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"Jewish boys and girls, children of the generation that saw Auschwitz,
hate democratic Israel and celebrate as 'revolutionary' the
Egyptian dictatorship. Some of them pretend to be indifferent
to the anti-Jewish insinuations of the Black Panthers; a few go
so far as to collect money for Al Fatah, which pledges to take
Tel Aviv. About this, I cannot say more; it is simply too
--Irving Howe, 1970.
Those "Jewish boys and girls" who made Howe's heart sink in 1970 are now, many of them, well-established figures in the academic and journalistic worlds, tigers of wrath who became tenured insurrectionaries or established editors or columnists for the New Yorker and New York Times. To Howe, who (it should be remembered) was himself not only a lifelong socialist but also a lifelong non- (but not anti-) Zionist, there was something indecent about young Jews, a mere quarter century after the Holocaust, not only acquiescing in but actively supporting a program of politicide against the Jewish state. Three decades later, those same Jews would deride anyone who dared to mention the Holocaust in relation to Israel's constant burden of peril--Thomas Friedman's glib vulgarities about Israel as "Yad Vashem with an Air Force" being the best-known example. Indeed, they would cast Israel itself as the aggressor, pretending (as Friedman himself invariably did) that it was the "occupation" that led to Arab hatred and violence and not Arab hatred and aggression that led to occupation.
Take the case of Professor Joel Beinin. In the late sixties he was an undergraduate at Princeton University, where--so he later claimed--he was "repressed" by the established professoriat, prevented from doing his senior thesis on the post-1948 Palestinian national movement, officially because it was too "modern" a topic, but actually because of his passionately anti-Israel views. "Professors in Princeton's Department of Near Eastern Studies who were critical of Israel," he has alleged, "rarely expressed their views to students." In 1970 he moved from Princeton to Harvard, where he completed an MA, but was rejected for its doctoral program in Middle East Studies--rejected, so he claims, for his expression of pro-Arab views during the Yom Kippur War. And so he moved west to Michigan. There too he was forced to write his thesis about Egypt rather than the Palestinian working class because of his fear that those who held the then dominant views in the field of Middle Eastern Studies would use their power to... impede the advancement of those with unorthodox views." Not that he was bashful about expressing his anti-Israel and Marxist views. One student of the then young instructor at Ann Arbor recalls the following scene from the early eighties: "One day, at a particular forum, [Beinin] gave what I can only describe as a kind of beer-hall speech. Shouting and pumping his fist, he admonished the Arabs to forget any negotiating with Israel and to stay true to pure radicalism."
Several decades later, Beinin, now a professor of history at Stanford, would become president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). He took office in November 2001, a few weeks after the massacres of 9/11. But MESA's official statement about 9/11 avoided using the words "terror," "terrorism," and "terrorists"; it reluctantly admitted that crimes had been committed but opposed the use of force--"misguided retaliation"--against the "criminals." The organization of 2,600 academics now presided over by the once "repressed" Beinin had not planned a single panel on terrorism until after the World Trade Center and Pentagon massacres, which they proceeded--with the full blessing of Beinin himself--to blame on America and Israel.
In his presidential address, Beinin made the obligatory allusion to his childhood study of the Mishnah to establish his Jewish credentials. This--or so he thought--permitted him to allege that all critics of MESA were "neo-conservative true believers with links to the Israeli right" and to attack the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, for posing a "grave threat to academic freedom" by describing the campaign to boycott Israel as antisemitic. He also complained that perpetrators of the killings at Sabra and Shatilla had never been brought to justice, and implied that Ariel Sharon had arranged for the murder of Elie Hobeika, a potential witness against him in the (aborted) show trial of Sharon planned in Belgium. Journalists covering the conference at which Beinin was crowned head of the whole Middle Eastern Studies establishment observed that the professors of Middle East Studies called "terrorism" a racist term, but that if the typical MESA member were forced at gunpoint to offer a definition of terrorism, he would likely reply: "Whatever Israel does."
By December 2004 Beinin, addressing another cadre of academic leftists, declared that "In my view, the state of Israel has already lost any moral justification for its existence." For his uneasiness about sharing the planet with a Jewish state, he gave two reasons, apparently of equal weight. The first was that "Israel oppresses the Palestinians"; the second was that "its claim to represent all Jews throughout the world endangers even Jews who totally reject Zionism or are severe critics of Israeli policies" (i.e., Joel Beinin).
Another of those "Jewish boys and girls" whose hostility to Israel shocked Howe in 1970 was Michael Lerner. In the fall of 1969 Lerner commenced his open battle with what he called "the Jewish establishment" of "fat cats and conformists" in an article entitled "Jewish New Leftism at Berkeley" in Judaism magazine. It followed the ancient pattern of blaming Jews for the violence unleashed against them. "Black anti-Semitism," wrote Lerner, "is a tremendous disgrace to Jews; for this is not an anti-Semitism rooted in... hatred of the Christ-killers but rather one rooted in the concrete fact of oppression by Jews of blacks in the ghetto... in part an earned anti-Semitism." Lest antisemites (Jewish as well as gentile) be confused about the location of their rightful targets, he added that "The synagogue as currently established will have to be smashed." As for the anti-Zionism of many young Jews (again, those "boys and girls"), it was "irrational in its conclusions [that Israel should be destroyed]," but "I know it to be correct in its fundamental impulses."
After a short-lived (indeed disastrous) academic career, Lerner turned to left-wing journalism and founded Tikkun magazine, which had two declared purposes: one was to pull down Commentary magazine, the other "to mend, repair, and transform the world." But what brought him to national prominence was the zeal with which he argued the Palestinian cause within the Jewish community. When the (first) intifada was well on its bloody course it was hard to watch American television or read the American press for very long without becoming aware that Lerner himself had become, if not quite the Jewish establishment, then the omnipresent, gentile-appointed voice of the Jewish community. Nevertheless his anti-establishment rhetoric remained very much what it had been in 1969-70. On February 24, 1989 the New York Times afforded him space to hold forth on the way in which the voice of progressive Jews like himself, "the silenced majority" who were "appalled by Israel's brutal repression of the Palestinian uprising," had been "stifled" by the "establishment leadership." Rarely had a stifled voice been heard by so many millions. As he had done in 1969, but now far more absurdly, he adopted the pose of a lonely knight, a sensitive soul sallying forth to confront a mob of thick-skinned conformist louts who would eat him alive if only they could. Here was a rotund beard-plucker of vaguely rabbinic appearance (in later years he would actually become a "rabbi" of sorts) who could always be relied on to blame Israel rather than the Arabs for the absence of peace, and to liken Israeli defense against Palestinian Arab violence in the intifada to "medieval Christian mobs... organizing pogroms against the whole Jewish community."
When the second intifada (otherwise known as "the Oslo War") commenced in 2000, Lerner, long since dislodged from his role as the Clintons' White House Rasputin, again donned the antique robes of biblical prophet and defined his moral purity in opposition to the State of Israel. Yes, he wrote in the Nation in May 2002, Palestinian suicide bombings and lynchings and pogroms were "immoral," but Israel was not justified in protecting itself against them because it too was ethically impure: "Israeli treatment of Palestinians has been immoral and outrageous." Besides, Israeli military response to Arab terror was bad for the Jews, in Berkeley and other centers of prophetic morality: it had caused "a frightening upsurge in anti-Semitism."
During the Iraq war he behaved true to form. In October 2005 he invited Cindy Sheehan, the professional grieving mother, to address his congregation in San Francisco on Yom Kippur. Sheehan had for weeks been haranguing President Bush with the antisemitic slogans of the day; "You get Israel out of Palestine"; "my son was killed for a neoconservative agenda to benefit Israel." Once again, Lerner showed how nothing antisemitic is entirely alien to him.
Where, one asks, did the Joel Beinins and Michael Lerners and scores just like them come from?
Jewish intellectuals, to an even greater extent than Jews at large, have long assumed that Judaism follows an arrow-straight course from Sinai to liberal and leftist politics. So long as the existence of the State of Israel was in harmony with liberal ideals, it could be supported or at least accepted by the majority of Jewish liberals, especially in the wake of the Holocaust. Prior to the Holocaust, Jewish liberals were deeply divided about Zionism. Lionel Trilling, for example, recalled that he and the other editors of Menorah Journal, a precursor of Commentary, "were inclined to be skeptical about Zionism and even opposed to it, and during the violence that flared up in 1929 some of us were on principle pro-Arab." But the June 1967 war, or rather its aftermath, required them to choose between liberal pieties and defense of the beleaguered Jewish state. Prior to the war, there were no "occupied territories"; for nineteen years the so-called West Bank had been entirely in the hands of the Arabs, theirs to do with whatever they liked (and what they liked did not include an independent Palestinian Arab state). Nevertheless, in the months leading up to the war, the Arabs had vowed to "turn the Mediterranean red with Jewish blood" and Egypt's Nasser had declared that "Israel's existence is itself an aggression." The Arab nations appeared to be, as indeed they were, imperialist and racist aggressors bent on conquering the .06 of the Middle East that they did not control.
But, after suffering a catastrophic defeat, the Arabs showed that their inferiority to the Jews on the battlefield could be overcome by their superiority in the war of ideas. They ceased speaking of their desire to reduce Israel to sandy wastes and instead redefined their struggle as the search for a haven for homeless Palestinian Arabs. Ruth Wisse has argued that this transformation of their rhetoric of opposition to Israel from the Right to the Left was a calculated appeal to liberals, not least to Jewish liberals. It shrewdly recognized that Israel's attractiveness to liberals--as a tiny, besieged, socialist country with (very aggressive) labor unions and women's rights--ended with its victory in the Six Day War.
If ideological liberals became unsympathetic to the fate of the Jews in the Middle East because it contradicted their sanguine view of the world, the tenacity of the Arabs' rejection of Israel and their campaign--aggressively and adroitly pursued in the schools and universities, in the churches, in the news media, in the publishing houses, in the professional organizations--to destroy Israel's moral image was bound to cause the mass defection of Jewish liberals too from Israel. For Jewish liberals had the additional motive of seeking to escape from the negative role in which they were being cast by the alleged misdeeds of Israel.
Careful readers of broadsides against Israel by Jewish intellectuals will note the frequency with which they mention the shame and embarrassment endured at cocktail parties or faculty lounges, so much so that they help one to understand the frequency with which Jewish prayer begs that "we shall not be shamed, nor humiliated." Thus Berkeley professor (of history) Martin Jay's notorious essay blaming Ariel Sharon for the rise of the new antisemitism begins as follows: "'No one since Hitler,' my dinner partner [another Jewish academic "proudly identified with his Jewish heritage"] heatedly contended, 'has done as much damage to the Jews as Ariel Sharon.'... This stunning accusation [was] made during a gracious faculty soiree in Princeton..."
One hears from countless Jewish accusers and prosecutors of Israel about how grievously they suffer from--embarrassment. The executive director of a group called Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel complains that "there are many American Jews who are flat-out embarrassed" by Israeli actions. Jacqueline Rose, "appalled at what the Israeli nation perpetrated in my name" and wishing to live "in a world in which we did not have to be ashamed of shame," hope to cure her shame-sickness by destroying its cause: Israel. Professor Tony Judt, the subject of Benjamin Balint's essay in this book, is perhaps the most famous victim of this newest entry in the nosology of social diseases. "Today," he writes in his highly publicized essay (in the New York Review of Books) calling for an end to Israel, "non-Israeli Jews feel themselves once again exposed to criticism and vulnerable to attack for things they didn't do.... The behavior of a self-described Jewish state affects the way everyone else looks at Jews.... The depressing truth is that Israel today is bad for the Jews." About this astonishing passage (very similar to the aforementioned cry of self-pity from Beinin) Leon Wieseltier has written: "Bad for the Jews! This is the parodic formula for a ludicrous degree of Jewish insecurity, an almost comic infirmity... The behavior of the self-described Jewish state seems to have affected the way everyone else looks at him. I detect the scars of dinners and conferences."
In a later essay in the Nation (January 2005), Judt expatiated further on the embarrassment factor, especially the great question of how people look or are looked at. He exhorted Germans, French, and "others" to "comfortably condemn Israel without an uneasy conscience" so that they "can look their Muslim fellow citizens in the face." While the Jews in Israel worry about suicide bombers, Tony Judt worries about how to conciliate (or perhaps join) their apologists. While the Jews in Israel have for over half a century been forced daily to defend their lives, Jewish intellectuals who have never been called on to defend anything more than a dissertation find sustained exertion on behalf of Israel too great a burden to bear. And so, by a cruel irony, the Jews who try desperately to evade the (supposed) moral taint of defending harsh Israeli measures of self-defense have found themselves, in this age of suicide bombers, playing the role of accessories to murder, advocates of what David Frum has called "genocidal liberalism." Accomplices of Iran's president, Ahmadinejad exhorting the mob to remove "this disgraceful blot [Israel] from the Islamic world."
Howe, speculating on the spiritual ancestry of those "Jewish boys and girls" mentioned above, thought that he saw in the anti-Israel vehemence of the Jewish branch of the New Left the pampered suburban descendants of the Jewish anarchists of the 1880s who had ostentatiously eaten ham sandwiches at their Yom Kippur balls; Alvin Rosenfeld's essay in this volume provides a detailed account of the cold indifference of American Jewish intellectuals to the plight of their European brethren during the Holocaust. But both those fin de siècle exhibitionists and the "New York (Jewish) Intellectuals" of the thirties and forties were themselves the latest representatives of a long-standing tradition of violent dissociation, brazenly assuming postures of hatred and contempt for their fathers. Such Jewish intellectuals have long played a crucial role in the Jewish world, especially during periods of persecution. Indeed, they have made such large contributions to the theology of religious Jew-hatred and the politics of modern antisemitism that both might fairly be called offspring of the Judeo-Christian tradition, a hideous progeny elaborately traced in Sander Gilman's book, Jewish Self-Hatred. At the very end of his book, Gilman suggested the need for a sequel: "One of the most recent forms of Jewish self-hatred is the virulent opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.... The older European form seems no longer to have validity."
Of all the Jewish self-haters portrayed by Gilman, the one most relevant to consideration of the current bumper crop of Jewish enemies of Israel is Karl Marx. Although only a minority of the Jewish prosecutors of Israel discussed in this book are orthodox, unrepentant Marxists, almost all of them identify with the political left and take Karl Marx as an exemplar of wisdom on a large range of issues, including the Jewish one. For that reason alone, Marx's relation to both Judaism and Jewishness is worth recalling. Marx was converted to Lutheranism at age six, a year after his father had joined the Lutheran church. For his mother's tardiness in converting (she did not do so until age 38, when her father, a rabbi, died) as well as for other "despised remnants of [her] Judaic practice," Marx never forgave her. Throughout his career he mocked the "Jewish" character of his various rivals for revolutionary leadership in the Communist and working-class movements. Moses Hess was "Moysi the communist rabbi," Eduard Bernstein, "the little Jew Bernstein." The choicest epithets were reserved for Ferdinand Lassalle (himself a Jewish antisemite of formidable derangement): "It is now completely clear to me," wrote Marx to Engels, "that, as his cranial formation and hair show, he is a descendant of the Negroes who attached themselves to the march of Moses out of Egypt (assuming his mother or grandmother on the paternal side had not crossed with a nigger).... The pushiness of this fellow is also nigger-like." Nor did one have to be a socialist rival to arouse Marx's anti-Jewish spleen: Moses Mendelssohn, he wrote to Engels, was a "shit-windbag"; Polish Jews, the "filthiest of all races." None of which has kept Marx from being drafted (along with the even more vituperative Jewish antisemite Karl Kraus) into the pantheon of Diaspora Jewish all-stars by such accusers of Israel as George Steiner, whose high-minded (and high-mandarin) anti-Israelism is analyzed in Assaf Sagiv's essay.
These accusers play a crucial role in the current upsurge of antisemitism, which is tersely described in Cynthia Ozick's "The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!" We have not seen the likes of it since the Hitler era. Although most of the antisemitic physical violence in Europe today is the work of cadres drawn from the fifteen to twenty million Muslims now living there, the verbal violence there and in North America is the work primarily of leftists and liberals, of strugglers against racism, of the learned classes. Because such people usually pride themselves on their rejection of anything smacking of racism and prejudice, they must cast the Israelis themselves as the new Nazis in order to make antisemitism, which had (so to speak) been given a bad name by the Holocaust, again "respectable," but under the new name of anti-Zionism. This explains their ubiquitous exploitation of the Israeli-Nazi equation (which originated in British circles in the Middle East as far back as 1941).
The disproportionate influence of Jewish accusers depends in large part on the fact that they demonize Israel precisely as Jews; indeed, since religion and tradition count for little in most of them, it is the demonization of Israel that makes them Jews. For them the old wisecrack (first used in a short story by the Israeli writer Haim Hazaz in 1942) that "When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes a Zionist" no longer applies; rather they embody a new reality: "When a man can no longer be a Jew, he becomes an anti-Zionist." By declaring themselves in favor of Jewish powerlessness--which according to Steiner, for example, "made us [Jews] the princes of life" as opposed to the Israelis, who torture and humiliate Palestinian Arabs--they announce, with a vanity at once personal and ethnic, both their virtue and their "Jewishness." They have apparently forgotten what the powerlessness of virtue (and the supposed virtue of powerlessness) ended in for European Jewry. The existence of Israel also affords them the opportunity to formulate policy--from the safety of Maryland or Manhattan--for a country in which most of them do not live and whose burdens they do not bear. Martin Krossel's essay shows how Thomas Friedman, that self-appointed diplomat from Chelm, planted in James Baker's brain the idea of publicly asking Prime Minister Shamir to phone him when he really wanted to pursue peace, and later found himself magically in harmony (and collusion) with the potentates of Saudi Arabia over how to solve the Israel problem; and Jacob Neusner's contribution explores the mindset of Jerome Segal and other Jewish "advisors" to the PLO. Moreover, by a colossal irony, the policy formulations of those Jews who themselves contend that Israel should not exist at all invariably rest on the premise that Israel can afford unlimited concessions of territory and easing of security because the Palestinian Arabs recognize Israel's "right to exist."
But what then shall we say of the Israeli intellectuals who have
turned against their own country? Most of them do not live in Maryland
or Manhattan, and it was to them, or at least to their parents and
grandparents, that Hazaz's quip applied. They do not want to be
identified either as Zionists or as Jews, and their fierce diatribes
against their own country express a double emptiness. It has been well
described by the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, condescendingly
referred to, because of his preoccupation with the Holocaust, as "the
Jew" by many of his trendier Israeli literary colleagues:
Jewish people [in Israel] are waging two existential wars
simultaneously. One for the body, against the Arabs, and a second for
the soul, against itself. The identification of Judaism with a
religion from which people are trying to dissociate themselves is
creating a very serious vacuum here. The result is a black hole of
identity. That is why there is a deep recoil from everything Jewish.
But without some sort of Jewish identity, we will not be able to
exist... A society without true roots is a society without a future.
The mindset of Israelis who often outdo their Diaspora counterparts in venomous attacks on Israel, is explored in this book's essay on "Israelis Against Themselves," in part of Alvin Rosenfeld's essay on modern Jewish intellectual failure, and in Efraim Karsh's discussion of Benny Morris, the best-known of the Israeli "new historians." The special contribution of Israeli accusers of Israel to the larger campaign against their country has been their compulsive promotion, with countless variations on the theme, of the Israeli-Nazi equation. The Israeli novelist Aharon Megged observed in an explosive essay of 1994 that this uniquely spiteful (and obscenely licentious) equation was already, in Israel itself, the dominant idea of "thousands [emphasis added] of articles and reports in the press, hundreds of poems... dozens of documentary and feature films, exhibitions and paintings and photos." Indeed, even Noam Chomsky, in a rare fit of (needless) modesty, in 2003 expressed his indebtedness to the late Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz for this "insight." Megged went still farther in his severe judgment of his fellow writers and thinkers: "Since the Six Day War, and at an increasing pace, we have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no parallel in history: an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel's intelligentsia with people openly committed to our annihilation."
Once the academic boycott of Israel, an attempt by (mostly British) haters of Israel to translate the fifty-seven-year-old Arab economic boycott of Israel into intellectual form, got under way in April 2002, it produced tragicomic episodes of staggering dimensions: Israelis like Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University, who had for years castigated his own country as blacker than Gehenna and the pit of hell, now hoist on his own petard, or like Ilan Pappe of Haifa University calling for a British boycott of his own university--and himself.
To the new antisemitism Jewish progressives are indispensable because they are ever at the ready to declare that what might seem antisemitic to untutored minds is really nothing more than "criticism of Israeli policy." After all, who should know better than Jews whether something is antisemitic or not? Antisemitism-denial (a term coined by Gabriel Schoenfeld) has become the p r e d i c t a b l e response of Jewish haters of Israel to all of the following: demonization of Israel as the center of the world's evil; calls for its abolition or destruction; economic or academic warfare against it; burning of synagogues or murder of Jews in Istanbul or Buenos Aires; allegations of Jewish control of American foreign policy.
Jewish experts in antisemitism-denial are now omnipresent. A Jewish (also Israeli) Dr. Pangloss named Amitai Etzioni assures the readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education that "calls to destroy Israel, or to throw it into the Mediterranean Sea... are not evidence of hatred of Jews" but merely "reflect a quarrel with the State of Israel"; moreover, apart from "the troubling exception of Iran's trial in 2000 of thirteen Jews who supposedly spied for Israel," Jews in Iran have as much religious freedom as Muslims. Another Jewish academic named Andrew Bush breaks new ground in the field of euphemism (at Vassar College) by defining Intifada II, in the course of which Palestinian Arab suicide bombers, pogromists, and lynch mobs slaughtered a thousand people (most of them Israeli Jews) and maimed 10,000 more, as "a critique of Zionism." The most fully articulated example of recent antisemitism-denial--analyzed in detail in this book--is the August 2003 essay in the Israelophobic London Review of Books by University of California feminist Judith Butler entitled "No, it's not anti-semitic," a broadside against Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers for his speech of September 20, 2002 deploring the upsurge of antisemitism in many parts of the globe.
But the gold standard in Jewish antisemitism-denial has been established by Noam Chomsky, not a surprising achievement for the person who previously earned laurels for his collaboration with and support for neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers. "Anti-Semitism," he declared in 2002, "is no longer a problem, fortunately. It's raised, but it's raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control. That's why anti-Semitism is becoming an issue." Is it, one wonders, because of such delicate perceptions about the Jews or because of his seething hatred of America that, according to Larissa MacFarquhar of the New Yorker, "Wherever he goes, [Chomsky] is sought after by mainstream politicians and the mainstream press, and when he speaks it is to audiences of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands."
As Chomsky's charming observation suggests, the line between antisemitism-denial and antisemitism--the thing itself--is a fine one. Many Jewish prosecutors of Israel resemble medieval apostates who confided to their new Christian co-religionists that Jews made Passover matzohs out of Christian blood, or desecrated the Host, or that the males among them menstruated. They compete successfully with the Alexander Cockburns and Ward Churchills in the extravagance of their accusations. Writers in Lerner's journal Tikkun warn of Jewish "conspirators" who run the U.S. government on behalf of "Jewish interests" and--as if this were not explicit enough--refer to "the industrial sized grain of truth" in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the early twentieth-century tsarist police forgery purporting to describe a meeting held at the founding of the Zionist movement in 1897. The Protocols have fueled antisemitic violence for a century. But Jewish endorsement of them is something new. So too is explicit endorsement of violence against Jews by other Jews, exemplified by the ne plus ultra of unabashed Jewish antisemitism, Professor Michael Neumann of Trent University in Canada. Speculating, in a 2003 interview, on the best strategy "to help the Palestinians," Neumann proposes the following:
If an effective
strategy means that some truths about the Jews don't have to come to
light, I don't care. If an effective strategy means encouraging
reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I also
don't care. If it means encouraging vicious, racist anti-Semitism, or
the destruction of the state of Israel, I still don't care.... To
regard any shedding of Jewish blood as a world-shattering calamity...
is racism, pure and simple; the valuing of one race's blood over all
Earlier, in Cockburn's Counterpunch of June 4, 2002, he had announced that "we should almost never take anti-Semitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it." Lower than the fun-loving Neumann in this sea of bloodlust it might seem impossible to sink. But wait: there is still Chomsky's acolyte Norman Finkelstein, who thinks "the honorable thing now [December 2001] is to show solidarity with Hezbollah"; there is also Jacqueline Rose, who not only regurgitates the standard cliches about Palestinian mass murderers as "people driven to extremes," but rhapsodizes about bonding with Islamist fanatics, lashes out against "those wishing to denigrate suicide bombers and their culture," and declares that "culture" superior to the Jewish culture of a butchered Israeli teenager--Malki Roth--who had addressed a Rosh Hashanah letter to God expressing the hope she would live another year and that the Messiah would arrive. "In the lowest deep," as Milton's Satan observes, "a lower deep."
The solution to their predicament which most of the Jewish "self-haters" studied by Gilman chose was conversion to Christianity. In the modern world, however, the contradiction between liberal pieties and the intellectual defense of Israel is very rarely resolved by apostasy. Two possible (potential) exceptions to this generalization might be the "theological" Israel-haters discussed in this volume: Daniel Boyarin, the Berkeley professor (of Talmud!) treated by Menachem Kellner, and the wandering "liberation theologian," Marc Ellis, whose works are dissected by Alan Mittleman. Boyarin, once an Israeli, now identifies himself as a Jew "destined by fate, psychology, personal history, or whatever, to be drawn to Christianity." Second to nobody in his hatred and denunciation of Israel, Boyarin adds his very own complaint to the endless list of accusations against the Jewish state: "My Judaism may be dying at Nablus, Daheishe, Beteen"--i.e., places that the Israeli army has entered to pursue Muslim fanatics who have massacred Jews. Boyarin seems to threaten to turn Christian if the Israeli government refuses to dance to his tune and return Jews to the subordinate position that he, like Saint Augustine, believes to be their special destiny. Ellis spends Yom Kippur publicly confessing the sins of (other) Jews against Palestinian Arabs in front of a Christian audience at the (Protestant) Union Theological Seminary.
But if conversion to Christianity is no longer, as in Europe it almost always was, required of Jews eager to play a special role as accusers of Jews (as they did in the forced debates of the Middle Ages, for example) the supersessionist Christian worldview nevertheless lurks in the recesses of their brains. The mental universe of Israel's fiercest Jewish accusers is permeated by a messianic utopianism that depicts Israel as the Devil's very own experiment station, the one stumbling block impeding the arrival of a post-national new heaven and new earth, the one nation in the world whose "right to exist" is considered a legitimate subject of debate.
Carlyle used to observe that people can live without heaven, but
not without hell or the Devil. For such Jewish demonizers of Israel
as the Chomskys, the Finkelsteins, the Ellises, the Butlers, the three
Roses of England (Steven and Hilary, originators of the academic
boycott of Israeli teachers and researchers, who publicly renounced
their "right of return" to a Jewish country, and Jacqueline, author of
yet another pseudo-scholarly tract elucidating reasons why Israel
ought not to exist) Israel is hell on earth, the lair of Satan. What
Paul Berman said in Terror and Liberalism about the failure of
liberalism's angelic sociology in the face of suicide bombers has been
still truer of the prodigious "explainers" in the ranks of Jewish
Each new act of murder and suicide testified to how
oppressive were the Israelis. Palestinian terror, in this view,
was the measure of Israeli guilt. The more grotesque the terror,
the deeper the guilt... And even Nazism struck many of Israel's
critics as much too pale an explanation for the horrific nature of
Israeli action. For the pathos of suicide terror is limitless, and
if Palestinian teenagers were blowing themselves up in acts of
random murder, a rational explanation was going to require ever
more extreme tropes, beyond even Nazism.
The desperate search for these "extreme tropes" is everywhere evident in the way that Jews who hate Israel exhaust themselves in the attempt to find language adequate to express their visceral loathing. Jacqueline Rose calls Zionism itself "defiled," "demonic," "deadly," "corrupt," responsible for the ruin of Judaism's moral mission to the world (a subject about which she knows and cares exactly nothing) and for much of the misery of the world itself. Butler promotes a petition ("Stop the Wall Immediately") that calls all the citizens of Israel "a people of [concentration] camp wardens." Chomsky would be rendered virtually speechless if deprived of the epithet "Nazi" for Israel; but he is outdone by his late collaborator Israel Shahak and by his chief disciple Norman Finkelstein, the dream-Jews of the world's antisemites. For Finkelstein (like most of Edward Said's Jewish acolytes) not only are the Israelis worse than the Nazis, but Jews who do not stand against Israel are morally worse than Germans who did not oppose Hitler: "The Germans could point in extenuation to the severity of penalties for speaking out against the crimes of state. What excuse do we have?"
This frenzied rhetoric expresses a utopian messianism (ostensibly secular) that plays an enormous role in Jewish intellectuals' disparagements of Israel. Perhaps its earliest exponent was George Steiner, that distinctly British citizen of the world. Starting in the late sixties, this self-proclaimed wanderer, outsider, luftmensch, and exile, offered himself as the embodiment of what a Jew should be--especially if, while constantly discoursing on the fate of the Jews, that Jew refused to learn Hebrew or to read (even in translation) anything written by Yiddish and Hebrew writers on the subject in question. Writing with his characteristic mixture of innocence and corruption, Steiner constantly asked: "Might the Christian West and Islam live more humanely, more at ease with themselves, if the Jewish problem were indeed 'resolved' (that endlösung or 'final solution')? Would the sum of obsessive hatred, of pain, in Europe, in the Middle East, tomorrow, it may be, in Argentina, in South Africa, be diminished?" If only Israel and indeed the Jews themselves would disappear, everyone from China to Peru might inhabit Eldorado. In his lucubrations on "the redefinition of culture," Steiner always found it more convenient to locate the cause of Nazism in the psychic damage mankind had inherited from Moses than in certain easily identifiable German and Christian traditions, and more safe to blame the helpless Jewish victims than such formidable institutions as the Vatican and Stalinism, to say nothing of National Socialism itself.
Professor Peter Novick, the subject of David Roskies' essay, became wildly popular (if not quite as much so as Finkelstein) in Germany because he published a book in 1999 deploring American Jews' supposed "obsession" with the Holocaust, an obsession he blamed--naturally--on Israel and Zionism. The very word "Holocaust," he argued, was an alien import from Israel at the time of the Eichmann trial. The campaign to "vilify" Hannah Arendt for her Eichmann book was also, he says (still more absurdly), orchestrated from Israel. At no point does it occur to Novick, who knows about as much of the inner life of Jews as Jacqueline Rose does, that a European Jewish survivor of the camps might have wanted to emigrate to Palestine, or that American Jews might have instinctively responded to the trauma of the Yom Kippur War by remembering the Holocaust unless the tentacles of the Zionist propaganda machine had taken possession of their brains. If not for their Zionist-induced Holocaust memories, Novick argues, the American Jewish community would be hard at work feeding the hungry, and so the millions of innocent children round the world would not today be dying of starvation.
Judt, yet another utopian enemy of Israel, does not pretend to worry about the demise of American Jewish liberalism; he is too obsessed with the need to eliminate Israel altogether to bother with such parochial concerns. He merely argues that the problems of the Middle East and by extension of the whole world would be solved by demolishing the Jewish state, which he presents as the sole "anachronism" of "a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law." Judt is untroubled by anachronism in the strenuous attempt of Israel's Muslim neighbors to restore the world of the eighth century: clitorectomy, jihad, beheadings, murder, torture, dismemberment. It is much easier for him to envision the realization of utopia by the elimination of Israel than by the arduous business of bringing democracy to Arab countries and throwing back the tide of militant Islam.
If, after the Stalin and Hitler revolutions (and 1984 and Animal Farm), one needed additional demonstrations that utopianism expresses not love but hatred, the febrile lucubrations of the Steiners, the Judts, and the Novicks about Israel provide them in abundance. And just where does this notion that Jewish collective existence is an obsolete anachronism originate but in Christianity? John Henry Newman, the great figure of Anglo- and then, from 1845, Roman Catholicism, inherited from the first and second century Alexandrian theologians Clement and Origen his assumption that "In the fullness of time... Judaism had come to nought." Newman wrote this in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua in 1864, over three thousand years after Judaism was born; Steiner, Judt, and Novick have consigned Israel to the dustheap of history less than sixty years after it was created.
We have selected our subjects not because they are "critics of Israel" or of Israeli policies, but because they either explicitly advocate Israel's removal from the family of nations or else seek to besmirch, vilify, blacken, and delegitimize it so as to render it both morally and politically vulnerable to the onslaught of its (numerous) enemies. Our writers (who range in political allegiance from left to right), so far from insisting that Israel should be immune from criticism for what it does or does not do, argue that even if it did everything wrong it would not deserve to be made a pariah nation whose "right to exist" is open to debate, any more than the Jews of Europe deserved to be made a pariah people whose "right to live" was contingent upon the willingness of Germans to share the earth with them. And just what is this Israel whose erasure promises--to the Steiners and Judts and Chomskys and Finkelsteins and Roses--the best of all possible worlds? Even less extreme figures like Jay take it for granted that Israel is a society that falls far short of the prophetic standards they have established for it, indeed a "failed" society. Of this smug, spiteful, and by now almost fixed epithet, Edward Luttwak wrote in spring of 2004:
That is an interesting way of describing a state that from 1948 till
the present has advanced from poverty to a GDP per capita in the
European range, even while its population increased tenfold. Very few
states have done better (Ireland, Singapore) and for all their
virtues, they would not pretend to compete with Israel in scientific
research or overall cultural achievement, however that may be judged.
But of course Israel's greatest achievement has been to restore the
broken morale of Jews worldwide by winning its wars and battles
against all comers--although I do understand that some are repelled by
that very thing, seemingly viewing an incapacity to fight, if only to
protect oneself from violence, as a positive moral attribute in
itself. Such people see great virtue even in plain cowardice. They
would no doubt find a weak and defeated and thus nonexistent Israel
altogether more attractive.
"Cowardice" is the word that springs to mind most often as the suitable epithet for Israel's Jewish enemies. This is not only because coming to the defense of this tiny and beleaguered nation (or of the Jews themselves) has never been an exercise for the timid, but also because of the abundant accolades these accusatory Jews have received for their courage from persons not exactly famous as discerning judges of character. "I deeply sympathize with you," said the late Yasser Arafat to the Jewish "critics" of Israel in 1975, "and with the numerous other Jewish dissenters who have raised their voice with courage and dedication to save the adherents of the Jewish faith from the pitfalls and dangers of Zionism. The heavy price you are all paying for your courageous positions sets you apart as symbols of courage and moral integrity, in a troubled world... " Vying with Arafat in admiration for the "courage" of Jewish enemies of Israel is the American Nazi leader David Duke:
Unexpectedly, I found that there are a number of Jews who dare to
expose the truth about Zionism and Jewish supremacism. A
much-persecuted and slandered group, they are just as appalled as
I was about the intolerant and hateful strains of Judaism that had
arisen in the Jewish community and the Zionist state. They have
included Americans such as Alfred Lilienthal, Noam Chomsky, Norman
Finkelstein, and a courageous Jew in Israel, the late Dr. Israel
Shahak. These scholars have dared to stand up against Jewish
We began these reflections with Irving Howe's cry of pain at the spectacle of young Jews wallowing in hatred of Israel. Although a non-Zionist, Howe understood the difference between debating the desirability of a Jewish state a hundred years ago and doing so half a century after the destruction of European Jewry--"the six million"--and the establishment, at tremendous human cost, of a living society of (now) nearly six million people. He was also a man of great moral intelligence and decency, able to recognize, despite deep-seated ideological prejudices, that the foundation of the state of Israel was one of the few redeeming acts of a century of blood and shame, "perhaps the most remarkable assertion a martyred people has ever made."
1. "Political Terrorism: Hysteria on the Left," New York Times Magazine, April 12, 1970.
2. Joel Beinin, MESA Presidential Address, November 24, 2001.
3. Jay Nordlinger, "Impromptus," National Review Online, November 20, 2001.
4. Martin Kramer, "Terrorism? What Terrorism?!" Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2001.
5. See Franklin Foer, "San Francisco Dispatch: Disoriented," New Republic, December 3, 2001.
6. Message sent December 2, 2004 by Joel Beinin to the "alef" (academic left) list (email@example.com).
7. Michael Lerner, "Jewish New Leftism at Berkeley," Judaism, Fall 1969, 474-76.
8. Moment, June 1990, 33.
9. The Last Decade: Essays and Reviews: 1965-75 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979), 11.
10. Ruth R. Wisse, If I Am Not for Myself... The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews (New York: Free Press, 1992). On this topic, see also Fiamma Nirenstein's book, The Liberal Anti-Semites (Milan: Rizzoli, 1994).
11. Second blessing in the daily prayer book before the morning Shema.
12. Martin Jay, "Ariel Sharon and the Rise of the New Anti-Semitism," Salmagundi, Winter-Spring 2003, 12.
13. Jaccqueline Rose, The Question of Zion (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), xvi, 144; Tony Judt, "Israel: The Alternative," New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003.
14. "Israel, Palestine, and the Return of the Bi-National Fantasy: What Is Not to be Done," New Republic, October 27, 2003.
15. David Frum, "The Alternative," National Review Online, October 14,
2003. Black's Law Dictionary defines "accessory" as it is used
in criminal law:
Contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of a felonious offense, becomes guilty of such offense, not as a chief actor, but as a participator, as by command, advice, instigation... either before or after the fact of commission.
16. Jewish Self-Hatred: Anti-Semitism and the Hidden Language of the Jews (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 391.
17. Frank E. Manuel, A Requiem for Karl Marx (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 15.
18. Quoted in Stuart Schoffman, "Mental Borders," Jerusalem Report, February 21, 2005.
19. Interview with Ari Shavit, "A Jewish Soul," Ha'aretz, February 13, 2004.
20. Aharon Megged, "The Israeli Suicide Drive," Jerusalem Post International Edition, July 2, 1994.
21. Quoted in Larissa MacFarquhar, "The Devil's Accountant," New Yorker, March 31, 2003, 74.
22. See the discussion of the case of Yiftachel in Edward Alexander, "Hitler's Professors, Arafat's Professors," Judaism, Winter/Spring 2003, and Pappe's letter in the Guardian of April 20, 2005.
23. The Return of Anti-Semitism (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004).
24. Amitai Etzioni, "Harsh Lessons in Incivility," Chronicle of Higher Education, November 1, 2002. 25. Andrew Bush, "Postzionism and Its Neighbors," Judaism, Winter/Spring 2003, 111.
26. Noam Chomsky, Speech to the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (delivered by live video from MIT), October 11, 2002; published as "Anti-Semitism, Zionism and the Palestinians," Variant (a Scottish arts magazine), Winter 2002.
27. "The Devil's Accountant," New Yorker, 67.
28. Paul Buhle, "The Civil Liberties Crisis and the Threat of `Too Much Democracy,'" Tikkun, May 2003.
29. See Jonathan Kay, "Trent University's Problem Professor," National Post, August 9, 2003.
30. L e t t e r to (Beirut) Daily Star, December 2001, posted at http:// www.normanfinkelstein.com.
31. "Deadly Embrace," London Review of Books, November 4, 2004.
32. "Interrogate My Love," in Wrestling With Zion, ed. Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon (New York: Grove Press, 2003), 198, 202. See also Jay M. Harris, "A Radical Jew," Commentary, June 1995.
33. As an example of the perfect ease with which "progressive" Jewish minds take up the question of whether the Jewish state should exist at all, as if it were the most natural question in the world, take Scott Simon, long-time host of National Public Radio, in June 2004, interviewing a strident "critic of Israel" named Richard Ben Cramer: "Is there," asked Simon, "still a need for the state of Israel?" Cramer, author of a book excoriating Israel, thought not.
34. See the discussion of Rose's The Question of Zion in Alvin Rosenfeld, "A Poisonous Perspective," New Leader (May/June 2005) and Benjamin Balint, "What Zion is Not," Weekly Standard, November 14, 2005. 35. Terror and Liberalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), 134, 137.
36. "I can't imagine," Finkelstein has said, "why Israel's apologists would be offended by a comparison with the Gestapo. I would think that, for them, it is like Lee Iacocca being told that Chrysler is using Toyota tactics." Quoted in John Dirlik, "Canadian Jewish Organizations Charged with Stifling Campus Debate," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 1992.
37. Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (London: Verso, 1995), 4.
38. Errata: An Examined Life (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997), 52.
39. The Holocaust in American Life (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 207. Tony Judt, "Israel: The Alternative," New York Review of Books, October 23, 2003.
40. The most thorough demolition of the utopian fantasy that not just the Middle East but the whole world would be at peace if Israel disappeared is Josef Joffe's "A World Without Israel," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2005.
41. Letters, London Review of Books, March/April 2004.
This article is the Introduction to the book.
Edward Alexander is author of, among numerous other books, Irving Howe--Socialist, Critic, Jew (Indiana University Press). Paul Bogdanor is a London writer who has been published in Judaism, Jewish Chronicle and Middle East Quarterly. They are co-editors of The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders. (ISBN number: 0-7658-0327-5). The book is available on www.amazon.com or directly from Transaction Publishers in New Brunswick, NJ.
This article is the Introduction to the book.
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