Recently, Yoaz Hendel wrote a scathing article attacking Professors Steven Levitsky of Harvard and Glen Weyl of the University of Chicago for writing an article in the Washington Post in which they made the Zionist case for engaging in BDS against Israel. Whether one supports BDS or not surely one should be able to recognize that the article these two Jewish Zionists wrote was out of love and not out of hatred for Israel. They favor a two-state solution in which Israel can be a Jewish state and can one day return again to being a democracy. They envision an Israel which treats all of its inhabitants as equals. They just feel that in order to achieve these goals it is necessary to place economic pressure on Israel.
This degree of nuance, however, was clearly too much for Hendel to handle. Instead of writing a respectful article outlining why he disagrees with the authors, Hendel decided instead to launch ad hominem attacks against these two brave professors, painting them as naive liberal Jews who do not understand the national struggle. A key part of Hendel’s article was to dismiss criticism of Israel by outsiders as irrelevant due to the fact they do not physically live in Israel. Hendel was quick to point out, for example, that the authors do not have to live with the threat of being attacked by Palestinians with knives. And while it is true that we Jews in North America and elsewhere do not have to live with these circumstances, this does not just magically make our arguments evaporate. If one were to use this absurd geographic standard to judge the validity of arguments then international efforts which have been well acclaimed such as ending Apartheid in South Africa would be dismissed as well.
Furthermore, Hendel’s argument is absurd due to the fact that it ignores the opinions of Palestinians and Arab Israelis who also live in these areas. Unlike Palestinians, American Jews do not have to live with daily occupation, their homes being bombed by Israeli jets and embarrassing check points. But nowhere in his article does Hendel attack American Jews who are hawkish on Israel for being naive or as not having the right to have an opinion simply due to their geographic position.
Sadly, the attacks of Hendel on these two authors are not even the most disturbing part of his article. His article was virulently racist, islamophobic and anti-Arab. At one point Hendel even remarked that , “In [his] opinion, Zionist interests are best served by having as much land as possible with as few Arabs in it as possible…”. Hendel is not only wrong in writing this but he is also engaging in incitement. Arabs in Israel face severe discrimination and this type of rhetoric only makes it stronger.
Hendel denies the importance of democracy to Zionism as well. He remarks that the national state is more important to the democratic state and that democracy is irrelevant in the Middle East (again a racist statement). Thus, Hendel is placing the national composition of Israel beyond its democratic character and human rights record. In this essence Hendel advocates for the Bour state which Herzl warned of. An anti-democratic state based upon the ideals of apartheid. It is these apartheid ideals which Hendel sells to the reader as the true form of Zionism.
This configuration of Zionism and racism by Hendel ironically plays into the hands of those in the BDS movement who believe that Zionism is a racist ideology inherently. What liberal Zionists would counter is that it is Hendel’s version of Zionism which is racist but not Zionism itself. The problem of course is that the current Israeli ruling coalition is promoting a version of Zionism which is closer to the ideals of Hendel than any sort of resemblance of democracy. If this is the future of Zionism, one which is racist and rejects democracy, then I want no part in it and I could not blame others for following my lead.
But there is another way. It is to reclaim Zionism which has been claimed by the right wing. It is to return the ideals of socialism and democracy back to Zionism. We need a fourth Zionist Revolution (1st was the creation of Zionism, 2nd was founding of Israel, 3rd was Menachem Begin’s 1977 election as PM) which will make Zionism into a democratic ideology in practice and make Israel a democracy. Yitzhak Rabin attempted to do this in the 1990s but sadly he was shot before he was able to complete his work. It is now up to us, the poor souls left behind to make the difference.