Mondoweiss is right to underscore the significance of a new opinion piece in the New York Times. They suggest “Hell just froze over”.
There is nothing new in what Omri Boehm says. The philosophy professor at the New School in New York articulates a view that many of us on the left have subscribed to for many years. But it is simply astonishing to see it published in the most establishment paper in the country and in a city where hawkishly pro-Israel Jewish organisations expect to dominate the discourse on Israel.
As Mondoweiss suggests, this is part of the backlash against Donald Trump, whose election victory has exposed the ideological and emotional affinities between Israel and the anti-Semitic far-right.
Boehm turns his fire on liberal Zionists, who have always refused to see these problematic sympathies:
by denying liberal principles, Zionism immediately becomes continuous with — rather than contradictory to — the anti-Semitic politics of the sort promoted by the alt-right…
insofar as Israel is concerned, every liberal Zionist has not just tolerated the denial of this minimum liberal standard, but avowed this denial as core to their innermost convictions. Whereas liberalism depends on the idea that states must remain neutral on matters of religion and race, Zionism consists in the idea that the State of Israel is not Israeli, but Jewish. As such, the country belongs first and foremost not to its citizens, but to the Jewish people — a group that’s defined by ethnic affiliation or religious conversion…
The inherent tensions between Zionism and liberalism were similarly highlighted by a recent meeting between white nationalist leader Richard Spencer and a Texas rabbi, Matt Rosenberg. When the rabbi asked Spencer to pray with him for “love and inclusion”, Spencer replied:
Do you really want radical inclusion into the State of Israel? And by that I mean radical inclusion. Maybe all of the Middle East could go move in to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Would you really want that?
The rabbi could not answer. His bogus liberal credentials had been stripped from him. Boehm points out:
Opposition to the Palestinians’ “right of return” is a matter of consensus among left and right Zionists because also liberal Zionists insist that Israel has the right to ensure that Jews constitute the ethnic majority in their country. That’s the reason for which Rabbi Rosenberg could not answer Spencer.
Boehm exposes the sham nature of the current legislation being drafted in both the US and UK that treats criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. He also implicitly debunks the confected campaign against the British Labour party for supposed anti-semitism under its leader Jeremy Corbyn, who supports Palestinian rights.
Former London mayor Ken Livingstone has been wandering in the political wilderness since he pointed out a few months ago the early sympathies between Zionists and Nazis. Although this has been well documented, discussion of it has been taboo for decades. Now Boehm has addressed it in the NYT:
The “original sin” of such alliances may be traced back to 1941, in a letter to high Nazi officials, drafted in 1941 by Avraham Stern, known as Yair, a leading early Zionist fighter and member in the 1930s of the paramilitary group Irgun, and later, the founder of another such group, Lehi. In the letter, Stern proposes to collaborate with “Herr Hitler” on “solving the Jewish question” by achieving a “Jewish free Europe.” The solution can be achieved, Stern continues, only through the “settlement of these masses in the home of the Jewish people, Palestine.” To that end, he suggests collaborate with the German’s “war efforts,” and establish a Jewish state on a “national and totalitarian basis,” which will be “bound by treaty with the German Reich.”
It has been convenient to ignore the existence of this letter, just as it has been convenient to mitigate the conceptual conditions making it possible.
Is this the start of a tentative trend? Might we see heavyweight enforcers of liberal Zionist orthodoxy in the British media like the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland reconsider their positions – or at least let a few more rational voices, even if only Israeli Jewish ones like Boehm, enter the fray? Don’t hold your breath quite yet.