Lever Time with David Sirota

On this week’s episode of Lever Time, David Sirota is joined by Vox senior correspondent Zack Beauchamp, who recently authored a provocative article about how Israel’s mass violence against Palestinians in Gaza could prompt a backlash to right-wing Zionism and a resurgence of the “Liberal Zionist” political tradition. 

The modern debate surrounding Zionism tends to be fraught, accompanied by decades of historical baggage and confusion over the term’s many meanings. In a literal sense, Zionism is defined as, “the belief that there should be an independent Jewish state.” Today, the dominant concept of Zionism is embodied by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is using the term to justify the mass murder and displacement of Palestinians. 

But historically, Zionism also encapsulated the concept of liberal Zionism, which imagines an independent, democratic Jewish state that could offer equal rights to all of its citizens, including Palestinians. 

In today’s discussion, David and Zack explore whether the war in Gaza will ultimately result in the return of the liberal Zionist tradition. They also break down the definition of liberal Zionism and how it’s differentiated from other forms of Zionism. And they discuss the collapse of the liberal Zionist movement within Israel, and the inherent tension between liberal Zionists’ desire for a Jewish homeland and their stated support for creating a real democracy. 

A transcript of this episode is available here.

BONUS: This past Monday’s bonus episode of Lever Time Premium, exclusively for The Lever’s supporting subscribers, features David Sirota’s interview with Princeton history professor D. Graham Burnett, who recently co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times about the detrimental effects of our ever-diminishing attention spans. This is due to what Graham and his co-authors have dubbed “attention fracking” —  Big Tech’s profit-driven strategy to keep your eyes glued to the screen for as long as possible. 

What is Lever Time with David Sirota?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota: [00:00:00] Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Lever Time. I'm your host, David Sirota. On today's show, we're going to be talking about the Z word. No, not Zoolander. No, not ZZ Top. We're going to be talking about Zionism, specifically liberal Zionism. Why was it ascendant? How did both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas snuff it out?

How might it make a comeback and what would that mean for the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine for our paid subscribers? We're also always dropping bonus episodes into our lever premium podcast feed last week's was a fascinating discussion about how big tech companies are using all sorts of ways to steal your attention and Then monetize it if you want access [00:01:00] to our premium content Head over to levernews.

com and click the subscribe button in the top right to become a supporting subscriber. That gives you access to the Lever Premium podcast feed, exclusive live events, even more in depth reporting, and you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at The Lever. Okay, let's get right to today's episode.

We're going to discuss that word Zionism, that word that brings out a lot of emotions, especially now as Israel's war in Gaza continues to rack up a horrifying body count. So before we get into it, I've got a few requests of you, the listener. First request. As you listen to today's episode, I want you to make sure, if you can, to listen to all of it, before you send us an email.

Because we really go deep on this one. If you only listen to little bits and get mad and shut it off, you're gonna miss that depth. A second request. If you're a first time listener, you may [00:02:00] already be mad at me for choosing to use this episode to discuss this particular topic rather than other topics from Israel and Palestine.

But before you get angry at that, go listen to our other episodes and go read our ongoing reporting that's been holding the Israeli government accountable for its unacceptable actions in Gaza. Rest assured, we've covered, and we will continue to cover, all sorts of different topics relating to the situation in the Middle East. A third request. You don't have to agree with everything said in this episode. Hell, I probably don't agree with all the arguments that we discuss, all the arguments that are being made about this topic.

But just because you don't agree doesn't mean you have to impugn the integrity. spirituality, and morality of the participants. We're trying to discuss this stuff earnestly, in hopes of getting to a deeper understanding, at a time when warmongers are trying to ratchet up tensions and escalate all of this into World [00:03:00] War III.

A fourth and final request that I've made before, if you're an Islamophobe or an anti Semite, please stop listening to this podcast right now and unsubscribe from our podcast feed and our newsletter. The Lever doesn't want Islamophobes or anti Semites as subscribers, regardless of how many clicks or subscriptions that may drive.

We don't want you if you're an Islamophobe or an anti Semite. Okay, so let's get into today's topic, the Z word. Growing up as a relatively observant Reformed Jew in a Jewish community, I never thought much about or heard much mention of that word Zionism. If I heard it at all, it came up less as a clarifying description than a slur used by deranged anti Semites in their breathless manifestos about the so called protocols of the elders of Zion controlling the world.

When used that way, the Z word [00:04:00] is an epithet. Ascribing a weird, occult, deranged ideology to the belief that Israel has as much right to exist as any other country has a right to exist. The word Zionism stands out because, of course, there's not really such a word for any other country or people. other than Israel or Jews.

I mean, think about it. There's no Zionism label for people who, say, deeply believe the United States or England have a right to exist as self governed countries. So on its face, Zionism, that word, it's a unique word. The problem with the word Zionism is that it means so many things to so many people. and that's a particularly huge problem, especially now, when Israel is so front and center in geopolitical news.

In this moment, the Z word is being thrown around on all sides, from pro Israel voices to anti Israel critics, from Jews [00:05:00] to anti Semites, and yet this word, Zionism, is fogging up the fog of war even more because it has so many different meanings to different speakers and different people hearing it.

Meanings that go way beyond a dictionary definition. There's the word Zionism in terrorist, screeds demanding effectively the extermination of Jews. There's the Zionism of Benjamin Netanyahu trying to justify the immoral mass murder of Palestinians Lost in this is what was once the most simple, clear, and dominant meaning of Zionism, liberal Zionism, the ideology at the founding of the state of Israel.

The ideology that was dominant among Israelis and American Jews for decades, but that's been deliberately destroyed by both the Israeli right and by Hamas and its cheerleaders. In a must read report for Vox, [00:06:00] journalist Zach Beecham asks whether the war in Gaza will ultimately result in the return. The subhead of his piece reads, quote, For many Jews, the October 7th attacks discredited both the Zionist right and the anti Zionist left, paving the way for the resurrection of a seemingly dead political tradition.

I talked to Zach about what liberal Zionism is and what differentiates it from other forms of Zionism. We discussed whether liberal Zionism will actually return to the forefront and whether that would help bring about a two state solution or whether it would simply bring us back to this awful state of perpetual violence.

And we discussed the inherent tensions in the liberal Zionist ideology, the tensions between support for a Jewish homeland And support for democracy.

Hey, Zach, how you doing?

Zack Beauchamp: Good. How [00:07:00] are you?

David Sirota: I'm good. Thanks for, thanks for doing this interview. We're going to be talking about the Z word, uh, Zionism, which in some ways feels like an epithet now, in other ways, uh, feels like a, a descriptor of a political ideology that is, uh, more central, uh, to global politics and American politics than ever. You wrote an article in Vox and the headline is this, the return of liberal Zionism. Now there's a question

Zack Beauchamp: There's a question mark. That's important. The question mark's an important part of it.

David Sirota: And the subhead is, for many Jews, the October 7th attacks discredited both the Zionist right And the anti Zionist left paving the way for the resurrection of a seemingly dead political tradition.

So, the first thing I want to ask you is, before we get into liberal Zionism, let's start with what Is meant by the term Zionism, or maybe that's not even a fair question because I think a lot of people mean a lot of different things. What [00:08:00] I guess, what is the, the narrowest, uh, clearest historical definition of just Zionism?

Zack Beauchamp: So Zionism in sort of the simplest sense is the belief that there should be an independent Jewish state. That's it, right? It's, it's, it's no more complicated than that. Of course, getting into the details of what's meant by independent Jewish For example, maybe where this Jewish state should be, all turned out to be extremely contentious, but the way to understand Zionism at its origins, which is different from what we say when we use Zionism today, but I think is a necessary starting point for this conversation, is basically akin to the many different European nationalisms that were operating in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Uh, these kinds of nationalisms were based on sort of a new Really, I think, relatively new sense that in addition to there being political units and entities that one might call governments, [00:09:00] there are also cohesive peoples. Right. Like, let's say, Italians that deserve their own country. Right. And oftentimes this was bound up in the 19th and 20th centuries with democracy, this kind of nationalism.

Right. It was a sense that not only do the let's keep going with the Italian example. It's a sort of useful one. Right. Not only should there be a unified Italian state, but the Italians deserve to rule themselves, not be ruled over by any kinds of Uh, kings, nobles, aristocrats, et cetera, right? So this was a kind of liberal national, this was liberal nationalism.

There were illiberal nationalisms, non democratic nationalisms, but in the 19th century, especially, there was, there's a deep interconnection between rising liberalism, rising democracy, and rising nationalism, and early Zionism really grew out of that tradition, right? Uh, it's sort of its most famous theorist and activist is a Jewish journalist named Theodor Herzl, Who witnessed firsthand, uh, in places like Austria and France, pretty horrific, uh, anti Semitic acts by [00:10:00] Europeans and came to believe that much is as modern European nationalists believe that they couldn't have their own country or their people's deserved a right to self determination, right separate from, uh, You know, some kind of old political order holding them back, the Jews could never really be safe unless they had their own equivalence somewhere, right?

And, and the vision very, very quickly turned to what was, what was understood widely as the historic Jewish homeland or the biblical Jewish homeland, which is the land that was at the time called Palestine.

David Sirota: Okay. So you write. that the term liberal Zionist is scarcely used, quote, even by those who believe in its ideals. It is more commonly deployed as a leftist slur, you write, against more Israel sympathetic progressives. You're talking about how liberal Zionist, that term, is used, uh, oftentimes. So, going from the, I guess, most narrow definition of Zionism that you just laid out, [00:11:00] what do you think is meant by, implied by, uh, insinuated by the term liberal Zionism?

Zack Beauchamp: in the way that you just referred to it, right, it's, Is used as a pejorative for somebody who, you know, much in the same way that liberal is often used in a slur in leftist communities in the United States as a way of being like you're kind of a sellout. You're a moderate. You don't you don't get it right. You You are too squishy, too comfortable with the way that things are, um, and unwilling to see the radical change that's necessary for for true equality and justice. Right. And so when liberal Zionist is used as a slur, as a pejorative, it's used in exactly those senses.

But it's also linked to Zionism in an important way. It's not just saying you're too conservative on the Israel Palestine conflict. It's saying you have so bought into the myths surrounding the state of Israel, its current government, the Zionist movement historically, that you're incapable of seeing that this existing state is a settler colonial, uh, Racist institution that can't be allowed to [00:12:00] to exist, right?

This is again the leftist perspective. I'm sort of outlining the way that it's used now. The term liberal Zionism did not originally mean that right? It's sort of a rose, among people who are both. Zionist and democratic, liberal, leftist minded, right? Some of these people might have been fairly described as socialists.

Some were conservatives, but they all shared a basic agreement that one, Israel should exist as a Jewish state, and two, it should exist as a Jewish and a democratic state. now, what did that mean? Right? Because there's a lot of tension between those two things. How can you have a state that is devoted to one particular religious or ethnic group that's also a democratic state?

And that's a really, really complicated question. A lot of liberal Zionism has been hashing that question out, trying to define what it means to have a state that's both meaningfully Jewish and democratic. But sort of in the late 20th century, it came to align with, broadly speaking, a push for a two state solution to the Israel Palestine conflict.

That like the core liberal Zionist demand, there were other ones, But the [00:13:00] most important one is a sense that There, there needed to be two separate states for two separate people because a Jewish democracy could not exist when it ruled under when it ruled over an Arab minority without giving them rights indefinitely, right?

This was just not sustainable formulation, especially given the demographic balance of the two groups. And so either you needed to have, so long as Israel continued to occupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, you would either have some form of apartheid, Or you would have a one state solution in which Israel was no longer a Jewish state because there would need to be full rights, full political rights for all the Arabs that were living there, which would probably be incompatible with the Jewish government, right?

So the liberal Zionists believed that the only way to preserve a Jewish democratic state was some kind of two state solution. even if they didn't support some kind of peaceful agreement on universalistic moral grounds, which most of them did, they also did on pragmatic, we want Israel to exist, Zionist grounds.

David Sirota: Okay, so I, I mentioned, uh, on this podcast after [00:14:00] the October 7th attack that, I, you know, I was vociferously criticizing, uh, Benjamin Netanyahu and we're gonna get into Netanyahu and what, what kind of Zionism he represents and Likud represents. But, but I had said at the time, uh, just a little bit about my own background that I grew up understanding the Israel of where there was a, a kind of social democratic tradition.

The Israel of the Labor, labor Party, the Israel of Kibbutzim, uh, the ib. Israel essentially of liberal Zionism, a two state solution, et cetera, et cetera. And I think a lot of people who are not as old as I am, I'm 48 years old. Don't necessarily remember that Israel with that liberal Zionist tradition.

So for those who don't. know that history in the, I guess, the mid 20th century into the late 20th century, just tell us about how the rise of liberal Zionism inside of [00:15:00] Israel, how different that is from today's Israel and how, um, how dominant it was, by the way, also on, I think, in the American Jewish political tradition.

Zack Beauchamp: Yeah, it's it's such an interesting, complex and fascinating history, right? Because it is true that the dominant faction right in Israel's early days was the Lieberman by faction, which is a functionally socialist group, right? The reason that Israel has these. communities called kibbutzim, which are sort of collectively operated farms, is because a very early expression of the Zionist vision, probably the most popular one early on, was a kind of socialistic ideal of Jews moving to a new place and creating a new world based on community and fraternity and mutual respect and collective enterprise and agriculture and so all sort of pioneer socialism.

Was really the way I would describe the regnant ethos of early Israel. Now the relationship with democracy early on, like Israel's been a democracy for [00:16:00] Jews since it existed. No, no, no question about that, even though there were some significant problems with it. So for many years, uh, labor was so dominant that elections were, were not really like they were competitive.

No one rigged them, but labor was so overwhelmingly popular and controlled the commanding heights of the Israeli politics. There wasn't like a, like a real.


know, a multi party democracy,

David Sirota: I mean, it's kind of amazing to think about. Right? I mean, that's kind of an amazing thing for people that I think people don't even understand that labor, which barely exists now in Israel was so dominant in Israeli politics that it was almost elections were almost a kind of formality at a certain point, at least elections in terms of party elections, because the labor social democratic tradition

was so dominant.

Sorry to


Zack Beauchamp: yeah, no, that's, that's, that's absolutely right. Right. And there were, there were elements of it that weren't like the most democratic, right? The way that they maintain this power, but it also never crossed the line into non democratic kind of one party rule. Like, I don't, I don't think there's any serious argument.

That's true. [00:17:00] Now, when you talk about the relationship between Jews and Arabs, it's a very different story, right? So until 1966, Arabs were kept under military rule inside Israel proper. right, so while they were citizens, they were not granted, they were not held under the same set of rights. Um, the Jewish citizens of Israel war.

And then, of course, after 1967, just a year later, right after the end of this military regime, Israel conquers the territories in the Six Day War, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and begins, you know, reckoning with what that means for its identity. And I really do think liberal Zionism is something that we talk about separately from different strands of the, the, the Israeli early Zionist tradition began.

Around that moment, the way that we talk about it today is a product of reckoning, not just with the perennial tension of Jewish and Democratic when it comes to things like should public service be closed on Shabbat, right? Should you be able to take a [00:18:00] train? It's quite controversial inside Israel, but also and not just the question even of the sort of roughly 20 percent of Arab citizens, right?

About inclusion of Arabs in the polity. Those are also important questions, and one in which sort of surprisingly Israel has made some progress despite trending right politically recently. No, a lot of it really. The central question is. What do we do about all these people that we are ruling over undemocratically and have no plans to include in the polity?

and I think that is, there's, there's a very good reason why that's the central question of liberal Zionism or and sort of became the focal point of the movement, right? Is because that was the existential one, the one that if you make the wrong choice, Israel ceases to exist.

David Sirota: Okay, so liberal Zionism seems to me, and you can tell me if I'm wrong, but liberal Zionism, the tradition inside of Israel, it kind of yeah. Peaks it crescendos in the late 1990s with the peace process, et cetera, et cetera, where it really does feel like in the late 90s. Maybe it's true. Maybe it's [00:19:00] not. But there was a perception that There was going to be some kind of two state solution, uh, with Ehud Barak and those, those, that peace process, uh, even, uh, uh, Omer from, uh, from, uh, not the Labor Party, uh, a little bit later actually said in, in one of the conservative parties, he was the prime minister on, on his way out, said, uh, we need a two state solution.

So, Into the late nineties into the two thousands, it seems like there was this moment where liberal Zionism in Israel seemed on its way to achieving the vision of a two state solution. And yet now here we are, it's 2023, uh, and it has felt like for the last 20 years that liberal Zionism has withered away.

In Israel. So all of that being said, what happened, like what happened where this, this political force, this political ideology in Israel and [00:20:00] among American Jews seemed on its way to, uh, to succeeding or to at least seeing its vision happen. And then now here we are

where it seems like it's gone.

Zack Beauchamp: Yeah, look, I want to flesh out the history a little bit more, because it's really important to understanding the premise of your question, right? So in the early 1990s. what looked like liberal Zionist momentum was was just incredibly powerful, both domestically and when it came to the Palestinians, right?

In two ways, right? Ways that I think are underappreciated. Now, first, the Knesset, Israel's parliament passed two basic laws, which are the basically the Israeli constitutional amendment equivalent, right? That transformed its jurisprudence that basically gave the courts power to start overriding laws on the basis Of them conflicting with principles of democracy and equality, right?

Didn't explicitly use those use the word equality, but the court sort of read a right of equality into it, and one of the Supreme Court justices, a a man named Aharon Barak called it a constitutional revolution, right? Really [00:21:00] transformed Israel's government in a liberal direction, and at the same time, I think, non coincidentally, Um, Was tremendous progress made in in the conversation with the Palestinians, right? The PLO recognizing Israel, Israel agreeing in principle to a two state solution with the Palestinians and creating the Palestinian Authority, which is not like always existed, right? This thing that we now take for granted.

It's that for a long time, the Palestinians were under direct military rule. By Israel all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority was created as an instrument of self government. The Palestinians to sort of an interim state, basically, where the Palestinians could take over control of some of the territory on the way to a final status agreement that would give them a true state.

Now that fell apart In a few different ways. One of them is that the driving force behind the peace process, Yitzhak Rabin, uh, Israeli Prime Minister, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist who opposed any kind of territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Uh, his successor, initially, uh, in the next [00:22:00] election, Benjamin Netanyahu won, uh, as a right winger who opposed two states.

And then Ehud Barak, who you mentioned, came into office. And Barak revived the peace negotiations, and it really did seem that there's going to be some kind of agreement. There is now immense disagreement as to why these negotiations fell apart. Uh, right. And there's sort of a lot that hinges on that, but sometimes too much is made of it, right?

You know, the specific maps that were given by one side to the other. Did Arafat make a counterexample? Was Barack acting in good faith? Was Clinton being a fair negotiating, uh, mediator, right? So there are all sorts of questions surrounding, and I don't want to get into them right now, but the main and the crucial point here is that negotiations failed for whatever reason they failed, and soon afterwards, We answered a decade of violence between Israel and Palestinians, beginning with what's called the Second Intifada, um, the Second Uprising, or throwing off, uh, that's what the Arabic term translates to, was immensely violent, much more so than the first one.[00:23:00]

Uh, thousands of people died, now more Palestinians died than Israelis, but we're talking about what happened to the Israeli tradition here, so I'm going to focus on that. Uh, for Israelis, this was experienced as a wave of terrorist attacks inside Israel. You know, uh, bus bombings, attacks on discotheques in Tel Aviv constantly for years. Um, and this, the combination of the second Intifada at a growing sense, the Palestinians could not be negotiated with. They couldn't, they really weren't interested in the state, which was really, really, really entrenched by Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Uh, right, which it basically, it not only won an election, a parliamentary election, but then, launched an armed coup against Fatah, the party that ruled the Palestinian Authority, in order to, uh, try to cement its control over the PA. And all it managed was to take over Gaza. But what that meant, from the Israeli point of view, is the group that was doing all of those bombings, right, the leading Palestinian terrorist faction from their point of view, was now in [00:24:00] charge of a large chunk of the Palestinian population.

Thank you. They also fought two wars that involved Palestinian militant factions after the Second Intifada at the latter end of the 2000s. So while there were peace negotiations during that time, and some of them came awful close, tough, right? It was a tough political climate. And by the end of the 2000s, it became clear that Israeli public opinion had concluded that the Palestinians were not serious about peace.

Again. This may or may not be true. I'm only rendering the the sort of domestic side political explanation for why what has happened inside Israel and where Israelis have moved and with a two state solution having withered the liberal Zionism withered with it, right? It was its central political platforms.

We can have two states living in peace next to each other. The second, That Israelis came to believe that this was not a viable means for achieving peace, was the second that they came to believe that the vehicles for this idea, the ones that [00:25:00] the liberal Zionist parties that have really made it into the central aim of their, their raison d'etre politically, right, those parties started to hemorrhage support and right wing parties started to gain it.

David Sirota: Okay, so there's a question that comes up as you tell this history that I want to ask you, which is about Hamas and Netanyahu and liberal Zionism, all three of these things. It seems to me That both Hamas and Netanyahu's goal, their political project, or at least their big, uh, their, their, their shared enemy is the Israeli left, is liberal Zionism, and there's been, there's been reporting about how, uh, uh, Netanyahu has allowed funding for Hamas and the like, but even separating that, it seems to me that, Benjamin Netanyahu, the right wing current prime minister of Israel, although wildly unpopular inside of Israel, but currently through the parliamentary system holding on his coalition as the prime minister, that he obviously has a [00:26:00] political incentive to crush the left.

The Israeli left, liberal Zionism, is his primary domestic political opponent. Hamas similarly seems to have an objective in having there not be a liberal Zionist tradition reaching out to the Palestinians, uh, for a two state solution because Hamas maintains an It's power, it's prominence, uh, by being on the far right of domestic Palestinian politics, saying we cannot have any kind of negotiated detente, uh, or two state solution with Israel.

In fact, as you write. In your piece, quote, Hamas didn't only slaughter innocents in their homes on October 7th. I think this is really important. You write, quote, They deliberately did so on territory that was one of the remaining redoubts of the embattled Israeli left. These border communities with Gaza disproportionately drew Israelis who believed in coexistence [00:27:00] with Palestinians and wanted to reach across the Gaza border to find common ground.

So my question for you is, Is that a correct way to look at, at this situation, aka the, the, the withering of liberal Zionism, the withering of the two state, uh, uh, peace process that both Hamas and Netanyahu see liberal Zionism and the Israeli left as something that they don't want. The main thing.

that they don't want.

Zack Beauchamp: Uh, yes, there are some caveats there, but the basic arc of your narrative is correct, right? So, in the 1990s, it was very clear, or at least it's very clear retrospectively, that the timing of Hamas terrorist attacks, Were designed. This is before the second intifada when Hamas was still still a terrorist group, but just not as the attacks weren't as high volume.

it was very, very clear at that point that they were timing the attacks in order to try to throw a wrench into ongoing peace negotiations and to demonstrate at least to Israelis that they could be [00:28:00] spoilers for any kind of peace agreement. Right? And Netanyahu after returning to power in 2009 spent many, many years Painting the left as unpatriotic enemies of Israel, unable to preserve our security, and that I alone can protect us from all the threats that face us, right?

This was really the centerpiece of his message, and that that also Interestingly, or maybe depressingly more accurately, contained a legislative component designed to hamstring the operations of not, not exactly left wing political parties, but the sort of civil society infrastructure that supported the left.

So there was, there were a variety of different laws that were designed more or less explicitly, uh, to make it harder for these groups. To operate groups like breaking the silence, which takes the testimony of Israeli soldiers who served in the territories, um, and and has shows them to Israelis who most of whom have not actually, despite universal military service actually served in the Palestinian territories.

Right? So [00:29:00] so it's sort of raising. Awareness of what what goes on there and the human rights abuses perpetrated in their name, right? This group was targeted. There's a law passed called the breaking the silence law that was designed to limit their ability to go to, for example, schools to present this kind of information, right?

So a lot of the illiberal drift in Israel, right? Domestically, even setting aside the Palestinian conflict is fueled by a sense a sense on Netanyahu's part That he can crack down on the left, not just, uh, because they're his enemy, but because, he can use them as political scapegoats, right, given the right wing drift among the Israeli public after the sort of decade of conflict in the 2000s.

sadly, this calculation Has appeared to be, or at least for a time, appeared to be largely correct, uh, right? Hamas had done severe damage on its part to the sort of basic premises of the Israeli left, allowing Netanyahu to pick them apart to the point where the two sort of main left wing parties, uh, Meretz and Labor, Right.

[00:30:00] They barely have any political viability or hadn't until potentially very, very recently, right. You know, they were barely, barely skating by in national elections, getting a limited number of representatives and opposition for the past few years has not come from the left, but really the center, right?

What's happened inside Israel is that Likud, which was a center right party for a long time, has splintered into centrist factions and right wing factions. and so Politicians who maybe would have been the Kudnicks 20 years ago are now in the opposition against Netanyahu and against the Kud, uh, because they feel that it's gone too far to the right.

David Sirota: Okay. I want to return to the headline of your, your story in Vox, a must read. We will link to it in our description of this episode for those, for, for listeners to

read it. The headline is the return of liberal Zionism, uh, and how the events of October 7th may end up paving the way, quote unquote, paving the way for the resurrection of a seemingly dead [00:31:00] political tradition.

However, this week, The New York Times has a new story, and its headline is, here's the headline, Israelis abandoned the political left over security concerns after October 7th. And the story says, quote, If the left has lost mainstream support, Israel's peace camp has been driven virtually underground. So, I guess, lay out your argument.

For why you think, after all that we've now reviewed, after all that's happened on October 7th, and then this horrific, uh, Israeli counteroffensive, or really offensive, uh, in Gaza, uh, with, with mass human casualties, lay out your argument for why, even if, uh, in this fog of war, this horrifying fog of war, uh, the left may be, uh, right now, even more underground than it's been.

Lay out your argument for why you think this may be a pivot point, a hinge moment where we see a revival of the liberal [00:32:00] Zionist tradition. Uh, by the way, as distinct from the Netanyahu, Zionist, uh, ideology. Why do you think a liberal Zionist tradition maybe ultimately

come out of this?

Zack Beauchamp: Yeah, look, it's hard to forecast in the future, and there's a reason there's a question mark on that headline, right? Like, things areright, things areI can't be certain about what I'm about to tell you. There are a few things I can be sure about, and I'll try to be clear on what I'm speculating versus confident in what I'm saying.

Uh, but let's start with one of the things I'm confident about, which is that Netanyahu has suffered a massive political blow from which I think it is Uh, very, very unlikely for him to recover. Right? As, as we were, I was saying just a second ago, right? His whole appeal was, I'm Mr. Security. I will protect you.

Well, that, that didn't work. Right? Under his watch, Israel suffered the very worst terrorist attack in the country's history. Right? The worst military attack, period. Right? Not just from a non state actor, period. Uh, and in terms of, you know, the, the number of casualties in a [00:33:00] single day. And, uh, That kind of event is so shattering to the politics of a nation that it creates an opportunity for a profound rethink of where things are going.

Now, in the past, right, the trauma, Israelis use this word trauma a lot to describe what they've experienced and how they live, right? The trauma of the Second Intifada, the Lebanon War, the Second Lebanon War, the wars of 2008, 2009, 2014 all seem to have Pushed Israel to the right, its voters to the right.

But what's happening here is, is different. Right? In part because the right's been in power for a long time. Right? Who else can you blame? Literally. Oftentimes, this is just how politics works. Right? When someone's in power for a while, they get blamed for things that are happening and people get upset with them.

But on a deeper level, The attack challenged the fundamental premise of the right's approach to security, and by here I mean the mainstream right, and the extreme right to a degree, but it's important to differentiate, right? Like the [00:34:00] mainstream right in Israel, their basic idea wasn't, we're going to Uh, declare sovereignty over all the land west of the Jordan River.

There were pushes for annexation, but they were primarily driven by the extremes and we're not the sort of main project of the mainstream, right? Who really just wanted things to go as they were, right? They believed that in Hamas could be contained inside Gaza. The Palestinians wouldn't mind if Israel kept bit by bit by bit by bit gobbling up parts of its land and eroding the possibility of a two state solution until Uh, you know, by the end of it, there would be no possible way, uh, for, for that outcome to emerge, which is, which is what they wanted.

They didn't want to go through the hassle of some kind of massive ideological moment. Um, where the paradigm changed and Israel might be politically vulnerable by saying, uh, you know, no more, no more two state. We're declaring sovereignty to all of it. They wanted to sort of do it suddenly over time and say that the status quo was keeping Israeli state was [00:35:00] keeping Israeli safe.

And most Israelis basically what they wanted was to be safe. They wanted to be sure that the government had a handle on the security situation that things would stay mostly calm or as calm as they could be. And they could live as if they were, I don't know, basically a little European country on the Mediterranean. That, that was an illusion, right? You can't escape the conflict in the way that Israel's governments under Netanyahu had been promising ordinary Israelis who do not share the far right's desire to sort of, on religious or extreme nationalist grounds, seize control of all the land. Right? They just want to live in peace.

Um, they want to be left alone.

David Sirota: right. so so what you're saying is what you're saying is that essentially there's this like, you know, kind of A silent majority in Israel, if you will, I'm using American terms here, but

a silent majority in Israel. it's like, look, look, we'll, we'll, we'll accept Netanyahu's right wing government as long as he delivers a basic, uh, physical security, uh, and we're not buying into necessarily, uh, his, um, or [00:36:00] his coalitions, uh, you know, greater Judea religious themed, uh, views about, you know, uh, controlling all of the land, uh, It's just like, listen, if that's the coalition he needs to make, uh, in order to keep us safe and having a, you know, physical security, great.

And if the October 7th attacks Essentially shattered that promise it, it, it, it, it showed the, the, the silent majority that that premise was bullshit. It can't actually, uh, sustain, uh, and so out of that, I guess that's why the question mark on your story, uh, about is this a chance for a hinge point for liberal Zionism?

That's the question mark, and, and I would like to believe. That that's the case, but I also know, and we know it from our own country. Now they're not the same countries, but that after nine 11, I mean, George Bush should have been blamed. He didn't get a lot of, now granted he, well, he hadn't been in power for 20 years, but the point is, [00:37:00] is that, you know, he, he, he went the way we all know nine 11 went Right.

And I think Netanyahu is doing that in Gaza. I think the question beneath all of this is not only will does the October 7th attack shatter the formula or the promise that Netanyahu has been making in the minds of the silent majority of Israelis, does further the offensive in Gaza do that as well?

Because I think, I don't know. I guess I'd ask it as a question.

How do Israelis, do we have any data, polling, whatever, about how Israelis see the offensive in Gaza? Do they see that as making Israel safer? Because from my perspective, granted I'm an outsider's perspective, I'm looking at, I don't think what Israel's doing in Gaza is making Israel more safe.

Zack Beauchamp: so they do right. I would say the bulk of of Israeli Jews believe that this operation is likely to [00:38:00] achieve its outcome. However, I don't think they're right. Uh, right. I, I

don't, I

David Sirota: neither do

Zack Beauchamp: But

that's important. It's important. Not just like, because you and I, as American Jews over here can disagree with them.

It's important because the concrete results of the offensive will determine what happens politically afterwards. Right? If, if the, at the end of this, there's still a Hamas there. Right. It's not been destroyed. There's no solution for post war, which, by the way, a majority of Israelis don't believe that Netanyahu has a post war plan, right?

It's another thing that I saw in the data, uh, they're going to be looking for someone to blame, right? For the government not delivering on the promises that it made of destroying Hamas, right? And that someone is going to be Netanyahu. We

know it from all

David Sirota: Yeah, it's like a double whammy, right? It's a double whammy. It's like, like you allowed October, October 7th happened on your watch. Then you did this big counteroffensive. And at the end of it, doesn't seem like you have a plan. Doesn't seem like anything's, uh, safer. Hamas is still there, right? I mean, it's kind of like Netanyahu's, you know, at the, at the casino chasing good money after [00:39:00] bad, uh, doubling down.

And ultimately it's like, when are these, when is the silent majority of Israel going to wake up and say, Hey, this entire formula doesn't


Zack Beauchamp: Right, and the polling suggests they already have, but they've moved to the center, right? Like, the party that's really gaining a bunch of support right now is National Unity, led by Benny Gantz, who's like a right winger who has some kind of cagey views on two states with the Palestinians. He supported a two state, er, it's like a, he calls it like a two, I forget what the exact phrasing is, but it's not quite two states.

It's like two entities. Right in, uh, in Israel and the territories next to it, but isn't like can't bring himself to say the word state, but he also has much more moderate views, as does his deputy, Gadi Eisencoat, um, about the Palestinian, like how Israel should treat Palestinians, whether it should continue a sort of de facto annexation of the West Bank, that means that even that government, uh, like those people would be better.

from the point of view of two states. But they also would most likely be at the head of a coalition that had to answer, in part, to the liberal Zionist [00:40:00] parties, especially given how, you know, you mentioned earlier the, the, that many of these communities were left wing communities. There are also stories about really heroic, you know, retired left wing generals who went in there and put their own lives on the line.

In order to save people in the Israeli army, because many of them were deployed in the West Bank. We're not available to fight Gaza, right? And the government was slow to respond. So, so these people stepped in retired. I mean, men in their sixties, right, where they're wielding guns and fought off Hamas. And one of them, um, was a very, you know, prominent former leader of merits, which is the party to the left of labor on a lot of these issues.

And some polling shows that if you combine labor and merits, if they run his run party, under his leadership, um, Then their numbers would go up significantly, uh, in the next election. So even if we're just narrowing our horizons to a future election, which is likely to happen next year, and even if we can just extrapolate purely from current polling, which we can't, right, because we're [00:41:00] in the middle of a war and Israeli public opinion will be shaped profoundly by the war's outcome, in addition to what's happening right now, There's evidence suggesting that, not just quantitative, but like sort of qualitative read of what's on the ground, evidence that Israelis are looking around for political alternatives they're not doing the George W.

Bush thing, where they're starting to, to see the current incumbent leader as sort of a symbol of the nation who needs to be rallied behind regardless, right, and whose policies can't be questioned, right? They're really rejecting the way that the current government has approached a lot of different things, and that's creating room for political alternatives.

David Sirota: So when it comes to American Jews You write, quote, When people who claim to stand for, uh, those values, uh, we're talking about, uh, sort of liberal values we're talking about in America, when people who claim to stand for those values seem to abandon them in their response to Hamas's attack, something in the diaspora Jewish psychology snapped scenes like those at an October 8th rally in Times Square promoted by the local democratic socialists of [00:42:00] America.

You write in which speakers praised Hamas's assault and mocked The Israeli dead created a profound sense of fear and alienation and you're talking about among the Jewish community, a Jewish community in America, which is traditionally been a liberal, uh, democratic party leaning, uh, community. but you also write. That in response to that snapping, that fear and alienation of seeing, um, uh, sympathy for Hamas or, uh, uh, solidarity, et cetera, et cetera. You also write that American Jews do not seem also to be rallying around Netanyahu either. Right. It's not like you see a lot of, you know, uh, liberal reform, Jewish congregations, you know, uh, with pictures of Netanyahu in the window.

Right. So I think the question is, and this is an important because where the American Jewish community is, I think is important in American, in American politics, uh, because America is the primary sponsor of Israel and the like, [00:43:00] where do you think? reaction to October 7th leaves American Jews, the American Jewish community, uh, it feels like sort of torn between feelings of, uh, some sense of, um, Heritage linkages to Israel, but also disgusted with Netanyahu, a community that I think has seen, liberal Zionism wither away and has sort of turned its face away from Israel, knowing that there are these like, you know, longstanding familial ancestral heritage ties to it, but not knowing really what to do because it's controlled by a right wing government.

So where does this leave the

American Jewish community?

Zack Beauchamp: look, it, there are these very vocal minorities in the American Jewish community, right, on both extremes of the conflict.

There's a, there's a very small anti Zionist, Uh, part of the American Jewish community, real. And I don't want to write them out of the community the way that some people [00:44:00] do. Right? And say there, there, there's an article on Tablet that called them un Jews. And I just like

I couldn't, I

David Sirota: Yeah, that's like

Zack Beauchamp: it's offensive.

I just, I can't I can't put up with stuff like that. Like, it's just not acceptable. Right. Then on the other side, there's the sort of Jews need to come home to the right and understand the intersectionality and wokeness are our enemies kind of thing. And that's just not a view that that most American Jews hold.

Right. It's really just been the case that most American Jews are normal Democrats. Really, normally Democrats might even be the more accurate way of putting it. Right. They voted for Joe Biden the last election. Their response to the attacks, as far as we can tell, has been a decrease in support. Right. For, for Donald Trump and the Republican Party, something like eight points measured from, uh, by one poll's pre war baseline, uh, right?

There's not a lot of polling of such a small community in the U. S. So we just, we have limited data to go on, but that just, that's never been the case, that even in response to grievous attacks on Israeli security, that the American Jewish community moves right in the way that the Israeli Jewish community moves right.

Um, and this is a community that was [00:45:00] already really uncomfortable. Netanyahu, right? We haven't talked about the Israeli protests against, uh, Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan. Uh, we haven't talked about that at all yet, but it's a really important part of the story because it showed that there's a real commitment to democracy and certain set of liberal values among Israeli Jews and one that the American Jewish community has really seized upon.

There's been a lot, a lot of activity here protesting alongside and in solidarity with the Israelis on this front. So there's sort of a damn opening up about criticizing Israel. Um, on that kind of issue, even if mainstream Jewish groups still shied away from the Palestinian issue, um, in a lot of different cases.

So, uh, I think what's happening is really just a redoubling of this, this traditional liberal Zionist ethic and identity and, like, certain groups. like the most notably AIPAC, which is not really even a Jewish group, even though a lot of people that work there. Um, and I think the current head of the ADL, who I don't believe speaks for many people who work at the ADL, when he says that anti Zionism is always anti Semitic, uh, which is just a wildly extreme position, which I don't think, based on [00:46:00] the data I've seen, reflects the view that many Jews have, even though they may mostly be Zionists. They're liberal Zionists who don't, who think that you can criticize Israel, even during wartime.

Um, and that, that ethos has survived through the war, right? It, it remains intact. What I don't know is what's going to come out of that afterwards. Right. Is there going to be renewed energy and money and attention going into the sort of traditional pro peace groups like, like Americans for Peace Now, uh, or J Street, uh, that, that work on this issue in D.

C., I don't know. That's a possible outcome. But what I do know is that a lot of people in the American Jewish community are feeling both really, really upset about the way that the politics is playing out here, and also heartbroken at what's happening both to Israelis and Palestinians. And that sort of liberal, universalistic sensibility is profoundly important for the community here.

David Sirota: So that's a good segue to this question about liberal Zionism and anti-Zionism. Looking ahead, knowing [00:47:00] what you know, reporting on what you, what you report on, do you believe liberal Zionism is necessary, to a two-state solution or some sort of solution that satisfies, Israeli and Palestinian, uh, desires for security, peace and prosperity, or do you think anti Zionism is a more productive political force to achieve that or something different, right?

I, I, I, I, I'm, what I'm trying to, what I'm trying to get at here is that there, there is liberal Zionism. That isn't happy with with Netanyahu ism and what's going on over in Israel and there is anti Zionism that is not happy with Netanyahu and what is going on over in Israel. The question is.

Knowing what we know about American politics, Israeli politics, et cetera, et cetera, what do you think is the, is, is the more necessary, productive [00:48:00] political force to get to something that is more positive

than where

we are


Zack Beauchamp: So, uh, I want to separate out this by, by different places, not just places and subgroups in those places, right? Because it's important when you talk about these things to talk about, to talk specifically, not just in generalities. In Israel, I think that liberal Zionism is a necessary component. Full stop, period, of any kind of just and, uh, fair settlement of the conflict.

The reason I think that is that while liberal Zionism may be embattled in Israel, Jewish anti Zionism basically does not exist. I It is a very, very, very, very, very miniscule percentage of Israelis who get outsized voice in, in American politics because they reflect, you know, trying to reflect a full spectrum of views, but there are almost no Israelis who think that because what that would mean, right?

In effect, would be dissolving Israel as a country, right? And Israelis are not only scared of the practical consequences of what would happen, For legitimate reason, like, what do you do? Integrate Hamas into the IDF as like a kind of shared binational fighting force? Like, [00:49:00] the technical questions here and the political ones are even more complicated than those involved in a difficult two state solution.

but since Israelis won't do that, they also won't on principled grounds. They believe in a Jewish state. They believe in their government. They care about it. They like it. They're patriots. And just asking them to abolish their government, it's not a feasible ask. Right. And the smartest Israeli peace activists will tell you this when you talk to them about it.

Right. That's why they're still, despite everything, mostly two staters. the Question is more complicated when it comes to outside activism, right? Because then it's less of a, it's less of a sort of principle question, right? Because really the deciders here are Israelis. They're the most powerful party to the conflict.

Um, and while Palestinian agreement is necessary, Israel can do a lot already to change the, the facts on the ground to make things more conducive for a Palestinian peace agreement. but, but internationally, it's much more complicated because you'd make a very good case that anti Zionist activism rising in the United States is much scarier, [00:50:00] uh, to Israelis than, say, a sort of re, re engagement of the American Jewish community with liberal Zionism.

Uh, and that them being more scared might put more pressure on them to make concessions. Or Would it cause them to retrench more, and to see, hey, we can't trust these people, uh, we're just going to retreat to our own kind of internal right wing politics focused on self reliance and self care? I've heard some people on the extreme Israeli right argue for rejecting American aid on these grounds.

Right. They want to start building their own weapons, so they don't have to rely on the U. S. for resupply and have an avenue of American pressure that they could otherwise avoid. so that's a complicated question. And one thing I would never, by the way, never, never asked or expect is for Palestinians to identify as any kind of Zionist.

Right, that asking for Palestinians who, who are involved in struggles for their own freedom to have to identify Zionists as a starting point for being a sort of good faith actor on this issue is absolutely impossible. Much as you can't expect Israelis to be anti Zionists, [00:51:00] you can't expect Palestinians or Palestinians abroad in their diaspora to identify with a movement that they felt has dispossessed and colonized their home.

No, they can still support a two state solution while being in principle anti Zionist. Right. Or they can even support a one state solution and put pressure on it that's productive towards, in my view, the only possible solution, which is two states. but, but, but we, we can't, no one, no reasonable person can expect that community to, to start embrace liberal Zionism or any other kind of Zionism.

So it, it, when you say which one is better, it sort of depends on context, right? I think that it, in Israel, it's, it's, the only alternative to illiberal Zionisms. Elsewhere, different

David Sirota: is a good segue to the final question I have, which is, goes back to this tension between liberal Zionism and democracy. And you, and I say it's a good segue because you mentioned the idea of a one state, bi national. It seems to me a one state binational [00:52:00] solution, which I'll put solution in quotes, seems like, yeah, if you could wave a wand and change minds and remove all the context, all the history, all the horrible history, maybe that would be, maybe that would work.

But I live in the here and now. It doesn't seem to me a one state binational solution is really a solution. It seems like a canard, a talking point, uh, to, to, to kind of gum up a discussion about the here and now. However, there is this tension. Between liberal Zionism and democracy that the belief in a Jewish state with liberal democratic values, a democracy, in theory, can't be a homeland for one or another predetermined people, community or religion because a democracy is self determination, self governance by the [00:53:00] people who are there.

I think the question I would ask you is, This inherent tension between liberal Zionism and democracy, is it surmountable? I mean, I'm asking you a hundred year question here, right? That liberal Zionists have, have gone back and forth. But in the here and now for people who want a two state solution, for people who understand that Israel exists.

It's going to exist at least in the here and now, uh, it's not going anywhere for people who want in that context, a two state solution is, are the, are the tensions inside of liberal Zionism to too tense to surmount over the long


Zack Beauchamp: Now, I don't think they are. But I first want to start with the in principle reason why not. And then I want to go to the practical politics. here it's helpful to look at the writing from Aharon Barak, you know, that famous Israeli Supreme Court [00:54:00] justice who came up with the term constitutional revolution, right?

When he described his vision of Jewish and democratic, he understood the Jewish identity of the state to mean that. Not a religious one, but, and I quote, the sense that Jews have a right to immigrate here and that their national experience is that of the state. By which he means you use Hebrew as the official language, you make Jewish holidays official holidays, uh, and, and Jews can have preferential immigration rights in part to reflect the history of Jewish persecution abroad.

But he argued that, that what a Jewish state meant. Right. In terms of, let's say, official impositions of religion or restrictions of minority rights, none of those things were compatible with what he understood a Jewish and democratic state to be. If the Jewish component is the sort of official and serving as a place of refuge for Jews persecuted abroad, The values of Judaism, as he puts it, are the values of love of humanity, sanctity of life, social justice, doing what is good and just, protecting human dignity, the rule of the lawmaker, and other such eternal values, [00:55:00] right?

And that democracy requires full equality among all its citizens and recognition of basic human and civil rights. To me, that seems like a very clear answer to the question of what does it mean to have a state that's both Jewish and democratic, that is meaningfully both. Right? And theoretically, I see no problem with, sort of as a matter of political philosophy, with Barak's idea.

The real barrier is, is practical politics. Right. There are lots of different constituencies inside Israel. The ultra nationalist right hates the idea of Arab equality. The ultra Orthodox can't stand the notion, uh, that they should have to participate as equals in Israeli society and not be able to impose their own will, uh, when it comes to sort of the nature of the state and rules about who can get married, for example, uh, legally on anyone else.

those are real struggles for Israel. They're really, really, really, really difficult, and they're not going to be resolved in the short term. Right? And they're, they're linked in many ways, not fully, but they're linked with the fate of the Palestinian conflict. So the [00:56:00] fight to make Israel resemble the state that Haron Barak described, that's, as you said, that's, that's 100 year fight, much in the prospect of making, much in the way that making the United States Into the country that it is now took hundreds of years when compared to what Israel was founded in in 1948, right?

Like compare it the United States before it had turned 100 Was a profoundly different place than it is today So Israel has the capacity to change if the US can get rid of slavery Israel can can transform its own identity and its own under self understanding. But that's a struggle that could only play out in the context of a democratic state of Israel, maintaining its basic democratic rights and not turning into some kind of authoritarian monster that they can't envision separating itself from the military regime that exists in the Palestinian territories and that that insight at the heart of liberal Zionism.

I think is, is what I find attractive, even though I don't know if I would call myself after, despite all this conversation, I don't know if I would use the term liberal Zionist to [00:57:00] describe my own views. Calling myself a Zionist of any kind feels odd as an American citizen, right? It just feels weird. But I do think that there's this profound insight at the heart of a liberal Zionist.

Tradition that I don't want to be lost, encapsulated in ideas like Barak's, in its real, uh, sort of penetrating criticism of the occupation, and its effect on Israeli democracy, and, and, yeah, there's, there's a lot there of value, and I hope it can win out in the end. I can't prophesy that it will, but I can say that it should have a fighting chance.

David Sirota: Zach Beecham is a journalist and a senior correspondent at Vox. His article is a must read. Please read the article if you haven't already. It's linked in the podcast description. The article is headlined, The Return of Liberal Zionism. And there's a question mark on it, just to reiterate that. And the subhead is, For many Jews, the October 7th attacks discredited both the Zionist right and the anti Zionist left, paving the way for the resurrection of a seemingly dead political tradition.

[00:58:00] Zach, thank you so much for writing that piece, and thank you so much for taking the time with us today.

Zack Beauchamp: Aw, thanks for having me, David. This was really great.

That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get Lever Time Premium, you get to hear our bonus episodes. There's a great one on the bonus feed right now, a fascinating discussion about how big tech companies are using all sorts of ways to steal your attention and then monetize it.

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The Lever Time Podcast is a production of the Lever and the Lever Podcast Network. It's hosted by me, David Sirota. Our producer is Frank Capello with help from Lever producer, Jared Jacang Mayor.