I'm trying to have more dialogues with Richard Witty because he's a smart guy who disagrees with me, also I'm grateful that he's come to this site overcoming his objection to a lot of stuff said here. (On a personal note, we knew each other when we were kids; I've remet him twice in the last couple years; we are family friends.) Not sure what will come of these dialogues. I can't imagine convincing him of my point of view. But when I say there has to be soul-searching among Jews over the Iraq war, maybe this is what I'm talking about....
What follows is an exchange over the Israel Lobby, a term Richard disputes. It begins with my challenge, then his response, then my counter-response. I'm sure there will be more later. One thing I promise is I'll give him the last word. Only seems fair.
Let 'er rip!
WEISS: I have a challenge to you, Richard. you apparently object to the very words Israel Lobby. My impression is that you feel it is non specific, imprecise. I feel that you are depriving journalists and thinkers of an important rhetorical and analytical tool: generalization. We generalize about the Christian evangelical movement in politics being anti gay rights and anti abortion though I imagine there are a good # of evangelicals who dissent on those views.
Or here is a damning generalization about the Catholic church, one I share, in a blurb for a filmmaker exposing the pedophilia:
This unsettling Oscar-nominated documentary from filmmaker Amy Berg investigates the life of 30-year pedophile Father Oliver O'Grady and exposes the corruption inside the Catholic Church that allowed him to abuse countless children.
Damning words. A terrible shadow over all the good priests, the great majority I'm sure. Well here we are dealing with a true movement inside the Jewish church of today, to support Israel vigorously in politics and the discourse, with money, letters, etc. This is in my view a lobby, a very fair journalistic generalization. It seems to me you establish a code of sensitivity in the media re our group, Jews, that the media would never uphold (and I suspect you wouldnt either) w/ respect to any other group.
WITTY: I think generalization is at best a first stab at understanding. Beyond that, someone that sincerely wants to know and convey what occurred, or is occurring, must be more specific in one’s thinking and in characterization.
Even among AIPAC, there is support for respectful peace efforts, so even to name AIPAC is NOT specific enough. I remember reading about six months to a year ago, when prospective candidates were lining up to mingle and make presentations at a national conference, on one day Dick Cheney showed up and articulated the “we stand with you in your courageous defense against Islamo-fascism. We will never hinder your efforts in any way.” (my representation of his comments, not a quote). He got a standing ovation.
The next day, Barak Obama showed up and stated again in very rough paraphrase, maybe even wishful thinking “We will stand with you in your efforts to make a just peace for mutual security and well-being. We will never hinder your efforts in any way. Anything that the US can do to enhance the prospects of peace, my administration will do.” And, also received a standing ovation, though probably from different members of AIPAC.
There are only a couple common commitments that AIPAC members share, and on the issue of security that is the general unwillingness to expose Israeli civilians to terror currently, and indefinitely. I share that view. If that makes me complicit, then I am complicit.
There obviously are other organizations that make up a loose coalition (even coordinated probably occasionally) that emphasize the conservative viewpoints (also not monolithic).
When you speak of the Israel Lobby do you mean to lump in BritZedek, or Meretz USA ? That is what Walt/Mearsheimer do, and you do, in your choice of language. It was dramatic once, and achieved some questioning. Now, that period is passed, and it doesn’t achieve inquiry but only polarization and insult to those that are engaged within the system to accomplish a peace.
I am in the civil middle. I reject the radical approaches, the “throw them out” approaches, either of them (throw the Israelis out, or throw the Palestinians out).
And, to present that emphasis, I need to be more specific than the particular generalization, “THE Israel Lobby”.
I actively SUPPORT the “Healthy and Kind Israel Lobby”. I oppose the “Expansionistic and Suppressive Israel Lobby”.
Even supporting or rejecting a person, I find inaccurate to the point of qualms of conscience. People, groups, can change their conclusions and strategy. I recently met a friend of the Olmert family, who described that Olmert had a personal change in perspective from very conservative (regarding the city of Jerusalem as Jewish when mayor) to committed to peace. The individual I met cited that Olmert’s children had encouraged him to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, that he had an incomplete understanding of the community(s) that he had responsibility for. I don’t know exactly where he settled his views, but the point is that people, even organizations change. The people change and the conditions by which they act out their decision structures change.
Generalization hinders that transformation. Knowledge enhances it.
Another criticism of the use of the term is that it doesn’t give room to “not know”. I don’t know what any other individual is thinking. I don’t know what the collective consciousness of a group is. I don’t know what occurred accurately. I don’t know what or how the relationship of individuals’ perspectives compare with “what really happened” (actually I accept that history itself is a construction of objective and subjective, subjective experience distinct from propaganda though).
In a generalization, is there any room for “I don’t know”. In practice, it appears not.
I think Walt/Mearsheimer’s coining of the term, even after they experienced criticism for that and for the polemic character of much of the LRB article, indicates a parallel stubbornness to not learn from both prior mistakes and intelligent criticisms. (They got yelled at by some, but respectfully even fundamentally criticized by others. They adjusted to the respectful criticisms of imprecise documentation, but not the fundamental criticism of the “unrealist” generalization of the thesis as a whole.)
“we generalize about the christian evangelical movement in politics being anti gay rights and anti abortion though i imagine there are a good # of evangelicals who dissent on those views.”
I don’t, having met some committed fundamentalist that regard the fundamentals of “love thy neighbor as thyself” as more compelling and clearer, than “sodomy is an abomination”.
Similarly, for Jewish fundamentalists, ala the particular yeshiva of the Jerusalem massacre. I’ve been to orthodox yeshiva when I was in Israel in 1986, and got “thrown out” for not adopting the view that Torah was literally given to Moses complete and identical at Sinai. Somehow including details of his death, following the revelation, and somehow also including the “complete” and “identical” oral tradition.
I emphasize, without sufficient study, that the purpose of Jewish identity is described in Torah as to serve as a “nation of priests” which I interpret in the revised understanding of the term tikkun olam, to be comprehensive growth/transformation (deep individual, deep primary relationships, deep community relationships, respectful inter-community relationships, egalitarian, universally empowering).
And, that Torah (comprehensively understood, including nature, including testable wisdom from all sources) is given to us to support our effort to be capable of serving God and reality effectively in that manner.
I’m not entirely sure how to respond. A lot of your commentary here has a spiritual character, which I agree with. I believe in personal development and in ideas about community. Then there's the world of policy. And people are bombing innocents or sanctioning them because they are in the wrong place, not showing sensitivity to the fact that they might not subscribe to their country's political position.
The overall objection I have to your statements is that they seem to me to reflect the views of a Jewish community that goes from America to Israel and includes many diverse components, from peace camp to hardliners, and you are on the liberal end. My definition of community is different from yours; it is very American. This gives me much less sympathy to Israelis, in fact I am not that interested in Olmert’s personal transformation. I don’t really have time for it. I’m interested in Barak Obama’s transformation, and yours and mine and Dick Cheney’s. This is my country, it’s hard enough to keep up on the personalities and strains here without worrying about Israel too. So when I hear about Olmert, my big question is, Has he stopped the racist settlements I observed when I visited his country and Palestine?
You offer the varying responses to Cheney and Obama at AIPAC as illustrative of a real range of opinion within the organization. I don’t buy it. I would return you to a simple issue: the failure of Obama’s Jewish congressional surrogate lately to reject the settlements in a debate before a Jewish audience in Ohio. I find this morally horrifying, having been to the occupied territories. My moral urgency on this blog comes out of one central drive—I do not want my country tied to the racism and apartheid that I saw in Hebron and the West Bank. Simple.
Many Jews share my point of view, but again I say when Obama’s spokesman goes to a Jewish audience in a political venue, he cannot even go near my point of view. And even more staggering, he cannot approach the language of the Road Map, our country’s official policy, which years ago said that settlements must stop. They don’t stop, in large part because of the politics of this.
If there are a lot of sensitive thoughtful people in that audience, I don't really care. For me, the generalization that The Political Jewish Community of the U.S. supports the colonization policy of the Israeli government is a true one. Yes it is a generalization, yes there is some nuance. But until a leftleaning politician can even open up some dissent on this question, you can’t challenge that generalization.
If I merge Brit Tzedek and APN, I do so because the peace camp has been feckless with respect to the lobby. They have never challenged the lobby effectively. A moment very much like the horrifying failure of Obama’s surrogate to take a stand was the moment 4 years ago when Howard Dean backed down from his position that there should be an evenhanded policy in the Middle East. This horrified Dan Fleshler, a guy I have great respect for. He has bravely described a meeting of liberal Israel advocates after Dean's collapse who failed to come out on Dean’s side. He has spoken of the need for an alternative to the lobby.
believe such an alternative will emerge, thru IPF and Fleshler and MJ Rosenberg and others. But
we live in the real world, and so far it has not emerged. The peace camp could have
quit AIPAC over the settlements issue. I believe it should have quit AIPAC over
this issue. It refuses to do so.
The reason it doesn’t is that like you they are concerned with Israeli security, the right of Jews to live in peace in Israel. I was with Dan at a BBC radio event nearly 2 years ago at which he spoke about the latest crisis in Israel. And he said then that Israel faced “existential” threat. I challenged him after the radio talk about whether this was true, and he said he had immediately regretted saying the word. My point in bringing this up is that a natural concern for Jewish lives seems to morph into an “existential” concern that I believe was born of the Holocaust. And I know too that at one key moment Dan actually spoke up for the lobby, concerned that if the lobby fractured, Israel could be pushed into the sea….
In this sense I think Jews are being too ethnocentric. At the Ohio debate we see the concern of Jewish politicians with an "existential" threat from Iran that I believe is exaggerated, over any concern at all for the destruction of hope to Palestinian children now. We are seeing a kind of holocaust in Iraq right now. Yet Jews only seem to see the Jewish lives lost, and rationalize this limited vision by saying that No one else cared about us during the Holocaust. I see those Israeli lives lost, but the answers that Israel has come up with are essentially violent ones. I want nothing to do with them.
I don’t understand what is wrong with Walt and Mearsheimer’s argument. I see nothing wrong with it. I think it was brave, important and earthshaking. You are a religious person and you see everyone as different and special, I sense. You are not statistical in your point of view. I am more political in my focus and see things statistically. And again I say that there is this powerful force in American politics that is kneecapping anyone who says the settlements are a bad thing. I am morally outraged by this, and will work against it. I am not sure who's driving the train, if it is conservative Jews, leadership Jews, neocon Jews, establishment Jews, older Jews; or if it blends elements of all of these, which is my own experience of Jewish life; still it is there and must be identified and opposed. As I opposed the religious right.
The generalizations of the media about the religious right were often crude. I met some of those religious people as you have and as a religious person myself (with a far less evolved practice than yours) empathized with them. But how do you explain the movement of voters in Ohio in ’04 who helped defeat Kerry over gay marriage? They were religious right. I don’t know if they were 10 percent or 90 percent of the Christian community, but it seems utterly fair of the media to use the generalization, evangelical Christian, when trying to understand their power; and then go in and see if there are distinctions to be made.
You seem angry that we have not been specific enough about the lobby. I wish I understood it better myself. But note that when a well-known journalist gives a talk to the lobby on how to help Israel in the upcoming elections, Peter Beinart the other day, AIPAC won’t let me attend; and Beinart doesn’t write about it. I attended Middle East Forum and CAMERA events by paying $50 a shot, and then I reported on how those organizations work. Two years ago when the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled a scheduled production of the Rachel Corrie play because of pressure from the community or board members, I covered that story for the Nation and couldn’t get a straight answer about why this censorship took place. The chairman of the NYTW is a former college roommate of mine, Stephen Graham, a son of the late Katharine and Philip Graham. He did not return my phone call. Was that the lobby? Yes, it was: it was some kind of campaign against the right of Rachel Corrie even in death to free speech. And it would not identify itself; or those who saw it in action wouldn't say how it worked.
The same sort of campaign which you dignify as criticism was launched against Walt and Mearsheimer. I think part of what you object to is an earnest journalistic effort on the part of a few people, including lately Aaron David Miller on his website, to open this process up and describe what goes on, so far a piecemeal effort involving a very complex political process that has been going on for more than 60 years and, according to Abba Eban, involves American Jews applying "pressure and influence" on American presidents. Until Fleshler’s people actually take a stand, or the Times starts investigating the lobby earnestly, or politicians come out against it, our efforts will be like the nine blind guys who go into a room with an elephant and come out describing it in very different ways. This is the nature of intellectual inquiry.
One more point. I have been to a few Muslim countries. My observation is that they are generally struggling with women’s rights issues and freedom of speech. They are backward in this respect. I share the conventional prejudice on this score; these are generalizations that I feel are true and important, inasmuch as these issues are affecting world politics. Do they reflect every Muslim individual? No. Still I pray for reform of these backward values in the Arab world. As I work for reform of my American Jewry, which has capitulated to racist policies half a world away.
I hope I was listening to you! Back to you...