Thursday, December 09, 2004

 

What does "supporting Israel" mean?

Speaking of Juan Cole, he raises some interesting and difficult questions about American Jews and Israel:
Character Assassination

Yes, I'm aware that Daniel Pipes of the so-called Middle East Forum sent some puppy out to slime me over at David Horowitz's Frontpagerag. So this is the way it goes with the Likudniks. First they harass you and try to have you spied on. Then they threaten, bully and try to intimidate you. And if that fails and you show some spine, then they simply lie about you. (In this case the lies are produced by quoting half a passage, or denuding it of its context, or adopting a tone of pained indignation when quoting a perfectly obvious observation).

The thing that most pains me in all this is the use of the word "antisemite." Pipes already had to settle one lawsuit, by Douglas Card, for throwing the word around about him irresponsibly.

Israel is not being helped by extremists like Pipes and his associates (see below). It is being harmed, and its very survival is being placed in doubt by aggressive annexationist policies, and by brutal murders and repression, which Pipes and his associates support to the hilt.

Moreover, among the real targets of Pipes and Co. is liberal and leftist Jews. Indeed, the article attacking me begins with a vicious attack on Joel Beinin, a past president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes are encouraging a new kind of antisemitism, which sees it as unacceptable that Jews should be liberals or should crticize Likud Party policies.

Regardless of whether one supports it unreservedly or not, Israel poses a practical problem for American academics studying the Middle East, because it still has bad relations with countries like Syria (part of which Israel still occupies). Obviously, if you want to do field work in Syria and use the Syrian manuscripts, you are better off not going to Israel. I've had friends who admitted to Syrian border police that they had so much as been in the West Bank, and who were refused entrance to the country.

I say this to give a context for the following anecdote. In the 1990s some Israeli academics came to me and wanted to have a joint project on Middle East Studies, partially funded by Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. I felt that these academics, who are doves, should be supported, and gladly joined in. I was kindly hosted at one point, as well, at Ben Gurion University in Beersheva. I was well aware of the choice I was making, and I felt it was important to stand with my progressive Israeli colleagues.

I remember when in Israel talking to these leftish academics about politics. I had once met Shulamit Aloni here in Ann Arbor, and I said I admired here. My Israeli colleagues were appalled that I should speak so well of what they thought of as a paternalist party like Meretz, and wanted to move me substantially further to the left. That is an aspect of the real Israel, a place where the full range of political views is debated. It is completely unlike the discourse on Israel in the United States, where anyone who departs from the Likud line is punished and pilloried.

Then one of our joint conferences was planned just after Jenin, and some of the Israeli academics didn't feel right about holding it. They were furious at Sharon and wanted to boycott their own government. I felt the conference should be held. The Israeli invasion of Jenin was horrible, and it left 4000 innocent people homeless, but it wasn't a reason to cancel our conference. I pointed out that the US had killed 2 million Vietnamese peasants in the 1960s and 1970s, and if we were going to cancel conferences over such matters, we probably should never have a conference in the US again. I mean, I was making this argument to Israelis for heaven's sake.

When a movement sprang up to boycott Israeli academics in Europe, I wrote against it in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Middle East Studies establishment in the United States, I have stood with Israeli colleagues and against any attempt to marginalize them or boycott them.

But of course, for the pro-Likud forces, all that means nothing. Being fanatics and often even cultists, they will accept nothing less than a toeing of the party line. And they have perverted the word "antisemitic" to simply mean "won't go along with Gush Emunim's plans." I think there is some danger of the word "antisemitic" as a result becoming useless and being discarded altogether. Why not just speak of racism or bigotry? We don't have a special word for anti-Black racism, and the African-Americans suffered their own Holocaust in the centuries of the slave trade. If someone accused me of being a racist because I objected to Israeli colonization of the West Bank, the full absurdity of the accusation would be obvious. "Antisemitism" has become so wrought up with Likud propaganda that it now can be employed in dishonest ways, as a cover for aggression and expropriation.

Here is the information on the "Middle East Forum" (which isn't a "forum" at all, it is just some sugar daddy giving Pipes $20 million a decade, on which he pays no taxes, apparently for the purpose of smearing and bullying people with whom he disagrees).

Clearly, what most of the MEF board members want is Israel's further colonization of the West Bank and large-scale theft from and dispossession of the Palestinians living there. The way they deal with anyone who objects to this massive land grab, which creates hatred for Israel and for the United States in the Muslim world, is pretty clear. They have been getting their way in Washington and in the corporate media for so long that they seem shocked that anyone should dare stand up to them.

I don't have $20 million a decade to compete with Pipes. It is just me and my little Web Log, which costs only a few hundred dollars a year. I can't go toe to toe with JINSA (one of whose fiercest members is Douglas Feith, the number 3 man at the Pentagon), or with ZOA, or AIPAC, or any of the other organizations that stand behind the Middle East Forum.

But what I would do is to ask my many Jewish friends to please stop giving these people money. (And I appeal to everybody to stop going on those propaganda tours that JINSA hosts). Liberal Jews are being cynically used by rightwingers who secretly despise them, but know they are a soft touch for any appeals to the welfare of Israel. Liberal Jews need to found more of their own organizations and become more active in lobbying for their humane vision of Israel. Give money to Brit Tzedek v'Shalom or Tikkun, and found more, and more progressive such organizations. Cut the fanatics of the ZOA and JINSA off without a dime. The plan of the leaders of these latter organizatons is to gradually shift the American Jewish community toward Revisionist Zionism and Likudism, so as to make it a permanent pillar of the right wing of the American Republican Party. The right wing of the Republican Party is decisively not "for others." It is about the rich being selfish. And Revisionist Zionism of the Likud is not "for others." It is the supreme selfishness, the erasure of another people. And that is not what the American Jewish community has stood for for hundreds of years. It isn't what the Jewish tradition is about.

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" - Rabbi Hillel.
I clearly cannot speak about the Middle East Forum, about which I know little. I can speak a tiny bit about the notion that some American Jews think all American Jews should uncritically support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian-inhabited territories and that American Jews should become more politically conservative and Republican.

I think Cole overstates the case when he calls some of these people "fanatics and cultists." But that's his argument to defend, not mine to attack.

I disagree that "antisemitism" has become so overused and misapplied as to be meaningless. The fact that there is not a special term to describe anti-Black racism does not negate the usefulness of long-existing term to describe anti-Jewish racism. The fact that some Jews label any criticism of Israel to be anti-semitic is also irrelevant, as the answer to deplorable speech is not to cull the language but to engage in speech that counters that which one finds objectionable.

But Cole is right that it is up to liberal American Jews to fight the meanspirited strategy of an unrepresentative handful of rightwing Jews to bind Jews to the maximalist fantasies of the Israeli settler movement and the selfish corporate agenda of the Republicans. Neither is what Judaism is about - "justice, justice shall you pursue" - and there is a difference between a Jew and an Israeli nationalist (Sharon is mostly the latter, hardly the former). There are very difficult issues at stake in separating Israel from Palestine, and not every Jew who feels a religious attachment to, say, Hebron is a Likudnik who relishes trampling on Palestinians' human rights. We need to deal with this. And we need to tell people like Daniel Pipes to pipe down, to stop smearing everyone who disagrees with him. Not in our name. Not in God's name.
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