Jack Ross, new author, says Israel lobby captured the Jewish establishment in ’58 but here come the ruby slippers

“Rabbi Outcast,” Jack Ross’s biography of the late anti-Zionist rabbi Elmer Berger, was published this weekend and is already being cheered. There’s a coming out party next Sunday in Brooklyn for the book; details at the end of this post. I’ll try and get a review/summary of the bio up in the next few days, though I’d point to passages like this one, in the Epilogue, that typify Ross’s preternatural ability to crunch large diverse trends into pithy ideas:

[T]he peace process was only interpreted as a license for American Judaism to become more closely and intensely identified with Zionism than ever before. Multiple factors contributed to this reality. One was the increasing prevalence of the Holocaust in defining American Jewish identity, peaking right around the time of the 1993 [Oslo] accord with the film Schindler’s List and the opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Another was the dramatic increase of Israeli influences on the religious practices of American Jews, whether directly from Israelis themselves or through the intensely Zionist-oriented Jewish summer camps, which defined the exposure of whole generations to Judaism.

Smart. Ross also has a fine historical analysis of the Israel lobby up at the History New Network tonight. More smarts. Here are two excerpts, on the rise and (predicted) fall of the American Zionist Jewish establishment. Rise:


When the Eisenhower administration came to office in 1953, it looked on the [anti-Zionist] American Council for Judaism as a valuable ally.  Officials hoped that Israel could be recognized by the Arab states within the 1949 armistice lines in exchange for a reasonable settlement of the refugee problem and that Israel could become, in the words of John Foster Dulles, “a part of the Middle East community and cease looking upon itself as alien to that community.”  In practice, this meant that Israel would have become integrated into a regional anti-Communist bloc that came into a brief dubious existence as the Baghdad Pact.  The American Council for Judaism also closely collaborated with the CIA-backed American Friends of the Middle East.  But the Israel lobby, in its early gestations, protested these policies vigorously.The turning point in the history of an American Jewish establishment came in 1958, when the very thing feared by its opponents from the outset came to pass.  The Eisenhower Administration, bowing to the premise that Zionists spoke for all American Jewry, requested the merger of the the governing bureaucracy of the various Jewish organizations to represent the American Jewish community as Zionists.  The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations was formed, taking over the functions of the NCRAC [National Community Relations Advisory Council]. If the status of the Conference of Presidents as an ecumenical body should strike the casual observer as absurd, it was taken with absolute seriousness by its leaders.  The leader of AIPAC in this era, Philip Bernstein, would describe the [anti-Zionist] American Council for Judaism in all necessary statements as having arisen to oppose “the united program of the American Jewish community adopted in 1943,” as though this carried something like the force of law….

Fall:

[T]he most fateful factor [in the dissolution of that establishment] has been the alliance of the American Jewish establishment with the neoconservatives.  It has been said that with friends like the neocons, Israel does not need enemies, and this is if anything even more true of the American Jewish establishment.  Norman Podhoretz wrote frankly in his memoir Breaking Ranks that the opposition of the emerging neoconservatives to George McGovern was motivated in great measure by a concern that a less militarist America would be bad for Israel, and this was repeated at the time by many of his colleagues such as Irving Kristol and John Roche. 

In neocon polemics against their political near-neighbors who remained on the left in the 1970s and 80s, we can see the origins of their present unmitigated hysteria toward progressive Zionists such as J Street and Peter Beinart.  As early as this period, any suggestion by critics on the left that they cared more deeply about Israel and for that reason wanted it to make the necessary sacrifices to survive as a Jewish state touched a very raw nerve for the neocons.  The great irony, however, is that the deep commitment to Israel and to Zionist first principles by the democratic left of this era, reflected in the present day by J Street, may have been the very thing that ensured the marriage of the American Jewish establishment and the neoconservatives.  This commitment to Israel was not the only factor, but a critical factor, in the failure of principled non-interventionism to take hold on the left in the aftermath of Vietnam, thereby pulling American politics to the point where by the 1990s the left-most reach of political respectability was the Democratic Leadership Council. 

In short, the American Jewish establishment based so much of its program on the assumption that this would be the case indefinitely, and a generation later it is paying dearly for it.  The American Jewish establishment may still have all the friends it needs and more in the Democratic Party, but American liberalism has changed profoundly since the 1990s, to say nothing of the 1970s.  The writer Irving Howe, who came to bitterly regret his alliance with the neoconservatives in his final years, gave a speech in 1989 foreseeing that “because the religion of most American Jews is not serious, it has become almost totally defined by Israel, and a major crisis will erupt as Israel’s actions become less and less defensible.”

Oh and here’s the party:
Sunday, June 19
2-5 PM
Jalopy Theater
315 Columbia Street
Brooklyn

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. RE: “here come the ruby slippers” – Weiss

    TANGENTIALLY RELATED: Indian-Hating in “The Wizard of Oz”, by Thomas St. John, Counterpunch, 06/26/04

    (excerpts) Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919) advocated the extermination of the American Indian in his 1899 fantasy “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Baum was an Irish nationalist newspaper editor, a former resident of Aberdeen in the old Dakota Indian territory. His sympathies with the village pioneers caused him to invent the Oz fantasy to justify extermination. All of Baum’s “innocent” symbols clearly represent easily recognizable frontier landmarks, political realities, and peoples. These symbols were presented to frontier children, to prepare them for their racially violent future.
    The Yellow Brick Road represents the yellow brick gold at the end of the Bozeman Road to the Montana gold fields. Chief Red Cloud had forced the razing of several posts, including Fort Phil Kearney, and had forced the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty. When George Armstrong Custer cut “the Thieves’ Road” during his 1874 gold expedition invasion of the sacred Black Hills, he violated this treaty, and turned U.S. foreign policy toward the Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre…
    …The Shifting Sands, the Deadly Desert, the Great Sandy Waste, and the Impassable Desert are Frank Baum’s reference to that area of the froniter known always as “the great American desert”, west and south of the Great Lakes. Baum creates these fictional, barren areas as protective buffers for his Oz utopia, against hostile, foreign people. This “buffer state” practice had been part of U.S. foreign policy against the Indians, since the earliest colonial days.
    The Emerald City of Oz recreates the Irish nationalist’s vision of the Emerald Isle, the sacred land, Ireland, set in this American desert…

    SOURCE – link to counterpunch.org

    • Chaos4700 says:

      I’m not inclined to agree with that interpretation of the Oz books, having read quite a number of them, to be honest. (Plus, the ruby slippers weren’t ruby slippers in the actual books, they were silver slippers. I imagine they were changed as a cinematic decision to emphasize the color segments from the black and white segments. To be pedantic.)

      • That’s an interesting tidbit about the slippers. I don’t really have much of an opinion about the interpretation of the Oz books, but a couple of Baum’s editorials really give me the chills.

        FROM WIKIPEDIA:

        (excerpts)…During the period surrounding the 1890 Ghost Dance movement and Wounded Knee Massacre, [L. Frank] Baum wrote two editorials about Native Americans for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer which have provoked great controversy in recent times because of his suggestion that the safety of White settlers depended on the “extermination” of the remaining Indians.
        The first piece was published on December 20, 1890, five days after the killing of the Lakota Sioux holy man, Sitting Bull (who was being held in custody at the time). Following is the complete text of the editorial:
        (excerpts) “Sitting Bull, most renowned Sioux of modern history, is dead…
        …The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are…”

        Following the December 29, 1890 massacre, Baum wrote a second editorial, published on January 3, 1891:

        (excerpt) The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.
        The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands…

        These two short editorials continue to haunt his legacy. In 2006, two descendants of Baum apologized to the Sioux nation for any hurt their ancestor had caused.[29]
        These editorials are the only known occasions on which Baum articulated such views…
        SOURCE – link to en.wikipedia.org

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Well, it’s his fiction that I like, not the man himself. If you want an example of someone who’s atrocious attitudes creep into his otherwise outstanding fiction, take a look at H. P. Lovecraft. The man was a vehement racist and I remember finding myself disturbed (in a way totally unintended by the author) by his use of race as a plot device for evoking fear in at least two of his short stories that I’d read.

          So I don’t want it to come across that I approve of Baum’s attitudes toward Native Americans. It’s just that those attitudes really don’t shine through in the Oz books, I feel.

        • MRW says:

          Yeah, thanks for the info, Dickerson. I knew nothing about this. I snuggled in bed with a flashlight to read all of Baum’s books. Loved them. If he was trying to make me hate Indians, he failed.

  2. Shmuel says:

    Congratulations, Jack.

    This:

    The Eisenhower Administration, bowing to the premise that Zionists spoke for all American Jewry…

    Reminded me of this:

    Weizmann’s principal achievement was to create among British leaders an identity between the Zionist movement and “world Jewry”…

    (Tom Segev, One Palestine Complete)

  3. Yes, congratulations Jack.

    The blurb seems very thoughtful, inquiring.

    I actually liked the last phrase “because the religion of most American Jews is not serious, it has become almost totally defined by Israel, and a major crisis will erupt as Israel’s actions become less and less defensible.”

    There is however a group of American and other Jews for whom religion is serious, and love Israel, but in the form of an #and# statement.

    Secure AND kind.

    So, we dissent from compassionate-less right-wing policies, and dissent from far-left compassionate-less anti-Zionist tirades.

    • Donald says:

      “So, we dissent from compassionate-less right-wing policies, and dissent from far-left compassionate-less anti-Zionist tirades.”

      In the abstract this sounds nice. One should humanize both sides and be in favor of compassion. In practice, though, your style of talk (and it’s not just you) masks a desire to shield Israel from honest criticism, while at the same time you pull no punches in condemning Palestinian crimes.

      • There is no mask to shield Israel from criticism, on the contrary. I assert for reform consistently, independant of audiences.

        I do seek to distinguish criticism from demonization and propaganda, and to distinguish moral judgments from legal.

        • James North says:

          Richard Witty said, ‘If I stood on a street corner in Jerusalem like Lucas Koerner did, and tried to “assert for reform,” I would be beaten and arrested. Still, I can’t bring myself to mention Lucas’s name.’

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Please. You claim you assert for reform, and then you shoot down, metaphorically, the same peacemakers that Israel shoots down literally.

          You aren’t about peace. You can’t say, “I’m about peace,” and then reject every genuine peaceful action, while endorsing actions that are crimes against humanity, and expect people not to readily spot your hypocrisy.

        • eljay says:

          >> You claim you assert for reform, and then you shoot down, metaphorically, the same peacemakers that Israel shoots down literally.

          RW asserts for reform, but not for justice or accountability. The peacemakers he shoots down assert for all three and, clearly, that is unacceptable to him.

        • Woody Tanaka says:

          Chaos4700,

          That is a very smart observation. I think that Witty isn’t “about peace” as he is “about” a particular solution, and he is opposed to other solutions, including peaceful ones, which conflict with his own.

        • Donald says:

          “I do seek to distinguish criticism from demonization and propaganda, and to distinguish moral judgments from legal.”

          You downplay Israeli crimes and you don’t do the same for Palestinian crimes. It’s the form of subtle demonization that many (not all) liberal Zionists employ.

        • Mooser says:

          ” I assert for reform consistently, independant of audiences.”

          Gosh, you oldsters are still so full of spunk and energy. I would have though you gave up moral masturbation years ago. A credit to day’s medical science.

      • Chaos4700 says:

        Not only that but it equates the anti-Zionist left with the fascist right. Which of course, is propaganda that Witty has been peddling for a long, long time.

    • James North says:

      Congratulations, Jack. I hope to be at your book party this coming weekend. (Did you notice; Richard Witty still cannot bring himself to mention the name of Lucas Koerner?)

  4. iamuglow says:

    The Jalopy, though its only a few years old is already world renowned for the folk scene its reviving.

    Very nice to see that the party is happening there. Its says to me that I/P is finding cause with true progressives.

  5. MRW says:

    Bravo, Jack. I just read everything at all the links. I didn’t know the connections with the American Council for Judaism, although I go there frequently to read Allan Brownfeld’s articles. I like the guy, I find his thinking moral, and link to his site here on occasion.

    Again, congrats.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Grant Smith’s historical over view of Aipac is worth reading. As well as going to his website

    The following is an excerpt from Foreign Agents: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee From the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005 Espionage Scandal.

    link to antiwar.com
    Where Did AIPAC Come From?
    by Grant F. Smith

    FBI News Clipping Files:
    American Israel Public Affairs Committee
    2005 Espionage Case.

    IRMEP is a real treasure chest of info
    link to irmep.org

  7. David Green says:

    I found Elmer Berger’s collection of letters from a 1955 (?) trip to the region to be an invaluable introduction to the problem, as well as Thomas Kolsky’s history of the ACJ. Nevertheless, Berger’s relationships with Arab potentates is the other side of the problematic coin of our relations in Arab world/Middle East.

    The spectre of American “interests” continues to haunt this discussion. As a cold warrior, Eisenhower/Dulles simply could not sincerely support Nasserism/Arab nationalism as a basis for U.S. relations in the region. Nor the Iraqi revolution, not to mention Mossadeq.

    Irving Howe et al. were more interested in accusing blacks of being anti-Semites than promoting a critical view of Israel–without a doubt. Howe was no less contemptible than Kristol in this regard. Howe hated uppity student radicals of all sorts. He and his ilk were never confortable that the anti-Vietnam war movement had a serious critique of the cold war.

    “This commitment to Israel was not the only factor, but a critical factor, in the failure of principled non-interventionism to take hold on the left in the aftermath of Vietnam, thereby pulling American politics to the point where by the 1990s the left-most reach of political respectability was the Democratic Leadership Council.”

    This statement needs a ton of unpacking. Israel was huge, but also convenient and useful. I guess “left” refers to Peretz, Walzer, Gitlin, etc. If “left” is to mean anything, it deserves better than that. “Non-interventionism” was never on the table at Dissent/TNR, I don’t think. What explains Paul Berman’s support for the contras?

    Invoking a genuine affinity for Israel is to let too many bastards off the hook much too easily. Support for Israel was certainly a way for them to remain “respectable” within arrogant American discourse. But there’s no reason to think that they were ever radicals or leftists (that is, democrats), and there’s no reason to think that non-interventionism would have would have been more viable even if these characters had supported Chomsky & Zinn.

  8. Mazel tov, Jack! And thanks for the link, Philip. I had casual personal acquaintances with Rabbi Berger and Alfred Lilienthal, and I’m learning much from Jack’s book.

  9. jayn0t says:

    “Another was the dramatic increase of Israeli influences on the religious practices of American Jews”. It wasn’t the other way round, then?

  10. As a non-Jewish anti-Zionist, I like to collect arguments against Zionism made by prescient Jews during the early decades of the last century, before the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel. So I was struck by a quote provided by Jack Ross near the end of his excellent article (cited by Weiss above) in the History News Network:

    As Samuel Goldenson, then-rabbi of New York’s Temple Emanu-El, put it in a sermon blasting the original proposal of Stephen Wise for a World Jewish Congress in 1938:

    “As long as the Jew feels he has a heritage worth cherishing, a heritage informed with the spirit of his lawgivers, prophets, psalmists, and sages, and that through this heritage he can realize the best in himself and make significant contributions to the moral and spiritual life of mankind, he can feel personally justified to carry on and can claim the right to remain a Jew in any society. The moment he gives up these convictions, he abandons his special reason for existence and his warrant to survive as a member of a separate group. Thereafter, every claim that he makes in behalf of Jewish life and Jewish identity becomes less and less intelligible to others and loses force in their minds.

    I added the italics in the last sentence. It is a point deserving special emphasis.