Mondoweiss / August 22, 2023
For years the liberal Zionist position was, We stand with the better angels of Israel’s nature, Israel will redeem itself. And all they’ve gotten for that good faith is fascism and virulent racism and occupation.
Now that’s changing. American liberal Zionists are turning on Israel, thanks to the arrogance and fascism of the Netanyahu government. They are denouncing Israeli “apartheid” and calling for boycotts and sanctions against Israel for its human rights abuses.
Of course, Palestinians and anti-Zionists have been saying these things for many years. The liberal Zionists can do so now because other Jews are giving them permission to say these things. But whatever you think of such ethnocentric politics, a significant shift is taking place in the Jewish community (and it is sure to have consequences inside the Democratic Party and, ultimately, U.S. policy).
Let’s look at the evidence.
First, there’s that August 5 letter from Jewish/Israeli scholars saying that Israel practices “apartheid,” “Jewish supremacy,” and ethnic cleansing with the blessing of the American Jewish leadership. And it’s time for American Jews to demand change. The letter is famous because one signer is Benny Morris, a scholar who justified Israeli expulsions of Palestinians during the Nakba as necessary to Israel’s creation.
The letter now has over 1900 signatures, including Yehuda Bauer, 97, an Israeli Holocaust scholar and the retired honorary chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (which promulgated the bogus definition of antisemitism that includes sharp criticism of Israel). And there’s philosophy professor Avishai Margalit of Hebrew University, a pal of Michael Walzer (who has not signed).
The Overton window of acceptable debate is moving fast, signer Peter Beinart points out.
Other American signatories are Riva Hocherman, executive editor of Metropolitan Books, Dan Fleshler of Ameinu, Rabbi Michael Lerner, David Nasaw, historian at CUNY, scholar Stephen Zunes. And Rabbi Arthur Waskow (my fellow alum of Baltimore City College).
Shame over Israel, outrage, and demands for action are themes of a communal forum of grief-stricken American Jews published by Americans for Peace Now earlier this month after the Israeli parliament defied massive protests and voted to slash the court’s power to overrule the government.
Here are some of the sharper insights.
Diane Blumson said it’s time for U.S. Jewish leaders to hold Israel accountable for human rights abuses that go back 75 years:
I am feeling profound pain and anger. I want to hear from the pulpits of all our Rabbis and Cantors, that we have to stop defending Israel as a victim, as a way of justifying the abuses that have been tormenting Palestinians since the beginning of the state
Heidi Feldman dared to castigate the ignoble elements of Jewish identity formation.
It is like reading the Bible, the cringy parts, where the Israelites are bellicose, insensitive, demanding, and aggressive, both to the tribes around them and to any doubters within. This is not the Judaism that I believe in. I believe in a Judaism in which we love our neighbor, even love the stranger.
Harry Appelman called for Palestinian enfranchisement– at last:
We need to bring the Palestinian citizens off the sidelines and into the discussion (and the electorate) by centering the protests and discussion on the Occupation.
Robert Snyder also saluted the political potential of Palestinians.
[We must] work more and more with Palestinians inside Israel and on the West Bank. Progressive and liberal-minded Jews now share many interests with Palestinians inside Israel, and they should vote together to build a new majority.
(I’d comment that this thinking inevitably leads to calls for one-state democracy and BDS.)
This is a boycott argument from Michael Rahimi:
I am traveling to Tel Aviv tomorrow to see my relatives and basically to say goodbye, unless things reverse themselves, I will not be returning to Israel. I can no longer support what this country has become, and it is a crime what they have done to this country over the last 20 years… [T]hey are turning it into an abomination.
There were various calls on Biden to act. This sounds like the J Street position. Darn it, Biden has to do something. But what? We’re not sure! From anonymous:
I think we all know that Biden’s voice is needed. I’m sorry that Biden’s response so far has been fairly moderate.
Elliot Feldman wants sanctions:
We are past the time when rhetoric can suffice. Israeli actions must have consequences. The Biden Administration could begin by rolling back the Pompeo Doctrine. It could open a consular office in East Jerusalem. It could reallocate some of the military aid to Israel to rebuild Palestinian homes and communities and infrastructure. It could register a more vigorous objection to Israel’s equivocation over Ukraine.
Robert O. Freedman regards a “military coup” as favorable!
“Unless this process is stopped either by a general strike which will bring the country to a halt… or even by a military coup by Israeli generals who don’t want to see the deterrent power of the IDF dissipate, the future of Israel looks quite grim.”
Several voices spoke of civil war. “I feel like the nightmare scenario of Jew vs Jew has arrived,” said one.
I recall that when this website got going, people used to say to me and Adam Horowitz, “why do you have bad news about Israel every day, you seem obsessed.” And I’d respond, “well, we are obsessed — this is a big Jewish/American problem, it blocks out the sun.” So we’re not going to shut up, and stridency is sometimes a virtue. Today we seem to have more company by the minute.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006