Zionism and Its Discontents

Israeli soldier near a settlement in the West Bank (Delayed Gratification, 2007, via Flickr cc)

Books Discussed in this Essay:

The Crisis of Zionism
by Peter Beinart
Times Books, 2012, 289 pp.

The Unmaking of Israel
by Gershom Gorenberg
HarperCollins, 2011, 325 pp.

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me
by Harvey Pekar and JT Waldman
Hill and Wang, 2012, 172 pp.

Underground to Palestine and Reflections Thirty Years Later
by I.F. Stone
Hutchinson & Co., 1979, 260 pp.
(first publication, 1946)

At a downtown Manhattan dinner party several months ago, the name of a widely respected journalist—author of an acclaimed book on genocide in Africa—was mentioned. This is a man whose work, though not immune to criticism, is generally regarded as brilliant and humane. “Why, he’s a Zionist!” one guest hissed, with the contempt that in previous eras would have been reserved for fascists or members of the Ku Klux Klan. Everyone at the table seemed to nod with satisfaction—we’re done with him!—until I said, somewhat stumblingly, “Well, I am too. I mean, I believe in a state for the Jewish people.” The other guests—left-wing academics, accomplished people, smart people, good people, some of whom I not only like but love—looked dumbfounded. An embarrassed silence ensued.

I thought about that evening as I read Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, which insists that an end to the Israeli Occupation and a rejuvenation of that country’s democratic institutions are equally exigent and utterly interdependent tasks. The book’s main argument is simple, yet essentially right: “Our tradition insists that physical collapse was preceded by ethical collapse….Israel’s physical survival is bound up with its ethical survival.” Beinart, former editor of the New Republic, pleads for liberal American Jews (those who, unlike my dinner-party friends, still believe in both the possibility and necessity of a democratic Jewish state) to re-engage, urgently, with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than leave it to rich reactionaries such as Sheldon Adelson and Ronald Lauder and, increasingly, the Orthodox. (Of the typical donor to mainstream American Zionist organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Beinart writes, “What he is buying for Israel, with his check, is American indifference—indifference to Palestinian suffering and indifference to the principles in Israel’s declaration of independence.”) In Beinart’s view, Jews need to undergo a kind of shift in consciousness from victim to actor (thus mirroring the shift in consciousness demanded by the original Zionists): a shift, that is, “from Jewish powerlessness to Jewish power.” How to govern an independent state and live in the world as modern citizens—not (just) how to survive—is the Jewish people’s contemporary challenge.

“We are not history’s permanent victims,” Beinart, who attends an Orthodox synagogue, insists. “Many of our greatest challenges today stem not from weakness but from power….Accepting that the Jewish condition has fundamentally changed requires looking to our tradition for guidance about how Jews should treat the people we rule, not just how we should endure treatment from the people who rule us.” Only the establishment of real borders—only the establishment of a Palestinian state—can prevent Israel from becoming a permanent ethnocracy in which Jews rule over millions of stateless, vote-less, rights-less people, and in which its own democratic institutions, such as the Supreme Court, are routinely flouted: “The struggle for a liberal democratic Zionism, therefore, . . . must also be a struggle to satisfy the Palestinians’ national yearning for a state of their own.”


I am grateful that Beinart wrote this book; I hope that it reaches those outside of the “shtetlsphere,” and even that it changes a few minds. But there is not much in it that is either deep or new. The Crisis of Zionism is a good book—and what’s rarer, a necessary one—but it is also unremarkable. One can find all of Beinart’s ideas—not to mention ones that are considerably more radical—in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz any day of the week. (See, for instance, Bradley Burston’s July 3 column, written in response to the Netanyahu government’s proposal to establish an Israeli university in the West Bank settlement of Ariel—a clear statement by the government that it considers the Green Line meaningless. Burston, who lives in Israel and describes himself as “a person who has long embraced the label of Zionist,” argues that, with such proposals, “the [Zionist] revolution’s over…[It is] time to think seriously about what democracy really means. Time to think seriously, for example, about what it would mean to give the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem the vote….We should call our own bluff.”)

Given the level of alarmed debate and self-criticism in at least some major sectors of the Israeli press, the tsunami of vitriol that has descended on Beinart and his book is fascinating, puzzling, and profoundly depressing. Negative—sometimes savage—reviews have appeared not only in the usual suspects such as Commentary and the Wall Street Journal but also in the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post, Tablet, and the Jewish Review of Books, among others. (J.J. Goldberg of the Forward accurately observed that the book has caused “normally high-minded publications to come unhinged.”) A startling cognitive dissonance prevails between the essential moderateness of Beinart’s book and the sarcastic fury it has inspired in mainstream publications. Alana Newhouse, writing in the Washington Post, described Crisis as “a political stump speech” and a “fantasy” that erects a “self-satisfied and delusional monolith, calculated to appeal to”—the cruelest cut—“beautiful souls”; Jordan Chandler Hirsch in the Jewish Review of Books called it “shallow,” “false,” and “simplistic”; Jonathan Rosen in the New York Times Book Review derided it as “an antiquated act” of “Manichean simplicities” that “liberates” itself from “the practicalities of politics”; Bret Stephens, in Tablet, found the book to be “emotionally contrived” and “an act of moral solipsism” that is simultaneously “oleaginous” and dripping with “icy contempt.” Beinart himself has been attacked for using too many researchers and too many secondary sources, for abstraction, for nostalgia, for pathologizing Jewish politics, for his “safe and comfortable lifestyle,” and even for not discussing “the state of Palestinian agriculture…before 1967.” It all seems a bit meshugana. Writing about the Beinart debate in Haaretz, Mira Sucharov mocked the absurd competition in which (guilty) American Jews vie with each other: “Who loves Israel? Who likes Israel? Who is ambivalent, who feels smitten, and who feels lust? Who wants to get married to Israel? Who wants to keep things platonic? Who prefers to be ‘frenemies’?” Reading the American reviews en masse, one gets the distinct impression that the writers doth protest too much.

Beinart’s book is, of course, hardly flawless. Profound, it is not. More specifically, he underplays the long and continuing history of Palestinian terror—not to mention the ayatollah in Iran and the eager martyrs of Hezbollah—and, therefore, the fears of Israelis. (That Israel is strong and, simultaneously, faces real dangers is no oxymoron; those who ridicule Benjamin Netanyahu’s frequent evocation of 1938 shouldn’t deny that 2012 holds quite enough perils of its own.) As Hebrew University professor David Shulman explained, in his review of Crisis in the New York Review of Books, “We’re afraid. We’ve been so traumatized, first by our whole history and then by the history of this conflict, that we want at least an illusion of security, like the kind that comes from holding on to a few more rocky hills.” But fear and strategy are two different things: too often, an unexamined, almost Pavlovian, response links acknowledgment of Israel’s fierce enemies with continuance of the Occupation, as if the former necessarily justifies the latter—or, even more, as if the latter protects against the former. Au contraire: Shulman describes the Occupation as “irrational, indeed suicidal”—a policy that endangers both the Israeli state as a whole and individual Israelis—and comes to the same conclusion as Beinart: “The likelihood must be faced that unless the Occupation ends, there will also, in the not so distant future, be no Jewish state.” (Shulman’s main quibble with Beinart’s book is that its description of the Occupation is “far too mild.”) And, it should be remembered, there are many—many!—books that discuss the irredentism and political pathologies of the Palestinian movement, such as Benny Morris’s 2009 One State, Two State.

Beinart was aiming to do something different: his book is not a history of the conflict (much less a report on Palestinian olive groves). He was trying to address American Jews as American Jews, to impress upon us the catastrophe of the Occupation for Israelis as well as Palestinians, to make clear that a two-state solution is on the verge of becoming impossible, and to argue why we should care. The aim of Zionism, after all, was never (just) to secure a parcel of land, or to provide self-defense, or even to offer refuge, though it encompassed all three. From the beginning, the movement also embodied the stirring vision of a Hebrew revival—cultural, political, ethical—to be based, as the Israeli Declaration of Independence put it so well, “on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets” and on “the full social and political equality of all its citizens.” Israel was always—like the United States—both a country and a set of ideals. Thus, Beinart writes, “If Egypt fails to become a democracy, I will consider it unfortunate. If Israel ceases to be a democracy, I will consider it one of the greatest tragedies of my life.” His book is, essentially, addressed to those like Paul Krugman, who recently admitted on his New York Times blog, “Like many liberal American Jews…I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going.” Beinart wants Krugman to understand that the tragedy will be his, too, even if Krugman has the luxury—for now—of believing otherwise.


The other major shortfall of Beinart’s book is its proposals. He advocates, first, a boycott of “nondemocratic” Israel, that is, of exports from, and investments in, the Occupied Territories. Although some Israelis have embarked, whether officially or not, on such a boycott, it seems to be a practical impossibility for Americans to figure out what comes from where, and to buy or invest in only supposedly clean products. (In any case, as Noam Sheizaf wrote in the Israeli webzine +972mag, “The occupation is…an Israeli project. It is not the work of the racist settlers…but the decision of the entire society.”) Aside from practical problems, there are political ones, too. Though Beinart opposes a general boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions, his proposal can only be confused with the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement—whose aim, contra Beinart, is to ostracize and weaken Israel.

Beinart’s second proposal is even worse—and, not incidentally, unconstitutional: a call for the U.S. government to fund Jewish schools. He believes this would strengthen Jewish life in this country; I believe it would ghettoize it. (If you want to send your kid to Hebrew school or Jewish day school, pay for it or find someone—maybe Sheldon Adelson?—who will.) In any case, with this demand Beinart clasps hands, somewhat inexplicably, with right-wing evangelicals who would erode the separation of church and state—and whose increasing influence among American Zionists is terrifying to anyone who wants to see an end to the Occupation rather than the second coming of Christ. That church-state separation is, of course, one of the glories of American democracy, and one that is now under assault. “American Jewish liberals need to recalibrate their fears” about government funding, Beinart argues. I don’t think so.


There is a repetitive quality to the debates over Israel; this consistency is one of the most frustrating and bleakest things about it. When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians, history has repeated itself far more than once: though never, I would argue, as anything approaching farce. It is therefore not surprising to find that almost everything that’s worthwhile in Beinart’s book—and more—can be found in Gershom Gorenberg’s The Unmaking of Israel, which was published last year. Gorenberg, a historian and journalist, lives in Jerusalem and describes himself on his website as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” His book is solidly researched and elegantly argued. It combines history and analysis, love and anger. Somehow, it avoids moralism. If you read one book on Israel, this should be it.

“I am concerned that the state of Israel is steadily dismantling itself,” Gorenberg begins. He describes the Occupation as a weird mutant: a rogue operation that undermines the authority of the state and yet is supported by it. And he argues that the three main threats facing Israel are internal, and inextricably entwined: “the ongoing occupation, the fostering of religious extremism, the undercutting of the law by the government itself.” In answer to those on the left who insist that a so-called one-state solution is inevitable, and to those on the right who argue that a besieged Israel has no alternatives to the path it has chosen, Gorenberg insists that change is possible and that choices exist. This calm, sane voice—this belief in reason and freedom, in power and responsibility, in possibility—are among Gorenberg’s greatest gifts to the reader. “History is not an inevitable process, of redemption or of decay,” he avers. “It is not written in advance….The changes I’ve described—ending the occupation, guaranteeing full equality, separating state and synagogue—require a much smaller revolution than did the establishment of the country.” But there is nothing dewy-eyed about Gorenberg’s analysis, and he knows that a huge and possibly unbridgeable chasm exists between what is possible and what will be. Israel’s “democratic ideals,” he warns, “are on the verge of being remembered among the false political promises of twentieth-century ideologies.”

Slowly, carefully, devastatingly, Gorenberg shows how the settlements and the more recent “outposts” have made a mockery of Israel’s rule of law—of how, that is, they contravene not only international laws but Israel’s own. Take, for instance, Ofrah, which was built, according to an Israeli government report, “with no legal basis” on land owned by Palestinians. In fact, Ofrah was constructed “without government permission, with the express goal of undermining the foreign policy of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin,” Gorenberg writes. “Ofrah epitomizes casual disregard for property rights and for the land-use laws of Israel’s military government in occupied territory. Yet…it has benefited from…a legal system that mocks equality before the law, applying entirely separate rules to Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the same territory. Ofrah …is where the state of Israel unthinkingly attacks its own foundations.” As for the Israeli Supreme Court—often proudly cited as a bedrock of Israeli democracy—its rulings against settlements and outposts have been routinely flouted. “The Supreme Court justices…are painfully aware that the proceedings in settlement cases have become a mockery,” Gorenberg writes. “The government…would not end its collusion with the settlers. So Supreme Court hearings became theater, disconnected from the real world.” Some of Beinart’s critics have accused him of trying to impose an inapt American-style democracy on Israel; but what kind of democracy, under any definition, is this?


I don’t think that Gorenberg is a Marxist, but he is certainly a dialectician, and it is in contradictions that he finds the meaning of Israel’s history, the source of its present dilemmas, and the possibility of its reclamation. (Debating whether Zionism is a democratic liberation movement or an oppressive colonial one is, he writes, “like a debate over whether water is really oxygen or really hydrogen.”) The most fascinating part of his book is his analysis of how the settlements, now so associated with the Right, grew out of Israel’s left-wing, indeed revolutionary, tradition.

For the early Zionists, settlement meant the ennoblement of physical labor, development of the economy, military defense, the securing of land and eventual borders, and the building of socialism. But with the declaration of independence and the victory in 1948, Zionism was no longer a revolutionary opposition movement but, rather, had morphed into a nation-state that “had achieved self-determination.” It was the subsequent victory of 1967 that, in Gorenberg’s words, “pulled the settlement ideal from the grave and gave it an unnatural new life.” The new settlers, like their forefathers, saw themselves as rebels. But against what? The state they were defying was not the British Mandate but, rather, their own, and the strategy that had been used to establish borders was now used to annul them. In this analysis, the settlements represent the true tragedy of Zionism: the failure to make “the transition from revolution to institution, from movement to state.”

While those who long for the old Israel—the pre-Occupation Israel—are often accused of nostalgia, it is the settlers, Gorenberg implies, who are guilty of the deadliest nostalgia of all. “From July 1967, all those involved in settlement saw themselves as serving Zionism. In fact, they were doing the opposite. They were living backward, turning a state into a movement. Stone by stone, they were dismantling the state of Israel.”

Thus, Gorenberg’s book can be read as an indictment of the strategy, much beloved by Trotskyists, Maoists, and various other ultra-leftists, of “permanent revolution.” The Unmaking of Israel is a great warning about the ways in which a liberation strategy can become a tool of reaction, and of how a kind of political arrested development can reverse even the most progressive achievements. American readers may be reminded, unhappily, of our very own Tea Party, which insists that its anti-tax revolt—so deeply injurious to the social safety net and to the very idea of a common good—is actually the fulfillment of Jefferson’s and Paine’s revolutionary ideals. Neither Israeli settlers nor American Tea Partiers seem to have noticed that their respective countries won their wars of independence, that the governments they are attacking are not foreign tyrannies, and that the programs they espouse represent dysfunction and chaos rather than freedom.

Gorenberg’s critique of what we might call Zionism’s political immaturity is shared (and, in some cases, was predated) by others—and not only one-staters or anti-Zionists. A decade ago, the Canadian-born writer Bernard Avishai, who divides his time between Israel and the United States, wrote that “Zionism’s central ideas, while sound in their time, were never meant to serve as the organizing principles of a democratic state….Three generations after the Zionist revolution succeeded, Zionist ideas had become wrong.” Avishai argued that it is not only the “misguided messianism” of the settlers that must be fought; basic government institutions that by definition favor Jews over Arabs, such as the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Land Authority, should be disbanded. These institutions made sense in the context of building—that is, becoming—a state, but their fundamentally anti-democratic character is now indefensible.


I wish that the late Harvey Pekar could have read Peter Beinart’s book; I would love to know what he would have thought. (Pekar died, age seventy, in 2010.) In the new graphic novel Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, Pekar, longtime writer of the American Splendor comic strip, and illustrator JT Waldman explore the conundrums that Israel presents for liberal and left-wing Jews. “For centuries Jews endured horrible suffering and like other people deserve the right to self-determination, but the current trajectory of Israel frightens me,” Pekar writes. The book’s title is far more polemical than its content; Pekar poses wistful, difficult questions rather than launching complaints or attacks. Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me is also, as fans of American Splendor would expect, frequently hilarious, though in a wry and quiet way.

Pekar tells us that he never went to Israel, “but it’s been a part of my life since childhood.” His parents were Polish Jews who were enthusiastic Zionists—supporters, that is, of a Jewish state—though his mother was also “an ardent Marxist.” (In one panel, we see her reading matter: a book or pamphlet whose cover boasts a Star of David and a hammer and sickle.) Pekar takes us through his childhood in Cleveland, including the rather traumatic preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. “Harvey, there’s a thin line between genius and crazy and you’ve crossed it,” his Hebrew-school teacher observes before kicking him out. (Ultimately Pekar’s dad finds an “old guy,” a private tutor, who teaches Harvey well.)

Much of Not the Israel documents Pekar and Waldman’s travels, albeit somewhat idiosyncratic, through Jewish history. (To understand contemporary Israel, Pekar says, “You gotta look at the big picture, including the old stuff.”) Pekar and Waldman start with the really old stuff—Abraham—and take us up to the present. At one point, Waldman sums up Jewish history as “hope, fear, redemption, remembering not to forget…yearning for an impossible future…All the ingredients for a perfect Jewish homeland.” This slight book presents, of course, a vastly truncated history, but that—along with its tone of almost childlike understatement—is part of its charm. Of the seventeenth century, Pekar writes, “Scholars argue about how many thousands of Jews were murdered by the Cossacks. Suffice it to say it was not a good time to be Jewish and in Eastern Europe. After that, things just stayed bad for Jews.” While this might not say quite everything, who can disagree with such a reasonable assessment?

As a boy, Pekar cheers the founding of the Jewish state and, later, Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. But in the 1960s he begins “hanging out with Marxists and leftists,” and doubts about Israel’s political development, and the Occupation, emerge. (“Did they just ply you with dope and alcohol and get you to turn against Israel?” Waldman asks Pekar, referring to Harvey’s new friends.) The building of the settlements causes particular angst: “Gevalt! Are these people serious?” Pekar asks. “These guys think that just because we Jews have suffered horrible injustices for centuries that virtually anything they do to advance the cause of Israel is legal.”

Nonetheless, sometime in the mid-sixties, an aimless, unemployed Pekar—who has already been sacked by the U.S. Navy “because I couldn’t wash my clothes right”—considers emigrating to Israel. The book’s funniest section ensues as Pekar learns, alas, that the ingathering of the exiles includes every Jew in the world except Harvey Pekar. “It would be a big mistake for you to go to Israel,” warns Mr. Cohen, the Israeli official with whom Pekar meets. Perhaps, Pekar asks, he could join a kibbutz? “They wouldn’t take you, and if they did, they’d throw you out,” Cohen explains. Not one of Pekar’s admittedly few skills impresses Cohen in the least. (“Music critic? We don’t need music critics in Israel!”) Pekar concludes, “What the guy was saying was that I was a loser, and Israel had no time to rehabilitate schmucks….Israel probably had enough trouble with neurotic American Jews.”

Pekar avoids easy, cheap resolutions and comes to no definitive conclusions about Israel—though he does reject Waldman’s suggestion to “send the Jews to outer space. Everyone will be happier if we’re out there.” Near the end of this tale, we see Pekar sitting in the library with, quite literally, nothing to say: all the learned books cannot, apparently, provide a solution to what often seems like the world’s most intractable conflict. Yet the book concludes on a lovely, and less desolate, note. In the Epilogue, written by Pekar’s widow, Joyce Brabner, we learn that she gave Pekar a Jewish burial, though one without a rabbi or cantor. “I was…determined to organize something for him that was, as he was, proudly Jewish, but not nationalist,” Brabner writes. “A friend…wrote and guided a gentle service in which he substituted Cleveland, instead of Israel, as Harvey’s place of belonging.”


Those who believe that “you gotta look at the big picture, including the old stuff” to understand Israel’s contemporary dilemmas have many sources, but one of the best is I.F. Stone’s Underground to Palestine, originally published in 1946. This is not because a revisiting of post-Holocaust emigration to Israel somehow justifies the Occupation, any more than Hamas’s crimes do. But Stone’s account of his illegal boat trip with a group of (mainly young) Holocaust survivors, from an unnamed port in Europe to Haifa, is a rich reminder of why the establishment of Israel was not an imperialist project, why much of the Left at the time supported it, and why Israel would win its war of independence two years later. “They have nothing to lose,” Stone observes of his comrades on this trip. “Such people, in such a mood, are not easily defeated. They who knew the SS are not terrified by the British. They who saw the gas chambers are not frightened by a naval blockade….I say here what I said in private to Azzam Bey Pasha, head of the Arab League, over coffee in Cairo….‘ Nothing will stop the people I traveled with from rebuilding a great Jewish community in Palestine.’” Stone’s book—like its successor, This Is Israel, published in 1948—is also an excellent reminder of Britain’s unforgivably destructive Mideast policies as it cynically extricated itself from the Mandate. Here, truly, was the colonial power, aligned with some of the most reactionary forces in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, and Palestine. “The British government wants the Middle East to remain an area of backwardness,” Stone charged. “They offer freedom neither to the Arabs nor to the Jews….The world will yet see that this is a struggle from which Britain will emerge with shame, but not with victory.” Here, I would suggest, is a key to the obsessive anti-Zionism that pervades the British Left today.

My edition of Stone’s book contains an addendum entitled “Confessions of a Jewish Dissident” and “The Other Zionism,” which consists of pieces published in the New York Review of Books in 1978. Sadly, much of what Stone wrote then could be written today, though the political situation—among both Israelis and Palestinians—is infinitely worse now than it was thirty-five years ago; indeed, that time seems almost innocent in retrospect. Stone does not disown his former Zionist comrades—nor his medal from the Haganah!—and he does not rue the founding, and the existence, of the Jewish state. But he writes that, as an opponent of the Occupation, he is ostracized by the mainstream Jewish community (“Commentary has become the principal pillory for Americans who dissent from the Israeli hard line”—talk about consistency!), and his views receive more of an airing in Tel Aviv than in New York. Of Israeli politics, he observes, “Yet the center of moral gravity in the Zionist movement has moved steadily rightward. It is hard to find any trace of that prophetic ethic…in Prime Minister Begin.” Most important, he delineates what, in 1978, was the only solution to the conflict—which, in 2012, is still the only solution to the conflict: “The two peoples must live together, either in the same Palestinian state or side by side…But either solution requires…a recognition that two peoples—not one—occupy the same land and have the same rights….Reconciliation alone can guarantee Israel’s survival.”


Every July 4, starting in the 1960s, my father would hoist an American flag over our house in Fire Island. (As it happens, I.F. Stone lived a block away from us, and he was a figure of much reverence.) This was at the height of the Vietnam War—which my father had opposed since the Tonkin Gulf resolution (“It’s a phony!” he presciently claimed)—when stars and stripes were associated with the likes of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew and Richard J. Daley. “Why should they own the flag?” my father, a proud WWII veteran, asked. “The flag belongs to us too!”

I think the same about the current debates over Israel. Why should Mortimer Zuckerman—or Mitt Romney or, god forbid, Christians United for Israel—be described as “pro-Israel”? Alternately, why should we on the left disown the founding principles of Zionism, and its great achievements, because of what post-’67 Israeli governments have done—any more than we have disowned socialism because of what the Soviet Union became? The “actually existing Zionism” of Sharon and Netanyahu is not the only possible kind, regardless of what Adam Shatz or Philip Weiss or Jacqueline Rose might say.

If Beinart’s book—and those that preceded it—do any good, it will be by helping to reframe the discussion over Israel. And so, to make clear: Ending the Occupation is pro-Israel. Disbanding the settlements is pro-Israel. (Indeed, Gorenberg calls this “the authentic Zionist task of the moment.”) An economically vibrant Israel is pro-Israel. The restoration of secular, democratic Israeli institutions is pro-Israel. Borders are pro-Israel.

Some on the left, including the Israeli Left, have argued that it is already too late for all this: the Occupation has lasted too long, the settlements have spread too far, a two-state solution is no longer possible. “Israeli settlements are a by-product of Israeli democracy and not a negation of it,” Joseph Dana, a Jewish-American journalist based in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, recently argued in the National. But the question of two-state viability is no longer being posed only by anti-Zionists or binationalists. Longtime Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin recently wrote an anguished column in the relatively centrist Jerusalem Post about what, he fears, is the imminent death of the two-state solution—and, therefore, of his “Zionist dream.” “I see a great disaster about to unfold,” he warned. “I simply cannot understand why people are not shouting ‘don’t let this happen!’…What do we do when partition is no longer possible?…The two-state solution…is no more than a speech, empty words on paper with absolutely no value any more.”

And so the question we need to ask, and answer, is not whether Peter Beinart loves the Jews but whether Gershon Baskin’s despair—or, alternately, Gershom Gorenberg’s belief in political possibility—is right.


Susie Linfield’s book The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence has recently been published in paperback and is being translated into Italian and Turkish. She directs the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University, where she teaches journalism.

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