Did the Left Betray Israel and Zionism? Robert Sheer Interviews Susie Linfield

“What I was really interested in was getting beyond just a discussion of the occupation—although that’s important, but that is written about, and still written about, including by Israeli journalists, a tremendous amount” …

OPINION|SCHEER INTELLIGENCE  Truthdig  May

Did the Left Betray Israel and Zionism?
Noam Chomsky. (Andrew Rusk / Flickr)

Israel and the Zionist ideology that its founding is based on have been topics at the heart of global politics for decades. On the left, progressives, especially Jewish intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, have become increasingly critical of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. At the same time, the self-defined Jewish state has lurched further right with each election. The plight of Palestinians is moving center-stage in global human rights discussions, and the questions of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution are continually debated on all sides of the political spectrum.

In her recent book, “The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky,” New York University professor Susie Linfield traces the history behind what she views as a leftist abandonment of Zionism. Acknowledging that the occupation of the West Bank is part of the reason leftist thinkers are critical of Israel, the Jewish cultural journalism scholar tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer that she believes “there is more to the story.”

“What I was really interested in was getting beyond just a discussion of the occupation—although that’s important, but that is written about, and still written about, including by Israeli journalists, a tremendous amount,” Linfield says in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” “[I was] trying to understand why the idea of Zionism—which I identify as a democratic state for the Jewish people, not a Jewish religious state—[has] always really been such a thorny, thorny issue for left-wing intellectuals.”

Scheer, a Jewish journalist who himself has been critical of the Israeli occupation, disagrees strongly throughout the discussion with Linfield’s extreme condemnations of Chomsky, Arendt, I.F. Stone and others he views as having presaged the contradictions inherent in Zionism at an early stage.

Linfield’s explorations led her to a number of questions regarding Israeli nationalism, while setting aside the central issue of an occupation that began after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, also known as the Six-Day War, which has resulted in the proliferation of illegal Israeli settlements as well as the vast abuse of Palestinians by the Israeli government and military. While Linfield argues that the left has supported other nationalist countries, such as Cuba and Vietnam, Scheer counters that it is precisely nationalism combined with occupation that led to progressives’ warnings about the future of Israel, and later to their criticism.

“These Jewish intellectuals … rejected the Israeli state at different points,” Scheer tells Linfield. “Most of them supported it quite enthusiastically. But they had a prediction that this nationalism—and this is true of nationalism throughout the world, including American nationalism—it has a destructive impulse. And when it turns to conquering other people, or having control over other people, it becomes quite evil.”

Linfield posits that during at a time when many Israelis were prepared to support a two-state solution, the Palestinian Liberation Organization did not work toward that objective. Now, it seems, the tables have turned, and it is embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies and followers who are disinterested in anything but a one-state solution. While in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War, there was a broad discussion about the implications of occupation, and there was a strong left in Israel, the nation’s left has been diminished and the ideology that has won out, as Linfield points out, is a right-wing “combination of religious Zionism and security Zionism.”

Listen to the full discussion between Linfield and Scheer as they come to grips with the historical events and various ideologies that have led to the current breaking point in Israeli politics. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of “Scheer Intelligence,” where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Susie Linfield, a professor or teacher of cultural journalism at NYU. She’s worked for The Washington Post and other leading publications. And she’s written a book for Yale University Press which I think should help get a really good debate going, and not just–well, let me give the title, The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky. Two obviously famous names, but there are others here, the legendary American journalists I.F. Stone, Isaac Deutscher, Arthur Koestler; Fred Halliday, the British journalist; and others. I’m going to let you state the theory of the book, but basically, it’s about the abandonment by leftist, Jewish intellectuals of a standard that they would apply to other people, the right to protect their own, to have a state, to have an identity. And their, I guess you would say, war or resistance with Zionism. So why don’t you give me the thesis of this very well-documented, lengthy encounter with these people?

Susie Linfield: OK, thank you for having me. Well, when I wrote my last book, The Cruel Radiance, which was about political violence in photography, I had a chapter on Robert Capa, the great antifascist documentary photographer of his era; very famous photographs, especially from the Spanish Civil War. And Capa in 1948 was very, very pro-Israel. He really exulted in the founding of the state, he goes to photograph it, he brings his friend I.F. Stone, they do a book together. Capa actually thought about settling in Israel. And other photojournalists and journalists of that time, of the left, of the antifascist left, were very, very supportive of Israel. And they really regarded the Arab nations and Britain as the imperialist powers, not Israel. Obviously, the left right now tends to be very, very, very, very anti-Israel. And part of that, of course, is the occupation, the repression of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. So that–and also the way that Israel itself has really moved from being a social democratic country to being a right-wing one. But it occurred to me, when I started thinking about it, I was thinking well, but there are other countries that are much more repressive than Israel, especially in the Arab world. And the left, especially of the sixties, seventies, eighties, were very supportive of those countries in the Third World, the Third World liberation movements, et cetera. So I started to think, hmm, there must be more to this story than just the change in Israel itself. And it also, I also knew that even before ’67, even before the occupation, there was tremendous, tremendous debate, and especially among Marxists, often real hostility to the very idea of a state for the Jewish people. So, what I was really interested in was getting beyond just a discussion of the occupation–although that’s important, but that is written about, and still written about, including by Israeli journalists, a tremendous amount. But trying to understand why the idea of Zionism, which I identify as a democratic state for the Jewish people, not a Jewish religious state, why that’s always really been such a thorny, thorny issue for left-wing intellectuals. And that there’s a kind of obsession with Israel, really going back way before the founding of the state, and an obsession with Zionism. And why is this particular issue sort of a poke in the eye for leftists? One of the things I was trying to explore is that of course Zionism is a form of nationalism, or of national liberation. And Marxists especially have tended to be very critical, of course, of nationalism. You know, you have people like Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky saying, you know, I have no nation, I am a socialist. But again, the left has been, especially in the sixties, seventies, very, very, very supportive of extremely, extremely nationalistic movements: China, Vietnam, and we can–Cuba. We can go through a whole list. So again, that there has to be something about Zionism itself that is really so hard for leftists to sort of wrap their heads around. And one of the things that I was interested in is that all the people in my book–and they have various politics, from really hard-core communism, like Maxime Rodinson, he was a member of the French Communist Party for a long time, very pro-Soviet, to Isaac Deutscher, who was a Trotskyist. Albert Memmi was a socialist but not a communist. So they have, they have different politics.

RS: Well, you should mention Arthur Koestler, who’s one of the people who was certainly the strongest voice of anti-communism at some point.

SL: Arthur Koestler–well, Arthur Koestler was a super communist, and then a super anti-communist. He was a super Zionist, and then he was a super anti-Zionist. He, you know, all his life, he described his politics as absolute-itis. And that’s really true. He would have these very, very abrupt changes. But they all agreed on certain basic principles: anti-colonialism, anti-fascism, socialism most of them, although not all of them. And yet on Israel and on Zionism, they just disagreed so vehemently. So the book is really–and it is not an attempt to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; I don’t have a solution. I would have the Nobel Peace Prize if I did, I’m sure, but I certainly do not. It’s not an attempt to solve the conflict; it’s really an attempt to explore what I think is a kind of neglected, buried, but in my view very, very interesting intellectual history. And really, the history of a debate through these very, almost all of them, each in their way, extremely, extremely learned people, and people who were so fervently, fervently involved in the political struggles and in the crises of their time.

RS: Well, OK. So this is a lot of history we have to deal with, and within a fairly short space of time. But one point that your book makes in, I think, a compelling way, is that Zionism, prior to the rise of German-inspired fascism, was not a popular movement among Jews. Whether they were of the left, center, or right. And–that’s correct, right?

SL: Yeah, Zionism—

RS: That it took the Holocaust to make Zionism a viable and significant force in Jewish life, right?

SL: Yeah, Zionism is not at all a, much less the, major movement among politically active Jews. Many, many, many more were drawn to socialism or drawn to communism. You have the Bund in Russia, which believes very strongly in Jewish identity, but is anti-Zionist. So it’s really a very, very small number of Jews who begin going to Palestine–this is also especially after the failure of the 1905 revolution in Russia. They were, in fact, socialists; they were socialist Zionists. But that was really, really, really a minority position. And far, far more Jews, you know, believed in socialist revolution or socialist, social democratic politics. And of course many Jews just, from Eastern Europe, where most Jews lived at the time, many of them just want to come to America, there, you know. And they become, some of them become very involved in the union movement, et cetera. So this is really a minority. Interestingly, Hannah Arendt in 1933, as soon as Hitler comes to power, she becomes a Zionist. And I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the Holocaust; I would say it’s more the rise of Hitler. And of course the Holocaust wasn’t really understood to be such, really, until after the war. But I’d say with the rise of Hitler, you have a rethinking of the anti-Zionism, or at least the indifference to Zionism. But nonetheless, it is still a minority position. And yeah, it’s really with the fuller understanding of the Holocaust, which doesn’t really come until the camps are liberated, as the Soviets and the Americans, et cetera, are liberating the camps, that I would say, especially in America, that that’s when that really becomes a majority, a major position among American Jews.

RS: OK. So let me just, without getting lost in the history–and full disclosure, I’m only here in the United States because my mother was in the Jewish socialist Bund in Russia. And when Lenin, after two of her sisters were killed, as also members of that movement, by activities against the czar and so forth, and they had, when Lenin denounced the Jewish socialist Bund, my mother had to flee, then the new Soviet Union. So I know a little bit about the history; on the other hand, my mother’s close sister, mind you, was a Zionist even at an early period. So I’ve actually lived with this history. But the reason I’m bringing it up is really, to go to your question about nationalism, I think this group of Jewish intellectuals that you’re describing didn’t so much embrace nationalism in other countries, but certainly in the case–well, I think in all of their cases, feared nationalism on the part of some big powers and colonial powers. And were trying to explain why it was, what you were fighting were not inherently subversive movements, as in the case of China, but actually nationalist movements, which was something more familiar. And in some ways, not necessarily expansionist, and that has turned out to be the case. Vietnamese nationalism, Chinese nationalism, Cuban nationalism, Russian nationalism, however problematic they are, do not add up to an international conspiracy to destroy the United States. So that was really kind of the argument in the Cold War era. I don’t know that it was an embrace of the wonders of nationalism, because clearly a lot of them, right or left or just militaristic, were unattractive. But I want to get to this key point of Zionism as a survival, a necessity, as your book very eloquently describes. That even these people that you end up criticizing, in the case of I.F. Stone, very much embraced the original notion that after the Holocaust, there was no denying that the Jewish people needed a sanctuary. That, right? I.F. Stone–and I’m picking on I.F. Stone because first of all, I knew him, and published him at one point at Ramparts. But also because he’s sort of the outstanding, along with Chomsky, the two names that most people listening to the show might identify with American left, rather than the other people, famous as they may be. And in I.F. Stone’s case, you very eloquently in your book describe his commitment to these refugees and to the formation of the state of Israel. And then you talk about his changing that point of view. So why don’t we take that as our talking point, and really let me raise what I think is the basic question–and let’s take I.F. Stone as an example. Was he being prescient in predicting the contradiction between this Jewish nationalism and the needs of, say, the Palestinians or other people? Or was he in fact misjudging it, and therefore came to be hostile, ultimately, to the state? That seems to me the critical question.

SL: So I think that he was both prescient and misjudging it. And I’ll explain what I mean by that. I.F. Stone goes to what was then Palestine after the wars; it was still owned, you know, still part of the British mandate. And first off–and this was true of Arendt also, and I think this is something that’s sort of forgotten–is that he just exults in what he sees is being built. The kibbutzim, the industry that’s being built, the farms, this and that. And he says Palestine is the only place where a Jew can walk around and not worry about whether he’s a problem. He can just be a Jew. So he really exults in this. Arendt was also very, very, very impressed with the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community. And he originally thinks that there can be either–that there can be a binational state, but he changes that position. He says, I can’t find any Arab leader, or any Arab that I speak to, who supports that. Binationalism, I think a lot of people forget, was a Jewish idea. It was not a joint idea, it was an idea of Jewish left-wing intellectuals. So he says, well, there can’t be a binational state because none of the Arabs agree to this. So he thinks that partition–he becomes a supporter of partition, which of course the UN votes in 1947. And once Israel declares independence, he goes with Robert Capa, they do a book called This is Israel; he really exults in the state. But from the beginning, he’s very, very worried; and not just worried, but really tormented by the question of the Palestinian refugees. Although he points out that there’s a refugee problem precisely because the Arab states didn’t accept the partition, they invade Israel, they lose the war; this is what creates the refugees. If there hadn’t been a war, there would have been two states, a Jewish state and an Arab state. But he sees this as a kind of explosive within the state, and he becomes very, very worried that Israel is not paying enough attention to that problem and to the hostility of the Arab state. So he’s also very clear about the fact that these Arab states are, you know, reactionary, completely reactionary states.

RS: Let me just say, because I know we’re going to run out of time here, and I think this detail is the strength of the book, and it’s great in there. But I want to, if I can be, just press this argument a bit more about what happens with the Six-Day War, and where we are now. Because that’s the power of this book, and the reason people have to read it. Israel is very much on the map, it’s not going anywhere; it’s the strongest military power in its region. And we have a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who seems to be quite supportive of the current leadership of Israel. So I just want to take two seminal points: one is the Six-Day War, which I happened to witness; I was there at the end. And I published I.F. Stone in Ramparts, and at that time I had gone to Israel. And I had that same feeling, by the way, that he had, walking around Tel Aviv; I had been in Egypt, and was in Israel. And yes, it felt very familiar. I stayed at a left-wing kibbutz, and so forth. But what I found, what I would take issue with in your book, is the identification of the Palestinian with the Arab, and the Arab leadership. Because the fact is, the governments that all attacked Israel–and we can argue about how the Six-Day War happened, and what caused it, and so forth–the fact of the matter is, they all made peace with Israel. The only people that didn’t make peace were the Palestinians, and the Palestinians were actually occupied by these Arab governments. In Gaza they were occupied by Egypt, it was a foreign government; and Jordan occupied the West Bank, and Syria occupied the Golan Heights. And when I visited this area right after the end of the Six-Day War, there was no question, this was basically an occupied people, whatever–that weakened PLO was not the PLO of Arafat. But whatever that claim of PLO leadership, the fact is the Palestinian people were basically strangers in their own land, occupied by Arab governments that really were not very sympathetic to them. And the question really is, what happened then? Because the people in the Labor Party that I interviewed–Ya’alon and Moshe Dayan and so forth–all said, if you keep this occupation, we will not be Israel that we respect. We have to work out an accommodation. That didn’t happen. And is it fair to blame that on the Palestinian people, rather than the Arab governments that Israel seems to have been getting along with quite well?

SL: Well, yeah, at that time, they weren’t getting along well. And I should say Syria still, Syria and Israel still obviously haven’t made peace. I think that what happens in 1967 is a–complicated. The Arab states are defeated; this is a huge, huge, huge humiliation in the Arab world. If you read various Arab intellectuals, they are stunned by this. And there were a few very brave Arab intellectuals who said, you know, we need to look at ourselves; we need to look at our countries. You know, this isn’t just a military defeat; it’s a social defeat for the kind of countries we have. But I would say that the reaction in most of the Arab world was not that. It’s after the ‘67 war that you really have the ascension, or the, at least the consolidation, of the worst dictatorships in the Arab world–Assad in Syria, Saddam in Iraq; I mean, Gaddafi in Libya–these, just, you know, terrible, terrible dictatorships. Now, you’re absolutely right; when the Arab–when Egypt owns Gaza, and Jordan owns the West Bank, they’re horrible to the Palestinians. They keep them in these wretched camps; Lebanon doesn’t give them, none of these places, none of the countries give them citizenship. They’re not allowed to work, they’re not allowed to study. And none of these nations try to establish any sort of Palestinian state. So that’s absolutely true. I think what happens in Israel is really complicated, because yes, absolutely, you have this war. And Israel, you know, many Israelis, whatever the objective situation was, there’s no doubt that many Israelis feared, this is it; we will be exterminated if we don’t win this war. And that was certainly the rhetoric of the Arab countries. So they win the war very, very quickly. And there is a big, big, big debate in Israel over what to do with these lands. And you have various positions, absolutely; you have the left-wing camp saying, we don’t want to be occupiers of another people. What are we–you know, what are we going to do with this huge population of Palestinians? Or they were mainly called Arabs then; it’s really after ‘67 that they get the, more of the identity of Palestinians. So yeah, you definitely have that tendency. You have another tendency that says, woah, we have been attacked too many times; we need to hang on to these lands as a buffer zone, as security. You have a beginning, which would have shocked the original Zionists, of religious Zionism. Because Zionism was originally very secular. So you have the beginning of religious Zionism, messianic Zionism, which is, you know, God gave us these lands; you know, the fact that we won in six days is a sign from God, and we have to settle these lands, God has endowed us with them. So you have these different tendencies. You also have, in the Arab world, very soon after the ‘67 war, the Arab League meets in Khartoum, Sudan, and they put out what’s called the Khartoum Resolution, in which they say we’ll never accept Israel, we’ll never negotiate with Israel, we will exterminate Israel. Which obviously didn’t really help the peace camp much. But so you have all these different tendencies going on, and I think–not “I think,” it’s obviously very, very, very, very obvious that the tendency that won out was the combination of the religious Zionism and the security Zionism. That those two, that those two tendencies won out, and there is still the occupation. Although I would say–yeah, go ahead.

RS: I want to pick up on that. Because I did a podcast with Tom Dine, who had been head of AIPAC, but he was definitely, is definitely a liberal, maybe even on the liberal left, worked for Senator Ted Kennedy and so forth. But he was head of AIPAC for a long time, over a decade. And he is very critical of the current state of Israel. And in terms of figuring out, you know, who caused all this, this problem, you have a state now that is very nationalist in the worst sense of the word. Also, you know, by the way, these original refugees, as you point out, all were using Yiddish; most of them were, you know, they were not particularly interested in the language of the Bible, and the religious influence in Israel, and the right-wing influence. And so there’s an elephant in the room now, which is actually Netanyahu is probably the foreign politician–if he didn’t interfere most in the election, coming to attack Obama in the U.S. Congress for his Iran peace deal, he certainly got the most out of this election. The American president now, under Donald Trump, a right-wing figure, supports Israel in an uncritical way. And if we go to war with Iran, and in terms of the singling out Iran and not Saudi Arabia, is really consistent with Israel policy. So there’s–Tom Dine might have been right when he warned about what really is the end of the, with the death of Rabin, the end of any real Israeli–and now the Labor Party–sentiment towards negotiation–the Labor Party, I think, got seven, eight percent of the vote in the last election.

SL: Yeah, I just want to–

RS: And they’re not even a force.

SL: I just wanted to say one other thing about ‘67. The other really important aspect is that after the ‘67 war, the PLO maintained this for 20 years until basically it was defeated, the PLO still maintained its program of annihilating Israel. That was actually its word, “annihilation,” “extermination.”  And you do have, yes, you have the peace treaty with Egypt; you have the peace treaty with Jordan. There’s never any peace treaty with Syria or with Lebanon or with Iraq. But what you have, I think, on both sides is what I call irredentism. You have the increasing refusal of many Israelis to acknowledge that the Palestinians are a people who deserve, like all other peoples, a state. But you also have the irredentism of the Palestinians, many of whom still refuse to accept or even recognize Israel’s right to exist. And in my view, the kind of, the tragedy of the whole–

RS: You mean before Camp David.

SL: Yeah–well, no–

RS: Because after that, there is a recognition, right?

SL: Well, there’s the recognition–

RS: Then the stumbling block is on the other side, that there isn’t really an Israeli government support for a two-state solution.

SL: Not exactly. Because you have Oslo, et cetera, but then that’s also when Hamas emerges. And Hamas, of course, is completely irredentist; they will not recognize Israel, they believe–

RS: But they were supported by Israel at the beginning, to be preferable to the PLO.

SL: That may be, but nonetheless, Hamas is exactly the–worse, I think, the settlers in reverse, they believe that Allah has given all of this land to the Muslim people, and that no Jew is allowed to be in the Middle East. So you have irredentism on both sides. I just want to say, in my view, the tragedy is, is that in the years even beyond ‘67–I would even say up to Oslo, when I think a lot of Israelis would have accepted a Palestinian state if they believed that their security was guaranteed and that it wouldn’t be a terrorist state, you have the PLO and the Arab world absolutely refusing that. Once, by the time the PLO and some parts of the Arab world accept Israel, Israel by then had moved very far to the right. So that these two tendencies were completely, completely, completely out of whack. And I think that there were some moments around Oslo when perhaps they were aligned, but of course we know that that was very brief. Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish settler, the suicide bombings by Hamas began. So you have these two, these two that are really misaligned, tragically so. And now you have a situation, yeah, where the right wing is very much in power in Israel. I think that many, many Israelis have almost weirdly, I wouldn’t say lost interest in the conflict, but just sort of accept that this is, this is the sort of existential state that is going to be, state of affairs.

RS: So we’re going to run out of time, and to be fair to the book, the book is The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky. It’s very well-documented; it raises very interesting points, particularly about the life of Jewish intellectuals. Putting myself in that category just for a second–I would be remiss if I didn’t bring this up–

SL: You are a Jewish intellectual.

RS: [Laughs] When I was there at the end of the Six-Day War, and I was on a kibbutz, but I went over into the West Bank. And I was taken there by an Israeli Arab Palestinian, Ibrahim Shabat, who was the mayor of Nazareth, as I recall. Anyway, he had contributed blood to the Israeli army. The Palestinian population living in Israel prior to the war was interesting in two respects that seem to be left out of the discussion. And I found this a bit over on the West Bank. First of all, in terms of the ones who lived on the Israel side, there was support for Israel as a state. And there, you know, I don’t think it was just done out of intimidation; there were Israeli Palestinians living on the Israeli side who actually did have loyalty. You know, the Israeli army wouldn’t accept them–

SL: I think that’s still true, I think that’s still true.

RS: Yeah. So on the other hand, what comes through in some of this discussion that we’re having is the denial of a Palestinian people. And the thing that hit me, as Palestinians that I interviewed and spent time with on both sides, the ones who were living in Israel and the ones who were in the West Bank and in Gaza, was I identified them as having had a diaspora experience in the Arab world very similar to Jews. In other words, they were restricted from certain occupations; they were not welcome in some of these Arab countries. They were locked into certain positions of being advisors, or financial advisors, accountants, or traders, or merchants. And there’s a long history of that. But the real issue was, is there a Palestinian identity as well as a Jewish identity that would warrant the state, would warrant consideration. And what I found, what I was surprised at in reading your book, is why was Edward Said not one of your chapters? Because he was actually more important as an American leftist, admittedly of Palestinian origin, taught at Columbia University, and in my life on the left in America, I would say Edward Said was the main person influencing certainly my thinking and a lot of other people’s. Why is he not an example of the American left, and what he brought to the debate, someone that you centered on?

SL: Yeah, I write about Said a tiny bit. He, Said is actually not a big influence on me. Said was not, in fact, a supporter of two states, because he was always an advocate of the so-called right of return, which is the opposite of two states. I’m very–

RS: Why is that, by the way? If the Jewish people have a right of return, why don’t the Palestinians, who have so many people living out in the diaspora?

SL: Well, because the right of return refers to the idea that the entire Palestinian diaspora can go to Israel, which would make it an Arab state.

RS: Well, we have the right that the entire Jewish diaspora can go to Israel, even if they’re—

SL: Yes. I believe that the—

RS: —suspect people from Las Vegas. They’re still welcome, even when they’re on the lam from the law.

SL: I believe that the Jewish people have a right of return to Israel, and that there should be a Palestinian state to which the Palestinians have a right of return.

RS: Oh, OK. Well, that’s fair enough. Yeah. I’m sorry, I’m glad we cleared that up. So there is consistency there. Then they need a physical area.

SL: Absolutely.

RS: And there’s–sadly, you and I may be two of a very small minority that still believes in a two-state solution. I assume you do.

SL: Yeah, I mean, I totally believe in a two-state solution. I’m not so sure–I think at this point it’s not a question of people not believing in it. I think a lot of people think, for good reason, that it’s very hard to get from here to there. On the other hand, I think that a one-state solution that’s just sort of crushing these two peoples who have been at war for a hundred years, who have killed each other’s children, who have suffered extreme trauma at each other’s hands, is even less, is even less realistic. I think it would make the wars in, you know, Yugoslavia or whatever, or in Lebanon, look mild compared to what it would be. So I totally remain a believer in the two-state solution; I also think it’s the only way for each people to develop themselves politically and culturally. But like everybody else, or like most other people, I should say, I despair of how to get from here to there. You have a very, very right-wing government; you have Hamas, which is a terrorist group and terrorizes its own population in Gaza; you have the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which is extremely corrupt and is sort of about to topple. So it’s a, it is not a–it’s a terrible situation. And on the other hand, I believe in not–you know, David Grossman, the Israeli novelist, his son was killed in the 2006 war, in the last days of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. And he said, you know, that despair is a luxury that no one can afford. So I also believe that.

RS: So we’re going to wrap this up. And as I say, there’s no–this is not an alternative to reading the book, The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky. We haven’t really had the time to explore it in depth; it deserves such an exploration, and I’m heartily recommending that people do that. So I’m not offering this as a substitute. I do want to end, however, on the question that I began with. Is that these Jewish intellectuals–and they are a varied bunch; Arthur Koestler and Noam Chomsky, obviously. But they seem to be, this issue that I raised at the beginning–they rejected the Israeli state at different points. Most of them supported it quite enthusiastically. But they had a prediction that this nationalism–and this is true of nationalism throughout the world, including American nationalism–it has a destructive impulse. And when it turns to conquering other people, or having control over other people, it becomes quite evil. And whether we’re doing it by torturing people in Iraq or anywhere else, you know, empire has its human-rights price. And so I really want to say, right now, we can’t ignore the fact that the forces of peace in Israel and in Palestine are quite limited, and that you have a–you know, most of the people I know who hate Trump, you know, still admire Israel. So let me give you the last word on that. What do we do now with an Israeli state that is Trumpian in its rhetoric, and actually in its actions?

SL: In terms of us being, you know, there is a limit to what we as Americans can do. Israel is obviously a sovereign state. I think the most important thing that we could do is to make sure that Trump and his gang are defeated, and that a democratic administration, capital “d” and small “d,” will be elected in 2020 that will begin to put pressure on Netanyahu.

RS: OK. Well, that’s one way of thinking about it. And I want to thank you, Susie Linfield, the author of The Lion’s Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky. That’s it for this edition of “Scheer Intelligence.” Our engineers at KCRW are Mario Diaz and Kat Yore. Here at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Sebastian Grubaugh has been the engineer. The producer of Scheer Intelligence is Josh Scheer. Back next week with another edition. Bye.

Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. His columns appear in newspapers across the country, and his…

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