Only Jews get to say it

on 16 Comments

People are talking about Jeffrey Goldberg’s very late epiphany that Israel is not much of a democracy for Palestinians and this clashes with American values. He cited both discrimination against Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupation:

[T]here’s very little Israel’s right-wing government has done in the past year or so to suggest that it is willing to wean itself from its addiction to West Bank settlements, and the expansion of settlements bodes ill for the creation of a Palestinian state — andthe absence of Palestinian statehood means that Israel will one day soon confront this crucial question concerning its democratic nature: Will it grant West Bank Arabs the right to vote, or will it deny them the vote? 

But Walt and Mearsheimer said much of this a long time ago. They were on to Israel’s intransigent refusal to end the occupation in 2006, and saw the clash with American values:

Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.

At that time (and even after W&M retracted/regretted the word “blood”) Goldberg said they were anti-Semitic, and so did a lot of other Israel lobbyists, in the New York Times, Yivo Institute, the Washington Post, etc. In fact, there’s a basic prejudice at work here. It’s OK if Jews say it, but not gentiles. That prejudice is based on the belief that Jews are outsiders, a minority, and are vulnerable. Not long after he was scolding Hannah Arendt for having insufficient love for the Jewish people, the great Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem said that only Jews could write Jewish history: “…Jewish historians… learned to insist, and rightly so, that Jewish history is a process that can only be understood when viewed from within…” Goldberg has the same view.

At this point in Jewish history, and American history, and American history, this attitude is an exclusive vanity. Jewish history is very important, and understanding American history means understanding Israeli and Jewish history, too.

The gateway for an understanding here is Michael Walzer’s brave statement at the Center for Jewish History a couple years ago about a new era of Jewish responsibility:

“We sustained a national existence for 2000 years without territory, sovereignty, and without coercive power… That is an extraordinary political achievement… one that has not been studied enough, or appreciated enough…. It may be that the talents honed by exile don’t fit the circumstances of statehood… We governed only ourselves, as best we could… Sometimes [we were] semi-autonomous… responsible only for ourselves. In the state of Israel, we have accepted responsibility for other people. That is something we have never had in all the years of exile, and we have not done terribly well.” 

With power comes accountability. Not just to ourselves.

16 Responses

  1. Matthew Taylor
    December 29, 2010, 11:49 am

    Shocked to hear that Goldberg has woken up to the reality of Israeli non-democracy. Better late than never.

  2. Robert
    December 29, 2010, 12:28 pm

    Goldberg did not just wake up to the reality. I’ve been following the discussion between Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan through 2010. That’s how I first began looking at non-Zionist stuff. Goldberg *has known for years* and has kept quiet, and written obfuscatory blog posts and articles for his own political positioning. By not stating the truth that he already knows, he maintained his political credibility with Israel and Jewish Establishment, so that Netanyahu would return his phone calls. He referred to the idea of Apartheid in Greater Israel as “far-left”, trying to discredit it. In this article, he speaks of “Israel not being a democracy”. If not a democracy, what is the best name that fits what it will be?

  3. Richard Witty
    December 29, 2010, 1:07 pm

    Walzer’s comments were funny, and I see the direct link to your early query about Jews/Israelis as righteous victims, but not yet so great at governing others.

    To that query, there are two possible answers:

    1. Its impossible for Jews to possibly learn good governance – which leads to the conclusion that Jews only place is as a subordinated minority in the world.
    2. Jews/Israelis have to learn good governance – which is the term “reform”, requiring the conditions by which people learn. That is that dissent maintains dialog so that leaders can learn (rather than be isolated in the cold), and that leaders desire to learn.

    It maps the relevant path of dissent, reform.

    The conclusion to adopt a revolutionary approach is NOT trivial. It is the distinction between a blunt friend, and an enemy.

    Your theme of “only Jews get to say it” is false or at least partially hypocritical. Non-Jews have commented on US foreign policy relative to Israel and Jewish issues since the issues were known.

    Ironically, you say that at the same time as you also support the view that liberal Jews have no business commenting on Palestinian strategy or identity.

    Its the same about Israel. Israelis often state that it is none of the US’ business (including critical US Jewry) what forms its policies.

    Thankfully we both differ with that view. It is our business, especially about the formation of US policy, and use of US funds.

    But, that limits the questions that can be asked to only those issues, which neither you nor I do.

    We don’t mind our own business, even as we claim to be disciplined to.

  4. Kathleen
    December 29, 2010, 2:04 pm

    ” But Walt and Mearsheimer said much of this a long time ago.”

    And many others have said it long before Mearsheimer and Walt. Including Barghouti, Carter, Finkelstein.

    Goldberg must be feeling the heat from the reality taking hold here in the states. People around the world have been waiting for the light bubs to be turned on.

    Prof Cole has an important one up
    link to
    Palestinians Reject Piecemeal Talks offered by Israel

    Posted on 12/28/2010 by Juan
    Retweet 1 Share 9

    The Palestine Authority roundly rejected on Monday the suggestion by Israeli Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that an ‘interim agreement’ between Israel and the PA might be achievable even though the moment was not propitious for a comprehensive peace settlement. Three big issues appear to stand in the way of progress. The first is the Israeli refusal to halt land invasions of Palestinian territory by Israeli squatters while the negotiations over the future of the Palestinian West Bank is being negotiated. The second is Israeli refusal to consider the Palestinian demand that East Jerusalem become the capital of the Palestinian state. The third is the Palestinian insistence that some number of Palestinians be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel, from which they were expelled by militant Israel nationalists in 1947-48.

    Netanyahu is a weak prime minister and, for all his bluster, a timid man not given to grand breakthroughs. He heads a shaky coalition of mostly rightwing parties that despise one another, with the division between the secular Russians of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) and Shas (representing the fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox Jews) particularly bitter.

  5. David Samel
    December 29, 2010, 2:15 pm

    Goldberg writes:

    Some people, of course, argue that Israel has ceased to be a democracy, because there is nothing temporary about the 43-year-old occupation of the West Bank. I believe it is premature to talk about the end of Israel

    How long does the occupation have to last for Israel to forfeit its right to be considered a democracy? Is there a 50-year rule? 75? What event does Goldberg think will transpire, and at what time in the future, when it can be said that the Israeli government does not rule with the consent of the governed, because millions of the governed are not voting citizens.

    Still, it is rare for someone so accomplished as a hasbarist to acknowledge some of the things he said in his article.

  6. tommy
    December 29, 2010, 2:40 pm

    Intransigence is a characteristic of every fundamentalism, whether that fundamentalism is informed by religion or nationalism. Goldberg cannot be said to experience epiphany until he recognizes Israel’s only legitimate borders came from the UN in 1948 and calls for the end of all US military assistance to the IDF. Until then, he should be considered an enemy combatant for his service as a prison guard in Israel.

  7. annie
    December 29, 2010, 2:50 pm

    “…Jewish historians… learned to insist, and rightly so, that Jewish history is a process that can only be understood when viewed from within…”

    whoopie doo, maybe a taste of their own medicine is in order, i would so love it if certain zionist jews would stop writing about arab or islamic history instead we have a contingent of them obsessed w/infusing islamophobia into our culture and it’s enough to make me want to scream.

  8. DICKERSON3870
    December 29, 2010, 2:52 pm

    RE: “We sustained a national existence for 2000 years without territory, sovereignty, and without coercive power…” – Michael Walzer
    MY COMMENT: I recall seeing a post on some site several years ago in which a notable person (a woman, I think) was quoted as having said/written something roughly like:
    “We Jews managed to survive for [amount of time] without having our own country/nation. Now our challenge/problem/task is to survive while having our own country/nation.”
    It was a nice quote, but unfortunately my sketchy recollection does not permit me to do it justice.

  9. hophmi
    December 29, 2010, 2:58 pm

    “we have a contingent of them obsessed w/infusing islamophobia into our culture and it’s enough to make me want to scream.”

    Please. The vast majority of people infusing islamophobia into American culture are Christian, evangelical ones.

    • MRW
      December 29, 2010, 10:19 pm

      “Please. The vast majority of people infusing islamophobia into American culture are Christian, evangelical ones.”

      Not the ones who get on the TV with their conductor’s baton running the Islamo-Bad-Bad-Bad Symphony. Colonel Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis featured a snip on Evan Kohlmann, the self-proclaimed, and insufferable, “expert” on terrorism you see on MSNBC, who has peddled Islamofascism on daytime TV for years. Lang, who speaks Arabic and was the Military Liaison for the US in Israel for years, says this about Kohlmann:

      He has never worked for government except as a consultant, has no real academic background in any relevant field, has no Arabic, has never had a government security clearance and seems to re-cycle his material. He has never been in the intelligence or police businesses anywhere. He does library research, period. The prosecuters refer to him as “Doctor Kohlmann,” referring, I suppose, to his JD. He is an MSNBC terrorism “analyst.”

      Lang links to a longer Tom Mills (Spinwatch) piece that dissects Kohlmann’s phony credentials and his involvement with the disgraced Islamophobic Steve Emerson and Rita Katz.
      link to

      (2) The Director of Evangelical Christian John Hagee’s CUFI is David Brock, a rock-hard Zionist and Jew. See JewsOnFirst for the lowdown on that.

  10. annie
    December 29, 2010, 3:06 pm

    The vast majority of people infusing islamophobia into American culture are Christian, evangelical ones.

    not in the mainstream press they are not, and on campuses we have the horowitz traveling islamophobia sideshow called campus watch. i beg to differ.

  11. Jim Holstun
    December 29, 2010, 3:49 pm

    Goldberg remains Goldberg. Look at whom he blames:

    –“The haredim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose community continues to grow at a rapid clip;
    –the working-class religious Sephardim — Jews from Arab countries, mainly — whose interests are represented in the Knesset by the obscurantist rabbis of the Shas Party
    –the settler movement, which still seems to get whatever it needs in order to grow
    –and the million or so recent immigrants from Russia, who support, in distressing numbers, the Putin-like Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister and leader of the ‘Israel is Our Home’ party.”

    It’s not the real Israel’s fault! Not the fault of the Israel I used to know and love, and that hired me as a prison camp guard. It’s the religious crazies, whose overactive wombs (ALMOST AS FECUND AS THOSE OF THE ARABS!) pose yet another demographic threat! It’s the settlers, who get whatever they need (FROM WHOM, ONE WONDERS?) in order to grow! It’s from the Russian immigrants, who AREN’T REALLY JEWS (NOW you’re finding that out?) or Israelis, led by Avigdor LiEberman, who isn’t really a Jewish fanatic, but a sort of LEVANTINE PUTIN! And scariest of all, it’s the “working class Sephardim”–not the PROPERLY ISRAELI RULING-CLASS ASHKENAZIM–who hail from (wait for it!) ARAB COUNTRIES!

    Never trust this racist screw, or think that he’s beginning to see the light. Flush him.

  12. Dan Crowther
    December 29, 2010, 4:47 pm

    I think Scholem was more interested in shrouding his nationalism behind myth and mystique than anything else. If only Jews can document jewish history, the easier it is to make it a thing of myth and legend.

    • Citizen
      December 30, 2010, 8:33 am

      Every once in awhile a Josephus pops up.

      • Citizen
        December 30, 2010, 8:46 am

        Josephus “blames the Jewish War on what he calls “unrepresentative and over-zealous fanatics” among the Jews, who led the masses away from their natural aristocratic leaders (like him), with disastrous results. He also blames some of the governors of Judea, but these he presents as atypical Romans: corrupt and incompetent administrators. Thus, according to Josephus, the traditional Jew was, should be, and can be, a loyal and peace-loving citizen. Jews can, and historically have, accepted Rome’s hegemony precisely because of their faith that God himself gives empires their power. Further, he entered into “many philosophical debates current in Rome at that time. Again he offers an apologia for the antiquity and universal significance of the Jewish people.” Finally, he defended Judaism as classical religion and philosophy, stressing its antiquity against what Josephus claimed was the relatively more recent traditions of the Greeks.” link to

      • Dan Crowther
        December 30, 2010, 2:13 pm

        Cheers, Citizen – I wasnt really up to speed on Josephus, I appreciate the link – and yea, there does seem to be some parralels between the two – and I’d add Herzl and Ben Gurion to the list as well. I think the line of continuity is pretty strong in this instance; all gleaned from history recorded in political time something spiritual, something intangible and something “holy.” If Jewish history is both a political and spiritual history, then of course only Jews can really understand it completely.

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