Loosening of the Zionist bond

November 24, 2016 23:26

Last Sunday's We Believe In Israel conference brought together a broad coalition of the British pro-Israel community under a "big tent" in order to oppose the "delegitimisation" of the Jewish state. However, the apparent success in bringing together the various different pro-Israel positions cannot disguise the fact that this strategy is facing major difficulties. In fact, last Sunday's event may represent the high-watermark of the big-tent approach as the fault lines within the pro-Israel community start to become too wide to bridge.

Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel itself have managed to keep their divisions just about under control through the ambiguity of Israel. As long as a final deal is not signed, as long as final borders are not set, everyone can keep alive their dream of what Israel should be. Once Israel definitively goes in one particular direction, those whose dreams are permanently disappointed will find it almost impossible to remain in the tent, however big.

Israel took a giant stride towards the end of ambiguity in last week's elections. Not only did Netanyahu, the ultimate winner, appear to rule out the possibility of a two-state solution in the final days of the campaign, he appeared to resort to appealing to prejudice against Israel's Arabs. While he has, post-election, appeared to have rowed back, there is a feeling in some quarters that Netanyahu is moving Israel towards a future where a two-state solution will be impossible.

Netanyahu's victory therefore risks the permanent disappointment of one crucial section of Israeli and diaspora opinion - liberal Zionists. Liberal Zionists, while they are by no means a homogeneous group, see the two-state solution is the mechanism through which Israel's Jewish and democratic character will be maintained.

Liberal Zionism provides much of the glue that has held the Jewish community together over the past few years. When organisations such as BICOM, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and others have committed themselves to supporting a two-state solution over recent years, they have been able to mobilise the rhetoric of liberal Zionism to encompass supporters of Israel on both the right and left of the spectrum.

This was always a risky strategy. The differences between the two-state visions of right-wing Zionists and that of left-wing Zionists have always been substantial.

But the major problem with the communal embrace of two-state Zionism is that it could last only as long as Israel stayed ambiguous. With Netanyahu's move away from ambiguity, it is hard to imagine how the pro-Israel community in the diaspora can be brought together under a single framework.

Of course, fear of and opposition to ''delegitimisation'' does unite diaspora Zionists to a degree. Yet what causes liberal Zionists nightmares is being forced to choose between a Jewish and undemocratic one-state solution and a non-Jewish and democratic one-state solution. It may be that we will see supporters of the two-state solution forced into staking out a new political position as opponents of two different kinds of one-state solution.

In the US, the process of fragmentation is further advanced. The greater strength of the pro-Israel right and the looser-knit nature of the American Jewish community has meant that J Street and other strong advocates of a two-state solution have become more robust and combative in their approach.

In the UK, J Street's near-equivalent, Yachad, has been as concerned to establish a place at the communal table as it has been to campaigning. This strategy is likely to reach the limits of its effectiveness very soon. Similarly, other organisations that have quietly worked towards a liberal Zionist approach, such as BICOM, the Progressive movements and even UJIA to some extent, are going to be confronted with some very difficult choices. In addition, those who are privately liberal Zionists but whose opposition to antisemitism and the pro-Palestinian movement has led them to prioritise pro-Israel activism, will sooner or later have to confront the Israel that they have been defending.

It may be that Jews who are engaged with Israel from whatever perspective will have to learn what the Jewish far left and far right have long known. There can be no consensus on an issue as bitterly contested as Israel; much better to speak clearly, freely and politically.

November 24, 2016 23:26

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