Supporting Israel and Palestine: The two faces of Progressive Zionism

Categories: Letters From Leadership

By Ami Isseroff

Zionism-Israel News Archives

The Union of Progressive Zionists, Ameinu and other progressive Zionists are justifiably upset by the crude attempt of Mort Klein and the ZOA to oust them from the ICC, or to change the ICC charter so as to stifle dissent. Good sense got the better part of hysteria, and the attempt was quashed. The controversy did no good for Zionism, though it generated publicity for ZOA, UPZ, Ameinu and the Breaking the Silence group sponsored by UPZ.

Unfortunately, Ameinu and UPZ set themselves up for Klein by inviting the Breaking the Silence group, and Ameinu got themselves in more trouble when they published an article comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa. Everyone understands that Mort Klein and ZOA are “waiting for progressive Zionists at the corner,” ready to pounce on any bit of evidence that you are not loyal to Israel, while anti-Zionists are equally eager to exploit Breaking the Silence and the legitimate internal Israeli Zionist controversy about the occupation and about IDF human rights violations.

Breaking the Silence provides legitimate and necessary internal criticism in Israel. They show real acts of real IDF soldiers, though these acts are not necessarily representative. This inhumane behavior must be changed, and the occupation must be ended as soon as possible. This criticism can only get the attention and support of mainstream Israelis and really make a change if Breaking the Silence, MachsomWatch and other critics make it clear that they are “on our side.” Few in Israel will listen to them if they are lending legitimacy to terrorist acts or to those who announce the intention of destroying Israel.

If I whisper to you, “You have a spot on your tie,” I am a friend who is trying to help. If I get up in front of an audience of thousands and say “Hey look at him, he has a spot on his tie,” then my “help” will be viewed differently. As soon as Breaking the Silence left Israel and took their case to Europe and the USA, they lost their legitimacy. They are perceived as enemies by ordinary Israeli Zionists and can no longer be effective advocates of change in Israeli policy or the IDF. In the context of Israeli society, where the need to defend against terror attacks is understood, Breaking the Silence does not need to make that point. They have to point out senseless brutality and dehumanization, whether these are the result of the occupation, or of stupidity and incompetence of IDF officers. But when they bring the same message to a campus in California, to people who perhaps never heard of the Hamas or of Islamic Jihad suicide squads, they have taken their message out of context. Instead of being a means of improving Israeli society, it becomes a means of destroying Israel.

Progressive Zionist groups have to find a way to support Israel and Palestine rather than alienating both supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine. We have to find a way to criticize Israel’s actions without imperiling the existence of Israel, adopting the rhetoric of anti-Zionists and questioning the legitimacy of Zionism.

It is easy to fall in with the crowds of people of different persuasions who bandy about slogans in the propaganda war. It is not easy to support both sides, but it is not impossible.

It is not impossible to support Zionism without supporting the settlements. It is not impossible to criticize Israel without using catchwords like “apartheid.” It is not impossible to support Israel without ignoring settler extremism. It is not impossible to explain that the settlements are wrong, that the occupation, a slightly different issue, is the result of a conflict that has been going on for nearly 100 years, and that the repressive security is a cruel necessity dictated by the recent rampage of terror. In a better world, soldiers would all be officers and gentlemen, but we know they are not. The Palestinians forced a war on us. In wars one uses soldiers, and that is how soldiers often behave. We should not be content with that behavior, but we can’t stop fighting terror attacks because of criticism of that behavior, nor can we surrender to the Islamic Jihad and Fatah Al Aqsa brigades.

It is not impossible to support Palestinian rights without condoning or ignoring terror, corruption and incitement or miminizing the genocidal intent of extremist groups.

If we want progressive people to support Jewish rights, we cannot be deaf to legitimate criticism, however much it hurts. However, if we want Zionists in Israel and abroad to hear our critique and concerns, we can’t be deaf to their criticism either.

Ami Isseroff


Ami Isseroff, D.Sc is director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA

Zionism-Israel News Archives

About Ami Isseroff

Ami Isseroff is director of MidEastWeb for Coexistence, and editor of and He lives in Rehovot.
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