Liberal zionism- unequal partnership

October 9, 2014
Sarah Benton

This is a two-part article. Both parts are reposted here. Some notes on Brit Shalom, past and present, in Notes and links.

Two of the founders of Brit Shalom (covenant of peace). Rabbi Binyamin and Martin Buber, R. 

The perennial dilemma of liberal Zionism

For over a century, liberal Zionists have attempted to reconcile universal humanism with Zionist nationalism. A review of two prominent thinkers who failed.(Part 1 of 2 parts on Liberal Zionism)

By Ran Greenstein, +972 blog
September 28, 2014

The prospect of impending doom facing Liberal Zionism has been raised time and again in recent months, from the inane apologetics of Ari Shavit to the more sophisticated discussions of Jonathan Freedland in the NY Review of Books and Roger Cohen in the New York Times, culminating with the highly critical approach of Antony Lerman, also in the Times.

While the war in Gaza played a role in this wave of lamentation, it is in no way a new phenomenon. In fact, it has been a feature of discussions in the Zionist movement from its inception, forcing Liberal adherents to choose, at times of crisis, between their universal values and ethnic political loyalties. Historically, dropping the Liberal component has been the most common response to such dilemma, with only a few dissidents opting rather to abandon Zionism.

The core arguments used in such debates have changed little over the years. It would be instructive here to look at one movement, the epitome of Liberal Zionism in its time. Brit Shalom, which operated between 1925 and 1933 and was known for its advocacy of bi-nationalism, experienced tensions between its broad Liberal principles and the narrow demands of the Zionist project. These were captured in particular in the work of its founder, Arthur Ruppin, known as “the father of Jewish settlement.” He was torn between his Labor Zionist allies, who regarded Brit Shalom as “delusional,” and his radical colleagues who called for a representative government in Palestine, in line with universal democratic values but against the wishes of the Zionist leadership.

Ruppin’s concerns, expressed in his diaries from the late 1920s/early 1930s, stemmed from the “very serious contradictions of interest between the Jews and the Arabs.” It was impossible to reconcile “free immigration and free economic and cultural development” for Jews – the essential conditions for Zionism – with the interests of Arab residents of Palestine: “any place where we buy land and settle people on it, of necessity requires that the current cultivators be removed from it, be they owners or tenants.” Further, although the principle of Hebrew Labor was “in accordance with our national interests,” it “deprives the Arabs of the wages they used to earn.” Therefore, it became impossible to “convince the Arabs rationally that our interests are compatible.” Given a chance, the Arabs as a majority in the country “would take advantage of the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution to prevent any economic advancement of the Jewish minority,” thereby “putting an end to the Zionist movement.”
Ruppin’s dilemma intensified at times of acute conflict – following the 1929 riots. Violent clashes between mutually exclusive nationalist visions led him to distance himself from Brit Shalom and its bi-nationalism. His conclusion was stark: “we must recognise that in our entire history of relations with the Arabs we have not made an effort to find a formula that will satisfy not only the essential interests of the Jews but also the essential interests of the Arabs.” Paradoxically, this meant: “What we can get (from the Arabs) – we do not need, and what we need – we cannot get. At most, what the Arabs are willing to give us is rights of a Jewish national minority in an Arab state, similar to the rights of [minority] nationalities in Eastern Europe.”

The problem in that, he continued, was that minority rights could not be guaranteed:

The fate of the Jewish minority in Palestine will forever depend on the good will of the Arab majority holding power. Such an arrangement definitely will not satisfy Eastern European Jews who are the majority of Zionists; on the contrary, this would diminish their enthusiasm for Zionism and Palestine. A Zionism willing to reach such a compromise with the Arabs [making Jews a permanent minority in the country] will lose the support of Jews in Eastern Europe and will quickly become Zionism without Zionists.

Arthur Ruppin, L, with Dr. Jacob Yochanan Thon, one of the founders of the Jewish National Council, and chairman of the Jewish Community Council of Jerusalem until its dissolution. He was managing director of the Palestine Land Development Company. A native of Lwow, Poland, he settled in Palestine in 1907.

What could be done then? In Ruppin’s view, using language that echoes all the way to the present:

No negotiations with the Arabs at present will allow progress, since the Arabs still hope to be able to get rid of us … it is not negotiations but the development of Palestine to increase our share in the population, and to strengthen our economic power, that might lead to reduction of tensions. When time comes and the Arabs realize that they are not called upon to grant us something we do not have already, but to recognize reality as it is – the weight of facts on the ground will lead to reduced tensions … It may be a bitter truth, but it is The Truth.

Ruppin’s words from 1936 illustrate the logic of creating ‘facts on the ground’ and building an “Iron Wall” (in Jabotinsky’s infamous words) to deter Arab opposition, a logic that continues to shape Israeli policy today. But, it is important to realize, not all Liberal activists moved in the same direction. A contrary example was that of Hans Kohn, who broke off with the Zionist movement and eventually left Brit Shalom following the 1929 uprising.

Kohn identified with Zionism as a “moral-cum-spiritual movement” that was compatible with his pacifist and anti-imperialist position. It became increasingly difficult for him to sustain this approach alongside the official Zionist line. The uprising of 1929, he said in private correspondence, was carried out by Arabs, who “perpetrated all the barbaric acts that are characteristic of a colonial revolt.” But, they were motivated by a deep cause:

We have been in Palestine for 12 years [since the Balfour Declaration of 1917] without having even once made a serious attempt at seeking through negotiations the consent of the indigenous people. We have been relying exclusively upon Great Britain’s military might. We have set ourselves goals which by their very nature had to lead to conflict with Arabs. We ought to have recognized that these goals would be the cause, the just cause, of a national uprising against us.

This attitude meant that:

for 12 years we pretended that the Arabs did not exist and were glad when we were not reminded of their existence. Without the consent of local Arabs, Jewish existence in Palestine could become possible only, “first with British aid and then later with the help of our own bayonets … But by that time we will not be able to do without the bayonets. The means will have determined the goal. Jewish Palestine will no longer have anything of that Zion for which I once put myself on the line.

Kohn’s main concern was the development of Zionism into “the militant-reactionary wing of Judaism.” His colleagues, Kohn felt, were unwilling to take a decisive step in line with their values that would lead them away from Zionist practices, such as the “immeasurable barbarity” of evicting tenants from their land, led by people such as Ruppin. Instead, Brit Shalom formulated lofty peace proposals disconnected from concrete reality and bypassed the real issues. This, it “enveloped itself in a cloud of naivety” with no public impact. Under these circumstances, Kohn saw no point in continuing his membership of the movement.

Ruppin and Kohn offered opposite solutions to the same dilemma: the difficulty of reconciling universal humanism with Zionist nationalism. When crisis erupted, Ruppin chose nationalism while Kohn chose universalism. Other Liberal activists continued to believe there was no inherent contradiction between the two sets of principles, but their impact dwindled. Although they formulated a solid conceptual alternative to mainstream state-oriented Zionism, they failed to reach out beyond limited Jewish intellectual circles and did not gain any Arab support. Why? A number of reasons can be suggested:

Before 1948, Liberal Zionists worked among the one segment of the Jewish people least willing to support integration. Jews happy to live together with non-Jews as equals, or uninterested in political sovereignty, stayed in their home countries or moved to other destinations that allowed them to live long and prosper without worrying about politics and nationalism, such as the U.S. or Argentina. On practical grounds, the Liberal Zionist case in Palestine was undermined further by the absence of an equivalent force among the Arab population. Many Jews regarded it as offering unilateral concessions that were not reciprocated, and thus were pointless.

Why, then, was it not reciprocated? The Palestinian Arab leadership rejected the compromises offered by Liberal Zionists because it feared that any concessions to the legitimacy of Jewish political presence in the country would undermine its own negotiating position, without curbing the forward expansion of the Jewish settlement project. This was the case since the Liberals were a minority in the Jewish community: agreements with them were not binding on the dominant forces in the Zionist movement, who continued to pursue their own agenda.

In addition, nothing was more fatal for the willingness of Jews to make concessions than the sense that Arab hostility would continue unabated regardless of political compromises. In particular, armed attacks against local integrated communities, as happened in 1929 in Hebron and Safed, reinforced internal Jewish solidarity, undermined dissent, and created a militant and militarist atmosphere that made the prospect of fruitful political dialogues increasingly remote.

Perhaps most crucially in retrospect, the responses of the one side shaped those of the other. Nationalists could embark on their own course of action unilaterally, but Liberals could not. Potential Arab partners responded not only to what Liberal Zionists said or did, but also – perhaps primarily – to what the leading forces on the Jewish side said and did. This reinforced the Liberals’ structural disadvantage: the dominant trends in both nationalist camps collaborated, so to speak, in making the environment increasingly polarised. This benefited those on either side who urged unilateral action and weakened those who argued for mutual consideration.

How these factors continue to shape the fate of Liberal Zionism today will be discussed in a follow-up article [below].

The many denials of liberal Zionism

From its origins until today, liberal Zionism has been unable to reconcile Israeli policies of dispossession and military control with the image of a democratic state. Is it merely a matter of semantics, or inherent to the ideology? Part two of Ran Greenstein’s analysis.

By Ran Greenstein, +972 blog
October 06, 2014

As discussed in the previous part of this article, liberal Zionists like Arthur Ruppin and Hans Kohn responded in divergent ways to the challenge of reconciling broad universal values with narrow Zionist aims. What they shared with other activists and intellectuals, though, was full realization of the costs involved in their choices. This is not the case for most present-day Israeli liberals, who take the post-1948, post-Nakba realities for granted, as the starting point for looking at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One way of looking at the dilemmas facing liberal Zionism today is through the notion of denial, or the refusal to acknowledge historical context, which continues to shape our political scene. This context reflects long-term processes and can be broken down by the key dates with which these processes are associated. In each case they built on existing trends to set in motion a new round of developments that shaped the subsequent period. Let us consider each in turn and discuss their implications.

The denial of 1917

This was the year of the Balfour Declaration, which asserted British support for the quest of the Zionist movement to establish “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, based on the understanding that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” in the country. It set in motion a process of mass immigration of Jews into the country and the re-construction of the Jewish community as a separate political entity, on its way to independent statehood. It also led to the formation of a Palestinian-Arab national movement, which opposed immigration and land acquisition by Jews, and demanded democratic government based on majority rule. The growing conflict between these mutually exclusive forces led to the 1947-48 war, the Nakba and the creation of the State of Israel.

Liberal Zionists deny that the Balfour Declaration was illegitimate from the perspective of Arab residents of the country, until then the unchallenged majority of the population. The British subordinated their prospect of independence to that of a new group of immigrants, and facilitated the creation of a ever-growing zone of social and economic exclusion, from which all Palestinians were barred (as rights-bearing residents, employees, tenants). Their natural response was resistance. It is hard to think of a single group of indigenous people in history who reacted differently to a similar situation. Yet, the liberal Zionist perspective finds it impossible to contemplate this basic reality, as it would raise questions about settlement and dispossession, colonialism and indigenous rights, which cannot be answered easily within its paradigm.

The denial of 1947

The UN partition resolution, which called for Palestine to be divided into Jewish and Arab states, was supported by the Zionist movement and the majority of Jews, and rejected by the majority of Arabs (in Palestine and elsewhere). One of the core beliefs of liberal Zionism is that these attitudes reflected the logic of compromise, which was adopted by Zionism historically, but was abandoned after 1967 and needs to be restored today. In contrast, the Arabs adopted a rejectionist position that undermined their chances to gain independence then and ever since.

In what way does this way of looking at 1947 constitute a denial? Seen from the perspective of the time, the partition resolution was inequitable. It granted the Jewish community territory it did not possess and took from the Arab community territory it did possess. Only 10,000 Jews – 1.6% of the total Jewish population – were expected to live as a minority in the area allocated to Arab state while the equivalent figure for Arabs in the Jewish state was 400,000 – 33% of their total. Jews, a third of the population, were allocated 56% of the territory, while Arabs who were two-thirds of the population were allocated only 44%.

Beyond the specific details of the resolution, it gave a seal of approval to a process that had seen Palestinians losing their overwhelming demographic and territorial domination, unable to block the rapid growth of the organized Jewish community, and marginalized in their own homeland. Rejecting partition did not lead to a positive outcome for them, but they could not agree to have large chunks of their country given away to a group of people they regarded as unwelcome guests, most of whom had been there for less than a generation. That the foremost leader of the Jewish community at the time had built his career on opposition to sharing land, employment and residence with local Arabs, did not help build trust in a future under Jewish rule or alongside an expanding Jewish state.

Zionism’s trimph over liberalism: An ultra-orthodox Jewish man walks in the depopulated Palestinian village of Lifta, located on the edge of West Jerusalem, Israel, March 4, 2014. During the Nakba, the residents of Lifta fled attacks by Zionist militias beginning in December 1947, resulting in the complete evacuation of the village by February 1948. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

The Nakba that followed the partition resolution was, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ethnic cleansing was both a result of the actions of Zionist forces, putting into effect plans for creating a contiguous defensible Jewish territory, and the re-actions of Palestinians, at times anticipating violent expulsion by fleeing the advancing military forces. The crucial point is that regardless of the circumstances of their departure or their participation in the events (as militants or peaceful residents, who were passively cleansed or actively fled their homes), all those who became refugees in 1947-48 were denied re-entry into the new State of Israel. The result was not merely the displacement of large number of people but the destruction of an entire society.

The liberal Zionist paradigm can digest these events only as the tragic but ultimately fortunate outcome of the quest for Jewish national self-determination. That it transformed the conflict into a struggle for restoration of people and their rights, forever marking it by the imperative to redress the “original sin” of dispossession, cannot be contemplated however. Rather, we need not dwell on the past, move on with our lives and wait for the “salmon syndrome” – using Ehud Barak’s horrible phrase – to die out.

The denial of 1967

It is only with the war of 1967 and its aftermath that liberal Zionism truly came into its own. It deserves credit for having opposed the occupation, settlements and creeping annexation for decades. Is it fair then to charge it with denial? The answer is yes. Let us examine why.

The liberal stand against the occupation suffers from its refusal to consider the historical context of 1967, seeing the war as an aberration, a disruptive force that changed democratic, egalitarian little Israel into a right-wing oppressive state dominated by messianic settlers. Missing from this picture is the extent to which pre-1967 Israel was an oppressive state towards groups excluded from the mainstream: Palestinian refugees who were denied physical and political presence; Palestinian citizens who were physically present but also absent from full-fledged citizenship, having been subject to military rule and massive expropriation of their land; Mizrahi Jews who were given political rights but remained socially and culturally marginalized.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi (right) and Gen. Uzi Narkiss walk through the Old City of Jerusalem on June 7, 1967, during the Six Day War. Photo by GPO/Ilan Bruner

Exclusionary practices developed in the pre-67 period (in some instances – secretive methods of land acquisition and dispossession – already in the pre-48 period), were extended to the occupied territories, with some important modifications. The ethnic cleansing and the massive destruction of villages in 1948 were not repeated on the same scale in 1967 (though about 300,000 fled or were expelled from the newly occupied territories into neighboring countries, many of them refugees from 1948). The residents of the territories were allowed to work in Israel but were denied civil and political rights. Land was confiscated (and continues to be to this day) but on a smaller scale than what was expropriated from Palestinian citizens in post-48 Israel.

The resulting system of control is unique, yet displays many family resemblances to other oppressive Israeli practices, which were applied – to varying degrees – to different groups of Palestinians. It is the refusal of liberal Zionism to see the continuity between such practices, and the links they form within a common logic of exclusion, that constitutes denial. A struggle against the occupation that regards it as a mere territorial dispute, and refuses to consider its ideological and historical foundations – what Meron Benvenisti refers to as the “genetic code” of Zionist settlement – is bound to fail.

The denial of 1987

And yet, there was a period of time in which liberal Zionism seemed to be winning. With the First Intifada of 1987 and the processes it facilitated, culminating with the Oslo Accords of 1993, awareness of the occupation and support for its termination were at an all-time high. It was just a matter of time until the process of Israeli withdrawal was completed, so believed many liberals, and a genuine two-state solution would come into being.

Israelis take part in a protest calling for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian, Tel Aviv, on August 16, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators gathered on Saturday for a pro-peace rally under the slogan: ‘Changing Direction: Toward Peace, Away From War.’  Photo by Activestills

As we learned in subsequent years, this widespread expectation failed to materialize. Instead of coming to its end, the occupation has shifted shape from direct to indirect rule, shedding responsibility for the welfare of its subjects, and excluding them even further from any share in the rights and resources associated with citizenship. While Israel has entrenched its control over the territory and material resources (agricultural and residential land, water and so on), occupied Palestinians have faced more serious restrictions on their movement, political organization, and ability to run their lives than ever before.

What was presented until then as a temporary military rule for ‘security’ reasons, has hardened into a mode of rule combining permanent inclusion of land and resources for the use of military and civilian authorities, catering exclusively to Jewish settlers, with the permanent exclusion of indigenous residents as rights-bearing citizens. In other words, an apartheid-like system that enshrines radically different levels of access to entitlements and resources based on ethnic-religious distinctions.

Not surprisingly, the response of liberal Zionists has been characterized, once again, by denial. Instead of coming to terms with the new realities, and developing appropriate strategies that would take into account the changing modes of rule, settlement patterns and demographic conditions, they continue to recite in vain the mantra of separation of Jews and Arabs in their own states.

The fact that the conflict can no longer be seen as merely territorial in nature (if it ever were so) makes no noticeable difference. All changes are eternally deferred to an indeterminate future, when Jews will become a minority (as if domination of 51% of the population over the other 49% were more legitimate than the reverse), when Israel has to choose between its ‘democratic’ and ‘Jewish’ aspects (as if ruling for half a century over millions of people denied political rights had not decided the matter already), when the prospect of a two-state solution is no longer viable (as if 20 years of futile diplomacy, resulting in entrenching the occupation were not enough), when the window of opportunity for a negotiated solution is closed (as if it were still open).

What is the essence, then, of the liberal Zionist denial? It is the refusal to recognize anything that makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unique and different from normal territorial conflicts: the colonial origins of initial settlement, the dispossession of 1948, the historical logic of exclusion, the permanent nature of the “temporary” occupation. As long as our well-published liberal Zionists continue to ignore such foundations of the conflict, their feigned anguished calls for a change of policy on moral grounds will remain little more than empty rhetoric.

Ran Greenstein is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His book, Zionism and its Discontents: A Century of Radical Dissent in Israel/Palestine, will be published by Pluto Press, UK, in October 2014.

Notes and links

Brit Shalom, founded 1925
Jewish Virtual Library

BERIT SHALOM (“Covenant of Peace”), society founded in Jerusalem in 1925 to foster relations of rapprochement between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, on the basis of a bi-national solution to the conflict between them, with Jews and Arabs having an equal share in the administration regardless of the size of their respective populations (see *Bi-Nationalism). Bi-nationalism for Berit Shalom was not an ideal but a function of reality. The trigger for the establishment of the society was a lecture at the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by the Orientalist Professor Joseph Horowitz of the University of Frankfurt on the Main. The initiative for founding Berit Shalom came from Arthur *Ruppin. The active members in the society belonged to several groups. The first, which was predominant in the early years, was made up of men who had immigrated to Palestine before World War I and were all (except Ruppin himself) of East European origin, had an academic education, and shared a practical political approach to Zionism. They included, in addition to Ruppin, Dr. Jacob *Thon, Dr. Joseph *Lurie, Dr Yitzḥak Epstein, Haim *Margolis-Kalvaryski, and *Rabbi Binyamin. The second group, which became predominant after 1929, was made up of intellectuals of a Central European liberal background, was much more ideological than the first group, and its members were all strongly influenced by the philosophy of Martin *Buber. They included Prof. Samuel Hugo *Bergmann, Prof. Hans *Kohn, Prof. Gershom *Scholem, Prof. Ernst *Simon, and Dr. Robert Weltsch. Finally there was a group of socalled “Anglo-Saxons,” mostly men who were employed by the Palestine Administration, including Edwin Samuel, son of the first High Commissioner to Palestine, Herbert *Samuel, and the attorney general of Palestine, Norman *Bentwich, who did not become full members until 1929. Prof. Judah Leon *Magnes, who also advocated bi-nationalism in this period, was never a member of the society, even though his name was frequently identified with it. Berit Shalom never numbered more than 200 members. From the start there were differences concerning the purpose of the society. Ruppin wanted it to be a research group that would present the results of its studies to the Zionist leadership, while others urged that it formulate and attempt to implement its own political program. Ruppin was chairman of the society until 1929, and the more activist line was carried out by his successor, Joseph Lurie. Rabbi Binyamin, the first editor of Berit Shalom’s monthly, She’ifoteinu (“Our Aspirations”), who demanded an agreement with the Arabs on the basis of unlimited Jewish immigration, was replaced when a majority of the members declared themselves ready to accept a temporary limitation of immigration to facilitate an agreement with the Arabs. In 1930 senior members of Berit Shalom published a series of memoranda, the first of which – Memorandum by the Brit Shalom Society on an Arab Policy for the Jewish Agency – was submitted to the Zionist Executive in London in February. The second memorandum, entitled Practical Proposals for Cooperation Between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, was prepared as a response to a suggestion by one of the members of the 1929 Shaw Commission. The third memorandum was a personal endeavor by Ernst Simon, and was distributed to the members of the Conference of the Administrative Committee of the Jewish Agency in London. The fourth and last one was a “Judeao-Arab Covenant” prepared by Kalvaryski in August (apparently unknown to his colleagues at the time), and submitted by him to a member of the Arab Executive. Berit Shalom was attacked by most of the Zionist parties, who viewed its members as defeatists at best and traitors and worst. By 1933 it had virtually ceased to exist, after many of its members deserted it, and it ran out of funds.

Brit Shalom, founded 2012

From Times of Israel, July 2012

Today, disillusioned by the Oslo peace process and the concept of a two-state solution, a small number of activists have relaunched Brit Shalom under the banner “Brit Shalom 2012.”

In a discussion session held at a downtown Jerusalem art gallery, over cold bottles of Goldstar beer, the organizers earlier this week advanced a six-point plan centered around the idea of a regional confederation, with full political and individual rights for members of both nations, “irrespective of whether they belong to the minority or the majority group.”

“Separation [into two states] is a disaster,” declared Ronen Eidelman, one of the founders. “We don’t want to give up on Judaism and Zionism, despite all of the terrible crimes that were, and still are being, committed by it.”

As in 1926, the ideals are lofty, highly intellectual and meticulously articulated. As in 1926, Arabs, Sephardi Jews and Orthodox Jews are largely absent from the debate.

“The idea of separation is unrealistic; it simply doesn’t work,” claimed Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, a Jewish History professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba who researched the movement’s writings and clearly identifies with its message today. “Talk of separation creates antagonism. It highlights the differences rather than the commonalities.”

Raz-Krakotzkin says that paradoxically, the mainstream Zionist attempt to separate Jews from Arabs in the land of Israel has resulted in the fragmentation of the Jewish community itself.

“The attempt to be European, to completely identify ourselves with the West against the East, has separated us from ourselves,” he said.

Raz-Karkotzkin admits that the original movement was not able to captivate the Jewish community of Palestine in the early 20th century, but hopes that something has changed in Israeli society since.

“Today the two-state idea is in crisis. Most people understand that it’s no longer possible. In addition, Jewish existence itself is in crisis. There’s a sense that our society has become a walled ghetto, armed with nuclear weapons, constantly experiencing a sense of catastrophe. We must find ourselves a vision.”

‘The deep questions of identity facing Israeli society – those of the Jewish character of the state and our so-called political independence – will not be resolved by creating two states’

Brit Shalom highlights the Jewish element of its program. Its founders speak repeatedly of a sense of cultural disorientation, of lost values among Israeli Jews. Some people in the audience are clearly uncomfortable with the incessant treatment of the term “Judaism.”

“What about secularism?” asked one woman, annoyed. “I haven’t heard that term used here even once!”

Motty Fogel is one of the few religious representatives on the discussion panel. He grew up in the small settlement of Neve Tzuf, northwest of Ramallah, and lost his brother, sister-in-law and their three children in a terrorist attack at the settlement of Itamar in March 2011. In a scathing criticism of the Zionist left, Fogel claims that in their defense of the two-state solution, many in Israel focus on imagined problems while ignoring the real ones.

“The deep questions of identity facing Israeli society — those of the Jewish character of the state and our so-called political independence — will not be resolved by creating two states,” said Fogel. The Israeli left, he adds, tends to disregard the practical concerns of Israeli citizens such as security; the rise of religious fundamentalism on both sides; and the deep economic cleavages between Jews and Arabs, while focusing on the “imagined” issues.

Fogel is unapologetic about the absence of Arabs in the debate.

“I want to engage in an internal Jewish debate on our existence here within a joint framework,” he said.

Brit Shalom implicitly accepts the fact that Jews will become a minority within the bi-national state envisioned by it. But Raz-Krakotzkin of Ben-Gurion University does not seem terribly troubled by that notion.

“Can Jewish society continue living in the Middle East? I’ll tell you the truth – I don’t know,” he said. “But just like [Gershom] Scholem said 80 years ago, I think it’s better to be on the right side of the barricades because the dangers exist in any case.”

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