Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mondoweiss Smackdown of my Avishai Post, Some Clarifications, and a Question for Everybody

Phil Weiss has been kind enough to post some of my pieces at Mondoweiss from time to time.  I submitted the post on the Avishai response to Lerner for his consideration.  He felt my post was not clear on the distinction between Avishai's aspirational Hebrew Republic and the miserable politics in Israel today.  

Phil sent me an email:  
"I got the impression from your piece that you are accepting Avishai's description of Israel as a democracy and I think that's difficult for our readers, and me too, given the intolerant strains in that society that we've sought to document. Slater, a liberal Zionist, says Israel can be fascistic (at his site Jeromeslater, which we picked up today)." 
So it prompted me to re-read my piece and provide the following clarification: 
"I think the Lerman post and Avishai's response raise some interesting questions about Zionism.  Lerman suggests that "Liberal Zionism" is an oxymoron, and Avishai reacts to that.  Does "Zionism" have any place in Israel-Palestine today, and what is that place?  And what does Zionism mean in that context? 
Avishai thinks that modern Israel is the result of a secular liberal/socialist Zionist movement.  This strikes me as correct.  As I understand Avishai, he believes "Zionism" today should consolidate these gains by firmly committing to a secular state with equal rights for all its citizens.  He would do away with the Jewish Law of Return. My understanding is he would advocate for a Basic Law with an Equal Protection Clause not unlike our 14th Am. Avishai understands the task of Zionism as carving out a space for Jewish culture based on the Hebrew language.   
Carving out space for a Hebrew culture with a firm separation between state and religion leaves open the political structures of Israel-Palestine. It is not incompatible with a parallel protection for Palestinian culture and the Arabic language. Avishai envisions a confederative arrangement with the West Bank and Gaza.  Avishai and Lerman agree, I think, on building a movement to do away with the occupation and building political structures that provide equal rights for everyone. Avishai would say the end game has to include protections for his Hebrew Republic. Lerman's formulation, as stated, doesn't include that.  Confronting where one stands on that is important, I think, when we are critical of Israel. 
Some of the ambiguities in the term "Zionism" in both pieces made me think of this in a new light.  Zionism is one of those terms that is like a vessel that can be filled with any content.  We have to formulate what it is for ourselves, an defend it--or reject it.  Avishai has done this with his Hebrew Republic.  It's not clear to me that Lerman has confronted the question. If you look at the David Bernstein link I provided (and what a smarmy Hasbarist that guy) it's clear he's not thought it through.   
I don't think Avishai has any illusions about the fascist currents in Israel today that Slater describes.  His current piece in the New Yorker makes that clear. Avishai sketches a vision for a liberal Zionism to strive for.  His vision of Zionism is one I can get behind.  You?"

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