Natalie Portman and the crisis of liberal Zionism

By | April 26, 2018

Eric Levitz writes:

There have always been tensions between liberal universalism and Jewish nationalism. But the rise of the Trumpist right has heightened such contradictions. To remain true to both AIPAC and progressivism, a liberal Zionist must now lament border walls in Texas but defend them in the West Bank; condemn Republicans who suggest that nonwhite babies pose a threat to American civilization as proto-Nazis and endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against the “demographic threat” that is Palestinian children; decry Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and apologize for Israel’s imprisonment of African ones; abhor the president’s indifference to civilian casualties and ignore that Israel’s defense minister believes every man, woman, and child in the Gaza Strip is an enemy combatant.

And they must do all this while Netanyahu and his allies all but encourage American Jews to draw analogies between Trumpism and (actually existing) Zionism, by publicly aligning themselves against Barack Obama and with Donald Trump.

Even before Israel’s rightward shift accelerated over the past year, younger American Jews were growing more estranged from the Jewish state. Pew data from 2013 found that only a third of Jews under 49 believed that Israel’s government was making a sincere attempt at peace with the Palestinians, while a quarter of those between 18 and 29 felt that the U.S. government was “too supportive of Israel” — among Jews between the ages of 30 and 49, that figure was only 12 percent; among those above 65, it was just 5. In all likelihood, the political developments of the last five years have further dampened enthusiasm for Israel among the rising generation of American Jews.

The prospect that young American Jews would lose interest in Zionism had long been a source of anxiety for Israeli policymakers. And many interpreted the Israeli government’s hysterical response to Portman as a testament to that fear. But the opposite interpretation seems just as plausible — that the Israeli Establishment is no longer afraid of losing the affections of the Natalie Portmans of the world. [Continue reading…]

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