Note From a Former Zionist

Peter Beinart gave a very good talk – at once eloquent and morally and intellectually serious – at UCLA Hillel last night. The talk explored the complexity of loving Israel and yet disapproving of the pattern of ethnic subordination that characterizes Israeli rule over the West Bank. Beinart mentioned the fact that settler violence against Palestinians sometimes fits any plausible definition of “terrorism” – attacks on innocents to make a political point – and that very few of those attacks ever lead to law enforcement action against the perpetrators.

The response from part of the audience left me sick to my stomach. The basic theme – stated in so many words by one participant – was “they brought it on themselves.” To hear Jews talking about collective ethnic guilt in tones worthy of Der Sturmer was really more than I could handle. I left after being personally accused of indifference to the Shoah because I refused to profess indifference to the suffering of Arabs.

And today I learn that Tony Kushner – whose views about Israel seem roughly to track mine – has been denied an honorary degree by a minority of the trustees of the City University of New York, based on a typical cowardly wingnut smear job, launched without warning in a way that gave Kushner no chance to defend himself.

I know most Israelis don’t deserve their worst American defenders, but if the result of having to defend Israel is that Jews start acting like bullies and sounding like Nazis, at some point the price gets to be too high.

Like Beinart, I support the continued existence of a democratic and Jewish Israel within, roughly, its 1967 boundaries; unlike him, I can no longer count myself a Zionist.* In the immortal words of Sam Goldwyn, “Include me out.”

* Footnote: That won’t keep me from completing the fairly major task I accepted on behalf of the Israeli Education Ministry; I’m on the committee doing a review of all of the public-policy degree programs in Israeli universities. As it happens, an earlier version of the committee was dissolved over accusations that someone on it was “anti-Zionist.” Beinart reports an attempt by an NGO, egged on by the current Education Minister, to purge “anti-Zionist” faculty from Israeli universities; our committee ran into no evidence that the effort had dented any of the departments we reviewed, but it’s another bad sign.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.