesteryear, they praised, defended and loved an Israel that resided in their romantic imagination more than in the strip of land stretching between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. And like in their day Western Communists were jolted to fathom that the Soviet Union was far from the epitome of social justice, so are these formerly devout Zionists now distraught to realise that the modern incarnation of their revered Jewish morality went, in fact, terribly awry. And the increasingly belligerent Israeli policies of recent years, that would leave even the most artful apologist dumbfounded, only accelerate and amplify this realisation.


This gradual disillusionment actually rectifies an abnormal situation: Diaspora Jews are not Israeli – most of them don’t even plan to immigrate – and therefore should neither consider themselves nor be recognised as the country’s proxy. Their growing detachment effectively restores the natural order. In the long run, a more critical approach from American Jews might prompt the White House to loosen its bear hug. This is not what Israel wants, but certainly what it, as well as the region, needs. So cheer up, Romi, you’re doing the right thing.


Gilad Halpern


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Emi (not verified) ..... you are seeing things that are not there. How is criticism of Zionism anti semetic ? Zionism after all is a political ideology not a racial or geographic label. We have also had quite enough of the tall tale of how the Muslim hordes will over run Europe and impose sharia law ( yawn). You raise the anti-semite issue and yet you hatefully seek to sew the seeds of division and irrational fear using race and religion. I suggest you study the word "empathy" and some accurate history. You have more in common with the Palestinians than you know. For starters you live in fear of each other as a result of political decisions that were made long before you were born.
It’s a pity to see Such a wonderful TV program like France 24 start to become an anti-Semitic TV like Aljazeera . T he reason is that there is around one million Islam in France . And year 2050 it will be totally an Islamic state . Am glad not to be a part of it and sorry France 24 you will lose your Fidel’s by allowing the anti-Semitic text on your web.
everybody is quick in saying that Israel need to recongnise the palestinian about them ? sending rockets everyday into Israel must be ok by you it seem's!! should we tell them they should send more ? will like that perhaps...g.
In response to the previous commenter: Firstly, I don't this post actually explicitly says that Zionism is inherently undemocratic (unless I missed something). Secondly, the idea of a state for one ethnic or religious group to the exclusion of others (for instance, Zionism) is, in fact, inherently undemocratic.
I agree with most of your post however I must ask, have you ever taken a class on Zionism? What gives you merit to come to the conclusion that it is inherently undemocratic? Have you ever heard of Herzl? Weizmann? Perhaps before making such a strong determination you should take some time to understand zionisms foundation and then you can comment on how it has been hijacked by current political movements. On a smaller note, US as a diminishing power? Really? How do you come to that? I guess it is France's and the EU's turn after all. Hahaha

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