Dany Bahar: “Can one be both a Zionist and a liberal?”

Zorba with Dany Bahar, Scholar affiliated to the IDB, The Brookings Institution and Harvard’s Center for International Development

Israel_relief_location_map-blankParis.– Last night we had the chance of talking with Dany Bahar , economist at the Research Department of the Inter-American Development Bank, nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Global Economy and Development program and associate at Harvard Center for International Development. Last night he did not talk about economics, but about the other topic he is passionate about: Israel. Israeli of Venezuelan origin and actively engaged in the peace movement (see his blog at The Times of Israel), Dany is concerned about the future of Israel.

Can one be both a Zionist and a liberal? The quick answer is yes, and Dany sees himself very much as both. He believes in the right for Jews to have their own state, but he is a strong defender of human rights and is concerned about what type of state Israel can become. “The Holocaust is not so distant for Jews…” –he said after going through his family history and to explain part of his motivations that led him to made “Aliyah” (to immigrate to Israel). Dany moved to Israel when he was 15 and completed his military service. Early on he became actively involved in pro-peace organizations and became member of the Peace Now movement.

“One can be very critical of Israel without questioning its existence”, says Dany. Being a zionist –believing in the existence of the rights of the Jews to have their own country — does not contradict the right of Palestinians to their own state. For Dany, the Palestinian State is not only a must from a pragmatic point of view (for Israel to keep existing as a Jewish and Democratic country), but also a moral and ethical choice.

But how can Israel be a Jewish and a democratic state at the same time? For Dany, Israel being Jewish implies is the homeland of the Jewish people — where the majority of its citizens are Jewish with the presence of an important Arab Palestinian minority with equal rights. It seems Israelis are doomed to choose 2 of 3 attributes: keeping all the land, being democratic and being Jewish. Because keeping all the land and being Jewish would be incompatible with democracy given the Palestinian and Arab Israeli population. But keeping all the land and being democratic would mean not having a Jewish state. This is why the two-state solution is essential from the standpoint of a liberal Zionist. More importantly, Palestinians should have a state because they also have the right and the occupation is immoral.

The risk is that time runs against the viability of a two-state solution. And yet, the political economy on both sides makes it unlikely to produce an end to the conflict any time soon. Instead, the latest violent incidents point to the opposite and many fear a new intifada is starting.

Book recommendations for those interested in the topic:

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