We’re looking at liberal Zionism, enduring a crisis after a brutal summer in Gaza. It’s prompted handwringing for American Jews and Israelis who are still looking for a way to peace, and still worried about the clash of democratic and Jewish ideals in the political culture of Israel.
It’s a testing time for a moderate ideology in an age of extremes. In his new and controversial book, My Promised Land, the Israeli journalist Ari Shavit — perhaps the most prominent of the liberal Zionists writing today — begins his history in Lydda. The Palestinian town was evacuated of its 50,000 residents by Israeli force in 1948. Shavit concludes that this is where the problem of Zionism lies:
The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be. In retrospect it’s all too clear.
Where does this leave us in 2014? Two peoples, two claims to territory, two distinct histories — and no agreement. Is something like a liberal Zionism possible?