‘One Must Be a Jew to Tell the Goyim How To Talk About Israel’–WSJ Editor

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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We can’t reform U.S. policy in the Middle East without reforming Jewish identity–because Jews are simply too important in American society, that’s why. And reforming Jewish identity means challenging 1, Jewish parochialism–Is it good for the Jews?–and 2, Jewish exceptionalism–“We have a special role, we care about justice and healing the world” (as a relative of mine put it the other day). Yes, that and denying the destruction of the dreams of Palestinians.

Parochialism and exceptionalism bedevil Jeffrey Goldberg’s discussion with Joe Klein. With notable exception, and Joe Klein is now a fine counter-example, Jewish reporters don’t interrogate their Zionism publicly (even as they interrogate the Christian right every step it takes in the public square) and don’t really want gentiles to weigh in on Middle East policy. Here’s a passage from The Israel Lobby (order the paperback now), which reflects the same parochialism that Goldberg expressed, and Klein went along with:

In August 2003…writer Ian Buruma wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “How to Talk About Israel.” He made the obvious point that it is sometimes difficult to talk “critically and dispassionately” about Israel in the United States, and pointed out that “even legitimate criticism of Israel, or of Zionism, is often quickly denounced as anti-Semitism by various watchdogs.” In response, Bret Stephens, then the editor of the Jerusalem Post and now a columnist and editorial board member at the Wall Street Journal, published a vitriolic open letter in the Post that began by asking Buruma: “Are you a Jew?” Two paragraphs later, Stephens declared “What matters to me is that you say, ‘I am a Jew’.” Why did this matter? Because in Stephens’ view, “One must be at least a Jew to tell the goyim how they may or may not talk about Israel.” The message of this remarkable letter, in short, was that non-Jews should only talk about this subject in ways that Jews deem acceptable. Sensitivity on this point may also explain why an editor at the New York Times asked historian Tony Judt to identify himself as Jewish in an op-ed he had written defending our original London Review of Books article.

What is a parochialist like Stephens doing at the Wall Street Journal? Go back to the beginning: Jews are important in American society.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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