Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alan Dershowitz, Richard Goldstone, Naomi Chazan, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Michael Oren, Andrew Sullivan, and Leon Wieseltier – What Does It All Mean?

What a week!

Naomi Chazan and the New Israel Fund are attacked by an Israeli right wing Zionist student group that last summer protested against professors who assigned reading material in English. And the result? Everybody that belongs to the liberal, Zionist wing rallies to the NIF's defense. With any luck, the fund will make some money from the publicity.

Richard Goldstone is called a traitor by Alan Dershowitz and his report "a crime against the Jewish people" by Elie Wiesel, icons of the Old Guard. Goldstone has been, in effect, ostracized by all segments of the Zionist consensus, left, center, and right. And for what? For criticizing the actions of the IDF in Gaza, and for doing it for the United Nations. The Zionist left calls for an independent investigation of the Gaza Op; the Zionist right pushes back.

Jeremy Ben-Ami and J-Street don't condemn Goldstone or his report. But their moderate demurral is enough for Ambassador Michael Oren to climb down the tree and hint that he will stop boycotting them, thus undercutting the Philadelphia Jews who tried to block Ben-Ami's appearance at the Penn Hillel. Ben-Ami's appearance does draw a counter-appearance by hasbara-nik Mitchel Bard, who speaks at a meeting of a bogus organization called "Z-Street." (Free Kosher sushi is offered as a draw; the previous night was the ZOA offered free kosher pizza.)

And, finally, Andrew Sullivan writes some harmless things in his blog about Jews, neocons, and Israel, that do not find favor in the eyes of Leon Wieseltier, who attacks Sullivan in The New Republic. Sullivan writes the sort of things that Gideon Levy would write on one of his more moderate days.

What does it all mean? It means that we are seeing a "paradigm shift" in the American Jewish community's attitude towards Israel. The paradigm of the '67 generation, which lived through the roller-coaster of the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, and the Intifada, and which had crystallized into two camps – the Peace Camp and the Nationalist Camp – is breaking down before our eyes, and the Gaza Op is a significant milestone in that breakdown. The Peace Camp has morphed into two uneven groups; those who have embraced the doctrine of human rights, who see Israel as inevitably and essentially morally stained because of the Occupation; and those who cling to the mantra of the 67-generation, that although the Occupation is horrible it cannot be ended until Israel's security is ensured. If you are a post WWII baby boomer, you are in the latter camp. But if you are under thirty-five and liberal, and you still even care about Israel, then chance are you are going to be with the human rights folks. And you will start raising the fundamental questions not about 67 but 47 and even 97 – i.e., 1897 and the founding of the Zionist movement.

I still remember when the only Jewish anti-Zionists were the Reform American Council for Judaism, and the Satmar Hasidim/Neture Karta. They could be tolerated because they were quaint and small in number. Now, it is becoming increasingly "bon ton" in progressive circles not to be associated with the Zionists. Because they are found, increasingly in the younger generation, only among the right and the orthodox.

And that brings us to the Nationalist Camp, which also has a similar breakdown into two uneven groups. Here, the smaller group is made up of the Old Guard of organizations like the ZOA, and even some more moderate groups that view Israel through the prism of Exodus and the Six-Day War. The New Guard is militantly Zionist, right wing, and Islamophobic. Consider student organizations like Im Tirzu in Israel and the Zionist Freedom Alliance in this country. Their militancy is inspired by Jabotinsky, and their tactics are fascist in essence.

In both cases, left and right, the Old Guard has its ties with the New Guard. The New Israel Fund supports (to some extent; let's not exaggerate) the work of the Israeli human rights NGO's. These show relentlessly that in an age where Palestinian terror is virtually dead – a stabbing here, a murderous driver there – Israeli oppression and humiliation of the Palestinians is never-ending, and more sophisticated, with every passing day.

The Old Guard, now on the right, may bemoan the loss of the consensus it once enjoyed, and wax nostalgic about the good old days when young liberal democrats actually supported Israel in the public sphere. But it can at least console itself that it has spawned a cadre of hard-core nationalists – neocon, orthodox, and Republican -- on whom it can rely.

Like the sea eroding the seashore, support for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state will continue to erode, as people see the inevitable consequences of the Occupation, and how Israel is incapable of ending it. And while the Occupation can go indefinitely, a decades-long failed peace process cannot. Sooner or later, the peace process will grind to a halt (let's hope that it is sooner rather than later.) And then the peace camp will continue to unravel, or at least to support materially the far left.

In short, things will get uglier, nastier, and more divisive in that part of the Jewish community that cares about Israel, as each iteration of the conflict brings out the worst in us. Most American Jews will have ceased to care about Israel, and the ones who do care will be deeply divided – much more so than the classical division of the Peace and Nationalist camp. And those divisions will grown deeper, with Israel being their cause.


Dan Fleshler said...

Aren't there signs that the divisions between the youngish human rights camp and the oldish peace camp are breaking down, at least a bit? Yossi Sarid and Danny Grossman showed up at Sheikh Jarrah demos, no? Is that meaningless? Were those isolated incidents, or is the urgency of the human right situation prodding the slumbering peace camp to wake up a bit?

fiddler said...

Dan, that could also mean the oldish peace camp itself is breaking down as a coherent "camp", and its members are looking for new associations.

IMO the "human rights folks" on the Zionist left will have to get their preferences straight. Support for human rights is incompatible with support for an ethnic supremacist state's "right to exist" the way it does exist, and the way it defines the foundations of the state.
The right's outrageously overblown rhetoric against critics is doing the latter a favour - if Goldstone is called a traitor by Dershowitz, then being a traitor can't be such a bad thing after all. For a growing left to be cast out of the "Zionist consensus" by the self-appointed gatekeepers of the right will in time alter the consensus itself, and the right, instead of having the left locked out will see themselves locked into their ghetto, which is, I believe, why there's such a sense of panic among them right now.

Pinchas Giller said...


Very good portrayal of the situation. I may send it around to the distrait youth.

Pinchas Giller

Tamar Orvell said...

You write as well as you think. Nice terse wrap. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The Zionist right is moving further the right, it's arguments seem to becoming more hysterical as its actions continue to delegitamise the state of Israel. I see parallels also with the failure of the revolution and the lurch to the further fanaticism by the Mullahs again they deligitemise themselves by their actions.

I won't paraphrase the poem below, but I believe there are parallels.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.


David L. said...

Jerry-A very brilliant analysis. I wouild temper it though that some of us 40 & 50 somethings are starting to think like the under 35's in the "Peace Camp."

WendyM said...

I am over 50 and joining your camp, very happy to have found it, too. My position on Zionism has taken a huge turn recently, which began with getting to know the foreign workers and refugees when I was working in a second hand store on Derech Salameh in south Tel Aviv. Yes, I am an Amerisan baby-boomer who is nodding their head in agreement while reading your blog, and amazed.

Anonymous said...

To solve the Israeli/Palestinian crisis a new proposal is for the Palestinians to convert to Judaism.

Comments please.

Anonymous said...

Not me. I support Israel 120%.

WendyM said...

Convert the Palestinians? I am sure they would rather convert the Jews. Excellent way of making a point, though, which is what this blog is all about. How do you separate religion and state when the definition of the said state is that it is for a religious group? Thorny issue, and making suggestions of conversion do not serve it.

Unknown said...

I support Israel completely.

There is a right side to be on.

Jeremy Cushing