‘Liberal Zionists’ must choose: Hamas or Israel?

Americans looking to avoid explaining Israel’s dilemma to a hostile world may use convoy deaths as a fresh rationale.

The confrontation at sea between pro-Palestinian activists seeking to end the international blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza and Israeli forces seeking to enforce the closure has put Israel in a difficult position. Despite the fact that the aim of the so-called “freedom flotilla” was to bring aid to the terrorist regime running Gaza, the deaths of several persons on board one of the ships that resisted the commandos who boarded the vessel has created a public relations bonanza for the anti-Zionist groups that organized the effort.
The chorus of condemnations raining down on Jerusalem only hours after the incident shows the depth of anti-Israeli passion around the world as governments, NGOs and UN officials all chime in with the usual refrains about the use of “disproportionate” force, as well as the myth about the ships seeking to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in a region where food and medical supplies are not barred by the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, which is aimed at forcing Hamas to either step down or recognize Israel.
But while Israeli spokesmen will be scrambling to tell their side of the story in coming days, the spotlight on “liberal Zionists” will be crucial in determining not only the way American Jewry responds to the crisis but the reaction from the Obama administration.
As with the case of Israel’s December 2008 counterattack on terrorist strongholds in Gaza after years of ceaseless missile attacks on its southern towns, this week’s naval confrontation offers American Jews a stark choice. They can back Israel or Hamas.
IN THE past two weeks, since the publication of an essay by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books about the “failure of the American Jewish establishment” to oppose Israel, there has been a revival of debate about the future of liberal Zionism. According to Beinart and others who agree with him, what they see as the growing disaffection of American Jews from the Jewish state has to do with what they believe is the illiberal nature of Israel’s government and policies. The Gaza convoy incident will lead to even more talk from such “liberal Zionists,” who believe their duty is not to support an Israel under attack from an international coalition of anti-Zionists as well as the terror coalition of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas but to scold, lecture and censor Israel and urge the US government to do the same.
The false nature of Beinart’s premise has been ignored by those foes of Israel who have applauded the publicity his essay achieved. The notion that the “right-wing” attitude of Israelis and support for this stand by American Jewish groups is responsible for the lack of peace is absurd. Israel has always been willing to compromise on territory and make peace with its Arab antagonists. In the 17 years since the Oslo peace process began, Israel has made repeated concessions and territorial withdrawals in the vain hope that these would persuade the Palestinians to make peace. Yet rather than ameliorating international criticism, this willingness to compromise has seemingly only encouraged anti-Israel incitement, a trend exacerbated in no small measure by the spreading virus of anti-Semitism.
But for some “liberal Zionists” this reality is too unpleasant to contemplate. So they ignore it and stick to the myth of Israeli intransigence that allows them to assume the pose of judges forced “more in sorrow than in anger” to distance themselves from this illiberal Jewish state.
Despite the drumbeat of condemnations against Israel that will be heard in coming days, the fact is the Gaza flotilla was inspired and supported by Hamas, as the presence of several Hamas leaders at its launch in Turkey revealed. The convoy’s supposed goal of bringing succor to starving Palestinians is a lie. The Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Hamastan has not halted the flow of food and medicine. The blockade is aimed at preventing “construction” materials from entering Gaza, since Hamas uses this material to strengthen its military defenses as well as its home-grown arms industry. Talk about aid to suffering Palestinians is nothing but a cover for efforts to aid the Islamists of Hamas, whose ruthless hold on the district was achieved by a bloody coup.
MOREOVER, THE supposedly peaceful intent of the volunteers on the ships is given the lie by an Al Jazeera news report from the flotilla before the Israelis attempted to stop it. In the Al Jazeera report, the so-called humanitarians chant Islamist slogans about killing Jews as they invoke the example of Khaibar, where Muhammad’s forces slaughtered Jews in the year 628. Another participant describes the goal as either “martyrdom” or Gaza. It appears that by shooting at Israelis boarding one of the ships, some have achieved the former goal. The question of whether its forces might have been better prepared is one for Israel’s government to consider, but is insignificant when compared to the fact that the Hamas supporters’ goal was to provoke bloodshed no matter what the Israelis did.
The question now is whether liberal Zionists and the left-wing lobby JStreet that embodies Beinart’s positions will use this incident tobolster their campaign to convince American Jews to distance themselvesfrom Israel. In December 2008, J Street stood virtually alone as itcondemned Israel’s counterattack on Gaza. President Barack Obama hasbelatedly realized that this left-wing lobby is not representative ofAmerican Jewry, as his May “charm offensive” toward Jews and attempt toback away from a policy of confrontation with Israel revealed.
But with J Street renewing its call for an end to the blockade of Hamasin a statement that echoes the rhetoric of anti-Zionist groups, and forAmerica to force Israel into more concessions to Hamas, American Jews –especially those who consider themselves liberals – must decide whetherthey stand with a group that essentially backs the short-term goals ofHamas or an Israeli government elected by its people. At a time whenIsrael needs American support as much as it ever did, liberals mustunderstand that the administration will be looking to them to seewhether  it can abandon Israel with impunity.
Americans looking for a justification to excuse themselves from themore difficult task of explaining Israel’s dilemma to a hostile worldmay seize upon the convoy deaths as a fresh rationale for quitting theranks of the country’s supporters. But if that is what amounts toliberal Zionism these days, then its adherents must be judged as, atbest, fair-weather friends, and, at worst, little different from openanti-Zionists who implicitly support the Palestinian terrororganizations and the elimination of the Jewish state. If liberalZionism in 2010 amounts to backing Hamas’s propaganda campaign and thedelegitimization of Israeli self-defense, then it’s time to admit thatsuch liberals have left the Zionist camp altogether.
The writer is executive editor of Commentaryand a contributor to its blog at www.commentarymagazine.com. jtobin@commentarymagazine.com.