“Lifelong Zionist” Professors Join the Boycott of Israel
In an opinion piece for Washington Post, yesterday, Steven Levitsky, professor of government at Harvard University and Glen Weyl, an Assistant professor of economics and law at the University of Chicago, who admit to be “lifelong Zionists”, announced that in order to “save” the “Jewish state” and ensure its “survival” and prevent its failure as a state for Jews, they have reluctantly come to the decision to boycott Israel (without mentioning the BDS – Boycott, Divest, Sanction – movement, anywhere, which in itself is interesting), “until it seriously engages with a peace process that EITHER establishes a sovereign Palestinian state OR grants full democratic citizenship to Palestinians living in a single state” [emphasis added]. They emphasize repeatedly that their concern and reason for the boycott is for Israel’s survival. Whatever their reason and motive, I welcome and applaud their decision, but find it necessary and imperative to address several of their assertions in support of the settler and apartheid state that are insensitive towards Palestinians and their suffering and are even racist and which end up leaving them still on the wrong side of history and justice, despite their commendable decision.
“Like other progressive Jews”, they begin their piece, “our support for Israel has been founded on two convictions: first, that a state was necessary to protect our people from future disaster; and second, that any Jewish state would be democratic, embracing the values of universal human rights that many took as a lesson of the Holocaust.” This is a common thread among most Jews who claim to be “progressive” and who are indeed liberal about many domestic issues, from wealth and income inequality to healthcare and education to women’s and gay rights, etc, except when it comes to the occupation of Palestine and the apartheid “Jewish state” or to wars against Muslim countries to make Israel feel safe. What the authors of the piece still don’t realize or choose to ignore is that their “conviction”, which apparently they still hold, that “a state was necessary to protect our people from future disaster”, completely ignores what such a state created for Jews in Palestine would mean for the Palestinian people already living there. And how could such “Jewish state” be “democratic, embracing the values of universal human rights”, if it was going to be a “Jewish state” and for Jews? Wasn’t the occupation and ethnic cleansing and evictions implied and inherent in such a state? After all, it wasn’t going to be created on a barren planet. In fact, wasn’t the state founded on war, massacres and acts of terror against and displacement of the indigenous Palestinians, right from the start?
Wasn’t all that enough to be against the idea of Zionism to begin with? Did the occupation have to cause so mush suffering and misery and so many deaths and atrocities that it would begin threatening the very survival or viability of the state in order to finally compel such “progressive” Jews to oppose its policies and boycott it, if only out of concern “for its survival”? I guess so because these “progressive” professors thought that a “temporary” occupation was necessary, as they explain in their piece: “undemocratic measures undertaken in pursuit of Israel’s survival, such as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the denial of basic rights to Palestinians living there, were understood to be temporary”.
But, what does a “temporary” occupation mean, anyway? Is it temporary in the sense that it continues only until the resistance to it has been crushed and eliminated? And is an occupation okay if it’s temporary? So, I guess all the ensuing massacres, displacements, ethnic cleansing and denial of basic human rights to Palestinians was “supposed to be temporary”, too, and were therefore alright, especially since they were necessary for the Jewish state to be established. With that logic, the Holocaust was also supposed to be “temporary”. It wasn’t going to go on for ever. At some point, enough Jews would be killed to put an end to the genocide. In fact, the current Israeli leadership also believes and hopes that the continuation of the occupation, which is the result of a stubborn resistance, is also temporary. They’ll end the occupation when there is no more Palestinians to occupy. The difference is that the latter group don’t think the continuation of the genocide will lead to the “isolation” or inviability of the Jewish state. Nor do they care about their isolation or pariah status enough to end the occupation of West Bsnk and Gaza, which incidentally are the only territories the professors consider occupied. Otherwise, neither the Israel’s leaders nor these professors seem to be the least concerned about the Palestinians and what the occupation means and does to them.
But, “temporary” or not, the continued occupation of West Bank and Gaza has become a concern to the authors only because, in their view, it threatens the survival of Israel, as a Jewish state. This is not an interpretation of their piece. They make that point abundantly clear in several parts of their article: “Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence”, they fear. “International pariah status is hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival”. “It is the occupation itself that truly threatens Israel’s long-term security” and “making the occupation permanent, Israel’s leaders are undermining their state’s viability.” And that “we love Israel, and we are deeply concerned for its survival”. And finally, “we recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it”. They couldn’t have made it any clearer that their concern is for the survival of the state, which was founded on land occupied during the 1947-1948 colonial war when they killed thousands of Palestinians and drove millions into refugee camps, rather than out of compassion for the victims of the occupation or any sense of justice and humanity.
The professors do agree with giving back West Bank and Gaza, now that Israel’s security conditions have improved thanks to “weaker” Iraq and Syria and having one of the most powerful militaries in the world equipped with nuclear bombs and the missiles to catty them. However, they display their desire for separating the two peoples from one another, which is really a racist ideology and one of the underpinnings of Zionism. They express hope that Israelis would acquiesce to “evicting their countrymen from West Bank settlements”, ostensibly to make room for a separate Palestinian state, in West Bank and Gaza, an idea, which is known as “the two state solution”. But, what if some Jews were not recently settled there and lived there since before the occupation? Why should they have to move? And why is it necessary to separate the two peoples? Didn’t they live together for millennia before the arrival of European Zionist Jews and the start of the war? And what kind of a state would the Palestinians’ be if it’s only over disjointed pieces of land interconnected and surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints with Israel controlling its air, land and water, isolated from the outside world, with Israeli forces ready to go in at any time and arrest anyone they want? That, they hope, would finally give the Jewish state the legitimacy it’s been seeking, discredit any future Palestinian resistance to the occupation, make the Right of Return for refugees moot and out of the question and acquire for the regime the mandate to either evict all Palestinians who remain within Israeli borders or discriminate against them within an apartheid system.
The authors lament that “the occupation has become permanent”. But, which occupiers in history have not tried to make their occupation permanent? Which ones have voluntarily ended their occupation? Why would Zionist occupiers be any different? Israel in their assessment is only now “settling into the apartheid-like regime”. And, not even a full-fledged apartheid, but only “apartheid-like”. I wonder what a real apartheid looks like in their view.
“The settler population in the West Bank”, they go on, “has grown 30-fold, from about 12,000 in 1980 to 389,000 today”. It’s good that they bring attention to that, but isn’t that the purpose of a settler state, which they “love”? Wasn’t building settlements and settling Jews from around the world the main purpose and goal and in fact the raison d’être of Zionism? And, what’s so special about the current level of settler population that’s bothersome? It’s okay to evict tens of thousand (that is if we count only from 1967 levels and not 1948) of Palestinians and demolish their homes, but it’s not okay when it gets to hundreds of thousands?
“The West Bank is increasingly treated as part of Israel”, they add, “with the green line demarcating the occupied territories erased from many maps”. Wasn’t that the purpose of the occupation that was completed in 1967, which the professors approve of? Unless they believe that the occupation was only for “Israel’s security”! Actually, they do claim it was for its security, which is what its military and political leaders have been claiming: “occupation threatens the security it was meant to ensure”, they claim. It’s hard to know if they really believe that or they’re trying to soften the image of the occupation (which they only call it that about West Bank and Gaza), which was the purpose of that lie by Zionist leaders to begin with. Given the fact that they teach Government and Economics and Law and must know a thing or two about military occupations, I’d have to go with the latter.
It’s also quite telling that they consider “weakening of Iraq and Syria” advantageous for “Israel’s security” – a typical Zionist mindset, which sees everything from the narrow and nationalistic point of view of “Israel’s security” and cares not how many people have to be sacrificed for that elusive sense of “security”. Reading their words, one has to assume that they also condoned Israel’s 20 year occupation of Lebanon, which only ended thanks to the Hezbollah of Lebanon, or its bombardment of the country in 2006 or the occupation of Golan Heights from Syria or Sinai dessert from Egypt. It must all have been for its security. This is the kind of thinking that’s prevalent among supposedly “progressive” American Jews. Those dying in those devastating wars ostensibly for Israel’s security are all collateral damage and necessary. Isn’t that the rationale given by Israel’s security forces and military when shooting at Palestinian children who throw stones at occupation vehicles or those who peacefully protest the occupation?
“Today, there is no realistic prospect of Israel making the hard choices necessary to ensure its survival as a democratic state”, they add. This is another absurd claim by liberal Zionists, that Israel can be called “democratic”, even while its occupation troops are shooting and killing teenaged boys as young as 12 and 13 and violently arresting children and drag them to Israeli jails, and while, even to the admission of the authors, Palestinians living in their own occupied country don’t have the same rights as the Jews. How can an apartheid state engaged in ethnic cleansing and genocide be “democratic”? Isn’t that an insult to those who lose their children to extrajudicial killings by occupation soldiers? How would these Zionist Jews like it if we called Nazi Germany “democratic” when they were committing the atrocities against Jews out of concern for their security?
The authors add that “Israel, of course, is hardly the world’s worst human rights violator”, which trivializes and whitewashes the incredible and indeed genocidal treatment of the Palestinians. There are only two possible ways to interpret this statement: either the occupation forces are not committing horrendous atrocities, including arrests, torture and killing of Palestinians, including children, “targeted killings”, indiscriminate massacres, mass incarceration, shooting peaceful protesters and demolishing their homes, or that such atrocities don’t really count as one of the worst if not the worst human rights violations.
Lest there be any doubt, again, I applaud these two professors for their decision to join the boycott of Israel, especially since they supported it all their lives. I realize it probably wasn’t easy for them to break with the tradition and with other Zionist Jews. But, I also think that while we anti-Zionists welcome liberal Zionists into the BDS camp and show them our support and gratitude, we must be clear as to their real purpose and motivation, as well as our differences with them. We must point out the racism within all flavors of Zionism, including the liberal kind, and expose their proposed “two-state solution”, which is offered for one purpose and one purpose alone: to ensure the survival of the settler, apartheid state. We must be alert about any tendency or strategy which tries to keep the final goal of the Palestinian people and people of conscience among Jews and others, which is one secular and democratic state with equal rights for all, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background from materializing. Joining our movement by such liberal Zionists is indeed welcome news and shows that our efforts are bearing fruit. But, we must also continue to teach the facts of the occupation and expose Zionism as the racist and inhuman ideology that it really is.