The standard critique of Israel’s settlement movement from the Zionist left has been to point out that attempting to assert sovereignty over the West Bank could lead to an Arab majority. The argument is that this would enable the Palestinians to succeed in wiping out the Jewish state using demography rather than invasion or terror. It’s a point of view many Israelis share, but the Palestinian refusal to make peace has continued to frustrate the wishes of most Jews for a two-state solution.
But the dislike of the settlers goes a lot deeper than mere demographic arguments. As Gershom Gorenberg’s piece in The New York Times’s Sunday Review section this week illustrates, the passion to buttress the Jewish presence in any part of the country, whether on the wrong side of the Green Line or not, is what is really bugging the left.
Gorenberg, a veteran Israeli journalist whose animus for the settlers and Israel’s government have made him a regular presence in liberal American publications, takes his familiar attacks on the right to new levels in a piece in which he claims efforts to ensure a Jewish majority in the Israeli city of Acre as well as the Galilee are no more defensible than the settlers’ attempts to establish Israeli beachheads in the West Bank.
For Gorenberg, the push to ensure that parts of pre-June 1967 Israel will not be lost to the Arabs is also “racist.” Indeed, he worries that even if a two-state solution forces some of the Jews currently living in the West Bank to relocate inside the Green Line, they will take their Zionist fervor with them – leading to conflicts that will replicate the “price tag” attacks on Arabs that leftists see as the inevitable product of settler ideology.
This distorted argument not only turns liberal Israeli arguments upside down, it also betrays the mixed feelings some on the left seem to have for Zionism.
As with many accounts of events on the West Bank that treat the rare outbreaks of Jewish violence against Arabs as the only story worth reporting, Gorenberg’s attempt to paint all settlers with the brush of the “price tag” crimes is both factually incorrect as well as unfair.
Anti-Jewish violence in the West Bank is a daily occurrence that liberal journalists either choose to ignore or rationalize as justified, because they see the presence of Israelis in the territories as inherently illegitimate. The same mindset has led the press to treat a regrettable case of arson against a mosque inside Israel as a harbinger of pogroms against Arab citizens.
As with the West Bank, far more numerous incidents – especially in the Galilee – in which Israeli Arabs have targeted Jews are treated as either unimportant or just ignored.
Rather than the malevolent attitudes of West Bank settlers infecting ordinary Israelis, as Gorenberg fears, what has actually happened in the last 18 years since the Oslo Accords empowered Fatah terrorists in the territories is that Israeli Arabs have become radicalized. The political culture of the people who now dub themselves Palestinians with Israeli citizenship has become a reflection of the hatred and rejectionism that characterizes the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Gorenberg’s disgust for attempts to reinforce Jewish numbers in the Galilee also contradicts a basic tenant of the Israeli left. For decades, even those who agreed Jews ought to have the right to live in the West Bank because it is the heart of the historic Jewish homeland argued that it made more sense to put more Jewish resources into the battle to maintain a Jewish majority in the Galilee and the Negev.
If such efforts are now to be treated as being as illegitimate as the campaign to restore Jewish life to Judea and Samaria, it is difficult to see how Gorenberg imagines Israel can retain a Jewish majority.
This reflects the cognitive dissonance on the left. Though writers like Gorenberg claim to support the idea of a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority, the anti-Zionist logic that brands the Jewish presence in the West Bank as racist colonialism can just as easily be applied to any spot inside the Green Line.
Israel’s enemies view Tel Aviv as being as much an illegal settlement as the most remote hilltop encampment of right-wing Jewish extremists. The fact that Gorenberg views Jewish community-building in Acre and the Galilee with the same disgust as West Bank settlements illustrates all too clearly just how out of touch he is with both reality and the views of Israel’s moderate Zionist majority.
Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine with responsibility for managing the editorial content of its Contentions website – where this originally appeared – as well as serving as chief politics blogger.