Gazing at My Navel While Thinking About Israel

Nation piece about J Street and such mentions me in a complimentary light. Woo.

I’m trying to think about this a bit since I’m going to be speaking at the J Street Conference pretty soon. One thing that I think is underdiscussed in this context is the domestic political shifts in Israel. I got the lion’s share of my Zionist indoctrination in the early-to-mid 1990s. At that time, the peace process was a hot-button partisan political controversy in Israel. And the incumbents were the pro-peace, secular, social democratic Labor Party. For the members and leaders of a Reform synagogue in Greenwich Village, it was obvious that to be “pro Israel” meant to be supportive of the pro-peace, secular, social democrats who ran Israel. That also meant being sympathetic to their partners in the Arab world (moderate PLO leaders, the King of Jordan, the government of Egypt) and being hostile to their antagonists on the Greater Israel right. Hostile as well, of course, to the suicide bombers and murderers of innocent Jews.

But being supportive of Israel had relatively little to do with adopting a favorable stance toward tribal nationalism and violence. Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat were, in some sense, on the same side—the side of peace, reason, and negotiation—while their respective murderers were on the side of violence, fanaticism, nationalism, and war.

Today, though, Israeli politics consists primarily of a debate between two factions of the right-wing opposition to Rabin. The country is governed by what amounts to a right-wing splinter faction from the right-wing party in alliance with a further right-wing party. Obviously, a dramatic rightward lurch is something a democracy is allowed to engage in. But for an American raised on an Oslo-era vision of Israel, working in a context where US politics is moving away from aggressive nationalism it’s a disorienting situation.