Noam Shalit - Tess Scheflan - 01122011
Reporters surrounding Noam Shalit in 2009. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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We, the Jews, are a people who can appreciate nasty. Chalk it up to survivor guilt or oppressor guilt; put it down to a legacy of talmudic and tribal disputation, a history of abuse or a tradition of stand-up. Regardless, the evidence is clear: Two Jews, three zingers - barbed, caustic and intentionally so.

This may explain why members of two groups that would seem to have no common ground - the pro-settlement, pro-occupation, Jewish hard right in America; and the loose community of hard-left American Jews who loathe Israel and everything it does - could come together to heap scorn on a common enemy: the two-state Jews.

The Jew who believes that such a thing can and should happen - an independent Palestine alongside an independent, truly democratic Jewish state - is hated by activists from both sides as a yefe nefesh (bleeding heart liberal ), and as a lily-livered person of limp and literally negotiable values. This Jew merits the nastiest common curse that the hard right and hard left can summon: Liberal.

"Why are they so angry?" writer Gershom Gorenberg, an avowed two-state dove, asked recently while recounting his address to an Orthodox congregation in New York about threats to Israeli democracy - among them, the hair-trigger issue of contemporary Orthodoxy, settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Gorenberg - himself Orthodox and himself American-born, though rooted in Jerusalem and thus no stranger to impassioned argument - was taken aback when a member of the congregation screamed at him, livid.

That, it turned out, was only the beginning. With the publication of Gorenberg's new book, "The Unmaking of Israel," it appears dove-hunting season has opened in earnest.

"The only enthusiastic audience for The Unmaking of Israel will likely be found among those who are always eager for a book by a Jew they can use as a shield against a charge of anti-Semitism as they array themselves for ideological battle against the Jewish state," reviewer Lazar Berman wrote in "Commentary," the flagship magazine of second-generation neo-conservative U.S. Jews.

"In fact, tensions between Israel as the Jewish national liberation movement and Gorenberg's ideal democracy have nothing to do with settlements," Berman writes, adding that, "In 2011, Israeli democracy is trending toward greater equity and robustness, not toward collapse." Israelis, knee-deep in the effluent of legislation abrogating rights and the separation of powers, will surely find these observations peculiar - if, for all the wrong reasons, reassuring.

From the left, Gorenberg has been taken to task for concentrating too much on Israel and not nearly enough on the Palestinians. He has been attacked for cutting Israel's moderate majority too much slack, for being overly balanced on the Israeli-Palestinian question. He has also been hit by shrapnel from the hard left's shelling of the two-state target it most loves to revile, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. Many critics, slamming Goldberg's strongly positive review of Gorenberg's book in The New York Times, were unmoved by Goldberg's endorsement of Gorenberg's proposals for making Israel more democratic, or by the fact that he shares Gorenberg's belief that the settlement enterprise - and its puppet, the occupation - are destructive to Israel.

What is needed, clearly, is a conversation within the American Jewish community that allows all points of view - no exceptions - to be aired and discussed with seriousness. There are signs of this beginning, but there are intimidating shouts of reaction as well.

The American Jewish community needs to be more of a family and less of a lobby. It needs to be more of a family and less a place of censure and censorship. More a family and less a war zone of barricaded feuding clans. In synagogues, campus Hillels and community centers, the rules need to be clear and ironclad. All are welcome, from boycott advocate to settler advocate. No incitement, however. No bigotry. None. Respect. Meanwhile, the vigor of the attacks against moderates may owe to the sense on both the hard right and the hard left that its side is on the verge of winning the war over the future of Israel.

"Zionism is truly coming to an end," veteran New York journalist and avowed anti-Zionist activist Philip Weiss wrote this week. The pro-occupation right, meanwhile, churns out articles on a near-daily basis on the death of the two-state solution and the closing of the window for Palestinian statehood.

The fact is that both extremes may, in the end, get their wish. If Israel fails to heed warnings like those in Gorenberg's book, if the collective erosion of occupation, settlement, demographics, inequality and expansion of extremist rabbinic influence is not reversed, both the hard right and the hard left will be proven prophetic. First, the two-state solution will be rendered impossible, pleasing the pro-occupation, Zionist right. The second consequence will not be far off: the end of what is left of democracy in Israel, and then the end - through demographics, despair and desertion - of Zionism itself.