Yesterday CAMERA (the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) held a conference on fighting "Jewish defamers of Israel." A couple hundred people in the basement of the Park Avenue Synagogue-- that beacon to assimilationist German Jews. I found the conference enormously encouraging.
For one thing, the group was almost all older generation. I put the average age at 62. Even the snacks were out of date, all brownies and sweet muffins and cupcakes with a quarter inch of icing. This group is more out of the mainstream than I am! For another thing, I recognized these older Jews as my people. I felt comfortable with them. I had a warm reunion with an old friend from the Jewish scientific community that I went to as a boy, and we talked about antisemitism in the newspaper business. All the people in the room were Jews with a traditional sense of ethnic cohesion: Jews who feel deeply isolated from the gentile community and have little sense of the death of anti-Semitism in America. Several of the speakers had old world accents. Walt and Mearsheimer’s names were invoked again and again, from start to finish, as if they were Nazis.
The ideas also had an isolated, garrisoned feeling to them. Andrea Levin, the group's executive director, gave a long speech calling for an American Jewish campaign against Haaretz because it is "extremely influential" and prints "highly extreme" statements. At least with the New York Times, she said, "there is that give and take." The Times prints Camera members' letters and listens to Camera; the Haaretz publisher gives Levin lip service and basically ignores her. Levin said that Haaretz is now "affecting us," so American Jews must become engaged. Thus the Israel lobby takes on Israel! Maybe CAMERA should change its name to CAMERIA to reflect its new mission: accuracy in Middle East reporting in Israel and America.
Cynthia Ozick went on and on about Michael Lerner in a meanspirited way, saying that he dropped out of the Jewish Theological Seminary and wound up at Naropa. Who cares? Other panelists also gave off a sense of personal grievance; they seemed alienated from the academic and cultural elite in which distinguished profs delegitimize Israel. "We are shut out,” one prof said. "All these distinguished journals!"
The CAMERA people are losing and they know it. Near the end Cynthia Ozick was asked how we should go about delegitimizing the delegitimizers of the Jewish state and she sighed and said, “It’s hopeless.” Alvin Rosenfeld, the author of the disgraceful report on Jewish anti-Semitism put out by the American Jewish Committee, was mildly more optimistic. He said exactly what I say: "We are in a furious intellectual struggle. There is a war of ideas going on... it won't end quickly.... It is steady work." And it is "serious and worrisome" inasmuch as these ideas may now "enter the mainstream." Amen.
He is right. Any day now, post-Zionist ideas are likely to break into the mainstream. Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews are afraid to broach "the Israel lobby"--in their discussion of Why the hell the Democrats are supporting the belligerent tone against Iran (tonight on Hardball)--but that could change any day.
The reason It's hopeless for the other side is that there was, in the basement of the synagogue, little to zero acknowledgement of the three great realities that are feeding Jewish post-Zionism. 1, the end of anti-Semitism. My old friend and I talked about a Jewish Daily News columnist who refused to hire Jews. That was 50 years ago. The injury is fresh. As the memories of anti-Semitism are for my parents. And they are virtually meaningless to young Americans. A panelist very briefly acknowledged this at the end, saying that Jews are so comfortable in America, how do we stir them? 2, the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and Israel's brutal treatment of Palestinians were at no time acknowledged, but endlessly rationalized. The separate roadway system for settlers and Palestinian Arabs--rationalized. The incursion into Jenin--whitewashed. And so on. This sort of denial went on in South Africa during the campaign against apartheid. Young people don't feel quite so defiant. 3, Not a word about Iraq. I have this feeling often in conservative Jewish gatherings. Iraq doesn’t touch them. It’s not a big deal to them, they are removed from it, they are for a hawkish policy in the Mideast and so they talk about Darfur/Sudan more than Baghdad.
A pile of glossy cards on a table urged conference-goers to put pressure on international bodies to gain the release of the Israeli soldiers held captive since the disastrous Lebanon war. But not a word about American soldiers, American disaster in Iraq. Iraq is front and center in young Americans' disillusionment with their leaders. It is not a part of CAMERA's reality. Festering Iraq feeds the critique of Zionism. And is why, any day now, that critique will break into the mainstream.