The Failures of Progressive-Left Zionism: Frenemies

If the first way in which progressive-left Zionism is failing is in its ostrich-like reluctance to acknowledge, and seriously discuss, the rise of the Jihad throughout the Muslim Middle East, and another way is through their justifying bigotry against their own people, and yet another is in the fact that they always play defense, and yet still another way is through the tendency to fall into the moral equivalency canard, and if they also fail to place the conflict within the context of Jewish history, yet another failing is in their inability to stand up to their own movement.

I feel bad for progressive-left Jews who care about Israel and who care about America and American politics.  They are in an entirely untenable position and have been put into that untenable position by their own frenemies within the larger progressive-left.  A recent comment by Ziontruth says it neatly.

He writes:

The sad thing is that Jewish Progressives don’t need to abandon any Progressive positions except anti-Zionism in order to be considered Zionists even by the rightmost of right-wing Zionists, yet they do, increasingly, have to renounce just that one tenet—Zionism—if they don’t want to be ostracized by their fellow Progressives.

That is correct and directly to the point.  I am not of the Jewish right-wing, nor am I of the American right-wing, but there is no question that even right-wing Zionists do not push any Jews out of their tent besides anti-Zionists.  Anti-Zionists, including Jewish anti-Zionists, are bigots who work directly against the well-being of the Jewish people because they would deny to us precisely what they accept for everyone else on the planet, i.e., self-determination.

At the same time it is becoming, year by year, increasingly difficult to participate on the progressive-left if one is out as a Jew and supports the Jewish State of Israel.  Polls have consistently shown that Republicans and conservatives are far more friendly toward Israel than are Democrats and progressives.  As anyone who follows Jewish politics – or, at least, American Jewish politics – knows, during the last Democratic Party national convention Israel was literally booed by Democratic Party officials who whittled away support for that country in their party platform.

As someone who participated for many years on the progressive-left, and within the grassroots / netroots of the Democratic Party, I saw the acidic erosion of support for Israel among them first-hand.  In prominent journals such as the Huffington Post or the Guardian, not to mention formerly prominent blogs like Daily Kos, to be pro-Israel is fine so long as one is anti-Israel in the process.  This what David Harris-Gershon, of Daily Kos and Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine, has done much to prove.

One can only be a Jewish “pro-Israel” advocate on the progressive-left if one agrees that Israel is a racist, colonialist, imperialist, militarist, apartheid, racist state that, perhaps, should never have come into being to begin with.  So long as one accepts that proposition one can participate on the left as a “pro-Israel” advocate.   If, on the other hand, one honestly supports the rights of the Jewish people to peace and sovereignty on historically Jewish land, and if one is willing to stand up and say so, then you’ve got trouble.

It is like waving a red banner before a charging bull.  It is not, by the way, that most progressives despise Israel.  It is simply that they tend to agree that Israel is a racist, colonialist, imperialist, militarist, apartheid, racist state and are thus in sympathy for those who would see the Jewish people robbed of self-determination and self-defense on moral grounds.  It is for this reason that anti-Semitic anti-Zionism has made a cozy home for itself within progressive-left venues.  Without the acceptance and approval of the larger left, progressive-left anti-Zionism could not have made a place for itself within that movement.

And this represents the dilemma for progressive-left Zionists.

The Jewish left has failed on so many levels and part of what we do at Israel Thrives is discuss this sad phenomenon.  The reason that we do so is because many of us are refugees from the progressive-left, itself.  Progressive-left Zionists, however, are trapped like rats.  As progressives they cannot really support Israel and as Zionists they cannot really not support Israel.  This makes them something like a still living bug pinned to a board.  They can wave around their six or eight legs, but they cannot actually get anywhere.

There are any number of ways to react to this situation.  The way that I have chosen is to withdraw all support from the progressive-left and the Democratic Party and to be a critic of that movement and party so long as they persist in accepting anti-Semitic anti-Zionism as part of their larger coalition.  This is not the only option, however.  I see no reason why a genuinely pro-Israel person cannot remain identified with the left if they wish to reform the movement from within.

For most diaspora Jews being pro-Israel is simply one position among others.  It is often a prominent position, but it is not our sole concern.  A pro-Israel advocate on the progressive-left need not make their pro-Israel advocacy their foremost defining political feature.  One can work for women’s rights and for Gay rights and for the anti-war movement and for the environment and for a tax code more genuinely fair to the poor and the working class.

What one cannot do, however, is deny the truth about left-wing disdain for Israel.

There is no reason that a pro-Israel advocate cannot remain on the left so long as he or she understands, and is willing to acknowledge, that the progressive movement – which is the home for the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel – is not a friend to either the Jewish people or the Jewish State of Israel.

It seems to me, as one who comes out of the Jewish left, that the Jewish left has much to answer for, whether they like it or not.  As a general rule, they refuse to seriously address the rise of political Islam.  They justify bigotry against Jews who live in Judea and Samaria.  They seem always to play defense in their support for Israel.  They often fail to understand that Jewish self-defense is not morally equivalent to anti-Jewish violence.  They fail to place the conflict within the long history of Jewish oppression under the boot of Arab-Muslim imperialism.  And they do not do a very good job of standing up to their own movement, their own frenemies.

Progressive-left Zionism, in its current form, is a failed movement.

I say it’s time to move on.


Mike Lumish is the editor of Israel Thrives.

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at
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