The Sad State of Israeli Radicalism

By Assaf Sagiv

Those waging a moral crusade against Zionism from within are getting desperate, and it's bad news for everyone.

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he notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic,” H.L. Mencken once noted. “He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”1 Many Israelis would take issue with this assertion. From their standpoint, the defining characteristic of Israel’s radical left is its deep revulsion toward the Jewish state and everything it represents. And most of the Israeli public, it seems, repays the radical left in kind.
Indeed, there is no end to the charges hurled at them. It is accused of harboring pathological self-hatred, bordering on antisemitism; of cooperating, deliberately or not, with the Jewish people’s worst enemies; of receiving financial support from foreign organizations hostile to Israel’s interests; of shamelessly accepting funds from the very public that detests its ideology and objectives; of consisting mainly of solipsistic academics and bohemians who are completely out of touch with reality; of having little to no influence beyond the walls of the ivory tower; and of various other vices, the truth of which need not concern us here.2
Despite the extensive, if largely unfavorable, media coverage of its activities, however, Israel’s radical left does not receive the considered critique it deserves. This is regrettable, for its arguments are not simply a hash of falsehoods and follies. On the contrary, they contain nuggets of truth and profound insights that merit careful attention. Public debate will gain nothing by ignoring the voices from its margins—voices, it might be added, which belong to some of the most prominent intellectuals in Israel today. The ideological and moral challenge these intellectuals pose to the Jewish state cannot be rejected as a mere nuisance. Anyone seeking to broaden the horizons of Zionism—or, at the very least, to free it from the ideological paralysis in which it has been trapped for quite some time now—must heed the words of its harshest critics and confront them with honesty and courage.
This essay presents just such an attempt. Though it is written as a critique, it avoids the usual quarrels over historical narratives or moral justifications. Rather, it seeks to uncover the internal logic of anti-Zionist thought and point to its theoretical implications and practical conclusions.3 The issues on which we shall focus—the radical left’s positions vis-à-vis the 1967 “occupation” and the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe), its critique of the Jewish state’s oppressive nature, and the strategies of resistance it advocates—reveal a fascinating yet frightening weltanschauung that cultivates pessimism instead of hope, and alienation instead of involvement. Despite its grimness, this worldview appeals to many educated, guilt-ridden Israelis, who see in it an irresistible combination of moral purism and intellectual rigor. It also explains why these Israelis—most of whom are indeed “good citizens”—are driven to such deep despair, and why they cannot find even a trace of hope in what they conceive as a terrifying, debilitating reality.

Assaf Sagiv is editor-in-chief of Azure.

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