Israel will lose my entire generation if it goes ahead with annexation
As a kid from Toronto, Canada, I grew up enmeshed in one of North America’s largest Jewish communities. Part and parcel of virtually all those Jewish spaces was a kind of Zionism that was strong, but ultimately ambiguous. Support for Israel was of paramount importance, but what that support really meant — especially at moments when the Jewish state seemed to jostle against liberal principles at home — was less clear. To its credit, my high school required us to take a course on the conflict in our senior year, but even there, we often skirted around the ugliest moments of Israeli-Palestinian history, emphasizing Zionist narratives while giving little attention to their Palestinian counterparts.
It didn’t take many lectures in my university course, therefore, before that ill-constructed foundation began to crumble. Not only was my reading list now far more diverse, but so were the voices of my peers, some of whom were actually Palestinian. And as we learned of past wars, of territorial acquisitions and compromises, of failed peace processes and politics, I found myself meandering towards a kind of middle ground about which I had never been taught, a space where one still believed in Israel’s right to exist, but could no longer get behind the idea that Israel had a right to do everything it has ever done in the name of that existence.
Israel’s origin story was emphatically not one of immaculate conception, I came to believe, and yet its existence remained a kind of miracle for which I was proud and grateful. Though the country’s occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights after the 1967 War was illegitimate, it was not irreversible. And most crucially, said peace and should arrive in the form of a two-state solution, with a sovereign Palestinian state erected (roughly) along Israel’s 1948 borders. After all, if I so vehemently supported progressive politics at home in Canada, it seemed logical to demand those same democratic values and respect for human and civil rights, when it came to the Jewish State.
I groped for a label that encompassed this stance. Like so many other Jewish students in the Diaspora who have navigated similar evolutions, I eventually settled on the deceptively casual “left-wing Zionist,” piecing together a network of friends, journalists, podcasts, and organizations whose thoughts aligned with my own. While acutely aware that I was distant from the danger and insecurity on the ground, I read and watched and listened. For the first time, my ideas about the Jewish State felt fine grained and personal, and I was prepared to defend them to critics of all stripes.
But just as it seemed the dust had settled on my own journey, the government in Israel has kicked it back up. In May, after two previous unresolved elections, a governing coalition has finally formed, with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his former opponent, Benny Gantz, sharing the helm.
Though Gantz’s party had broadly marketed itself as centrist over the course of the bloated electoral period, this new government to which Gantz belongs is predominated by right-wing factions, and defined en masse by their support for the continued occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights. At the behest of these voices, Netanyahu seems poised to annex 30% of the West Bank, possibly as early as July 1.
With the “application of Israeli sovereignty” over this territory, the land available for a potential Palestinian state would be a small, barely continuous mass, surrounded by Israel on all sides. Even in the event that Israel would not encroach further into that allotted territory, it will be little more than an autonomous island, wholly denuded of the dignity and justice that actual self-determination requires.
In other words, the annexation that might happen in under ten days will effectively render the two-state solution impossible, meaning the lynchpin of liberal Zionism, the policy proposal that has preserved the compatibility between progressivism and support for Israel for Jews across the world, will be dislodged.
So once more, I find myself at a loss, hungry again for a policy that enables me to reconcile the doctrines of my childhood with the realities I now encounter as an adult. But this time, nothing substantial presents itself.
In the absence of a viable path to peace, then, I am unsure how my generation can square our domestic progressiveness with support for this greater Israel. We have tried to define the contours of our complicated Zionisms, asking whether we will perform the same rites as our parents and their parents when it comes to our love of the Jewish State.
Will we hold our noses and write the same Jewish National Fund checks, in spite of it all? Will we send our own children to school with a few extra dollars on Fridays for the blue tzedakah box at the front of the classroom, its contents bound for building projects in the Jewish State?
Right now, actions like those seem ignorant at best and complicit at worst. Along with many others like me, I am back in limbo, mourning the Zionist idea I was taught to love, and the rough, obstinate reality that has become of it.
Sarah Farb is an undergraduate student at McGill University in Montreal. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahfarb.