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At Last, Occupation Zionists and Israel-Loathing U.S. Jews Can Agree

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ISRAELI FLAG

We're a people that can appreciate nasty, us Jews. Chalk it up to survivor guilt or oppressor guilt, put it down to a legacy of Talmudic and tribal disputation, to a legacy of abuse, or to a tradition of stand-up, the evidence is clear: Two Jews, Three Zingers -- barbed, caustic, and intentionally so.

This may go to explain why members of two groups that would seem to have no common ground -- the pro-settlement, pro-occupation Jewish hard right in America on one hand, and, on the other, the loose community of hard left American Jews who loathe Israel and all it does -- could come together to heap scorn and bile on a common enemy: The Two-State Jews.

Hated by activists of both sides as a yefeh nefesh, a lily-liver, a person of limp and literally negotiable values, the Jew who still believes that such a thing can and should happen -- an independent Palestine next to an independent, truly democratic Jewish state -- merits the nastiest common curse the hard right and hard left can summon: Liberal.

"Why are they so angry?" writer Gershom Gorenberg, an avowed two-state dove, asks in an account of an evening in which he recently addressed an Orthodox congregation in New York on threats to Israeli democracy: among them, the hair-trigger issues of contemporary Orthodoxy, settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Gorenberg, himself Orthodox and American born, though Jerusalem rooted, and thus no stranger to impassioned argument, found himself taken aback by a member of the congregation screaming at him, livid.

"The moderate Israeli left's argument that West Bank settlements undermine democracy and peace efforts is sometimes greeted in the U.S. as treasonous, sometimes as daringly unconventional," he wrote. "Ideas that have gone extinct in Israel still wander the American landscape, as if it were a Jurassic Park of the mind. What's going on?"

That, it turned out, was only the beginning. With the publication of Gorenberg's new book, The Unmaking of Israel, dove-hunting season opened in earnest.

"The only enthusiastic audience for The Unmaking of Israel will likely be found among those who are always eager for a book by a Jew they can use as a shield against a charge of anti-Semitism as they array themselves for ideological battle against the Jewish state," reviewer Lazar Berman wrote in Commentary, the flagship of second-generation neo-conservative U.S. Jews.

"In fact, tensions between Israel as the Jewish national liberation movement and Gorenberg's ideal democracy have nothing to do with settlements," Berman writes, later adding, "In 2011, Israeli democracy is trending toward greater equity and robustness, not toward collapse."

Israelis, knee deep in the effluent of legislation that aims to abrogate rights and the separation of powers, will surely find these observations peculiar -- if, for all the wrong reasons, reassuring.

From the left, Gorenberg has been taken to task for having concentrated too much on Israel and not nearly enough on the Palestinians. He has been attacked for cutting Israel's moderate majority too much slack, for being overly balanced on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

"Clearly he's a liberal throwing a sop to all those classical Zionists who can't bear the thought that they've lost the cherished Zionist dream of an exclusivist Jewish state," writes Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein, who describes himself as a progressive Zionist but one far to Gorenberg's left, and far more profoundly critical of Israel.

"He allows liberal Zionists to clear their conscience by conceding there are things wrong with Israel, while desperately clinging to the concept that Israel, as expressed in contemporary terms, remains fundamentally sound," Silverstein wrote.

Gorenberg has also been hit by shrapnel from the hard left's shelling of the Two-State
target it most loves to revile, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. It made little difference to many seething critics, slamming Goldberg's strongly positive review of Gorenberg's book in The New York Times, that Goldberg endorses Gorenberg's proposals for making Israel more democratic, or that he shares Gorenberg's belief that the settlement enterprise, and its puppet, the occupation, are destructive to Israel.

What is needed, clearly, is a conversation within the American Jewish community, which allows all points of view -- no exceptions -- to be aired and discussed with seriousness. There are signs of this beginning, but intimidating shouts of reaction as well.

The American Jewish community needs to be more of a family and less of a lobby. More a family and less a place of censure and censorship. More a family and less a war zone of barricaded feuding clans.

In synagogues, campus Hillels, community centers, the rules need to be clear and ironclad. All are welcome, from boycott advocate to settler advocate. No incitement. No bigotry. None. Respect.

Meanwhile, the vigor of the attacks against moderates may lend those on both the hard right and the hard left to believe that their side is on the verge of winning the war over the future of Israel.

"Zionism is truly coming to an end," veteran New York journalist and avowed anti-Zionist activist Philip Weiss wrote this week. The pro-occupation right, meanwhile, churns out articles on a near-daily basis on the death of the two-state solution and the closing of the window on Palestinian statehood.

The fact is that both extremes may, in the end, get their wish. If Israel fails to heed warnings like those in Gorenberg's book, if the collective erosion of occupation, settlement, demographics, inequality, and expansion of extremist rabbinic influence is not reversed, both the hard right and the hard left will have been proven prophetic.

First, the two-state solution will be rendered impossible, pleasing the Occupation Zionist right.

The second consequence will not be long in coming: the end of what is left of democracy in Israel, and then the end, through demographics, despair, and desertion, of Zionism itself.

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First published on Haaretz.com