In an outstanding article in Axis of Logic by By Lana Habash and Noah Cohen of One Palestine, Left Zionism is deconstructed as the mechanism used to prohibit any real steps towards fighting the racism in Israel and providing a real means creating a movement of support for Palestinians.
Here are a few excerpts of an excellent analysis.
Faced with images of refugee camps buried in rubble from Israeli missiles, children attempting to hold off tanks with stones, and Palestinian cities surrounded by prison walls, our political leaders can think of nothing to say but the empty formula, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” Such phrases do not even emanate from the brain; they are a reflex reaction to any criticism of Israel. Since thought is no longer involved in framing this mainstream discourse, such leaders are incapable of adapting to the more and more widespread recognition of Israel’s racism and its genocidal policies against the Palestinian people.
This is why Zionist critics of Israel have become so crucial in the effort to maintain support for the colonial regime.
Dershowitz (thus) recommended to university students attempting to build support for Israel on US campuses that they must gain control of both sides of the discourse, and thus “assert the label pro-Palestinian.” At this point, the primary work of ensuring that no serious opposition emerges within the US against an untenable apartheid regime is performed by these self-appointed “pro-Palestinians,” who criticize Israel’s most extreme actions while simultaneously asserting its “right to exist,” and–more importantly–denying any action to Palestinians that effectively exacts a significant cost upon Israel.
This crucial work of support shows itself most dramatically in the anti-war movement, where it is primarily carried out by “Middle East” or “Palestine/Israel” peace groups and task forces. These groups have succeeded largely in keeping the discussion away from clear positions of support for the Palestinian struggle as an anti-colonial liberation struggle against racism and apartheid, in favor of one with positions like the following:
Opposition to the “cycle of violence,” according to which Palestinian acts of armed self-defense, or Palestinian attempts to reclaim land by exacting a cost on its colonial occupiers, are equated with Israel’s programmatic genocide and structural violence against native Palestinians as if they were the same;
Support for the “right to self-determination” of “both peoples” (meaning that settlers have a “right to self-determination” on land they have taken and now occupy by military force, and this right is somehow compatible with the right of native people to self-determination on their own land);
“Dialogue” between Israelis and Palestinians as a “bridge to peace,” regardless of the material circumstances of injustice and racist oppression under which such “dialogue” takes place.
In general, the most important function of the Zionist “pro-Palestinians” is to enforce two boundaries in the discourse:
1) the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state;
2) the illegitimacy of violence against Israelis.
These two positions form a litmus test for inclusion in the forums of the “peace movement.” One is regularly asked to demonstrate a commitment to these two points before one is allowed to give a speech at a rally or a talk in an educational community event.
To talk about the inherent racism evident in Israel’s foundation and formation (which necessarily brings into question its international legitimacy) or the necessity and legitimacy of an armed anti-colonialist Palestinian resistance goes outside the bounds of this discourse. When these boundaries are broken, the limits are reinforced through a series of accusations ranging from “anti-Semitism,” on the one hand, to “ideological purism,” “sectarianism,” and “divisiveness,” or, at best, being “impractical” or “not strategic” on the other. The first of these accusations tends to be made by ideologically committed Zionists; the last, by well-intentioned people who consider themselves representatives of the “tactical left,” persuaded that they must maintain an alliance with left-Zionists for the sake of credibility or other strategic gains. In this case, the left-Zionist position maintains its dominance precisely through such an alliance: without the tacit support of non-Zionists or anti-Zionists (in some cases cowed by the threat of the accusation of anti-Semitism, in some cases kept in line by an argument about the limits of “realism”) this dominance would be broken by those who reject Zionism as a form of racism.
As a result of the ascendancy of this alliance between left-Zionists and the “tactical left,” Palestinians and other anti-Zionists and non-Zionists are faced with poor options for participation in movements for Palestine solidarity. For a Palestinian, there is always political space for participation as a victim, as long as one offers only stories of human rights abuses, but steers clear of any analysis. When Palestinians question Israel’s legitimacy or advocate for resistance that exacts a serious cost on Israel, they are accused of not supporting the “peace agenda.” “Peace” in this case is understood as maintaining the safety and security of Israeli citizens while Palestinians are subjected to racist domination and control. This leads many Palestinians and anti-Zionists to withdraw their support and consequently their voices from a broader movement that they find deeply racist and lacking in a strategy for liberation.
The task that lies before us in the United States is to build a movement that is genuinely pro-Palestinian. This means at least two things: opposing Zionism and supporting Palestinian resistance.