Defining the Zionist Left

Can one be a Zionist, have supported the War for Iraq, and still consider themselves as on the Left? A conversation I had with a friend a few weeks back on this topic keeps replaying in my head, and I thought to lay out my thoughts here, in short, to see what people think.
I do believe that one can be on the Left while supporting both the State of Israel and the War for Iraq. Being a Zionist Leftist, in my eyes, is being someone who holds two principles over all others: Self-determination and social justice.
Self-determination is a derivative of social justice, yet I’ll address it first because it seems to be the trickier of the two. Self-determination recognizes that there are many different cultures out there, and that each culture should be given the opportunity to define its destiny. In our messy world of post-colonial borders and territorial conflict, total self-determination is nearly never totally possible. But someone who believes in the principle of self-determination would support efforts to maximize areas of self-determination of all groups within one piece of territory, leading one to support a pluralistic society with borders that are culturally—and not colonially—determined. Thus, in the case of Israel and Palestine, a believer in self-determination should believe that both peoples, Jewish and Palestinian, should be able to govern their own affairs and determine the characters of their own states freely. Occupation is to be rejected forthright, as is terrorism or any other militancy—such as a settler movement—whose goal is to force a culture to give up its right to self-determination.
In this sense, it is completely moral to support the protection of a culture against its annulment by another—as long as other cultures are allowed to proceed unimpeded within it. This condition of liberalism is crucial for a self-determination that is itself non-imperialistic, and is the difference between the strategy for self-determination that appears in the Netherlands—where the burka is banned—and Israel, where burkas are allowed and yet the Jewish cultural milieu of the State of Israel is empowered to live.
Social justice is the idea that each individual is holy, to be protected and cared for, and that the evils of violence and exploitation are to be opposed in every situation. Social justice has it that the strong should protect the weak, and not use them to their own benefit, or sit on their hands as the weak are slaughtered. In the case of Iraq—as in the case of Sudan, to use another example—the world community has the power to stop the destruction of human lives, of whole worlds, and yet sits idly by. That is unjust. Someone who believes in social justice should be constantly striving for the protection of these innocents. Now, I completely understand those who say that they do not and did not trust the Bush administration to create justice in Iraq due to the obviously exploitative elements of the administrations membership and philosophy. Yet I think that the perfect should never be allowed to be the enemy of the good. True, Iraq is a mess right now, but I hold that it is better than it was under Saddam, when its people were living under a regime of fear, constantly guarding their tongues lest they say something bad about the Dear Leader and have their wives raped before their eyes.
That some on the Left would rather let those rapes continue because wars are messy ordeals are, in my eyes, not willing to extend the same social justice they demand for themselves to their fellow human beings around the globe. And those who opposed American intervention in Sudan are, in my eyes, no better than those who sat by while the fires of the concentration camps were burning. That the anti-Bush Left is so obsessed with Iraq—where I do believe reasonably disagreement can exist—that they do not take the time to march for Sudan is not due to their being on the Left. It is that they are reactionary, plain and simple. They are not willing to face up to the fact that their own country has the responsibility to stop the ultimate injustice of genocide, and that pure brute power is the only way to do it. They are reacting against the only power that has the ability to bring progress in human rights, in self-determination, in social justice.
A member of the Zionist Left, therefore, is not afraid to pursue social justice even when it means dealing with the sticky complications of power. And, yet, since a Zionist Leftist is both a Zionist and of the Left, a Zionist Leftist is not afraid to speak truth to power– against the occupation, against the injustices of power and poverty in the United States, against illiberal policy when it is planned and implemented around the world. In other words, a Zionist Leftist recognizes that there is a complicated world out there, and that sometime she will have to side with those same people she marched against just a day before.


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