Thursday, December 3, 2015

Six Theses in reply to Eric Schliesser on Zionism

Eric asked me for a response to On Herzl's Critique of Liberalism; the enduring Jewish Problem. So here it is:

1. To call the Arabs "natives" is already to beg important questions concerning the justice of Zionism.
2. The Zionism that triumphed in 1948 does not rest its claim on the fact that the Jews were persecuted, as you state in an earlier post, but on the fact that the Jews are a people distinct from all others with the same claim as others to self-determination, and that have inalienable rights in the land of Israel (see the first few paragraphs of Israel’s Declaration of Independence).
3. One cannot, on secular liberal principles, persuade people to risk their lives for the rights of others, even their fellow citizens.. This, and not residual antisemitism, is why the Fifth French Republic has failed to protect French Jews, just as the Fourth Republic failed to protect Algerian Jews and Algerian secularized Muslims (and the Third Republic failed to defend France in 1940). Secular liberal selfishness did in the dream of “cosmopolitan, law-governed multi-ethnic empires” you refer to in that earlier post. No "Dei Gratia Rex Imperator", no cosmopolitan law-governed multi-national empire.
4. One cannot even persuade secular liberals to have enough children to sustain their societies over time -- so even homogeneous secular liberal societies will dwindle and become extinct, or cease to be homogenous and cease to be homogeneously liberal.
5. For the reasons I give under 3 and 4, all realistic political projects, and not just Zionism, are in tension with secular liberalism, or must rest partly on foundations which are not secular and perhaps not liberal.
6. Genuine liberals in Israel are few and far between. The ones I have run into, like Moshe Berent of the Open University, tend to be irredentist on Judea and Samaria, just as French Fourth Republic liberals were irredentist on Algeria: It is not so easy, on liberal principles, to justify handing over a couple of million people to Islamist or semi-Islamist tyranny -- actual Israeli doves are almost all of them Jewish chauvinists like Yossi Beilin or supporters of Palestinian nationalism like Ilan Pappe.


  1. 1. I guess we disagree.
    2. The right to self-determination was not a winning strategy before WWI and became one in its aftermath (for about half a century or so). I have long thought that this argument is the core appeal behind Palestinian self-determination. Anyway, yes, the declaration is not identical to Herzl's vision (although he is explicitly mentioned as "the spiritual father"--non-trivial if we reflect on Herzl's theory of sovereignty); the role of international institutions in the declaration also deviates from Herzl's vision. But it is odd you would deny the significance of historical persecution because the Israeli declaration notes: "The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people - the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe - was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew" and this is the argument I draw upon in my original post.
    3. I think the examples you cite are all more complicated than you suggest, but we may agree that there is an important issue here.
    4. Homogenity of the population is not a liberal commitment (although there are liberals who may have embraced it).
    5. This may be true; I am not sure.
    6. We may have different friends, but part of the point of the post is to note that Zionism is not a hospitable climate for Liberal values, and that this can be explained on solid historical, conceptual, and moral grounds. - See more at:

  2. 2A. The revolutions in Latin America, the Greek Revolution, the Belgian Revolution, the Italian Risorgimento, German Unification, the Union victory in the civil war "that government of People, by the People, for the People, shall not perish from this Earth," the Transvaal Revolt, the Meiji Restoration, Norwegian Independence, were successful movements for self-determination before WW1.
    2B. The Israeli Declaration of Independence speaks of "the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State." The Jews have no less claim to a state of their own than any other people. Any concession on this point is ultimately fatal to the Zionist claim.
    4. Some liberals claim that a liberal state need not be homogeneously liberal -- though the supposed pluralism of self-described liberals is largely self-deception (at best), as the recent liberal celebrations over the nationalizing of homosexual marriage in the United States have demonstrated. But both theory and experience suggest that a liberal order will not survive unless it is dominated by liberals. The stability of the liberal state requires careful attention to the assimilation of nonliberal immigrants.
    6. My point is that actual Israeli liberals have positions to which you are probably not sympathetic.