Letter from Israel: Leftists on Zionism’s Past, Present, and Future

Susie Linfield in the Boston Review:

ScreenHunter_402 Nov. 17 18.38It is no secret that the Israeli left is marginalized; the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada (2000–2005) killed not only individual Israeli civilians but the credibility of the left itself. The shredded bodies, especially those of children and old people—in supermarkets, at cafés, on buses—made it difficult if not impossible to speak of a peaceful, or perhaps any, solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nothing that has happened since, either internally or externally, has caused the left to recover. But in a series of interviews I did with various leftist Israelis—journalists, academics, historians—this June in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I was struck not only by their despondency but also by their vibrancy, which seems to stem from the rich cultural, intellectual, and civic life that coexists with—and at the same time is separate from—a desolate political situation. I was impressed, too, by the complexity of the challenges leftist Israelis face, which are often simplified in the Western press. In addition to the occupation of the Palestinian territories, these include Israel’s rightward trend toward exclusionary ethnic nationalism; the violent turmoil in surrounding Arab countries, especially neighboring Egypt and Syria; the continuing rule of Hamas in Gaza; and the political apathy, or perhaps fatigue, of their fellow citizens. As Bar-Ilan University professor Ilan Greilsammer told me, “The big problem [among students] is depoliticization. They’re not for Zionism or against Zionism—they tend to be indifferent to any ‘ism.’” Then there are the deeply emotional, perhaps even unconscious, aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that in part explain its peculiar virulence. As journalist Gershom Gorenberg put it, “We have two pretty neurotic peoples facing off.”

More here.