False Dichotomies


The Banality of Consistency: A Response to Yousef Munayer

“Liberal Zionism is a contradiction in terms,” is the premise of Yousef Munayer’s debut post on Peter Beinart’s Zion Square blog, where he seems to have been enlisted as the token anti-Zionist. First, he says that Liberal Zionists “construct an artificial dichotomy between the states and the settlements; they pretend that the Israeli State and its settlements are somehow separate or separable.” Specifically, he objects to Beinart’s use of “undemocratic Israel” to describe the West Bank, as opposed to the “democratic Israel” inside the Green Line. Munayer goes on to point out that settlements exist because of the policies of successive Israeli governments, which is why BDS must “target the state, not just the settlements”.

Well, he’s right. The country is not homogeneous. Some aspects of Israel are more democratic than others. On what principle does Munayer believe that the undemocratic bits render the whole thing democratic? Why not the other way round? Or, to put it another way, some aspects of Israeli life are better than others. Rather than a “self-inflicted deception”, Liberal Zionists are doing what any good citizen would do – trying to defend the bits of Israel that are decent and change the bits that aren’t.

Second, Munayer declares that “Liberal Zionists talk about an always-approaching-yet-non-existent deadline for two states.” The contradiction here is that the rhetoric is always urgent – apocalyptic even – but the day never arrives. “But by never defining a deadline, by never demarcating a point of no return, that day never has to come and “Liberal Zionists” never have to confront the contradiction inherent in their views.” Munayer concludes that “by failing to draw a line (which in reality we have probably long passed) and by failing to make a serious effort against the Israeli state for its colonialist policies, what “Liberal Zionists” are effectively saying is that there is no Palestinian minimum (or Zionist maximum) they would not accept – there is nothing “liberal” about that!”

It is not clear how he draws this conclusion. The two-state solution remains viable as long as a majority of Israelis and Palestinians are in favour of it; this continues to be the case. Liberal Zionist warnings about time running out are primarily tactical. Nor does Munayer produce any evidence to support the claim that Liberal Zionists would willingly accept a Palestinian Bantustan – this must be what he means by “Palestinian minimum”. In any case, this has nothing to do with liberalism.

Third, we have the Nakba. Liberal Zionists “erase the Nakba from the history of Israel/Palestine”. Munayer says that “while “Liberal Zionists” are willing to condemn many of the human rights abuses inherent in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the rights of refugees go ignored.” Liberal Zionists have no objection to Palestinian refugees returning to a future State of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They object to them returning to Israel, because – and we must never tire of repeating this – this would mean Israel being replaced by a Palestinian-Arab state. This may also involve abandoning the “moral and intellectual cowardice” Munayer accuses Liberal Zionists of, but it’s preferable to national suicide. He writes that “Zionism necessitates a Jewish majority”, but misses out the second clause dealing with Arab rejectionism. This is because he believes that Arab rejectionism – then and now – is entirely justifiable. But it is worth reminding ourselves that, at least before it became clear that there was no possibility of compromise over Palestine, there were strands of Zionism that didn’t necessitate a Jewish majority. Arab rejectionism made a Jewish majority necessary, and the Arab decision to violently oppose the UN Partition resolution (which Munayer no doubt believes was the brave and moral decision) was the primary cause of the Nakba. If this is liberalism, we need have no part of it.

Finally, Munayer directly addresses what he sees as the difference between Liberalism and Zionism: “Liberalism is by nature an inclusivist ideology; Zionism, by contrast, is an exclusivist ideology. While liberalism is associated with equal rights regardless to ethnicity or creed, human rights, and free elections, Zionism requires maintaining a Jewish majority over territory even at the expense of the non-Jewish native inhabitants of the land.” I will respond in kind: Liberal Zionism is by nature an equitable ideology; anti-Zionism, by contrast, is an inequitable ideology. While Liberal Zionism believes in Israelis and Palestinians coming to a consensus over how to divide the land between them (and in such a way that will guarantee both peoples’ national rights), anti-Zionism requires ensuring a Palestinian majority in order to destroy any last semblance of Jewish sovereignty in the land.” If Munayer is still bothered by this inconsistency, then he should take heed of the words of Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”


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