‘Before I Was a Democrat, I Was a Zionist’–New Chair of Foreign Affairs Committee

US Politics
on 26 Comments

From the Forward profile on Congressman Howard Berman:            

Berman’s Jewish background was central to his
getting involved with foreign policy issues. Indeed, earlier this month
he told the Forward that an interest in the Jewish state was one of the
main reasons he first sought a seat on the committee. “Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist…"

Also this:

[O]n Middle East issues he is perceived by a broad swath of Jewish communal officials to be firmly in the mainstream… Berman said he does not believe that now is an opportune time to
pressure Israel into making concessions toward the Palestinians.

3 questions:

Why is a Zionist the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee? Because of Jewish sociological power in this society, plain and simple; Jews are principals in the Establishment. [Richard Witty has busted me on this point, and he's right. Seniority got him the job. I should have asked, Why is it that an openly Zionist agenda is not disqualifying for such a position? And the answer is sociological.]

Why is the 2-state solution doomed? Because the Democratic head of the Foreign Affairs committee, who represents the "mainstream" of the Jewish community, is against putting any pressure on Israel

If Obama came out tomorrow and said I’m a black nationalist, would anyone give him the keys to the car? Ask Reverend Wright.

About Philip Weiss

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26 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2008, 5:39 pm

    It means that you have to CONVINCE supporters of Israel that peace is a better outcome than more of the same.

    You are not going to succeed at overturning Congress.

    Better to do good work with prospects.

    "Why is a Zionist the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee?"

    Seniority.

  2. MRW.
    April 29, 2008, 5:41 pm

    I so agree with you.

  3. Phil Weiss
    April 29, 2008, 5:45 pm

    but richard, isnt it dismaying that the mainstream of jewish communal life and leadership is basically supporting continuing colonizatoin of the west bank and doesnt care what olmert is saying about the 2 state solution. isnt a crisis in the offing?

  4. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2008, 6:13 pm

    I actually don't see that actively. I see more of a fearful and defensive approach, of feeling that Israel is threatened, and steadfastly supporting Israel's defense.

    A crisis may be in the offing. Hard to know. This may be the moment of greatest opportunity for reconciliation.

    The crucible of Zionism/Palestine has made all Jews that attempt to bear humanism at the same time as identity into zen masters.

    I wish you would appreciate people like Walzer more in that regard.

    Rejecting positions, embracing engagement itself.

  5. Phil Weiss
    April 29, 2008, 7:03 pm

    Richard
    Touche on your seniority comment by the way. I guess it is seniority. but the issue remains whether any other ethnic nationalism would be viable in our politics at this level–no.
    it's hard for me to worry about israel's existence when they just destroyed a gazan family yesterday.
    i think the jewish attitude is all about tribal survival. we fear we're assimilating here–"annihilatory" pressure, as stephen rosenthal says in his book–and so now instead of being the refuge for the jews, israel is the preserver of the jews. at any cost. again i say i cant be jewish if zionism is going to define it as the destruction of arabs and denial of human rights. crucible is a nice word. more and more young jews here dont want to be in that crucible

  6. Jim Haygood
    April 29, 2008, 7:18 pm

    .

    "Why is the 2-state solution doomed? Because the Democratic head of the Foreign Affairs committee, who represents the 'mainstream' of the Jewish community, is against putting any pressure on Israel."

    Ditto! As are all the presidential candidates.

    To his credit, Bush applied a tiny bit of pressure when he visited Israel in January, saying that the Palestinians deserve a contiguous state, and that the settlements should stop. But just a couple of weeks before his planned arrival, Israel has approved another settlement in east Jerusalem.

    Normal presidential protocol would dictate not visiting a state which is in such open defiance of long-held U.S. foreign policy. It's also extremely unusual for a U.S. president to visit a foreign country twice in four months, when there is no substantive progress on bilateral issues. Bush's visit to Israel is an embarrassment to him and to the nation. It makes him look subservient — which he may well be.

    Let's just hope he's not going there to coordinate an attack on Iran. He's got enough war crimes under his belt already, as do the Israelis.

  7. Arie Brand
    April 29, 2008, 7:32 pm

    "It means that you have to CONVINCE supporters of Israel …"

    Witty, if you are representative for 'supporters of Israel' no amount of 'convincing' would do any good.

    I have never seen you do anything else than responding to arguments with gaseous and evasive babble. If one could find anything of substance in it it would be a defence of the status quo hidden behind the narcissistic suggestion of 'humanity' and openness to compromise.

  8. Jim Haygood
    April 29, 2008, 7:51 pm

    .

    "i say i cant be jewish if zionism is going to define it as the destruction of arabs and denial of human rights."

    Well said, my man! All of us have to confront not only the axioms of our religion, but how they are interpreted in the present.

    Bush and Cheney are nominally Christian (Methodist, specifically). Most protestant Christian denominations have published statements questioning or denouncing the Iraq war. But as the media have de-emphasized the war, so have the churches. It is not an "up front" concern anymore.

    It's practically a staple of sermons these days to praise Rev. Martin Luther King. Easy to do in retrospect. But King was way up front, way early, in criticizing the Vietnam War. He said this on 4 April 1967:

    "A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam."

    link to hartford-hwp.com

    The issues which King raises in this speech are not unlike those raised by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, forty years later. King was denounced as a communist for saying, inter alia:

    - End all bombing in North and South Vietnam.
    – Declare a unilateral cease-fire in the hope that such action will create the atmosphere for negotiation.
    – Realistically accept the fact that the National Liberation Front has substantial support in South Vietnam and must thereby play a role in any meaningful negotiations and in any future Vietnam government.
    – Set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam.

    The analogies to Iraq, Israel and Iran are obvious. But very few Christian ministers, and very few Jewish rabbis, are willing to take such bold stands today.

    My wife and I are seriously considering turning Buddhist. We just cannot stand the cowardice and hypocrisy of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). The whole idea of canonizing scriptures is effed up. If the universe is an ongoing revelation, there is no "final word" on anything.

    Aggressive war and oppression of others is flat-out wrong. If religion cannot steer us away from this, then it's irrelevant and even counterproductive.

  9. Todd
    April 29, 2008, 8:05 pm

    "it's hard for me to worry about israel's existence when they just destroyed a gazan family yesterday.
    i think the jewish attitude is all about tribal survival. we fear we're assimilating here-"

    I'm more worried about the survival of the United States. Seriously, if you are right about Jewish power, isn't the tribal survival instinct a great threat to United States?

  10. Arie Brand
    April 29, 2008, 8:26 pm

    Jim wrote:"Aggressive war and oppression of others is flat-out wrong. If religion cannot steer us away from this, then it's irrelevant and even counterproductive."

    From a recent article by Andrew Wimmer in Counterpunch:

    "Sixty years ago, as Europe lay in the ruins of war, Albert Camus was invited to the Dominican monastery in Latour-Maubourg. “What does the world expect of Christians?” the friars wanted to know. “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear, and that they should voice their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could rise in the heart of the simplest man. That they should get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

    But Jim why do you expect anything better from Buddhism? Burma is a Buddhist country (admittedly the monks have been speaking out there recently). And so is mainstream Sri Lanka where the killing has been going on for more than thirty years, not only vice versa with the Tamils but also the erstwhile 'Marxist rebellion' in the South.

  11. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2008, 9:32 pm

    "it's hard for me to worry about israel's existence when they just destroyed a gazan family yesterday. "

    War is hundreds of families dying.

    And all wars are fought by people that think an idea is more important than a life.

    "again i say i cant be jewish if zionism is going to define it as the destruction of arabs and denial of human rights. crucible is a nice word."

    You don't really have that choice. You already are Jewish. The significance of "crucible" is that it transforms. Wanting to not be in it, will keep the transformation from happening. (I'd suggest the story of Jacob and Esau as another crucible. Some anti-semites assert that the model of Jacob "Israel" is an example of the perpetual duplicity of the Jewish people, of the rationalization of evil. Others understand it as the ability to simultaneously hold oppossites, to accept oneself warts and all, rather than reject warts and need to be pretty forever.)

    The trick is to keep one's humanity, WHILE one is also Jewish, make that a/the expression of one's Jewishness.

    One of the articles on Kovel's site was of the distinction between those that only related to the parochial, to the tribal, and those that related to being part of a community as a/the means TO express the universal in real life.

    It takes a body, an identity, to do anything, especially good.

  12. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2008, 9:36 pm

    "If religion cannot steer us away from this, then it's irrelevant and even counterproductive."

    All religions have two sides, trivial and inspiring, even Buddhism. It depends on how one approaches it.

  13. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2008, 10:14 pm

    Berman does go to shul on Yom Kippur and states his repentence for his treatment of the "other".

    And, he does go to a seder annually and reads of the mythical/historic liberation from slavery, and the obligation to remember that "you were once a stranger in a strange land".

    There are means to appeal to his sensitivity, including non-polemic nakba education.

  14. Todd
    April 29, 2008, 10:37 pm

    "There are means to appeal to his sensitivity, including non-polemic nakba education."

    Why appeal to his sensitivity? The guy has used the power of the U.S. government to brutally harm untold numbers of people, in the name of his ties to a foreign land, and a minority religion. That type of thinking just boggles a sane mind! Men like that should be dealt with harshly!

  15. Arie Brand
    April 29, 2008, 10:55 pm

    "You don't really have that choice. You already are Jewish."

    Phil has an illustrious example here. Malachi Haim Hacohen wrote about Karl Popper:

    "Carrying progressive opposition to ethnonationalism one step further,he rejected Deutschtum (Germanness), dissociated the Enlightenment from Germany and advocated radical cosmopolitanism. His relentless hostility toward any nationalism (Zionism was his favorite example), his rejection of any and all religion (Judaism more than Christianity), his belief in an international legal order (rare among a generation witnessing the League of Nations failure), his passionate defense of the Enlightenment and the Open Society; all were a metasmorphosis of progressive Vienna."

    In order to follow this example Phil would of course have to stop thinking and talking of 'my people' and also of stressing his Americanness.

  16. Oarwell
    April 29, 2008, 11:01 pm

    "i say i cant be jewish if zionism is going to define it as the destruction of arabs and denial of human rights."

    As an outsider looking in, it seems that Zionism has, in some sense, made of the State, of the land, an idol. Judaism, in its rigorous monotheism, has always rejected false messiahs. Shema Yisrael Adonai…. But after the abyss of the Holocaust, the temptation to immanentism, to Oneida, was too great, the Zeitgeist too compelling to refuse. And now the idol is being revealed, little by little, for the golem it has become.

    The Church, too, is constantly tempted to immanentism–to "immanentize the eschaton," to hasten the events of the End Times. The prevention of such immanentism was one of the rallying cries of the geekier anti-communist set, circa 1980. All good Buckleyites knew the phrase.

    We knew in our bright, beamish way that communism was doomed to fail not simply because it was collectivist, but because it sought to create an earthly utopia. All good right-thinking Christers knew that this was futile, risible: only God can bring the "New Jerusalem." Hold your noses if you must, dear readers, but here's the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject:

    "The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the "intrinsically perverse" political form of a secular messianism."

    No, I'm not saying that Israel is the Antichrist. (Sheesh!) And yes, I was appalled that Ratzinger doing his Pope-turn met with and accepted gifts from Bush and Cheney. For what greater false messianism than the embrace of the lies and twisted logic of war? What is more intrinsically perverse than Bush saying (as he did), that "when we talk about war we're really talking about peace"? Prince of Lies, indeed.

    I see much of the ardent defense of Israeli policies, and much of zionism, as issuing from a misplaced hope in political structures of ethnic nationalism which, being collectivist, are hateful. Israel as a refuge for Jews, zionism as a desire for a Jewish homeland, are perfectly understandable, noble, even. But just as the tarnish on the American Shining City on the Hill, the delusion of American Exceptionalism, has become apparent to all, so the real-world failings of zionist immanentism and its rear-guard fanatics are made manifest by the ongoing carnage in the Mideast.

    I do not know if Israel will exist in its present form in 500 years. But I know that Judaism will exist forever.

  17. Glenn Condell
    April 30, 2008, 4:22 am

    'My wife and I are seriously considering turning Buddhist. We just cannot stand the cowardice and hypocrisy of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam)'

    Why not join Hitchens, Dawkins and myself in the sect of High Athiesm? It's certainly a broad church.

    'Aggressive war and oppression of others is flat-out wrong. If religion cannot steer us away from this, then it's irrelevant and even counterproductive.'

    Hmmm… so broad in fact that aggressive warmongers and enthusiastic oppressors are welcome. I suppose this means that athiesm too may be irrelevant and counterproductive when it comes to the moral exercise of power.

    Charles has said several times 'the test of virtue is power' and that's the key. It is simply a macro of the 'do unto others' maxim that lies at the heart of all human transactions. How people or groups of people respond to the challenge of behaving decently, particularly when they are in the saddle with the whip handy, does not have any relation to religion, or ethnicity, or sexual preference, etc etc.

    Alan Dershowitz has referred to this central tenet of human morality as the 'shoe on the other foot test', but I can't see that he has ever applied it to the I/P situation.

    'War is hundreds of families dying.'

    And neither has Richard Witty. There is a huge disparity between the two sides here Richard and no amount of hiding behind a pseudo-caring, sharing even-handedness will obscure it. That disparity is evil because it didn’t just happen, it has been actively commissioned via illegal dispossession, occupation and relentless demonization of the people who have been dispossessed, occupied and demonized. While the oppressors are apparently saints.

    In any hundred families dying in this conflict, at least 90 of them will be Palestinian, but we’ll hear more about the Israelis. You have never really put the shoes on the other feet, and walked a mile in them. If you did, you couldn’t blithely say ‘War is hundreds of families dying’ in the context of this conflict. A while ago you tried to tell me that the (conjectured) dispossession of an occupying Israeli family on the West Bank would be equivalent to the dispossession of the original Palestinian family.

    It is this kind of moral myopia that sets our goy teeth on edge, but it wouldn’t rise to the surface if this evil happened without blowback to us – we’d simply keep consuming, happily ignorant of the poor Palestinian’s plight. But our official support for Israel endangers us, and more importantly our children, perhaps for generations to come. This unnecessary danger cannot and will not continue. The longer Zionists hold on to the idea that eventually we’ll all just give up and let them do as they wish, the more damaging will be the eventual blowback to them.

    'The trick is to keep one's humanity, WHILE one is also Jewish, make that a/the expression of one's Jewishness.'

    Trick being the operative word. It's even better (certainly more convincing) when you manage to fool yourself into the bargain.

    'Berman does go to shul on Yom Kippur and states his repentence for his treatment of the "other".'

    Does the clean slate that results from this mean that he can go ahead and mistreat 'the Other' til next Yom Kippur? The very fact of repentance indicates sin, doesn't it?

    'non-polemic nakba education.'

    I would love to read a 'non-polemic Nakba education' book which would meet with your approval Richard. It might resemble Japanese highschool history texts with regard to WW2.

    'Judaism, in its rigorous monotheism, has always rejected false messiahs.'

    It was in fact the first to do so. Thanks for that guys.

  18. Glenn Condell
    April 30, 2008, 4:24 am

    'My wife and I are seriously considering turning Buddhist. We just cannot stand the cowardice and hypocrisy of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam)'

    Why not join Hitchens, Dawkins and myself in the sect of High Athiesm? It's certainly a broad church.

    'Aggressive war and oppression of others is flat-out wrong. If religion cannot steer us away from this, then it's irrelevant and even counterproductive.'

    Hmmm… so broad in fact that aggressive warmongers and enthusiastic oppressors are welcome. I suppose this means that athiesm too may be irrelevant and counterproductive when it comes to the moral exercise of power.

    Charles has said several times 'the test of virtue is power' and that's the key. It is simply a macro of the 'do unto others' maxim that lies at the heart of all human transactions. How people or groups of people respond to the challenge of behaving decently, particularly when they are in the saddle with the whip handy, does not have any relation to religion, or ethnicity, or sexual preference, etc etc.

    Alan Dershowitz has referred to this central tenet of human morality as the 'shoe on the other foot test', but I can't see that he has ever applied it to the I/P situation.

    'War is hundreds of families dying.'

    And neither has Richard Witty. There is a huge disparity between the two sides here Richard and no amount of hiding behind a pseudo-caring, sharing even-handedness will obscure it. That disparity is evil because it didn’t just happen, it has been actively commissioned via illegal dispossession, occupation and relentless demonization of the people who have been dispossessed, occupied and demonized. While the oppressors are apparently saints.

    In any hundred families dying in this conflict, at least 90 of them will be Palestinian, but we’ll hear more about the Israelis. You have never really put the shoes on the other feet, and walked a mile in them. If you did, you couldn’t blithely say ‘War is hundreds of families dying’ in the context of this conflict. A while ago you tried to tell me that the (conjectured) dispossession of an occupying Israeli family on the West Bank would be equivalent to the dispossession of the original Palestinian family.

    It is this kind of moral myopia that sets our goy teeth on edge, but it wouldn’t rise to the surface if this evil happened without blowback to us – we’d simply keep consuming, happily ignorant of the poor Palestinian’s plight. But our official support for Israel endangers us, and more importantly our children, perhaps for generations to come. This unnecessary danger cannot and will not continue. The longer Zionists hold on to the idea that eventually we’ll all just give up and let them do as they wish, the more damaging will be the eventual blowback to them.

    'The trick is to keep one's humanity, WHILE one is also Jewish, make that a/the expression of one's Jewishness.'

    Trick being the operative word. It's even better (certainly more convincing) when you manage to fool yourself into the bargain.

    'Berman does go to shul on Yom Kippur and states his repentence for his treatment of the "other".'

    Does the clean slate that results from this mean that he can go ahead and mistreat 'the Other' til next Yom Kippur? The very fact of repentance indicates sin, doesn't it?

    'non-polemic nakba education.'

    I would love to read a 'non-polemic Nakba education' book which would meet with your approval Richard. It might resemble Japanese highschool history texts with regard to WW2.

    'Judaism, in its rigorous monotheism, has always rejected false messiahs.'

    It was in fact the first to do so. Thanks for that guys.

  19. Richard Witty
    April 30, 2008, 5:05 am

    "As an outsider looking in, it seems that Zionism has, in some sense, made of the State, of the land, an idol. "

    I and the Satmar agree. Rather than as a means to a vibrant and safe community, the form that too much of contemporary Zionism has taken, has extended into greeds and lusts, rather than community.

    That is DIFFERENT than the formula "Zionism is racism".

    For Hamas, the same conundrum applies though. Its fixation on controlling the land, either us OR you, is similarly idolizing.

    "There is a huge disparity between the two sides here Richard and no amount of hiding behind a pseudo-caring, sharing even-handedness will obscure it."

    Similar to the cold war situation, the Israel/Palestine conflicts were a microcosm within a microcosm within a microcosm. Which scale are you talking about when?

    The inter-community ones (Israeli settlement vs Arab village), the inter-national ones (Zionist vs pan Arabist using the local conflict as a cause celebre), the inter-super power ones (the west vs communist using Zionist vs pan Arabist as a cause celebre), or combinations.

    The effort to define a "starting point" or "we are only talking about…" is a web.

    As Dan Fleisher pointed out, the most relevant effort is to UNTIE the knots, not to make further tangles pretending that we are untying.

  20. Richard Witty
    April 30, 2008, 5:11 am

    The one valid criticism that I can derive from the assertions that I am "complicit" in the oppression of Palestinians, is that I truly don't believe that I am doing enough, even in the areas that I KNOW are the right things to do for and in relation to the Palestinians.

    Even as I suggest that non-polemic nakba education is relevant, I personally haven't organized presentations, or conducted them or gotten educated sufficiently to be able to.

    I think the art, of the demonstration of the changes in village names IS effective at turning hearts and minds, by sympathy.

    Those of us that are religious in the ethical sense, including the atheists here, will rise to love more than just our own, and definitely oriented to people (with hearts and identity and association) rather than just with political machine math, whether referenced to Israel, Palestine, or the US.

  21. Richard Witty
    April 30, 2008, 5:16 am

    If "by any means necessary" is useful,

    then it should include the intellectual, the effort to "convince" by consent, rather than militant or agitation as the only tool on the palette.

    Relative to Berman as head of foreign relations committee, that is the means necessary for affecting US policy short of violent "utopian" revolutionary approaches.

  22. ej
    April 30, 2008, 7:13 am

    When 'is an opportune time to pressure Israel into making concessions toward the Palestinians'?
    The correct answer is of course never.
    So why carry on with the charade.
    The time for a genuine 2 state solution is long gone, given the ongoing expropriation.
    The one thing, the sole thing, working in the Palestinians' favour is the demographics. With aliyah a dead dog, with importation of non-Jews dressed up as Jews, Jews are heading for minority status.
    Goodbye the Jewish state of Israel.

  23. Charles Keating
    April 30, 2008, 10:02 am

    "Why is a Zionist the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee?"

    Seniority.

    Here is some context for that seniority:

    link to njdc.typepad.com

    link to hisnamesake.blogspot.com

  24. Charles Keating
    April 30, 2008, 12:17 pm

    House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) released a statement responding to ThinkProgress’s report that McCain’s promise to “veto every bill with earmarks” may eliminate U.S. aid to Israel. Berman sharply criticized McCain for putting attempts to “please certain parts of the electorate” above “indispensable security programs”

    link to thinkprogress.org

    Who's security?

    Earmarks, pork. Kosher pork. That's how far we've come.

  25. the Sword of Gideon
    April 30, 2008, 10:06 pm

    Hey Keating, the king of pork is Robert Byrd, West Virginia, former klansman, and major foe of Israel

  26. Charles Keating
    May 1, 2008, 8:58 pm

    Gee, Sword, is he behind the gigatic annual welfare dole to Israel? With such friends, who needs enemies?

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