One of the challenges to the claims about the power of the Israel lobby is: What about liberal Zionists? They are very critical of the Israeli occupation and of Netanyahu. In what sense do they constitute a lobby for Israel in the U.S.? The answer is that they establish red lines on criticism of Israel inside the Democratic Party. They work to marginalize progressives who have fundamental criticisms of Israel as a Jewish state or as a burden on American foreign policy.
Here are three recent examples of the ways that liberals set these red lines.
Last week Daniel Biss, an anti-establishment candidate for the Democratic nomination to be governor of Illinois, ditched his running mate over his support for BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel; and many of us thought it was a big story. “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the movement for Palestinian human rights, has become an issue in the ongoing Illinois gubernatorial race,” Jewish Voice for Peace declared. While Palestine Legal said that despite “shifting public opinion toward support for Palestinian freedom,” Palestinian rights were “taboo” for the political establishment.
Daniel Biss is a Jewish progressive who went into politics in opposition to the Iraq War and says “I… care deeply about justice for Palestinians.” But he understands that if you want to be Illinois governor, you have to be pro-Israel. J.B. Pritzker, a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, has given money to the Israeli Defense Forces, Electronic Intifada reported, while another leading candidate, Chris Kennedy, was part of the University of Illinois leadership that fired Steven Salaita over his anti-Israel tweets during the Gaza slaughter three years ago.
But again: the role of foreign policy in the governor’s race is not going to be debated.
Steven Salaita is my second example. His wanderings around the globe in pursuit of work since he got fired for tweeting against the Gaza war is surely an important story. This week the Irish Times reported on a Salaita appearance in Dublin (video below), where the scholar said that there’s a life sentence for speaking out against Israel in the U.S.
Dr Salaita told a conference on academic freedom in Trinity College Dublin that he had been unable to get a job in an American university since [his tweets].
Though he won his case, he said criticising Israel amounted to a “lifetime punishment” in the US and that he was regarded as too controversial to be hired again.
“Running foul of pro-Israel groups in academia is a lifetime punishment I promise you,” he said. However, he said if he could go back he would send the same tweets again.
Dr Salaita said the issue of Palestine was “toxic” in academia in the US and most academics sought to avoid the subject.
He knew a “double digit” number of American academics who got in trouble for espousing pro-Palestine views, but none who had got in trouble for advocating pro-Israeli views.
But again, that’s the Irish Times. The Salaita hegira is simply not a story for the American press, because he’s pro-BDS; and BDS is a red line for the liberal mainstream.
My third example of the liberal Zionist red lines involves an Israeli TV cop-show about the occupation that is getting a lot of attention even though it’s only in its first season, called Fauda.
Last March, Dan Senor and his wife gave a party for the show in NY. Jewish Insider:
Dan Senor and Campbell Brown hosted a conversation at their Tribeca apartment with the co-creators of the hit Israeli TV show ‘Fauda’ — Lior Raz and Avi Issacharoff. Since debuting on Netflix this past December, the show has dominated the talk around town, and among many of our readers. During their off-the-record discussion, Raz and Issacharoff detailed several real life experiences that inspired them to create the show.
Dan Senor is a ceaseless propagandist for Israel. He appears at AIPAC and wrote a book called Startup Nation; and a lot of the NY establishment was at his place, according to that report. Cyrus Vance, Alexandra Pelosi, Pat Duff, Joel Klein, Nicole Seligman. Along with a bunch of Israel propagandists (Seth Siegel) and neocons (Max Boot and Paul Singer). Also media figures– David Remnick, Bart Gellman, Richard Cohen, Jonathan Alter, and Gary Ginsberg, an executive at Time Warner.
As I have pointed out for more than two years now, Ginsberg is so devoted to Israel he wrote speeches for Benjamin Netanyahu even while Netanyahu was trying to scuttle the Iran deal. I think that’s a scandal, on a par with anything anyone’s saying about Russian influence. But the mainstream media have never reported it. Because Ginsberg is one of us.
Six months after that party, David Remnick published a piece about the TV show in The New Yorker that, while critical of the Israeli occupation, filtered everything through the sensitive perspective of those Israeli co-creators Raz and Issacharoff. “Shooting and Crying, in the New Yorker,” Donald Johnson reviewed that article here. I don’t know whether Remnick got the idea for his Fauda story at Dan Senor’s Israel propaganda party. Maybe he had it already. But the party didn’t hurt.
Remnick has been very critical of Israel. But he has liberal Zionist red lines. He’ll run articles by neoconservative Israel supporters and liberal Zionist Israelis and Palestinians, but he won’t run anti-Zionist Jews, or the case for BDS. Those views have to be marginalized. They’re marginalized at the New York Times too, with the occasional exception.
These publications also marginalize information about the Israel lobby itself. So a bunch of eminent reporters go to a Tribeca cl*sterf*ck with Gary Ginsberg, an executive at a major media company who writes speeches for a foreign leader at the time that foreign leader was trying to undermine U.S. foreign policy– and none of those journalists write about that.
Back when the Israel lobby theory was promoted ten years ago as an explanation for U.S. bias in foreign policy, one of the things that mainstream figures would say in disparaging the theory was, “Oh and because I disagree with you, you’re going to say I’m part of the Israel lobby too!” I.e., you’ve fallen for an amorphous conspiracy theory.
(As if the amorphous conspiracy theory we’d all grown up spouting– the Military Industrial Complex– was above-board and precise.)
What these three stories show is that Israel supporters, be they ever so sincere, are imbedded in mainstream American political life, often in high position, like David Cohen and Gary Ginsberg. Good journalists who aim to be independent take the presence of those supporters for granted and won’t go against them, consciously or not. The story selection reflects those values.
As Steven Salaita would tell you, you’ll never go broke promoting Israel in the United States, but promote Palestine and you’ll see your car go into the ditch. But then, mainstream journalists don’t show up at Steven Salaita events. They’re at Dan Senor’s.