Mondoweiss / April 10, 2023
Al Franken expresses anti-Palestinian views when he dismisses their experience of Zionism and overlooks the Nakba, when 750,000 were expelled from their homes.
Al Franken says Israel was the Jews’ “original home” and Palestinians just happened to live there.
American Jews love Israel. Six million Jews had been exterminated by the Nazis in 1945, that’s 60 percent of the world’s Jews, and it made sense to a lot of the world to make Israel, our original home, Israel’s homeland, and of course it wasn’t a perfect solution because the Palestinians happened to live there too.
The comedian and politician offered that rationale in a podcast last week that was filled with pro-Israel slogans and indifference to the Palestinian experience. It is helpful to review Franken’s comments because the 71-year-old is articulate, unfiltered, and representative of the older generation of American Jews. And if this former Minnesota senator (2009-2018) can be so oblivious to Palestinian history– well, so can many other leaders.
Franken is emotional about Israel, surely because of 1967/1973, as he told guest Aaron David Miller, the former peace processor:
As Jews about the same age… we’ve cared about Israel since we were kids. You and I were both born in the wake of the Holocaust, and Israel was kind of a huge inspirational victory for Jews, and a natural place to go. Palestinians may not have thought so, but something that the Jews of my generation have felt an emotional tie to.
Senator Mitch McConnell shocked Franken 11 years ago by vowing to make Israel politics partisan; and Benjamin Netanyahu has done just that.
I have to say Netanyahu has been a malefactor in all of this. I remember in 2012, the AIPAC dinner in DC, everybody in Congress went to that, both sides, I was at a front table and Mitch McConnell stated something that I had never heard before– which was he was trying to drive a wedge between Democrats and Republicans on Israel. I always thought that one thing that made Israel stronger was that it was nonpartisan. At this point, everything started deteriorating. One of the selling points on Israel is that it is the sole democracy in the Middle East. But Netanyahu is throwing that away…. The radical conservatives in Israel that have formed a government… is now leading Israel off a cliff.
Franken admits that things have “seemed to get just worse and worse” in Israel, and the two-state solution is “basically impossible” because “Jewish right wing religious settlers” have moved into the West Bank.
“This is a crisis. It’s supposed to be a democracy, it’s supposed to be a Jewish democracy, that’s the whole point– and right now we’re feeling like what Netanyahu is doing is ending that.”
(Some time Franken needs to explain what a “Jewish democracy” means for non-Jews?)
Franken asked when the two-state solution fell apart, and Miller said it was only a “vision,” and we’ve never come close to a deal. Miller then blamed Palestinian violence, after Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Haram-al-Sharif/Temple Mount in 2000.
He went up there with hundreds of police and supporters. And Mr. Arafat who felt he had been blamed for the collapse of the  summit decides he is going to loose the Palestinian tiger of violence and that tiger has never been put back into the cage. The Israeli Palestinian relationship has not recovered 23 years later…. Right now it’s a mess.
Miller went on to praise Benny Gantz’s leadership during the crisis in Israel– a marker of the newborn liberal Zionist reverence for this rightwing leader. (“If an election were called today, I suspect Gantz would be able to form a government.”)
Franken makes dismissive reference to the Palestinian right of return, and then asks just what my mother always does: Why can’t those rich Arabs in the Gulf take care of their brethren?
You’re talking about poverty and misery, you’re talking about monarchs with crazy, crazy crazy amounts of hundreds of billions of dollars. and if they are interested in peace and helping their Arab brethren, you’d think they would have done– Jews ask this all the time in America, isn’t this big– I’m not asking a provisional question.
Millers points out that “You can’t buy your way out of this problem. It’s not a financial problem.”
Franken persisted that Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait are fomenting the problem. “We don’t want to help settle this by using the tremendous amount of oil money we have and making lives easier for Palestinians and making them less bitter at Israel because their conditions aren’t as bad. I’m asking a pretty common logical question.”
This strikes me as Nakba denial. There’s no acknowledgment that 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their own country, and many died; and Israel has never accepted responsibility for those human rights violations.
Miller has his own illusions. He offers as a model the dialogue program, Seeds of Peace, which brings young Israelis and Palestinians to an idyllic setting for a couple of weeks to talk things over. If we could only bring 3000 a summer instead of 300, he says– “You’ve got to stop the violence and the conflict. Then maybe you can create a transitional period that would allow success.”
But that program accepts the grievous power imbalance: the participants return to lives under apartheid, in which Jews have rights and Palestinians are at best second class citizens; and dialogue has only allowed the Israelis to feel better about themselves.
There’s zero curiosity about the Palestinian experience in this podcast. “Palestinians may not have thought” it was natural for Jews to go to Palestine, Franken says, but he is indifferent to their perspective to the point of bigotry — when their concerns are very well documented.
Young Democrats are clearly far more aware, and making Franken more anachronistic by the day. Sympathy for Palestinians now outstrips that for Israelis by 49 to 38, among Democrats, Gallup tells us; and “everybody in Congress” doesn’t go to AIPAC dinners any more, as in Franken’s time. There’s been no AIPAC gala in recent years.
And re the Jewish “home” — It is weird to hear biblical mythology from a secularist whose ancestors left the Russian empire, as mine did, because of Jewish persecution at the turn of the century. Poland was my people’s homeland for a long long time.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006