The first rule of liberal Zionism is never talk about what liberal Zionism means. The second rule of liberal Zionism is never acknowledge the inherent blindspots within liberal Zionism.
Hence an essay in this month’s Monthly magazine by Australian academic Nick Dyrenfurth – yes, the man does spend an amazing amount of time policing the “left” and telling us what views are acceptable towards Israel, terrorism, bananas and coconuts – attacks the awarding of the Sydney Peace Prize to Noam Chomsky this year. Chomsky is too extreme. He doesn’t love Israel enough. He blames many Jews for backing apartheid-policies in Palestine.
This is clearly too much for Dyrenfurth who informs us that everybody knows what must happen in the Middle East:
Leaving aside his myopic, conspiratorial views on American foreign policy (the United States is “a leading terrorist state”), it is difficult to reconcile Chomsky’s peacemaking efforts with this laudatory description, in particular those pertaining to Israel–Palestine.
Most fair-minded observers agree that a negotiated peace settlement based upon a two-state solution will only be attained by bringing together moderates on both sides of the equation and sidelining extremists, whether Greater Israel Zionists or Arab–Palestinian militants committed to a ‘one-state’ solution. Aside from practical steps such as ending the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian leadership recognising Israel’s right to exist, in simple terms what is required is a rhetorical sea change. Ending the demonisation of the Palestinians by sections of the Jewish and Israeli community must be accompanied by ending the demonisation of Israel by much of the Arab world and, notably, sections of the western Left.
Few individuals have contributed more to the Left’s vilification of Israel than Chomsky, who adopts the central tropes of what left-leaning Jewish intellectual Philip Mendes terms “anti-Zionist fundamentalism”.
Nowhere in this piece is there any discussion about what Israel has become rather than some fantasy world imagined by liberal Zionists the world over. Religious fundamentalism is accepted and normalised. Occupation deepens every day. Mainstream Israel largely only knows violence and threats.
But not to worry, Dyrenfurth argues, Israel is a glorious nation that must be backed against critics of all sorts. It’s comical to read the academic arguing against the decision of Chomsky because he’s critical of the entire political and media elites. Dyrenfurth is part of that establishment and he knows the boundaries. He knows his role. Court academics like to enforce public debate and damn anybody who steps out of line (on Bin Laden’s death, Zionism, terrorism, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, monkeys etc).
Why has the SPF [Sydney Peace Foundation] lent unwarranted credibility to Chomsky’s extremist politics? The SPF, and its academic arm, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), shares Chomsky’s kneejerk anti-Americanism and anti-Israel worldview. Jake Lynch, the CPACS director and a former BBC journalist, is a leading Australian BDS campaigner and perpetuates a Chomskyite binary view of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The SPF – itself headed by Professor Stuart Rees, and whose executive officer is the current general secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, Hannah Middleton – clearly seeks to legitimate anti-Zionist fundamentalism as well as resuscitating a discredited brand of far-left politics by juxtaposing extremists such as Chomsky (and John Pilger, Israel critic and 2009 prizewinner) with respectable previous recipients such as Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson and former Governor-General Sir William Deane. The decision to decorate Chomsky also hallmarks another strategy deployed by anti-Israel activists, whereby the views of a tiny minority of far-left Jewish anti-Zionists – the journalist Antony Loewenstein being the most notorious local example – are promoted so as to avoid charges of anti-Semitism.
I’m notorious? I better tell my minders immediately. Liberal Zionism is in moral turmoil. Israel is a racist state that is not blindly backed by anybody these days except religious fundamentalists and hardline Zionists. People like Dyrenfurth have too much invested in an imaginary Israel, a nation that must remain Jewish no matter what. Human rights of Palestinians are violated on a daily basis? Would he like to write anything about that in depth? Of course not, it’s far easier (and intellectually lazy) to simply attack the messenger.
Finally, it should be noted that the Jewish publisher behind the Monthly, Morry Schwartz, never publishes anything on Israel/Palestine because he’s a big supporter of the Zionist state. Over many years across his various publications, Israel is barely discussed, a blindness that reveals a great deal about many Jewish progressives the world over; they can care about the human rights of East Timorese or Iraqis or Afghans, but when it comes to the Palestinians…