Are Liberal American Zionists “Delusional”?

by James M. WallYair Lapid Oliver Weiken:European Pressphoto Agency

Shortly after the polls closed in Israel’s Knesset election this past Tuesday, two American Liberal Zionist groups, J Street and Americans for Peace Now (APN), were out with triumphant emails to their peace-oriented members:

Israel voters have chosen a new government that will “revive the peace process with the Palestinians and make vital moves to “save” Israel”.

Writing for Mondoweiss, the website co-edited by Philip Weiss and Adan Horowitz, Alex Kane bluntly rejects that optimistic conclusion:

In his scathing criticism of the optimism of J Street and APN, Kane sets the stage for what will most certainly be an intense struggle within the American peace camp over the meaning of this Knesset election:

The liberal Zionist wing of the American Jewish community are deluding themselves about the results of the Israeli elections.

They see the Israeli elections as a triumph for politicians who are going to revive the peace process with the Palestinians and make vital moves to “save” Israel, in their words, from the scourge of apartheid or a one-state solution with equal rights for all.

But their rhetoric about the outcome of the elections represents a fantasy with little bearing in the reality of what the Israeli government is and will continue to be: a settlement expanding, occupation supporting right-wing government that is committed to the suppression of Palestinian rights within the Green Line and in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Israeli government, in other words, will remain committed to the status quo of apartheid.

Ha’aretz  columnist  Ari Shavit  joins the optimistic J Street amd APN crowd with his cry of relief that the election results benefit Israel’s identity:

This week the idiotic march of the right to the right wing of the right came to an end, and the renewed march of the right toward the center began.

But above all, the election results have significance for our identity. The dramatic headline of the election is short: Israel is not right-wing. This week proved that as opposed to the impression both here in Israel and in the world, Israel is not messianic and not racist and not anti-democratic. We are not all Moshe Feiglin [referring to a newly elected Likud Knesset member well-known for his extremist anti-Palestinian views.]

Contrary to many pre-election stories that promised a surprise increase to as many as 15 seats for the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett, Bayit Yehudi was not the surprise of this week’s election.

The surprise of the election Tuesday was the Yesh Atid  (There is a Future) party, led not by a “charismatic” figure, but by a “handsome” former television personality turned politician in time to run in this 2013 election, Yair Lapid (shown above).

The most likely result of the election will be for Israeli President Shimon Peres to instruct Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, one which will place leadership in the months ahead in a coalition led by the right-wing Netanyahu-Liberman parties with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.

Several reports from Israel predict that unless Avigdor Lieberman demands his Foreign Ministry post back (he resigned earlier because of legal problems) that post could go to Yair Lapid.

It is worth noting that Lapid’s parents moved their family to Israel when Lapid was a small child. Lapid learned his English from his American-born parents.  He later worked in New York City, improving his American-made accent, a great advantage for an Israeli foreign minister.

Does Lapid as a partner with Netanyahu offer hope for a creative approach to peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors? Is he truly the hope for peace that J Street and APN claim?

The evidence is not promising. Lapid’s campaign was focused on winning support from those Israeli voters who took to the streets last year to protest against Netanyahu’s poor handling of the economy.

His campaign largely ignored  “the Palestinian issue”, but on the Sunday before the election, Lapid shared his views on “Arabs” in a media interview, leaving no doubt as to his attitude toward Palestinians:

Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, explained Sunday that he has no expectations from negotiations with the Arabs. “I do not think that the Arabs want peace,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Lapid said that he does not care what the Arabs want. “What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them.” The important thing, he added, is “to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel.”

This is the man who is expected to form a new government with Netanyahu.  The New York Times confirms that union:

The last votes counted, mostly those of active-duty soldiers, gave the right-wing and religious factions that make up Mr. Netanyahu’s current coalition a one-seat majority. But the prime minister has indicated that he wants to form a broader government, partnering first with Yair Lapid, the leader of the new, centrist Yesh Atid party, whose second-place finish stunned Israel

Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Lapid, who together control 50 of Parliament’s 120 seats, met for two and a half hours on Thursday in Jerusalem and “discussed the challenges facing the nation and the ways to deal with them,” according to a statement from Mr. Lapid’s party.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and its educational program, The Palestine Center, underscores Alex Kane’s judgment on Liberal Zionism’s overly optimistic reading of the election. Munayyer wrote on his blog:

If you haven’t noticed, the Liberal Zionist brand is desperate to portray the outcome of the Israeli election as the salvation of the Israel they know is down there somewhere.

Alex Kane agrees with Munayyer when he concludes his Mondoweiss rejection of the unrealistic optimism of J Street and Americans for Peace Now:

The liberal American Zionists are utterly delusional, grasping at any straw to try and convince the world that there is a possibility for a two-state solution and that Israel can make peace.

The start of a second term for Barack Obama is not a time for false optimism about peace that might arise from a new Israeli government. It is rather, a time for the realism of Palestinians like Hanan Ashrawi, writer, scholar and political activist, who brings a Palestinian realistic reminder to the world in an Ha’aretz piece she wrote before the election.  

She writes:

In many elections, politicians are accused of stealing public resources. In Israel, in addition to stealing Palestinian land and natural resources, most Israeli politicians are bent on confiscating the last hope for a two-state solution. Most Israeli political parties are guilty of the deliberate omission of peace from their agenda.

They talk about negotiations when they mean dictation. They talk about “managing” the occupation rather than putting an end to it. While there is a global consensus for a two-state solution, the main Israeli electoral lists see no room in historic Palestine for two states.

Are Liberal Zionists trapped in a delusion that leads them to protect their “Zionist identity” instead of seeking the justice which Zionism, as a political entity, has conspired to deny Palestinians?

It is a fair question, and it is a realistic question. Certainly, it is the kind of moral question that theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would demand that we examine. 

The picture above of Yair Lapid is by Oliver Weiken of the European Pressphoto Agency.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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12 Responses to Are Liberal American Zionists “Delusional”?

  1. Pingback: Are Liberal American Zionists “Delusional”? | My Catbird Seat

  2. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Jim, the question you raise in the title of your excellent article is, “Are Liberal American Zionists ‘Delusional’?”

    Frankly, I do not believe that “Liberal Zionists” are “delusional”. It only appears so because their core Israel-embedded Objectives are “camouflaged”.

    Just like former Prime Minister, (and Terrorist),Yitzak Shamir’s objectives were camouflaged. He admitted, after retiring, that he wanted to engage in (peace) talks only to buy time and that he never really intended to give up one inch of Palestinian territory.

    The primary objective of “Liberal American Zionists” is to safeguard, protect, and cleanse Israel’s IMAGE, particularly in the US and Europe. By pretending to believe in the (delusional) results, it gives them the opportunity to cleanse Israel’s image.

    What Yair Lapid said in his interview, prior to the elections, point to a deeply racist attitude and to one that supports ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in both, Israel ’48 and ” ’67-Occupied Territories”, whenever the situation can be manipulated to lead to such an outcome.

    The “American accents” of Netanyahu, Lapid, and Israel’s UN Ambassador Orens, will be deployed in attempting to sweep mainstream America off its feet in the pursuit of Israeli occupation, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing, and the strike against Iran this year.

  3. Angel1234 says:

    Yes, the so-called “Liberal American Zionists” (a complete oxymoron in of and of itself to designate a severely conflicted animal, but that’s another debate) are indeed completely delusional. They have been for years, but now it has become so obvious that even their friends at Mondoweiss feel the need to excoriate them? Delicious. Simply delicious.

  4. Excellent, Jim; simply a superb posting. Thanks.

  5. Noushin Framke says:

    Excellent, excellent question! At a keynote speech for Rabbis for Human Rights in NY, Peter Beinart took questions. I asked him how Liberal Zionists (as he self-identifies) square the circle of calling out human rights violations by Israel while at the same time upholding their Zionist beliefs which raise one group’s rights above that of all others. His answer left a lot to be desired and made me realize how hard this awakening will be for so-called “liberal” Zionism which is now looking more and more like an oxymoron.

    In his talk, Beinart had wrapped himself in the Israeli (Zionist) flag by saying that his very young son hangs the Israeli flag in his room. (Well, dad hung it there for him). Flack jacket donned at the start of his talk. Beinart’s answer to my question was that when we criticize Israel (as he does), we must also in the “same sentence” praise it for its accomplishments and democratic institutions, because they are many. Sounds like white-washing, no? When will the Beinarts of the world realize that you can’t wash away sins this way? It’s like having a portrait in the attic, getting uglier and uglier. You’ve got to feel sorry for these liberal Zionists; they have a very tough awakening ahead of them.

  6. J. Martin Bailey says:

    The “fair question” with which Wall ends his current blog, while invoking the name of Reinhold Niebuhr, is certainly a question to be wrestled with the realism that the American theologian insisted. But that “teacher of U.S. presidents” would also counsel, Where are we in the midst of this puzzle?
    It seems part of the “irony of (our) American history” that the Israeli election returns and the changes that will take place in that government should come just as our own President seems to be coming into his own, expressing in his second inaugural nothing quite so much as a new sense of determination. The irony of timing also includes the gentle and genteel way in which the U.S. Senate is taking up the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of state. Mr. Netanyahu–whether he likes it or not–will have to eat a bit of crow and deal differently with the United States.
    Both Israel and the U.S. will be better off when “Bibi” is, himself, more realistic. Perhaps the peace and justice loving American Jews should send the Israeli Prime Minister a couple of Niebuhr’s always current books.

  7. John Kleinheksel says:

    Hello Jim,
    Yes, to the false optimism of American Zionist “liberals”. Given the expressed views of Mr. Lapid, it will be more of the same from the new Israeli administration.
    The question for the new administration in the US (Obama, Hagel, Kerry and others) is whether we will continue to support the Occupation, or take decisive actions to End our support for it?.
    Will it be “support” for Israel as is? Or “support” for a more inclusive Israel with equal rights for all who inhabit the land? Will the Obama administration make that distinction, or will it be just more of the same?
    In other words, which view of “Zionism” do we subscribe to? Just as importantly, which view will the Israelis support?
    We need to keep mentioning the unmentionable: OCCUPATION. It’s the Occupation. The Occupation. Israel: Do you understand that??????? The US will NO LONGER support your efforts to colonize ALL of the land. Period.

  8. rehmat1 says:

    I find Israeli-born author Gilad Atzmon’s response more accurate.

    “In Israel there are no hawks or doves. Instead, all we have is a mild debate between a few interpretations of Jewish tribalism, nationalism and supremacy. Some Jews want to be surrounded by towering ghetto walls – they like it, it’s cosy, it feels safe – others prefer to rely on the IDF power of deterrence. Some would support the excessive use White Phosphorous, others would like to see Iran wiped”.

  9. Fadwa says:

    The elections didn’t change the path the Zionists plannned so carefully throughout the years before and after occupation. Alas for those who see
    a spark of hope or look for water in the the desert oaisis .There is never a moderate or extreme right in the Zionist belief. Israel is “Jewish as England is
    English”, even though England has at least absorbed others as full ciitizens
    including the Jews. Movements like Peace Now, Women in Black, etc. couldn’t make a dent in their march for peace for the Palestinians under
    the occupation, or for equal rights for those who are behind the “Green Line”.
    If, and only if the Obama administration will live to its promises to the world
    and to the Palestinians that a full fledged Palestinian State according to the
    UN resolutions, should be recognized and legimitized. Obama, a holder of “The Noble Peace Prize” , can and should call all the shots,. He will be then very deservant of the honor. He is the only one who understands
    the plight of the Palestinians coming from a Black movement that won
    the Blacks equality, and emancipated them from the white supremey.

    Israel is heading further and further to the right which is supported by the
    US right movements.
    Jim, you and those who replied to your profound question know the answer.
    The delusion prevails on those who believe in the Oslo Plan and the Israeli

  10. Fred says:

    Palestinains don’t count in Israeli politices. Israelis would like them to vanish. The concept of equal rights for all people, and that all men are created equal, are absent from Israeli political dialogue. Until these universal concepts enter the hearts and minds of Israelis, the brutality towards Palestinians will continue.

    As long as Americans remain politically silent and passive, and not challenge the Israel Lobby for their domination of Congress regarding this issue, things won’t change much.

  11. Dan says:

    The biggest impediment to change of policy toward Israel here in America is the capture of our mainstream media by the Zionist Lobby. That is why, except for the few Americans who have visited the West Bank or Gaza, most ordinary folk have no clue about how cruel the occupation is. It is this ignorance that allows the Israel Lobby to control congress and to persuade gullible congressmen to keep giving $3 billion a year to Israel.

  12. Pingback: Right Wing Media Pushes “Friends of Hamas” Rumor | My Catbird Seat

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