Rosenberg’s conundrum: Zionism vs reality
Michael Jay Rosenberg is a well-known, sharp-minded critic of the Israeli government. But he is also a “liberal Zionist” who believes in the legitimacy and necessity of a Jewish state. This point of view has led him to attack the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement in a recent piece, “The goal of BDS is dismantling Israel”. In the process he seriously underestimates the movement’s scope and potential in an effort to convince himself and others that BDS has no chance of actually achieving the goal he ascribes to it. However, the only evidence he cites of the movement’s weakness is the recent failure of the University of Michigan’s student government to pass a divestment resolution. At the same time he fails to mention an almost simultaneous decision by Chicago’s Loyola University student government to seek divestment. Rosenberg also makes no reference to BDS’s steady and impressive efforts in Europe.
Rosenberg continues by asserting that the reason the boycott movement “keeps failing” is because its goal is to destroy Israel rather than to attack the occupation and pressure for a two-state solution. “The BDS movement is not targeting the occupation per se. Its goal is to end the state of Israel itself.” What does that mean? Well, according to Rosenberg it means “replacing Israel itself with a state” that would be “in theory, hospitable to Jews [but] would no longer be Israel”.
…the boycotters have two choices: to give up the cause or to pressure for the transformation of Zionist Israel into a democratic, religiously and ethnically egalitarian state – a new Israel. This is what Mr. Rosenberg calls “dismantling Israel”.
At this juncture there are several points in Rosenberg’s thinking that warrant scrutiny. First of all, his emphasis on “in theory” in the comment above implies that, in his view, only a Zionist state can really be “hospitable to Jews”. Take the Zionism out of Israel and you really have to take the Jews out as well.
One can understand his concern, since he is aware of the wrongs committed by the Israeli government and knows that reconciliation with the Palestinians will not come easily. However, given the right sort of compromises, his fear for the well-being of Jews in a non-Zionist Israel does not have to necessarily translate into fact.
Secondly, he is still arguing that a two-state solution is possible. “The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states for two peoples.” Maybe “in theory” that is the case. However, “in the real world” (to use Rosenberg’s words) it is almost impossible to envision this happening given the make-up of the Israeli power structure and its worldview.
Most of those who organize and participate in the movement to boycott Israel know that the two-state solution is dead in the water. Even if the present negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry produce some pale imitation of a Palestinian state, it is hard to see it amounting to anything but a Bantustan. The fact is, even now, there is only one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and that is Zionist Israel. Having realized this, the boycotters have two choices: to give up the cause or to pressure for the transformation of Zionist Israel into a democratic, religiously and ethnically egalitarian state – a new Israel. This is what Mr. Rosenberg calls “dismantling Israel”.
The South Africa precedent plus the right of return
Those seeking a genuine democratization of Israel are encouraged by the past dismantlement of apartheid South Africa. But Rosenberg will have none of this either. He points out that in that case it was “the South African apartheid regime that was abolished, not the country known as South Africa”. Here he is not clearly thinking his point through. The boycott movement helped destroy an apartheid ideology and its institutionalized manifestation, the government of Republic of South Africa. That, perforce, altered the essential character of the country. There is no difference between that and the present boycott goal of the destruction of the Zionist ideology and its institutionalized manifestation, the government of the state of Israel. That also must result in a change in the character of that country.
Finally, Rosenberg points to the demand embodied in UN Resolution 194, and supported by the BDS movement, which calls for the return of Palestinian refugees evicted in 1948. This really scares him and understandably so. From the Zionist perspective, the demographics of Israel are precarious enough as it is. Allow back a sizeable number of non-Jewish refugees and the maintenance of a Jewish majority in Israel becomes impossible. On this note, I have a Palestinian friend who asserts that one refugee should be resettled in pre-1967 Israel for every Israeli settler living beyond the Green Line. Would Mr Rosenberg think this fair?
When it comes to Palestinian refugees, what Rosenberg appears not to take seriously is the long-recognized fact that, when and if the implementation of the right of return ever takes place, it will certainly be the result of negotiations aimed at minimizing social disruption.
None of this analysis of Rosenberg’s position is meant to deny that he does raise a very serious question: can justice be achieved for the long-suffering Palestinians while preserving Israel as an exclusive Jewish state? He wants to answer this question in the affirmative and he thinks a two-state solution will allow him to do so.
Unfortunately, that is “not how the real world works” (his phrase again) in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. The truth is that this solution has been taken off the table by the Israelis themselves. We are left with a unitary Zionist state. The answer to the question of whether such a state is compatible with justice for the Palestinians is simply no. Zionism, like apartheid before it, has to go – for the sake of the Palestinians and also for a more promising future for the Jews.