Friday, January 27, 2012

Oy, Those “Anti-Semitic Tropes”!

A few weeks I wrote a post in which I claimed that using terms like “Israel-Firster” or “Israeli Apartheid” does not make you anti-Semitic. Those who think otherwise are trivializing anti-Semitism and/or trying to delegitimize the views of their opponents.

The discussion has now shifted from the question of the attitudes of the person using the terms to the terms themselves. Granted that you can use the term “Israel-Firster” without being an anti-Semite – but is it appropriate to use a term that has been used by anti-Semites, or which is reminiscent of anti-Semites, etc., or which was popularized by anti-Semites – I am told?  

Let’s look at this carefully. There may be tactical reasons to avoid using certain terms. You may think that what Israel is doing on the West Bank is sufficiently close to apartheid to call it just that. But you may not wish to use the term in a debate, because that is an invitation to a theoretical exploration of how similar or dissimilar it is. Or not. I am just saying that you may not find it a helpful term, and “Israel-firster” may be one of those.

People should also be careful about using terms that have a history of bigotry associated with them, even if they don’t intend to use them in a bigoted manner. That’s my viewpoint, anyway. I don’t mean to be issue a blanket prohibition, just an admonition to be careful. “Israel-firster” is a pejorative term. That’s no reason not to use it, but it clearly assumes that this is not something good. And so, again, it may not be helpful to use it.

Yet there may be good reasons to use a term despite its being considered offensive by some. Many Americans, mostly Christian, are squeamish about using the word “Jew” or “Jews”; they prefer to say “Jewish” or “Jewish people”. In the famous “anti-Dentite”  Seinfeld episode, the priest asks Jerry, “And that offends you as a Jewish person?” and not “And that offends you as a Jew.” This preference of “Jewish person” for “Jew” is due, ultimately, to pejorative associations of the word in the English language (“to jew down a price”), and excessive (and barely conscious) sensitivity of the negative associations.

I use this example because “Jew”, unlike the N-word, is not commonly felt today to be offensive. Likewise, most people who hear “Israel-firster” are entirely ignorant of its pedigree (if indeed that pedigree is not cherry-picked from websites.)

It seems to me that those people who believe that certain Americans, Jews and non-Jews, who see everything through the prism of, “Is it good for Israel” can be legitimately called ‘Israel-firsters.”  It doesn’t matter to me that these people view as a given  the convergence of Israeli and American interests.  So, like my colleague and friend, Phil Weiss, I have no problem.

Again, I may eschew the term for tactical reasons, but I am more interested in the phenomenon than in the label for it. Many Jews argued against the founding of a Jewish state precisely because of the problem of dual loyalty. It is not as if this was invented by anti-Semites.

To imply that somebody is an anti-Semite today is a far greater sin than calling somebody an “Israel-firster,” even if you find the latter offensive. Why? Because bigotry against Jews is considered a greater vice than excessive loyalty to your tribe. So I would expect somebody who decries “Israel-firster” on the grounds of its insensitivity and offensiveness would be sensitive towards throwing the anti-Semite accusation around.

Enter Spencer Ackerman, who, after castigating his fellow leftwing Jews for using “Israel firster,” writes.

By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.

That last sentence implies, quite clearly, that Pat Buchanan is an anti-Semite. Ackerman, who peppers his post with links, doesn’t even seem to be bothered by the fact that he doesn’t provide a source for the accusation.

Sorry, my own hyper-sensitivity here reads Ackerman as saying, “Leftwing Jews shouldn’t use terms that notorious anti-Semites like Buchanan would use.” And I find that patronizing and offensive: first, because of the implicit ingroup/outgroup distinction on a relatively benign term like “Israel-Firster” (we are not talking about “Zionist scum”); and second, because I have no reason to believe that Pat Buchanan is anti-Semitic. Surely nothing that the ADL cherry-picks here would lead inexorably to that conclusion. I am open to being convinced otherwise, but I have it on very good authority that the accusation is baseless – unless you adopt the ADL’s Zionist interpretation of anti-Semitism

Here is another definition. An "anti-Semite" is somebody who protested the Israel Lobby before it became fashionable to do so.

I am being ironic.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adam Kirsch’s Fantasia on the Impact of the “Israel Lobby”

Adam Kirsch has written a fantastic piece arguing  that Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby, though universally rejected, has nonetheless had a significant  impact on political discourse. By “fantastic” I mean that his account of the book’s thesis, its reception, and its impact, appears to be the products of his imagination. Here’s why I think so.

1. The Invented Thesis

Kirsch formulates the central thesis of the book as follows

[An] all-powerful “Israel lobby” had hijacked American foreign policy using illegitimate means, and…a small but committed group of American Jews was steering the country into disaster to satisfy their parochial interests

This misrepresents the book on several counts, as Stephen Walt has pointed out already here. According to the book, the Israel Lobby is not composed entirely,  or even mainly, of a “small but committed group of American Jews,” but rather of a broad coalition of organizations and interests. Moreover,  the Lobby’s means are expressly stated by the authors to be legitimate, and it is not considered to be all-powerful, though it is indeed powerful.

But in the fantasy that Kirsch concocts, the Israel Lobby is not composed of a broad spectrum of Jewish and gentile Israel supporters, but rather is a Jewish lobby, despite the pains that the authors take to distance themselves from that pernicious reading.  So gripped is Kirsch in the throes of an imagined anti-Semitic fantasy that he considers the cover of the book, the American flag rendered in the blue and white of the Israeli flag – as “an unmistakable visual shorthand for Jewish domination.” Really! And not being able to associate the book’s thesis with anti-Semitism, what he can do is to associate it with the comment sections of anti-Semitic websites.Really!    

2. The Invented Reception History

In order to make his case that the thesis of this discredited book has continued to have pernicious influence, Kirsch has to invent a reception history of the book that once again is a fantasy, albeit with some elements of truth (George Washington did have to sleep somewhere, didn’t he?)

To look back on The Israel Lobby’s reception today is to see a remarkable unanimity of rejection, from the New York Times (“mostly wrong … dangerously misleading”) and Foreign Affairs (“written in haste, the book will be repented at leisure”) to The Nation (“serious methodological deficiencies … a mess”).

Unanimity of rejection? Here, from a fairly balanced Wikipedia article, are names of those American readers who praised the book: Former Ambassador Edward Peck, Tony Judt, Juan Cole, terrorist expert Michael Scheur, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Others gave it a mixed review, such as Daniel Levy, Christopher Hitchens (who wrote that the original Harvard paper “contains much that is true and a little that is original”) Joseph Massad, Michelle Goldberg, Michael Massing. Some that rejected the thesis didn’t think it went far enough. Others, on the left, thought that the Israel Lobby thesis took too much of the blame off the US government. .

And now let’s look at the sources to which Kirsch refers, and some of his cherry-picking from their reviews. He doesn’t provide links and for good reasons. In the Times review, Leslie Gelb, a life-long supporter of Israel, writes that “Most unbiased students of the matter would probably agree that the lobby is the single most influential force on American policy toward Israel.”  Walter Russell Mead, writing in Foreign Affairs, does not deny the existence of a lobby but attributes the US’s support of Israel to much a deeper American identification with Israel, an identification that has been changing since 1967 and could indeed change further (See here: “A Palestinian and Arab leadership more sensitive to the values and political priorities of the American political culture could develop new and more effective tactics designed to weaken, rather than strengthen, American support for the Jewish state”. This, I believe, is already happening)  And Daniel Lazare’s critical piece in the Nation includes this statement:  “So, yes, there is a pro-Israel lobby in Washington. Yes, it is powerful. And yes, critics like Mearsheimer and Walt are hardly out of bounds in asking if the lobby, which they go to great pains to demonstrate is composed of both Jews and gentiles, is truly serving what the authors consider to be the American national interest.” Hardly a unanimous rejection of the sort Kirsch implies

What Kirsch doesn’t say is that although the criticisms of the book were varied and came from different quarters, almost all of them – including the three reviews cited above -- rejected outright insinuations of anti-Semitism  Of course, all of them rejected the imagined thesis put forward by Kirsch himself (see above) – but then, again, so do Walt and Mearsheimer.

And this brings us to the biggest fantasy of the rezeptionsgeschichte invented by Kirsch

There was also a general recognition that in their insinuations about secret Jewish power, Mearsheimer and Walt—professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, respectively—had given a respectable imprimatur to old and sinister anti-Semitic tropes.

Kirsch’s source for the “general recognition”? None. Oh, he cites Michael Gerson, whom he describes as an evangelical conservative Christian. Why didn’t he cite Alan Dershowitz or Elliot Cohen?  That would show that this canard was representative of a broad spectrum of views on Israel, running the entire gamut from Zionist liberal hawk to Zionist neocon!

3. The Invention of the “Influence of the Bad Idea.”

Long before Walt and Mearsheimer wrote their book, there was a powerful lobby in Washington called AIPAC that prided itself on being a powerful lobby in Washington. That lobby has been most successful in the Congress. Whether the Congress matters in foreign policy or not, it is at least arguable that the standing ovations for Netanyahu were due in large member to the constant work of AIPAC. Tom Friedman may be upset about that success, but what’s wrong with his calling attention to it? Shouldn’t AIPAC be justly proud of its success?

In his op-ed, cited as an influence of Walt and Mearsheimer’s discredited thesis, Friedman used the term the “Israel Lobby” in its least controversial form, as referring to the influence, mostly of AIPAC, on the Congress. If there was any influence in Walt and Mearsheimer’s book on Friedman, it was terminological. 

That, of course, is nothing to sneer at. Many of Walt and Mearsheimer’s sharpest critics nonetheless praised the two for opening up the conversation of the Israel Lobby, while offering other causal factors besides domestic politics and the influence of the Lobby for the overwhelmingly pro-Israel position in Washington and the country.  The Israel Lobby has had a role  in getting the Zionist narrative, liberal and conservative, accepted among mainstream Americans, but there are many more important factors, to my mind. For example, without the Holocaust, it would have been impossible to get most Americans – and for that matter, American Jews – to support the establishment of the State of Israel, and Zionism would have remained a Utopian scheme, or at least one to be postponed. As mentioned above, Walter Russell Mead suggests that support for Israel is widespread in the US, but that can change, and indeed, in many cases, it has changed (many evangelicals are now more committed Zionists, and don’t need the reinforcement of AIPAC; liberals are less supportive of Israel’s policies than they were thirty years ago)  With the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, the unresolved issue of the Palestinian refugees, the growing awareness of the flaws of Israeli democracy (and the decline of that democracy), the coming-to-age of Palestinian-Americans who can articulate their narrative (the Zionists had a big head start) – together with the drop in terrorism, etc., etc. –  the vaunted American identification with Israel, though, broad, may show itself to be shallow. Nobody will support the death or destruction of innocent Israelis, or innocent Palestinians, who have died in far greater number --  but that leaves a wide range of political options open.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

“What Does It Mean to Be Pro Israel Today”

The current issue of Moment Magazine features a symposium on the subject, “What does it mean to be pro Israel today?”  To its credit, the Jewish magazine asked for responses from a wide range of people, including critics of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish,  who are not Zionist.  But there was no traditional religious respondent, either Muslim or Jewish, and as anybody knows, traditional religion is in the driver’s seat in the Middle East today. 

[Update: A representative of Moment pointed me to a different page where various rabbis’ opinions were solicited. Look here. Needless to say, all or almost all the rabbis were in the Zionist consensus.]

So here is my response to the Moment symposium, although I am hardly your typical modern orthodox Jew, if there is such a creature.

When people ask me whether I am pro-Israel, I unhesitatingly and unabashedly say yes. I am for Israel, which is the classical name for the Jewish people, I believe in and practice, to the best of my limited capacities, the love of the Jewish people, ahavat Yisrael. But what does that phrase mean? Hannah Arendt pleaded guilty to  Gershom Scholem’s charge that she lacked ahavat Yisrael, stating that she loves people, not “the people”, not an abstraction. But even if “Israel” is not taken to represent an abstract collective but rather each and every individual Jew, it is arguably impossible, not to mention undesirable, to love people you have never met, or worse, whose ideology or character revolts you, simply because you are a member of their tribe. (Do you love everybody in your family?)

And yet, for me, ahavat Yisrael means to accord members of the Jewish people a special place in my heart, because I view them as extended family. And that is why as a member of the family I feel worse  when some of family act atrociously.

(On another occasion I will write against the wrong sort of ahavat Yisrael, the sort exemplified by Meir Kahane’s remark, “I don’t hate Arabs; I just love Jews.” That sort of ahavat Yisrael is rampant in the State of Israel, and produces the same sort of inequity that racism produces, even though it professes, with some justification, that it is not racist in motivation.)

Of course, the Moment symposium question understood “Israel” as referring to the “State of Israel,” which itself means, the “State of the Jewish People.”  And so what they were asking is what does it mean to support the state of Israel today? To me, this is an academic question; I am not interested in supporting states or the well-being of states per se; my concern is for the well-being of the people of those states. As a liberal nationalist, I believe that the well-being of people requires some sort of political framework, and that framework is generally a state. But states are only important in what they can furnish their peoples. And so we are back to the level of people and not states.

Many of the symposiasts assume that the well-being of the Jewish people requires the existence of not just of a state, not just even of a Jewish state but of the State of Israel. I feel that this too strong. I require a framework that will provide the maximum opportunity for the peoples of Israel and Palestine, and, in an extended sense, their extended families in their respective diasporas, to flourish. I have come to the conclusion that the State of Israel, as it is currently constituted, is not that framework, although there are many elements of it that are worth preserving. No state is perfect, but some states are too imperfect, and Israel is one of them. Maybe I am oversensitive on this point, but I am a citizen of the state of Israel, and hence a member of the Israeli family.

Since I focus on people and not states, the response that resonated with me most was George Bisharat’s:

Being pro-Israel means supporting peace and stability for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and upholding principles that will ensure that peace and stability over the long term. That means supporting the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and equal rights in Israel-Palestine.

I started out by saying that I believe in and practice ahavat Yisrael  because I view Jews as extended family. When I read such sentiments from Prof. Bisharat, I also view him as extended family, but in a different sense. The Torah says, “Do not hate your brother in your heart,” and the commentator Rashi writes ,”’Your brother’ in mitzvot/ commandments.” Prof. Bisharat and I are equally commanded in pursuing peace and justice; that is why I consider him by brother, or if you like, a fellow traveler. The same God who commanded me to love my fellow Jews commanded me to pursue peace and justice for all peoples. No state  built on unjust foundations is worth preserving, but many states are worth transforming into more just polities, even at the expense of transforming their identities. Israel is one of these.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Israeli “Democracy” Descends Lower into Hell

Yesterday, the State of Israel became the first western state whose High Court ruled that some citizens have fewer fundamental rights than other citizens based on their ethnicity. Actually, it had done so before, but yesterday it rejected  the most sustained challenge to the “Citizenship Law,” which bars the non-Israeli spouses of Israeli Palestinians from becoming citizens. So while an Israeli Jew from Brooklyn has the right of marrying anybody she likes, and having her spouse naturalized, a native Palestinian Israeli citizen cannot marry  a distant relative who lives in a town five minutes from her house – unless that relative was a Palestinian collaborator, working for the Israelis, and then, only by special approval of the Minister of Interior.

Haaretz’s English version, shortened and summarized for now, doesn’t do justice to the original article. But it will give you the basic facts. What it doesn’t tell you is that the decision was a split one, 6-5, and that the some of the minority judges were either retired or soon-to-retired. Four new judges are coming on board, one of them the rightwing settler judge,  Noam Sohlberg, notorious for acquiting a Border policeman who killed an innocent Palestinian when fleeing. (The soldier said he felt “threatened”; Sohlberg accepted the argument, after he recognized that the victim was innocent and that a “terrible mistake” had been made.)  The  conservative Asher Grunis is a candidate to replace Dorit Beinisch. Unlike the American system, supreme court justices are selected by a Judicial Appointment Committee,  composed of legal experts and politicians. The four candidates recently selected reflected an ideological compromise. But there is no question that this is, and will be, a predominantly conservative court. Justices have mandatory retirement at 70, but as long as the right are in power, the court will be, in matters of human rights and “national security,” predictably rightwing.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but, as the brilliantly funny Israeli journalist B. Michael wrote yesterday, it will have beneficial effects – for the world should know the true face of Israeli “democracy,” and that in almost all cases having to do with Palestinians, the occupation of the court is to support the occupation. Now it will do so without the facade of an Aharon Barak or a Dorit Beinisch.. As Michael writes.

And the State of Israel no longer deserves a Supreme Court without Sohlberg. It deserves a court in its own image. Someone "representative," as the MK Zeev Elkin types are loudly demanding. We should do as they wish. Because from now on, the court really is far more representative of the State of Israel. It suits the state far better.

And Sohlberg - along with his rulings and the land on which he lives (which on June 5, 1969, was seized for "military purposes" ) - will also make it somewhat more difficult for the High Court of Justice to continue to boast of statesmanlike behavior and to hide behind judicial robes, as it seeks to free itself of the threat of intervention from a foreign court.

And all of that is good and right and worthy, because evil - just like justice - must be seen, not just done.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Only (Russian) Democracy in the Middle East

Subscribers: please click here to see this video, if you can't get to it from your mail.

If you are in a hurry, fast-forward to 1:25.

UPDATE: The Ethics Knesset sanctioned MK Michaeli by banned her from the Knesset for a month. After she expressed pride over the incident, she formally apologized last night. What got her so riled? If you look at tape, you see it was MK Majadele shouting "You shut up!" when she interrupted him. This deeply offended her, and she responded by saying that one doesn't talk in this manner to a female MK, and that she would take it up with Ethics Committee -- the same Ethics committee that subsequently banned her. Of course Majadele yelled, "You shut up!" because he was deeply offended; he saw her remarks not simply as a typical Knesset interruption, but as an affront to all Israeli Arabs, who have been silenced, or not listened to.

How true Maimonides' statement, "One should be offended rather than give offense."

This incident today in the Knesset parliamentary Education Committee probably won't make the mainstream media outside of Israel, or hasn't yet.  Will it be shown in America? Sometimes MSNBC's nightly line-up needs some relief from talking heads on Mitt Romney, and they show parliaments from the Far East, or the Former Soviet Union, engaging in fist-fights. It's cute, and it reminds us in America how far we are from that.

So we have MK Anastasia Michaeli, a blond Russian-born settler in Israel, a gentile who became eligible to become a citizen of a modern state after a religious conversion, and is now a member of the ultra-nationalist Russian Jewish party, Yisrael Beitienu, who stands up,  calmly pours a glass or water, and then throws it at Palestinian Israeli  MK Raleb Majadele, a member of Labor, no less. There had been the usual heated words before that, as the Russian settler kept on interrupting the Palestinian Israeli's speach, while the chairperson  of the Parliamentary committee, a fellow Russian-born ultra-nationalist, Alex Miller, looked on.

Folks, this is Israel today. Were there to be a two-state solution next week, were there to be a viable Palestinian state tomorrow, were the problems of the Palestinian refugees solved, the fundamental problem of Israel would not be solved. And what is that problem?

Simply put: A religio-ethnic-exclusivist Zionism that privileges, inter alia,  ultra-Russian nationalist religious converts to Judaism, with automatic rights to citizenship, over native Palestinians. And it was always like this.  Look at the first four prime ministers of the State of Israel: David Grun, Moshe Shertock, Levi Shkolnik, and Golda Meyerson -- all natives of the Russian Empire. They certainly had better manners than some of the Yisrael Beiteinu members of parliament today -- but the former weren't any less Russian and ultra-nationalistic than the latter.

Ah, the beauty of Israeli democracy,,,the indigenous natives are given the vote, and the political power to have water thrown at them.

The news cycle for this story in Israel lasted a few hours. That's all.

And yet...look at the dignity and restraint with which Majadale responds:

"Mr. Chairman, that says everything. It’s a pity that she is in your faction. I am certain that you do not agree with such wild, audacious, fascistic behavior. But I tell you, I am not even upset. It’s predicatable. I tell you. We will go to the Ethics Committee, and we shall call her to order."

Reminds me of another civil rights movement....but that wasn't played out in the US House of Representatives.

Here's some of the background, courtesy of Haaretz

MK Anastassia Michaeli (Yisrael Beiteinu) poured a cup of water on her colleague MK Raleb Majadele (Labor) during an argument that ensued between the two at a heated Knesset Education Committee debate on Monday morning.

The argument erupted after MK Danny Danon (Likud) called for the retrenchment of the principal of a school in the Negev town of Arara, who took students on a human rights march held in Tel Aviv last month. The Knesset discussion was held following a Haaretz report that the Education Ministry reprimanded the Israeli-Arab high school.

"You are marching against the state," Michaeli shouted at Majadele, who answered back, "shut up." He then added that, "She won't shut me up. This is not Yisrael Beiteinu. The issue of fascism won't stop here – I intend on taking this debate to other Muslims who will serve as an example for the State of Israel… Fascism will not be allowed to take over the house." Michaeli replied that "It is disrespectful to the status of women in the Knesset. We will discuss the matter in the Ethics Committee."

At a certain point in the argument, as it appeared that Michaeli was about to leave the room to calm down, she poured a cup of water and threw the contents at Majadele. Following that, she left the room with fury.

Majadele turned to Committee Chairperson, MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu), and said, "That says it all. I'm sure you wouldn't condone such wild and fascist behavior. I'm telling you, I'm excited. This is predictable.

We'll take this matter to the Ethics Committee and we'll call her to order."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Alexander Yakobson’s “Generous” Peace Offer

The op-ed in last Friday’s Haaretz by historian Alexander Yakobson offers a wonderful insight into the mind of the secular Israeli who considers himself a liberal Zionist.  In fact, I consider it must-reading for anybody who wishes to understand the sort of mentality that  has effectively killed the two-state solution from 1948 to the present. (I haven’t founded it translated yet into English; if somebody has a link, please send it to me.)

Yakobson’s piece was in response to an op-ed in the previous Friday’s Haaretz by writer A. B. Yehoshua, who was beginning to despair of a real two-state solution because of the difficulty involved in moving so many settlers. Yakobson responded with an idea that he had floated before, namely, that as part of a peace agreement, the army would withdraw to the 67 border, and the settlers would be allowed to decide if they wanted to stay in Palestine as Palestinian citizens.  After all, if the Jewish state has an Arab minority, why shouldn’t the Palestinian state have a Jewish minority? Yakobson didn’t repeat what he had written earlier, namely that  that most settlers would return after receiving some modest compensation “beyond the letter of the law.” –and that since the Arabs are known for making life impossible for the Jews in their midst, even the nuts who stay will end up coming back eventually under the law of return.

For a secular Israeli like Yakobson it’s all good:  The Palestinians get their land and get off the Israelis’ back; the crazy religious settlers can settle in Eretz Yisrael if they like, and if they don’t, they come back for only a fistful of shekels. Just think of the money we save!

The secular Israeli liberal  offers the Palestinian nothing that he himself wants and everything he can’t abide – the West Bank, which he never visits; the Palestinians, whom he would prefer not to worry about; and the religious settlers, whom he is ecstatic to part with. Which of his own interests does he sacrifice in the spirit of compromise? None..

And what about the Palestinians? Well after being powerless to stop their land from being expropriated and developed into illegal bedroom communities and cities for settlers who wish  them dead and gone, or at least, permanently subservient, they now are obligated by a treaty with the regional superpower to keep the settlements and settlers, who, presumably according to Yakobson, will turn into loyal Palestinian citizens without any irredentist tendencies.

Note that this “generous proposal” is from a man who opposes the return of any more than a handful of Palestinian refugees to Israel because of the threat to the security of the Jewish state.  He sees no security threat to the Palestinian state by  the religious fanatics he is so eager to get rid of. Not his problem, is it?

Can his proposal be made serious? Consider the following friendly amendments:

Settlers can remain as citizens of the Palestinian state, after they give up their Israeli citizenship, of course. But since they do not own the land they live on anyway, but rather lease it from the Israeli government, the Palestinian government  could move them to other places on the West Bank, after offering proper compensation.

In exchange for the Palestinians being forced to received hundreds of thousand Jewish “immigrants”, the Israelis would be forced to receive hundreds of thousand Palestinian “immigrants”, i.e., returning refugees. How many hundreds of thousands? Well, if a bit over half a million Israeli Jews are offered the opportunity to stay in the West Bank, and there are a bit over 3.5 million Palestinians living there now, then that works out to about 16% – and 16% of 5.5 million Israeli Jewish living within the Green Line would work out to 880,000 Palestinian refugees. Of course, you will immediately say that this isn’t fair – after all, the Jewish state starts out with 20% of its population Arab. Good point. Let’s assume, then, that the Arabs had not driven thousands of Jewish settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1948, and they constituted around – what – 5% of the total? So, you know, we’ll compromise on resettling 3/4 of a million Palestinian refugees in exchange for allowing the Jewish settlers to remain where they are. And half a million of them will be settled West of Jerusalem, the rest in the Galilee and the Negev.

I find that the problem folks like Prof. Yakobson is that they are pretty good negotiators when negotiating with themselves. They know how to figure out what is in their own best interests – a secular Israel which is culturally Jewish, with a few Rabbis and Arabs to give it some flavor. That’s why whenever they come up  with a plan, they are  always trying to sell it to the Jews. They never mention  the possible down-side for the Palestinians.

That’s what liberal Zionists have been doing from time immemorial.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Hasn’t the Anti-Semitism Charge Been Trivialized Enough?

Is calling somebody an “Israel Firster” anti-Semitic? Is accusing somebody of “dual loyalty” anti-Semitic? Does it smack of refer to Israeli “apartheid”? 

Of course not, unless you want to trivialize anti-Semitism beyond belief, or unless you want to put very reasonable and widely held beliefs beyond the pale of discussion. Heck, I know personally  a lot of supporters of Israel who are “Israel first”-ers. I know them; I pray with them;  I have them in my classes. In fact, I know a lot of “Israel only”-ers,” I certainly have had students who are US citizens, who would never consider volunteering for the US army, but who have served in the Israel army, even without being an Israeli citizen. (Full disclosure: I have dual loyalty to the US and to Israel because I have dual-citizenship.) I have prayed  in modern orthodox synagogues where the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel has been said, but not the prayer for the welfare of the United States;  or where congregants stand for the former and sit for (or mumble) the latter. I don’t agree with this practice, and I criticize such synagogues, but pointing that out doesn’t make you an anti-Semite. And by the way, if you ask people why they are more concerned with Israel than with America, they often answer that Israel is more threatened than America. Or that they love Israel more because they are Jewish. Is it anti-Semitic to point that out?

If you think that using these terms make somebody an anti-Semite or a bigot – a charge that  Zionist-leaning organizations like the ADL or the AJC or members of the Zionist rightwing blogosphere (for links, see here) have recently leveled against some bloggers at the Center for American Progress, then perhaps you yourself are an anti-Semite – or at least a bigot.

You see, when somebody says what a Jew can or cannot say, when somebody says that certain discourse is considered to be hateful or insensitive and, as a result, censors or chills that speech – and when that speech is not conceptually connected with anti-Semitism -- then the person who is making that discrimination is anti-Semitic, if a Jew is involved, and bigoted if a non-Jew is involved. Because the same terms said with the same intent cannot be considered anti-Semitic only when a non-Jew says them. I don’t deny that certain terms are more inappropriately said by outsider groups – the N-word comes to mind. But “inappropriately said” is a far cry from anti-Semitic.

Who decides what speech is anti-Semitic? Is there a Pope of anti-Semitism? Who are the experts? According to Commentary’s Alana Goodman, the Anti-Defamation League is “considered by many media outlets to be the final word in all things anti-Semitism” – which, by the way, is the sort of grandiose and unsubstantiated assertion that readers of Commentary may be used to, but I certainly am not. Who appointed the ADL? And do they consider Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, and a host of Israeli commentators anti-Semitic, when they refer to Israeli apartheid? Perhaps Israeli politicians are allowed to be bigoted? And even if the term is inaccurate, what does that have to do with anti-Semitism?

Nobody can beat Prof. Robert Wistrich’s credentials, both as a rightwing student of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,”  and as a Zionist historian of anti-Semitism.I mean, I can adduce other scholars of anti-Semitism who are not as rightwing as he is, such as the  most careful writer  on anti-Semitism and its various shades of meaning today, the philosopher Brian Klug of Oxford. Klug runs rings around not only the ADL but most of the rightwing historians of anti-Semitism because, as an analytically-trained philosopher, he zeroes in on the nuances of conceptual distinctions much better than most historians. But let’s leave Klug aside – even Wistrich admits that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism, although he goes on argue for  “continuity” or “convergence” between radical anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (using arguments that I believe Klug and others have answered quite well.) According to Wistrich,

…[A]nti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two distinct ideologies that over time (especially since 1948) have tended to converge, generally without undergoing a full merger. There have always been Bundists, Jewish communists, Reform Jews, and ultra-Orthodox Jews who strongly opposed Zionism without being Judeophobes. So, too, there are conservatives, liberals, and leftists in the West today who are pro-Palestinian, antagonistic toward Israel, and deeply distrustful of Zionism without crossing the line into anti- Semitism. There are also Israeli "post-Zionists" who object to the definition of Israel as an exclusively or even a predominantly "Jewish" state without feeling hostile toward Jews as such. There are others, too, who question whether Jews are really a nation; or who reject Zionism because they believe its accomplishment inevitably resulted in uprooting many Palestinians. None of these positions is intrinsically anti-Semitic in the sense of expressing opposition or hatred toward Jews as Jews.

(By the way, there were many Jewish opponents of Zionism who did not fit the categories above, not to mention the majority of Jews outside of Eastern Europe who were neither anti-Zionists nor Zionists.)

But of course, the CAP bloggers did not write anti-Zionist tracts. Let’s face it. The anti-Semitism charge is the first refuge of rightwing Zionists today – many of whom are themselves “Israel firsters” -- who want to squelch debate over Israel’s policies by demonizing and delegitimizing their opponents’s discourse. It is nauseating, and it is past time to call them on it.

Goodman, who criticizes the Truman Project for cutting ties with the lobbyist Josh Block who first raised the “anti-Semitic” canard against the CAP bloggers, ends her article by asking, what would President Truman think? The question is a good one. May  I frame it slightly differently: what would the the author of the quote below say of  somebody who plays the “anti-Semitic” card when criticizing a critic of Israel?

The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the under dog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.
I don’t know whether Goodman considers the author of the quote, President Harry Truman, to be an anti-Semite or not. I do know that Abe Foxman did:
    While President Truman's personal thoughts about Jews are in some sense a reflection of those times, it is shocking to learn that this great American leader and statesman was afflicted with the same disease of anti-Semitism that was mirrored by larger society
But what I find more shocking is Foxman’s next paragraph:
    Nothing in his statements, however, changes Truman's steadfast resolve to aid in the resettlement of Jews and other refugees in the aftermath of the war and the Holocaust. Regardless of his personal beliefs, President Truman will be remembered for his support and recognition of the homeland of the Jews, the State of Israel.

For Abe Foxman, one can forgive or overlook – or not remember – Truman’s anti-Semitism because of what he did for the State of Israel. So an anti-Semite who helps the State of Israel is better than a decent person who is a critic of the State of Israel and calls its policies on the West Bank apartheid.

Should we add another sin to the Israel-right-or-wrongers the trivialization of anti-Semitism?

Thank goodness that Nahum Barnea, Israel’s most popular commentator, has criticized Elliot Abrams on his reckless and pernicious use of the “A-word” against Joe Klein and Tom Friedman.