We asked four writers to answer these two questions: What is your own relationship to the state of Israel? And how do you think that American Jews, as a whole, should relate to Israel? These weren’t, so to speak, the original Dissent questions or, better, the questions first pondered by the Marxist radicals who founded the magazine. As younger socialists, back in the 1930s and 1940s, they would have asked, “How should democratic leftists respond to a nationalist movement like Zionism?” Because most of these leftists were Jewish, the question might have had a special resonance for them, but they would have denied this. They were good internationalists, opposed to every form of nationalism, including their own, which wasn’t really “theirs.”
This position began to unravel in the decades immediately after the Second World War, when these democratic leftists found themselves supporting one national liberation movement after another, though they were still disengaged from, and often hostile to, Jewish national liberation. Some of them began to move, very slowly, toward an acknowledgment of the legitimacy and even the value of the new state of Israel. And then came 1967, when many (but not all) of Dissent’s Jewish editors and writers were as frightened by the crisis that preceded the Six-Day War and as exhilarated by the Israeli victory as were other American Jews. It turned out that they were emotional Zionists before they were (and some of them never were) political Zionists. I should say that I was both from the beginning. I didn’t have a Trotskyist past, and so my commitment to the Jewish state and to its people came more easily.
After 1967, the editors developed close relations with Israeli leftists and joined them in opposing the Occupation and the settlement policy of successive governments. And this was a kind of normality (which is what Zionists always aspired to). Just as we were close to democratic leftists in India, say, or in France, or in Vietnam (until the Viet Cong killed them all), or in Mexico, or in Eastern Europe, so we were close to the same kind of people in Israel. And this meant that we were hostile (but not all of us) toward those leftists who retained the old anti-Zionist hostility. Perhaps now, for those of us who are Jews, our Jewishness resonates more clearly with our politics than it did in the early days of the magazine. We are what I once called “connected critics” of both Israel’s governments and Israel’s enemies. The criticism probably has, in both cases, a fierceness that wasn’t apparent in our criticism of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, say, and isn’t apparent in our criticism of Nicolas Sarkozy’s France. We are internationalists still, though with a difference.
But a passionate fierceness was vividly present in our criticism of George W. Bush’s America. American Jewish leftists are doubly passionate. In a recent article in the New York Review of Book...
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