Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

{Reposted from the MEF website}

A new tempest brewed among some in liberal Zionist circles this week with the latest defection of yet another “two-state” believer into the “I no longer believe in a Jewish State” camp.


The Jewish Currents piece by serial Israel-Diaspora-canary-in-the-mine Peter Beinart was amplified by write-ups in The New York Times and Jewish Insider. Reactions ran the gamut from “who cares what he says” to “this is a Walter Cronkite moment” to mocking the idea of a one-state “binational state.”

The set of responses is emblematic of a classic problem in discussions between Israel and the Diaspora, particularly when it comes to caustic criticism of Israel from within the Jewish community.

Make no mistake: This is a Jewish discussion. It is posed in those terms by those critics who seek to argue that they have not only turned against the two-state concept but that Israel should, therefore, cease to exist. It is predicated on the idea that one can decide what is best for the lives of some 9 million Israelis and millions of Palestinians. This is a strange position to be in: Trying to argue that your country can exist. Most Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking Israelis are left out of this discussion.

That is why it needs to be reframed. For too long, the discussion about Israel is studied within a bubble that begins with certain assumptions. These may be assumptions on what it means to be a Jew or what Zionism is. For instance, it may revolve around concepts such as Israel being an Ahad Ha’am-style cultural home, or whether Israel’s “values” mesh well with those of the more liberal American-Jewish community.

Let’s start on a different foot. Every conversation about Israel should not begin with “solutions” or the “conflict.” We need to abolish the quick go-to use of terms more suitable to a game of Monopoly or Risk than talking about a country. No more “2SS” as an acronym for a two-state solution. These are real people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

These people are equal to people who live in New York, Crimea, Kosovo, Canada, Japan or Pennsylvania. The idea that someone will begin a conversation, or an oped, by deciding that a whole country’s existence can be carved up like pizza at a summer camp is wrapped in arrogance.

No one cavalierly decides that Ireland will be united again with England, against the choice of the Irish, just because they feel like it. No one has opeds at major US newspapers saying they “no longer believe in a Japanese state.” This is because in general no other country in the world is subjected to this intellectual assault of debating its existence. That some Americans do not identify with Israel or the “Jewish state” is entirely understandable.

America was not founded on national and religious values. That is why other minorities in America may be critical of Turkish nationalism, Armenian nationalism or Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But Armenian-Americans rarely say Armenia shouldn’t exist.

The discussion on Israel is also predicated on a profound double standard about dismissing Israel as a country simply because one dislikes the leadership and policies of Israel.

Let’s take the “Israel doesn’t live up to my values” approach as an example. You’re right, Israel doesn’t embody the values of the US Bill of Rights or the rest of the US Constitution. Neither does the US these days.

Yet too often the Diaspora-Israel discussion begins with setting the bar very high – only for Israel: If Israel doesn’t reflect my values then it shouldn’t exist. That same standard isn’t applied to America. Oddly, some in the US, who don’t even want to move to Israel, demand Israel reflect their values more than their own elected officials.

This is not how a conversation should go. Conversations are a two-way street. If some in the Diaspora pose as deciding Israel shouldn’t exist, then is it equally logical that Israel newspapers will run opeds suggesting the US should be dismantled simply because the US isn’t living up to its values? Of course, Israelis don’t pose with such arrogance as deciding that simply because of the endless war in Afghanistan that the US shouldn’t exist.

That’s healthy for Israel, but there is a whole industry in the US of deciding what is “best” for Israel. The same industry doesn’t put its keyboards to work so often on what is best for the US or other countries. That is part of an unhealthy addiction to how we discuss Israel. We discuss it in terms of ideals and values and conflict without discussing it as a country of people. There is little recognition in the endless discussions of the “conflict” that there is anything else happening in Israel. This is a profoundly hostile and toxic conversation.

For this reason it is essential to reset the discussion about Israel. There is no discussion to be had when the starting point is debating the existence of Israel or whether one “believes” in the Jewish state. If people want to write off Israel, a write-off they do for no other country – not India, Japan, Albania or South Sudan – there is nothing to discuss. There’s no discussion to be had with this bubble of privilege that poses itself as deciding from thousands of miles away what will be the fate of tens of millions of people in the Middle East.

The era of clumsily redrawing borders and forcing people into random countries like it was some sort of experiment ended in the last century. It ended with the disastrous population exchanges after the First World War, and with the breakup of Yugoslavia. Many of the conflicts in the world today are due to the failed policies of that colonial era, where people were shoehorned into imagined states by colonial officers who didn’t have to pay the consequences for what they did.

Unfortunately, the one place this neo-colonial mentality has not worn off is among a declining segment of some who were raised on addiction to “conflict solving.” Now is a good time to have a radical redress of the conversation because it comes when Americans are debating what it means to be American.

As statues fall in the US it is worth reprising the statue of Israel discussions. The rotten edifice was built on false assumptions. Israel is a state and it is here to stay. You can disagree with its policies, like you might Turkey or the US, but you don’t get to dismiss its millions of people as if they are part of a thought experiment.

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Seth Frantzman is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post. His front-page essay “Early Reform and Islamic Exoticism” appeared in the June 5 issue of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at [email protected].