Israel lobby groups hatch plan to divide the left

Israel and its lobby see solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups, especially Black people in the US, as a major threat. (Johnny Silvercloud)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 15, 2019

Influential Israel lobby groups are offering “rules” for how Jewish communal organizations can divide the left and break up emerging intersectional coalitions.

They also advocate for “delegitimizing” Jews deemed too supportive of Palestinian rights.

Israel and its lobby see the strengthening solidarity between Palestinians and other oppressed groups, especially Black people in the United States, as a major threat and they are determined to fight back.

Indeed, last year, Al Jazeera’s leaked undercover documentary The Lobby–USA revealed how the Israeli government and its lobby worked to disrupt the Black Lives Matter movement in retaliation for Black solidarity with Palestine.

The term intersectionality was coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe a feminist perspective that explains how individuals or communities experience overlapping systems of oppression based on gender, race, ethnicity and other socioeconomic factors.

In recent years, intersectionality has become a guiding principle for organizers to build more powerful cross-community coalitions to fight white supremacy, mass incarceration, police violence, economic inequality and anti-immigrant policies.

But in a new report, Israel’s Reut Institute and the US-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs warn that intersectionality “undermines Jewish communities’ agendas, including support for the State of Israel.”

The report points with dismay at how Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children, coincided with the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police killing of Black teenager Michael Brown.

This generated strong expressions of solidarity symbolized by the hashtag #Palestine2Ferguson.

It also brought renewed attention to parallels, including concrete connections such as joint training, between Israeli forces that routinely kill Palestinians and US police that perpetrate killings of Black people.

Activist coalitions have won notable victories, including the decision by the North Carolina city of Durham to ban the training of its police by foreign militaries.

The 2014 Ferguson uprising was, according to the report, “a strategic benchmark in the evolution of anti-Israel agendas within intersectional spaces.”

Blaming “Corbynization”

The “challenge of intersectionality,” the report states, is compounded by a number of political developments including what it calls “Corbynization” – the mainstreaming of a “new anti-Semitism” as is allegedly happening in Britain’s Labour Party.

This “new anti-Semitism” is explicitly equated by the report’s authors with anti-Zionism.

Zionism, Israel’s state ideology, is racist because it grants superior rights to Jews enshrined in dozens of Israel laws and holds that Palestinians expelled and exiled from their homeland should not be allowed to return to it solely and exclusively because they are not Jews.

Anti-Zionism, therefore, is not prejudice against Jews as Israel and its lobby groups claim.

Anti-Zionism, based in universal human rights principles, is anti-racism.

However, muddying the waters with false equivalencies is a central strategy of the Israel lobby, including the years-long campaign of fabrications that Labour, led by lifelong Palestine solidarity campaigner Jeremy Corbyn, is institutionally anti-Semitic.

The report claims that “ ‘Corbynization’ is spreading through segments of the political left” and that “UK-based anti-Israel groups have been inspiring liberal and progressive elite circles worldwide.”

This underlines why Israel and its lobby view discrediting and removing Corbyn as a paramount priority.

“Corbynization” apparently affects the US Democratic Party, where the report’s authors lament the long-observed “great decline” of support for Israel.

The debate over the Democratic Party’s stance on Israel, pushed by progressives, constitutes a “threat to the future of the traditional US bipartisan support for Israel,” the report notes.

Israel and the far-right

Other headwinds faced by pro-Israel advocates include, according to the report, “the growing identification between Israel and the political right” exemplified by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliances with white supremacist and anti-Semitic leaders such as US President Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

These alliances “have driven liberals and young millennials to question whether traditional ties to Israel are deserved or beneficial,” the report concedes.

These affinities were highlighted over the weekend by Trump’s racist attacks on four members of Congress – Alexandria Ocasio-CortezIlhan OmarRashida Tlaib and Ayanna S. Pressley.

Trump demanded that the elected women of colour “go back” to their own countries, casting them as foreigners, rather than Americans.

He claimed that the four progressive newcomers in Congress “hate Israel with a true and unbridled passion,” an accusation that will do little to endear Israel to the vast numbers of people expressing disgust at his attacks and solidarity with the women he is targeting.

The Israel lobby groups’ report, like Trump, accuses “freshly elected ‘social Democratic progressives’ ” of promoting “anti-Israel agendas,” and doing so “as a fashionable mode of breaking taboos.”

“Delegitimize” Jews

The report’s diagnosis includes an intense focus on how political and social trends among American Jews are eroding support for Israel, Zionism and establishment Jewish communal groups that support Israel.

It includes a “typology” of Jews – dividing them into “four tribes” ranging from unquestioning supporters of Israel and “moderate” critics of its policies, to “harsh critics” and “radicals.”

The report acknowledges another long-term trend: younger Jews espousing universalist and liberal politics identify with Israel less and less. It concedes that many young Jews “feel deceived because Jewish organizations provided them only a simplistic view of the conflict” with Palestinians.

The report is realistic about the difficulty of winning young Jews back, and aims at mere damage control.

For example, it recommends that efforts to engage “harsh critics” should “not seek to transform them into Israel advocates, but to make them less susceptible to anti-Israel influence.”

But the velvet glove comes off when it comes to dealing with “radicals” – Jews who reject the racist ideology of Zionism and support nonviolent campaigns for Palestinian rights, especially boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

“The goal of the Jewish community should be to delegitimize Jewish Radicals anti-Zionists [sic] in mainstream progressive circles,” the report asserts.

Doubling down on failed strategies

The report urges Jewish communal groups to form their own “intersectional alliances” in an effort to co-opt progressive Jewish and non-Jewish communities to the Israel lobby’s anti-Palestinian cause.

It recommends so-called “niche organizations” like the pinkwashing group A Wider Bridge as tools that can be used in co-optation strategies.

Israel advocates are also told to try to “Drive a wedge between ideological adversaries and their solidarity supporters.”

The report urges efforts to “develop a counter-intellectual narrative, by partnering with key intersectional theorists to break the focus on Israel and restore the concept to its original meaning.”

Apparently this “original meaning” does not involve supporting human rights for Palestinians and there is no hint at what a persuasive “counter-intellectual narrative” to opposing the oppression of Palestinians might look like.

Indeed there’s nothing in the report that suggests Israel lobby groups have any fundamentally new approaches.

A decade ago, the Reut Institute recommended similar strategies to try to sabotage “delegitimizers” of Israel, including efforts to divide the solidarity movement and co-opt progressives and soft critics of Israel.

Yet a secret report by Reut and the Anti-Defamation League leaked to The Electronic Intifada in 2017 acknowledged that the Israel lobby’s intensive efforts and massive spending had failed to counter the “impressive growth” of the Palestine solidarity movement.

And like the previous Reut reports, the latest one views opposition to Israel merely as a problem of perception that can be changed with clever enough “engagement” strategies.

But as long as Israel and its lobby refuse to address the real problem: Israel’s violent denial of basic rights to millions of Palestinians inside and outside their homeland just because they are not Jewish, nothing they do is likely to stem the loss of support.

Al Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books