The New York Times Op-Ed page has always been a comfortable place for liberal Zionists, those who genuinely bemoan the 1967 Occupation, the settlements, and its effect on both Palestinians and Israel.  When op-ed writers stray too far from the Zionist consensus, i.e., when they air too much of Israel’s dirty linen before the goyim (in New York?), the Times routinely publishes letters defending Israel, and bravo for them. Even this amount of courage on their part loses readers, although, frankly, are there any rightwing Zionists reading the New York Times anymore?

In short, opinion on Israel in the New York Times ranges from progressive Zionist  to liberal hawk Zionist, mostly of the Democratic persuasion. You won’t see any regular columnists on Israel who are not Zionist. You barely hear pro-Palestinian voices (unless they are close to the Palestinian Authority or the American Task Force on Palestine,)

Occasionally, though, the Times lets an op-ed through that is actually tough on Israel, and not just on the post-1967 Occupation. Two such cases recently raised the ire of liberal Zionists like the Forward‘s  J. J. Goldberg and AJC’s David Harris (the former is a progressive Zionist; the latter, a liberal hawk Zionist), who, like other liberal Zionists, monitor how much criticism Israel is allowed to get from the paper of record.

The first was an op-ed published by Sarah Schulman about what has been known for some time as „pinkwashing”, the trumpeting of Israel’s recent record on gay rights as a hasbara tool to deflect criticism on other human rights issues.  In that article, Prof. Schulman cited Prof. Ayal Gross of the Tel Aviv University to the effect that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool,” even though “conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.” Schulman did not deny that Israel was a better place for gays than elsewhere in the Middle East, only that the

gay soldiers and the relative openness of Tel Aviv are incomplete indicators of human rights — just as in America, the expansion of gay rights in some states does not offset human rights violations like mass incarceration.

I won’t spend much time on David Harris’s piece, which shows clearly that he hadn’t heard of „pinkwashing” before he read Schulman’s op-ed.   The academic who has written about it in the context of what he calls „homonationalism” is Prof. Aeyal Gross of Tel Aviv University. (Gross has a  representative  piece here that will provide some background for Harris, who seems strangely out of touch with the Israeli human rights scene, unless he only reads the New York Times. By the way, Gross himself finds the term „pinkwashing” inaccurate, because, unlike „whitewashing,” which implies concealing the truth, there has been relative progress in LGBT rights.)

Harris is thus  unaware of how the Israel recent record on gay rights has been appropriated in recent years by Israel advocacy groups like Stand-With-Us to shore up support for Israel in the  LGBT community, and the Israeli government’s encouragement of this. Israel’s position here is consistent with its natural desire to garner support with other groups of all persuasions, whether homophiliac or  homophobic, such as evangelical Christians. When it comes to alliances, Israel has always found itself with incompatible bedfellows.

Israel advocacy in  LGBT circles  is a good way of weakening criticism in groups that tend to be leftwing. In a sense, the strategy is reminiscent of Israel’s „divine-and-conquer” approch to Israeli Arabs.  By fostering Druze identity, and playing Druze off against their erstwhile Muslim persecutors, Israel attempted with some success to slow the progress of a Palestinian national identity. Why can’t the same approach be tried in a leftwing community like the LGBT community, where if Israel can pick up support among mainstream gays who really don’t give a hoot for anything outside their parochial interest, why not? And why should David Harris be opposed to this?

Actually, my main gripe is with J. J. Goldberg, who attacks – get this – the headline of a piece he likes, Gershom Gorenberg’s op-ed against the increasing delegitimization of Palestinian Israelis. The headline, „Israel’s Other Occupation,” is a bone-headed mistake, according to Goldberg,  because it implies that Israel is occupying territory „within its own internationally recognized borders.” Apparently the editor of the Op-Ed page,  put down by Goldberg as „a former fashion and culture maven,” simply doesn’t understand the Middle East.

The only problem for Goldberg is that Israel has no internationally recognized border. Nor did it ever have. In fact, it never wanted them, and  David Ben Gurion saw  its lack of recognized borders as an advantage, since it gave him negotiating power in future peace talks.  Liberal Zionists like to mislead themselves into thinking that the 1949 armistice lines are recognized borders, but I will be happy to donate money to the Forward if Goldberg can show me serious, diplomatic support of his claim.  In fact, even the UN Partition Plan borders are not recognized borders for the Jewish State, since they never existed except on paper. When the State of Israel was recognized by many countries, and later when it was accepted into the United Nations, there was no claim that these were Israel’s borders, and that it was inappropriate for the Palestinians and bordering Arab countries to contest these borders. Can a state without borders be recognized?

Ask Mahmoud Abbas that one.

Ah, you will say, this is pilpul, Talmudic hair-splitting. Even if there are no recognized borders, everybody recognizes that the lands on which the Palestinians sit belong to the State of Israel. However, that is not so simple. Let’s not forget that the Palestinian citizens of Israel had their much of their land systematically taken away from them after 1948, often in expropriation, or in land purchases against their will – and Jews were settled on those lands, or forests were planted after razing villages. While that may  not be „occupation,” it is not far from the situation of the Palestinians on the West Bank, with all the differences in status between the two Palestinian populations. And there is something else that they share, and is missed in Goldberg’s reference to „ethnic discrimination” – the feeling of official and foundational exclusion from the state that governs their lives without their having any control over those lives in key areas. Israeli Arabs have the vote, but their vote has no political weight. Palestinians in the territories do not have any vote over policies that directly control their daily lives.
The truth is that the term „occupation” is problematic  both in the case of the Palestinian Israelis and in the case of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. „Occupation” is, as Goldberg points out, used with reference to territory, but the terms that are  relevant here are „domination” and „control. In fact, Israel provides three models of control, or, perhaps four models, corresponding with the four types of Palestinian populations: exile and dispossession (Palestinian diaspora); remote military control (Gaza); direct and indirect rule (West Bank); and curtailment of civil rights based on exclusion from the nation (49 armistice lines).    All this control is necessary, argues Israel, for the sake of its security and in order to guarantee the ethnic character of the state. And, quite frankly, most liberal Zionists don’t dispute this. They have no desire for direct control over the lives of Palestinians, but they insist that Israel’s security requires some persistent measure of control over a potentially hostile population.

Potentially hostile or enemy populations are often occupied. As long as poll after poll show that the majority of Israelis view Palestinian Israelis as potentially or actually hostile, or an enemy fifth column, they can certainly be considered occupied. The answer for Palestinians, both inside and outside of the 49 armistice lines, is to grant them equal rights, equal authority, and equal dignity.

The political framework is not the issue. Let it be two states, one state, no state, many states. The real issue is ending the control of  the Palestinians’s life, liberty, and property – on both sides of the Green Line.

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