If we define the left as broadly and loosely as possible, we can say that one thing the left has certainly accomplished this past half-century is to associate moral superiority with the underdog. This is by turns both deeply misguided and an expression of an essential truth. Either way, that supporters of the Israeli state are pretending that Goliath is David tells you the extent to which this folk morality, maybe righteous, maybe misguided, most likely both, has become the default ethical firmament of modern politics. Sometimes Israel’s defenders argue that being the more powerful force does not make you wrong; that’s true, but still their hearts never appear to be in it. They seem to feel the tug of powerlessness, the desire to wear the sad but comfortable cloak of a refugee people, a natural and sympathetic impulse for a culture still touched by the hand of diaspora.
Permanent statelessness and dispossession for the Palestinians will ensure violence for generations. Only freedom for Palestinians can bring peace, and that’s the most hardheaded, ruthlessly pragmatic point anyone can make about this horrid crisis. And if Israel’s defenders feel put upon, othered, alone, it’s because Israel and Israel alone has the power to make Palestinians free. I’m sorry, but it’s not a moral principle that says that Israel must bear responsibility for achieving peace and freedom. It’s a purely pragmatic statement of the reality of Israel’s overwhelming power in the region. Choosing sides has nothing do with it.
I frequently encounter people who think that the history of the Jews simply is the history of Zionism - that since 70 AD, when the Romans destroyed the second temple, all of worldwide Jewry has been involved in an effort to rebuild a Jewish state in Palestine. This is flatly, historically, factually false. For much of the past 2000 years, there was no reason to assume that any given Jews would be supporters of a return to a Israeli state, and the historical record of the Jewish people is full of ambivalence or hostility to the idea. (See Bundism or the Satmar, for more recent examples.) It simply is not the case that Zionism has historically been an assumed part of Jewish identity, anti-Zionist Jews have always been common, and the modern Zionist project is perhaps 150 years old.
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