If someone completely unversed in the geopolitics of the Middle East happened to walk past the Anderson Center last week before the performance of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, it would have appeared as though views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict necessarily fall into two distinct and mutually exclusive categories. One must either “stand with Israel” or demand boycott, divestment and sanctions against it.
To “stand with Israel” suggests in practice, if not in theory, that support for Israel and all Israeli policies must be unconditional, unwavering and unambiguous. To demand boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel implies a blanket condemnation of all Israelis for their supposed collective complicity in the denial of Palestinian sovereignty. These positions, in that they are wholly uncompromising, obscure the existence of different, middling perspectives that do not align easily with either side. It is possible (and more productive and truthful) to accord a degree of legitimacy to both perspectives.
The bifurcation of these two opposing perspectives is mirrored in their respective usages of the term “Zionism.” To those who claim to “stand with Israel,” Zionism simply denotes a belief that the State of Israel has an inherent right to exist and that, as a corollary, criticism of the State is a threat to its existence. To those who call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, Zionism is tantamount to an exclusionary, racist ideology that inherently denies Palestinian rights. However, even a cursory look at the history of Zionist thought reveals a variety of perspectives from across the political spectrum — a fact that renders untenable and ahistorical the “sloganizing” of Zionism for either side. For example, the turn-of-the-century Zionist theorist Ahad Ha’am was explicitly opposed to the notion that Zionism’s goal should be the creation of a Jewish majority and subsequently the achievement of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. He firmly believed that Zionism would be best served by an Israel that functioned as a cultural center of the Jewish people so that they could be spiritually regenerated. Martin Buber, a Hasidic Jew and Zionist philosopher, was an early proponent of a binational state in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. He ardently believed that Zionism should be the means by which Jews could create an exemplary society, and he forcefully argued that binationalism was the only possible route to this end.
All of this is not to say that we, the writers of this piece, do not support the existence of a Jewish majority in the State of Israel or that we are proponents of a one-state solution to the conflict. On the contrary, we believe it is critical to demonstrate that Zionism is a diverse movement that spans various political ideologies. Therefore, it cannot and should not be construed as supportive of one sole perspective. As such, it is as proud Zionists that we say that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is both morally indefensible and manifestly illegal. We say this openly because we believe that Jewish participation in honest debate about Israel’s flaws is not something that should only occur behind the pro-Israel curtain. As both Jews and Israeli citizens, we believe Israel’s long-term interests would be best served by reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict in which the West Bank serves as the basis of the Palestinian state. This is the most just solution possible that adequately addresses the legitimate national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.
This is not an abstract debate. Direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leadership moderated by United States Secretary of State John Kerry are ongoing. The future status of the West Bank is of course not the only issue being discussed, but if there is to be an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, the occupation must end. If a stable and lasting peace is really a priority for supporters of Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty, support for the ongoing negotiations should not be a point of debate. Inaction is not an option; the status quo on the ground is unsustainable.
— Ilan Benattar is a senior double-majoring in history and Arabic studies.
Maya Yair is a senior majoring in political science.