In Depth: “Not My Zionism”

Israel is losing the support of America’s young, liberal Jews.

By Peter Bjel.

This summer marked two key anniversaries in Israel’s recent history. It has been seventy years since the United Nations voted in favor of partitioning then-Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, a vote rejected by the Palestinians and their allies in the region, ensuring that Israel’s existence would be marked by routine conflict. It has also been fifty years since Israel’s victory in the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, the aftermaths of which still reverberate in Israel, the region, and the broader Jewish world.

For Israel, victory enabled it to affirm itself on the world stage as a reckonable power, fulfilling a crucial vision of the Zionist movement that had long jockeyed for Jewish statehood as the answer to anti-Semitism and the tragic contours of Jewish history. But its territorial gains have turned into a permanent and increasingly lurid occupation that now threatens Israel’s democratic culture and its viability as a Jewish state.

The threats facing the country and its people are real and cannot be neglected, and they at least partly explain why so few Israelis today hold much hope for the peace process or any rapprochement with its Arab citizens and the Palestinian people. “Precisely because we are shrouded in uncertainty, we Israelis insist on believing in ourselves, in our nation-state, and in our future,” writes Ari Shavit in My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, “and yet there is always the fear that one day … my beloved homeland will crumble as enormous Arab masses or mighty Islamic forces overcome its defenses and eradicate its existence.”

The other reality, however, is not an external menace, but one that threatens Israel from within its own borders and due to its own policies, beginning in the aftermath of June 1967—as Shavit personally witnessed as a child:

“Within a few weeks the mighty Arabs were transformed into victims, while the endangered Israelis became conquerors. The Jewish state was now triumphant and proud and drunk with a heady sense of power. As malignant as it is, occupation has become an integral part of the Jewish state’s being … I cannot deny the fact or escape the fact that my nation has become an occupying nation.”

That is where the Middle East peace process remains, bleakly locked in a cycle of conflict. New generations of Israeli and Palestinian civilians have known only mutual hostility. Amid this, a new threat to Israel and its challenges has emerged in the last few years, emanating from …

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