Dr. Joshua Shanes, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Arnold Center for Israel Studies at the College of Charleston in South Carolina wrote an article for Haaretz titled “Liberal Zionists, Face the Facts: There’s Already Only One State From the River to the Sea.”
He argues that Israel’s ongoing illegal annexation of the West Bank means that it will never accept a two-state solution, and under these conditions, people must recognize that as the only state from the river to the sea, Israel must include Palestinians.
What Is Liberal Zionism?
Shanes describes Liberal Zionism as representative of a range of views that share the belief that a two-state solution would afford Palestinians with the equal rights they deserve. They oppose Israel’s military occupation, but they also oppose offering West Bank Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. In other words, they believe that maintaining Israel as a safe, Jewish-run state and securing the right of return for Palestinian refugees can best be achieved by creating a second Palestinian state. Shanes does not equate this with the Bantustan, two-state solution that was proposed for South Africa.
Would Equal Rights for Palestinians Mean the Destruction of Israel?
The word “destruction” in this context is used in several ways: either to refer to those who literally seek to destroy Israel or Israeli Jews, or to refer to the perceived threat of Palestinians’ right to return to their families’ homes, or even to refer to the alleged consequences of expanding West Bank Palestinians’ rights.
Shanes argues that this expansive discourse of “destruction”—which implies “mass slaughter or the full-scale expulsion of Israeli Jews”—serves to obscure the fact that there is currently only one state from the river to the sea. Those who struggle for Palestinian rights must not be conflated with those who seek killing Jews or other forms of anti-Semitism.
Contradiction in the “Right to Return”
Liberal Zionists understand that Israel was founded upon the belief that Jewish people are descendants of those who were expelled from the Holy Land millennia ago and, thus, have the right to return and enjoy full citizenship: refugees have a timeless and indelible right of return. Shanes points out the contradiction that Palestinian families have also been exiled from the same land, yet Israel prevents their right to return.
Shanes points out another contradiction: the recognition of the Palestinian nation and its right to self-determination while simultaneously arguing that these rights would be impractical. For example, it might seem impractical for Palestinian families to return to their homes that are now occupied by Israeli Jews, ignoring the notion that if Palestinian families could be offered compensation, the Israeli Jewish family could be offered compensation on an equal basis.
Another contradictory concern is extending citizenship to more Palestinians would risk Israel losing a Jewish majority status, although treating all people as equal is our fundamental shared value.
Shane compares this issue to “the Talmudic case of the man who steals a wooden beam and builds his house around it; it is simply not practical to demand he dismantle the house to return the beam. As Hillel rules, the cost would be so prohibitive that the thief would rather live in sin than make amends. Instead, justice demands the thief acknowledge his sin and make appropriate restitution of the beam’s value. In other words, Israel must acknowledge its past sins and make restitution.”
Moving Forward as One State
Considering the current reality that Israel is one state that determines the daily life of Palestinians living under military occupation, Shanes calls liberal Zionists to fight for the immediate extension of equal rights to all non-Jews living under Israel’s purview.
The moral position according to Jewish values would not accept for Jews to enjoy freedom at the expense of another peoples’ freedom. Rather than waiting for the Israel-Palestine conflict to improve, Shanes argues for the importance of taking action today.
More about Dr. Joshua Shanes
Dr. Joshua Shanes earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois and his Doctorate of Philosophy in History from the University of Wisconsin. He researches and publishes about modern Jewish politics, culture, and religion and antisemitism. His book Diaspora Nationalism and Jewish Identity in Habsburg Galicia (Cambridge University Press, 2012) explores Zionism’s competing forms of Jewish nationalism from last century. He is currently writing a book for Rutgers University Press about the German origins of Jewish Orthodoxy into the 21st century. Shanes has also written for Haaretz on a number of topics, including New York’s Hasidic Education Crisis, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and antisemitism, and Tucker Carlson.