The Delusions of ‘Liberal’ Zionism

By Roger Sheety

The most recent diatribe by Israeli writer A. B. Yehoshua published by Haaretz represents the latest nail in the ideological coffin of so-called liberal Zionism.  Writing out of his comfortable home in Haifa, a city that was ethnically cleansed of most of its original Palestinian residents by the end of 1948 through multiple terror campaigns and massacres, Yehoshua spends an entire article at once fuming over what he calls Palestinian “passivity” in the face of daily Israeli brutality in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and simultaneously dreading what he believes is the inevitable forthcoming bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Yehoshua personifies a certain type much favoured by the Israeli/Western left, a supposed liberal Zionist who speaks of co-existence and dialogue and yet can barely tolerate the indigenous Palestinian population that remains so close to him; a novelist and playwright with several awards to his name, who is written about and praised endlessly by Zionist apologists (particularly in North America) as an example of Israeli liberalism and generosity.  Harold Bloom, the eminent American literary critic, referred to him as “a kind of Israeli Faulkner” in the New York Times.  According to the Village Voice, "Yehoshua’s stories find their way right into the unconscious … Nobel prizes have been given for less."

Yet for all his apparent sensitivity, his artistic pathos and various accolades, he remains a man who can scarcely hide a deep-seated contempt for Palestinians and non-Zionist Jews alike.  By their words you shall know them, therefore let us more closely examine Yehoshua’s Haaretz article, titled “An unwelcome intro to the bi-national state” which begins as a response to an earlier article by Avraham Burg:

“Apart from the religious camp (owing to the structure of its religious identity), apart from the camp of the secular extremist right (owing to the violence of its fantasies), and apart from the post-Zionist left (owing to its humanitarian-cosmopolitan vision), all other political and ideological camps in Israel grasp and articulate the fact that a bi-national state in Eretz Israel is a dangerous and unfavorable possibility, both in the short term and (more particularly) in the long term.”

In his odd division of Israeli society as it stands, Yehoshua fails to mention the indigenous Palestinian citizens of Israel who form about twenty percent of the state.  He also fails to mention the four million Palestinians currently living under harsh Israeli military occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  The several more millions of Palestinians in Diaspora and exile, who are entitled to return to their usurped homes under international law, also do not exist for Yehoshua.  It is not clear then, after all these classifications, who exactly does Yehoshua speak for besides himself?  He also informs us without explanation that bi-nationalism, as he sees it, is a terrible thing, that it is a “dangerous and unfavorable possibility both in the short term and (more particularly) in the long term.”

A clarification of Yehoshua’s dread, however, comes in this paragraph:

“Even if many of us believe that it is possible to prevent the creation of such a state through forceful political steps, there still remains an obligation to prepare for it, both intellectually and emotionally, just as we prepare for other states of emergency. The aim of such preparation is to guarantee that a bi-national state will not undermine Israel’s democratic structure, and will not completely destroy the Jewish-Israeli collective identity that took shape over the past several decades.”

At this point the reader must ask, what does Yehoshua mean by “bi-nationalism”?  Although he is afraid to come out and say it, most know that, within the context of Palestine/Israel, what Yehoshua really means by “bi-nationalism” is a true democracy:  full and equal rights for all regardless of ethnic or religious background; one person, one vote, a non-apartheid entity between the river and the sea—this is what frightens and disturbs him and other Zionist ideologues.  Indeed, so dangerous is democracy to Yehoshua that Israel must prepare for it as it “prepares for other states of emergency.” 

But who is to blame for this creeping, ominous bi-nationalism (that is, real democracy)?  It is not only those do-gooders in Israel, the “humanitarian-cosmopolitans” as he calls them (that is, non-Zionist Jews), who are at fault, but also the Palestinians.  “We must realize that a bi-national state would not arise solely due to Israel’s doings,” Yehoshua writes, “its establishment also would be abetted by the silent cooperation of Palestinians, both within Israel and beyond its borders.”  Thus, not only are Palestinians at fault for being indigenous to Palestine, but they are also to blame for demanding to be treated as full equals to Israelis.  What chutzpah.   

Further, Palestinians are conspiring to bring about this evil bi-nationalism through what he calls Palestinian passivity:

“This [Palestinian] vision also explains the otherwise unfathomable passivity of the Palestinians with regard to organizing civil, non-violent protest against the settlements. Perhaps it also accounts for their staying asleep at nights when thugs burn their mosques.  Unlike their brethren in Syria and other Arab states – who, bare-chested, confront army bullets fired by their own compatriots – the Palestinians passively watch accelerated settlement construction; and with their sub-conscious patience they drag us toward a bi-national state.”

Here we arrive at the climax of Yehoshua’s colonial hubris, for it seems that he is not at all aware that Palestinians have been resisting colonial powers and demanding recognition of their inalienable rights long before there was ever such a thing as the apartheid entity of “Israel.”  In fact, only a few weeks before Yehoshua penned his article, Mustafa Tamimi, 28, was murdered by Israeli Occupation forces in his village of Nabi Saleh, shot in the face by a cowardly “soldier” with a high-powered tear gas gun while hiding in his armoured vehicle.  Tamimi was indeed figuratively “bare-chested,” to use Yehoshua’s childish, clichéd, macho language, as he confronted his aggressors but it did not save him from his fate.  During that same week, Israeli bombers also killed and maimed several Palestinians in Gaza who, “bare-chested” or not, were unlikely to even see their killers before being obliterated by Israeli bombs.

Yehoshua, however, also extends his colonialist attitude to other Jews, or at least to those who do not agree with him:

“Simultaneously, relying on thousands of years of ‘expertise,’ the Jews once again inseminate and cultivate themselves in the womb of another people’s identity, a people that belongs to the huge Arab nation.  In so doing, Jews here act exactly as their ancestors did in the Ukraine, Poland, Yemen, Iraq and Germany; partly out of fear, partly out of passion, the Jews pull themselves toward a situation that brought calamity to them in the past and which, still more poignantly, will deliver a mortal blow to any possibility of national normalization under Israeli sovereignty.”

What is one to make of such bizarre incoherence?  Yehoshua, as according to Zionist ideology, conflates the histories, experiences and aspirations of, for example, Yemeni Jews to those of Ukrainian Jews.  They all act, think and feel the same, you see.  Not only that, but by behaving as if they were indigenous to their countries of birth (which in reality they are), they also “pull themselves toward a situation that brought calamity to them in the past…”  In other words, it’s their own fault if they were persecuted in their countries of birth because they dared to belong there; they “inseminate and cultivate themselves in the womb of another people’s identity” in his words.  Furthermore, this would be tragic not because of the persecution as such but because it would prevent “any possibility of national normalization under Israeli sovereignty.”    

For Yehoshua, Jews living outside of Israel live in a state of abnormality and artificiality.  To become normal and real they must, naturally, move to Israel.  "Diaspora Judaism is masturbation," he once told The Jerusalem Post, "Here [in Israel], it is the real thing."  To the New York Times he stated that a "full Jewish life could only be had in the Jewish state" and that Jews outside of the state were only "playing with Judaism."  In a speech to the American Jewish Committee he stated, “[Diaspora Jews] change [their] nationalities like jackets.  Once they were Polish and Russian; now they are British and American. One day they could choose to be Chinese or Singaporean… For me, Avraham Yehoshua, there is no alternative… I cannot keep my identity outside Israel. [Being] Israeli is my skin, not my jacket.”

As offensive as this is, it remains perfectly consistent with Zionist ideology which still views Judaism, a religion, in nineteenth century European racialist, supremacist and nationalist terms.  Yehoshua thus remains the unrepentant colonialist par excellence, for he knows what is best not only for Palestinians, who trouble him so much by their mere existence, but also for non-Zionist Jews who freely choose to live within the nationality and country of their birth as is their right.

Unlike more openly racist anti-Palestinian figures like Avigdor Lieberman, Newt Gingrich and the increasingly unhinged Benjamin Netanyahu, Yehoshua, like many other supposed liberals, conceal and couch their hostility to Palestinians within artistic and academic pretensions, sophistry, figurative language and whatever lavish acclaim is given them.  But scratch just a little below the surface and you discover that Yehoshua’s liberalism goes no further than his ingrained ideology; a liberalism which, when it approaches the Palestinian person in particular, suddenly stops and fully reverses itself.  There is a clear and concise word for this phenomenon—it is called hypocrisy. 

– Roger Sheety is a writer and researcher. He contributed this article to

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out