Zionism and Liberalism,  Another Point of View

by Dr. Mel Scult

Peter Beinart in the Sunday Opinion section of the New York Times, was his usual brilliant self. But in this case he happens to be wrong. He would have us believe that the liberals on the left who have traditionally identified strongly with Israel have no place to go. He would have us believe that the left is now characterized by identification with the cause of the Palestinians and is increasingly hostel to any strong support for Israel. Those who support Israel and are liberal are stuck he thinks.

 But his argument is weak because he fails to remember that American liberals can and must identify strongly with the democratic movement in Israel. Though the government is rightest to the core, there is, and there was, and there will be thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets protesting government policies and demanding that the government not weaken  the Supreme Court, demanding that the government make the return of the hostages primary, demanding that the war in Gaza come to a just conclusion.

There is a Zionism which is liberal to the core, one might call it a critical Zionism,  which is found in the thought of Mordecai Kaplan. He was a life-long Zionist , of course, and believed that Jewish society everywhere  both here and in Israel must uphold the ideals of Jewish Civilization and that means the ideals of justice and mercy and compassion. He was concerned that nationalism often becomes chauvinism- a collective egotism he calls it.

After a conversation with his daughter Hadassah and her husband Sidney, he wrote the following;  

“Before long I became involved in a long drawn debate over the question whether there was room or need for a progressive or reconstructionist religious movement in Israel.  It devolved upon me to defend single-handed the view that while a interest in the development of the State of Israel and a sense of pride in its achievement were indispensable they are not enough.  In fact, unless supplemented by a humanist religious spirit, that attitude is bound to degenerate into a form of chauvinism which together with communism is a nuisance to the future of mankind.

-Mordecai Kaplan, August 1953