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The lobby has been broken because… Israel isn’t good for the Jews

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A few months back, young Brandon Davis, writing thrillingly in the Daily Princetonian, blamed the American Jewish community en bloc for the crimes of Israel–

[J]ust as it is fair to criticize Israeli policies, it is fair to criticize its apologists — groups that claim to represent the entire American Jewish community. American Jews have traditionally been at the forefront of progressive movements. But in recent years, American Jewish institutions have trended toward the ugly side of Zionism, defending — or at least apologizing for — the Israeli hard right in its continuation of the occupation of the West Bank and repression of Palestinian identity. The undeniable injustices of the Israeli government and military warrant criticism; silence in the face of these injustices warrants criticism as well.

It is time for American Jews to stand up against oppression, violence and religious fundamentalism. The tribalism that has persuaded the Jewish people to categorically stand up for Israel for so many years is foolish and outdated. The occupation of the West Bank is wrong. The blockade of Gaza is wrong. The displacement of Palestinian villages is wrong. The continued construction of settlements is wrong. And American Jews have enabled all of it. It’s about time a Jew stood up and said so.

I wrote similar things over the years, and I want to announce now that Brandon Davis and I have won. We have helped to change the American Jewish community, and that community and its leaders are going to be distancing themselves more and more from the crimes of Israel in months to come.

A process that began very much in the margin 3 and 4 years ago, with the Progressive Anti-Zionists who were called anti-Semites by the American Jewish Committee’s Alvin Rosenfeld in a historic smear that will go into history books some day– we have won. The criticisms that we framed about Israel are entering the mainstream Jewish community. I’m not going to offer data right now, but the sense is everywhere around me.

And the bravery of Jews who said, I am finally speaking out against the atrocities– if you remember Naomi Klein asking Palestinians to forgive her cowardice on the issue back in 09, if you remember Medea Benjamin apologizing for not getting on the issue sooner when she began her countless trips to Gaza– well, we can look back now and see that those women were great leaders, and the mainstream Jews are going to be following down the same dusty road of broken dreams. Peter Beinart is on that road; and believe me, we are going to see franker and franker criticisms of Israel in the Jewish community.

Why? Because of what Brandon Davis saw. The plain black and white wrongness of the occupation, the atrocities of Gaza that turned Medea Benjamin, and add to all that, the awareness that these conditions were being blamed on Jews. The awareness that Israel was making Jews unsafe, the world around. I think this is implicit in General David Petraeus’s and Joe Biden’s comments about Israel being dangerous to America, implicit in David Remnick’s angry statement about the occupation and the passivity of the Israel lobby dining in the St Regis: you bastards, you are making us hold the bag on your crap. Yesterday on Fareed Zakaria’s show Remnick doubled down and said the occupation is “deeply wrong;” and you could see WSJ neocon Bret Stephens’s rage at the statement. But what did Stephens offer instead? When Zakaria said the plain truth, that Israel has denied half the population rights for 43 years, Stephens said that the situation must be maintained because what could take its place would be worse. This is the old ethnocentric neoconservative rationale for doling out violence to Arabs, which Remnick himself once endorsed when he published Jeffrey Goldberg’s anti-Saddam pieces, and it has now been publicly discredited. I can’t say enough about Remnick’s apostasy. Remnick is a very smart guy, and a careerist, and his shift means that the Jewish/mainstream world is shifting, and the argument I have long pressed for inside the Jewish community over the Iraq war, between the neoconservatives and the liberals who once harbored them, will at last begin. And isn’t it interesting that the Iraq war disaster and the public accusation in 2006 that the Israel lobby had fomented it did not break the lobby. No, Remnick defended against that charge. But Walt and Mearsheimer wounded the lobby; and what has broken it is a more ethnocentric concern that Walt and Mearsheimer also outlined and Beinart has picked up: You lost Israel!

What was the tipping point? I think this is easy. It was the deal Netanyahu wrung from Obama to extend the settlement freeze 3 months, which he couldn’t even sell to his own coalition. The naked exposure of Israeli power over the American political process, the ugliness of Netanyahu even as the rabbis were writing that letter saying Don’t rent to Arabs– hey, Jews may not be that smart, but we’re not that stupid either.

And when the deal failed, a terrible realization began dawning on sentient American Jews: Israel is not good for the Jews. No, its militarism and racism are damaging the Jewish brand for all to see…

It’s over. The deal that Israel cut with American Jews in ’67-’73, that you must be the guardians of the Jewish state in New York and Washington– it’s over. It’s been broken. Young Jews don’t feel it, young journalists don’t feel it much either. And part of the reason the lobby is broken is the ideology of anti-Zionism: the growing post-Holocaust awareness among American Jews that we don’t need a Jewish homeland, and you’ve done a lousy job of making a state, and we’re actually pretty safe in the west….

We’re in the long decline now. It could take a while, I don’t know where it goes. Ali Abunimah has described the four phases of shifting consciousness better than anyone. And I would add that in the struggle that we are now entering, the apartheid struggle and the civil rights struggle in the occupation, American Jews are going to be following Brandon Davis’s path and not really caring if it’s one state or two states, and call it what you will, but let’s just end this horror show. Brandon Davis–

It is time for American Jews to stand up against oppression, violence and religious fundamentalism. The tribalism that has persuaded the Jewish people to categorically stand up for Israel for so many years is foolish and outdated.

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