Tonight the 92d Street Y held a panel on "Why Zionism has become a dirty word," with four Zionists on stage and some non-Zionists demonstrating out in Lexington Avenue. The hall was less than half full, and the panel itself had a confounded feeling. The token liberal, documentarian Oren Rudavsky, said Zionism has become a dirty word because of Israel’s actions. Neocon Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal said it’s because the anti-Semitic left has captured public opinion and is practicing "Stockholm syndrome" on it. And Abe Foxman insisted it's all because of anti-Semitism.
Foxman seemed somewhat fulfilled by this, as if he continually needs to find fresh evidence that the Holocaust, which he survived, is a living reality. It seemed out of time.
I am going to dispense with Rudavsky right at the start because he was very good and restrained, for instance, saying that everyone loved Israel after '67 and now opinion is reversed and–well, look what Israel did in Gaza. But the event wasn’t about Rudavsky. It was about Foxman and Stephens.
Stephens was very impressive. Attractive, fluid, articulate, a little crazed yes– but he deflected that by saying he was a "lunatic neoconservative." I liked that; and I need to take Stephens on here. But before I get to him: the entertainment section, a portrait of a vaudeville character, crowdpleaser Abe Foxman.
Foxman truly is larger than life and he has grown to fill the role. He is portly, and breathes heavily, and has obviously said his stock lines so many times that he verges on self parody. I’ve never really seen the performance in a big hall and I was struck by how loose the thinking was – Gaza was a model of restraint, Israel didn’t kill 44 at the school, it only killed 14, Zionism is Judaism and Jewish identity. I was also struck by the Holocaust worldview. When Rudavsky said a mild word about Gaza, Foxman angrily defended Gaza as a situation where Jews finally stood up and defended Jews, as if it was the Warsaw ghetto. Also, a lot of his material was very stale. I recall him referring to three major figures: Abba Eban, Martin Luther King, Golda Meir, and maybe Yasser Arafat. Well they're all dead. And it all happened a long time ago. The arguments are tired. He said that the only way for Arabs to have peace is, quoting Golda Meir, for them to begin to love their children more than they hate Jews, and even Bret Stephens, who said that he agreed with 99 percent of what Foxman said, had to step in: No, Palestinian mothers love their children, it's evil people who coerce other people's children to be suicide bombers.
Foxman's manner is over-the-top. Here is the speech from which I've taken my headline:
Breathtaking. But not good for business. Hey I voted for Obama. Earlier in the night Foxman said in frustration that it has become impossible to sell Zionism in the west, even to Jews who are happy to march on the U.N. and say, We support Israel! And when he gives that speech about racism, well now you know.
Now let me get to Stephens and then go to bed!
Stephens also took the They’re singling Israel out because they're anti-Semites view, but unlike Foxman, who would seem willing to wash his hands of the entire world because he always knew the world was anti-Semitic, Stephens recognizes that attitude as a scary form of visualization/prophecy that is leading to international delegitimization. Stephens blamed the left. The left has operated like a cancer where it counts, elite opinion.
The left changed. This is the basic problem. Sabras used to be plucky Israelis in the eyes of the international left; now it’s completely different. “What basically changed was polite society, or the intelligentsia changed, or the academy changed. The world as we know it.” International antisemitism had gotten to some Jews, in a form of Stockholm syndrome, he said. And anti-Zionism exists because Jews themselves have given it the permission to exist; Walt and Mearsheimer had gained influence because of Haaretz. "Many Israelis have walked away from the Zionist enterprise." And the Israeli critics of Israel had found "an echo chamber" in the "Walt and Mearsheimer world."
So anti-Semites could always say, well I’m only quoting Amira Hass or Gideon Levy!
Stephens says his side must aggressively make "the liberal case for Israel.” He then made a number of forceful arguments to counter the leftwing (my) view of Israel. Syria occupied Lebanon; you never heard about that occupation. In the Congo 5 million have died, the left never talks about them. Israel did in Gaza all that Britain did in northern Ireland and France did in Algeria– don't you see, this is what western democracies do with insurgency. Stephens saw a poster in Europe, Queers for Palestine. Well you can’t be queer in Palestine. You can’t have women’s rights in Arab countries. Let alone homosexuality.
Some answers. I’ve been in Lebanon during the Syrian occupation. I didn’t see any checkpoints, let alone separate roadways on a religious/ethnic basis. There is not much I can do about Syria, we don’t give billions to Syria. I can do a lot about Israel, which as Stephens said, is speaking for me as a Jew. (No thanks). Yes it is true I don’t talk about the Congo. Are Palestinian lives worth more than Congolese lives? I am told that Noam Chomsky explained this to neonate neocon David Frum in 1988. Of course we weigh lives differently: We are deeply implicated in Israeli crimes, we have to weigh those lives differently. Congolese don’t fly airplanes into our buildings. I/P is an international flashpoint because it is obnoxious to the Arab world; and myself, I got into foreign policy not out of leftist reasons, but realist ones, because of 9/11 and the neocon Iraq war. I don’t even know the sides in the Congo.
But Stephens is right; I promise you I will become more engaged, some day. Not that Stephens cares about the Congolese.
As to the civil rights of gays and women, true. I think my greatest influence over these norms will be by removing the beam in my eye, to quote Jesus Christ: the utter denial of human rights to Palestinians. That’s the problem. The occupation has become grotesque and outrageous. 10 Palestinians killed in the West Bank during peaceful protests of the Gaza slaughter.
I left the hall gratified, for two reasons. Foxman is irrelevant. He is a loud man with reality issues. Abe, take a walk, pick up some modern names, don't celebrate racism.
Stephens is more formidable but he is out of touch, too. How strange that he would invoke Algeria, a colonial situation that the French withdrew from more than 40 years ago, giving an Arab people independence. His strongest argument was the liberal one about gay and women's rights, which I have been hearing from the Israel Project for a long time. So the neoconservative project is reconstructed as "liberal." Having destroyed an Arab society, Iraq, he does not defend militarism, he is trying to talk to us: polite society, the intelligentsia–"the world as we know it." He knows we are winning, and he takes the fight to our ground.