My response to ‘DailyKos’ smear

Israel/Palestine
on 253 Comments

DailyKos has acted to ban commenters from linking to Mondoweiss, charging me with anti-Semitism. It is a disgraceful smear and hides DailyKos’s real anxiety: it cannot deal with the issue of Palestinian human rights, any more than the Democratic Party can, and so Israel supporters are striking at me.

Their point of attack is my repeated insistence on talking about the large Jewish presence in the American establishment and the importance of Jewish money in the political process. Such an attack was inevitable, and in that sense I welcome it. For while these are delicate issues, they are important ones. I have often expressed my own discomfort with them, and yet I advance them in the discourse because as a journalist I recognize that they meet an ancient test of what is newsworthy: these issues are new, true, and important.  Were they merely new and true, I would ignore these issues. But their importance has put them in my road, and I can’t shy away from discussing them, and DK’s smear gives me an opportunity to revisit my thinking.

Why is the Jewish prominence in the American establishment an important issue? For a few reasons. 1, it is a development I witnessed myself and celebrate as a Jew. When I was growing up, we were excluded from the turrets of the American system by anti-Semitism. Today that is not the case. Jews should recognize this new reality, celebrate it, and yes, allow it to affect our consciousness of our unfolding historical position in western society. 2, It deeply affects Middle East policy, which is the true source of my difference with Daily Kos; I believe you cannot talk about the Israel lobby without addressing the Jewish presence in the establishment. And following directly from that, 3, the Jewish presence is not neutral– no, sadly (and because of the Holocaust), my community has been indoctrinated with Zionism.; as J Street’s Steven Krubiner said the other night, Jewish identity education includes Loving Israel. Well, I think Zionism is a form of anachronistic nationalism that has served to oppress the Palestinians and helped lead my own country into war, and in seeking to uproot Zionism inside Jewish life, I have repeatedly pointed out that the ideological basis of Zionism is the idea that we are unsafe in the west, a claim that is patently absurd in the face of our achievement in the United States and our prominence in the establishment– which everyone knows about and accepts, but DailyKos finds it anti-Semitic even to mention.   

Let me go back to 2 for a moment, the most important matter, the effect on Middle East policy. I do not think that any analysis of the American government’s “special relationship” with Israel can be very sharp if it fails to deal with the simple fact of Jewish donorship. It is the Jewish press that reported that Obama lost $10 million in donations during his May 19 “1967 lines” speech. It is neocon John Podhoretz who says that a “wildly disproportionate” part of the Democratic donor base is Jewish, and Podhoretz who said that Obama fears that he will lose half the money from Jews he got his first time running for the presidency. These fears drive policy, and they have for decades. Jimmy Carter was a one-term president in some measure because he alienated Jews by opposing settlements. The next one-termer, George H.W. Bush, tried to stop the illegal Israeli settlement project in 1991 and paid “dearly” for it in the 1992 campaign (as Donald Neff writes in Fallen Pillars). Bush himself has said that this stance hurt him in that election. Bill Clinton got 60 percent of his money from Jews, according to the New York Times, a real sign of Jewish arrival into the establishment, and he created what David Frum called the most “philosemitic” presidency in history (words that I think DK throws at me) and he reversed Bush’s opposition to the settlement policy. Both Clinton’s Supreme Court appointments were Jewish, and his Camp David negotiation team was headed by “Israel’s lawyer,” as he was called, Dennis Ross, and don’t you know it, a lousy offer was made to the Palestinians and the Palestinians were blamed for the collapse of the talks. The lesson of Bush 1’s loss was not lost on Bush 2, who installed neocons throughout his administration and did nothing to stop the disastrous colonization project. And then Barack Obama threw his friend Rashid Khalidi under the bus in the 2008 campaign, but Dennis Ross is still with us. Ater a stint as head of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem, the man whom Abraham Foxman has called an “advocate” for Israel is heading Middle East policy under Obama, and if you think that is not a signal to the Jewish community, you’re thick. It is the Wall Street Journal that said that Obama’s mild demurrals about the occupation have caused “Jewish donors” to “warn” him. And it is Seymour Hersh who has said that “Jewish money” is behind the campaign to push the United States into a confrontation with Iran over nukes.

We can debate the importance of the Israel lobby and the Jewish presence inside the establishment all day long. And many people who come to this site disagree with me, and they’re free to speak out (unlike at DailyKos). But myself I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Jewish presence in the establishment– as givers, as political actors, as talking heads– is a huge factor in America losing its way in the Middle East, and so I feel an obligation as an American journalist to address these questions.

As I said, these facts make me uncomfortable as a Jew who is aware of the painful history of anti-Semitism, but still they are important facts whose exploration is my charge; and I believe that they are important in Jewish self-recognition. And let me be clear: I have never argued that Jews should be pushed out of the establishment, or deprived of our status as the richest group by religion in the U.S. (per Pew). No, I think that elites are part of how societies work and we happen to be one, and Americans accept this. (Though yes, I have always pressed for a greater awareness that could lead to greater diversity.) We’re here and that’s great. Where the Jewish presence in the establishment is lamentable is the Jewish love affair with Zionism that has made my influential community reactionary on one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is that love affair that I am doing all I can to end, for the sake of America, for the sake of the Jews, and also, by the way, for the sake of the people who are invisible to DailyKos– the Palestinians.