Commenter Profile

Total number of comments: 51 (since 2009-09-13 18:07:45)


Showing comments 51 - 1

  • Sy Hersh's 'forbidden statement': Sanders's liberation from NY Jewish money could change US foreign policy
    • Phil, I honestly think you have been going off the rails lately. Not with your presentation of the facts about what this or that person said--those facts are important, and should be reported-- but with your adoption of the "Jewish money" frame. It's an anti-Semitic frame because it identifies the money of a necessarily small handful of right-wing Jews as "Jewish" money, whereas the money of Jews who give to left-wing causes is not called "Jewish" money. I realize the latter pales in magnitude compared with the former, but that doesn't make the money any more or less "Jewish." I'm a Jew. I give a significant amount of my meagre income to JVP and Bernie Sanders among other left-wing causes. There are thousands of American Jews who do likewise. Why isn't our money called "Jewish money"? Why is the money of Jews only called "Jewish money" when it goes to nefarious right-wing causes? Does that not strike you as playing into free-floating stereotypes that Jews are *by nature* tribalist, inhumane, and powerful--stereotypes I routinely see voiced in places like the If Americans Knew Facebook page?

  • Palestinians grapple with knife attacks as violence enters fifth month
    • I have to make a factual correction to this article: you have misread or misrepresented the poll you cite from the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center. Check it again. Here's what it says:

      Q3. To what extent do you support or oppose the continuation of knife
      attacks against Israelis?
      Total West Bank Gaza
      n= 1200 n= 750 n=450
      Strongly support 25.3 18.1 37.1
      Somewhat support 30.9 24.0 42.4
      Somewhat oppose 21.4 25.1 15.3
      Strongly oppose 19.7 28.8 4.4
      No answer 2.7 4.0 0.8

      In other words, only 41.1% of all Palestinians polled oppose the knife attacks, while 56.2% of them support the attacks. The support figures are much higher for Gaza and somewhat lower for the West Bank.

  • Roundtable on the Palestinian solidarity movement and Alison Weir
    • The third contribution is of laughably poor quality. It badly mischaracterizes the points made against Weir. Just take a look at the U.S. Campaign document and you'll see what I mean: link to

      I have spent more time than I'd like to admit reading and thinking about this issue from every angle, and I agree in essence with the first contribution. Still, I think there are at least a *few* stronger (if ultimately unconvincing) "pro-Weir" arguments that could have been made to even things out. As it stands, this roundtable is just an intellectual massacre.

  • Reactions to Ariel Sharon's death over social media (Updated)
  • NY synagogue's invitation to Geller to 'promote bigotry' elicits call to cancel event
    • Last night the "Young Friends of the National Museum of American Jewish History" in Philadelphia held a fundraising event called "Activism and Justice: An Evening with the Inspiring Simon Deng" (link to Deng, as you probably know, is a recurring character in the Geller/Spencer anti-Muslim crusade. Here he is speaking at the Geller-sponsored "Islamic Apartheid" conference at Temple last year: link to YouTube him and you'll find other videos of him participating in Islamophobic/pro-Israel events sponsored by Geller and others.

  • '60 Minutes' report on 'Iron Dome' tonight likely to carry giant payload of hasbara
  • Why I'm for boycott
  • NYT's Jodi Rudoren responds to criticism of Facebook comments
    • I'm willing to accept that the intent of her original postings was the intent expressed in her clarification. The problem seems to be that she's just quite simply a subpar writer. Call it quibbling, but I don't think someone who writes "deep-seeded" when she means "deep-seated" should be a bureau chief for arguably the world's most important newspaper.

  • We're still losing
    • Well, to counterbalance, we held a Go and Learn session at a (yes, Reconstructionist, but still) synagogue last night that was attended by about 25 congregants, not a single one of whom expressed any Zionist hostility towards the BDS message we were delivering. The few critical responses were about strategy and effectiveness, not goals.

      Maybe it was a self-selected bunch of lefties, I don't know, but I felt it represented some kind of small progress.

  • Ron Paul and the left
    • Lizzy, say we assume the worst case scenario, which is that he is all three of those things--negligent with his imprimatur, cynical about his political allies, and at least racist and homophobic enough not to contemporaneously denounce the writings he likely knew were issued under his name. Say we assume that.

      Does it matter? When we elect a President, we don't elect a monarch or (contrary to popular belief among the Obama class) a moral philosopher. We elect an official with relatively limited powers, most of them in the realm of war and national security. It's highly unlikely that RP could implement his radical domestic agenda over Congressional opposition, but he WOULD prevent the brutal, violent deaths of maybe hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners and South Asians. And isn't it a bit narcissistic of us to be obsessing over the (alleged) racism and the economic policy when so much is at stake in other parts of the world?

  • Doesn't look like everyone is celebrating however . . .
    • The Bedford Avenue L stop is in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, home to New York's largest concentration of gentrifying, post-nationalist hipster ironists.

  • On 'Arna's Children' and the question of armed resistance
    • I think we're all well aware of the effects of occupation. The premise of this post is that if Arna's Children were simply an exposition of those effects, that would be one thing; but instead, it feels more like a celebration of them.

    • "Alaa died in his country defending it from an invader"

      And what of the lad that, as you note, became a suicide bomber?

  • JVP's meeting in Philadelphia-- a movement finds its moment
    • Im tirtzu, comrade. Im tirtzu.

      I can't express how liberating it was to attend the JVP meeting on the heels of attending the J Street conference. To sit and think and learn amidst a a group of smart, vibrant, kind Jews (and Christians, and Muslims) who value equality and dignity for its own sake, who don't feel the soul-crushing imperative to encrust their morality with a patina of totally disingenuous liberal-Zionist pieties--it was a clarifying experience. An auto-emancipation, you might say.

      Onward and upward.

  • Some Israelis celebrate what Bernadotte's murder achieved
  • Siegman: Moral issue posed by flotilla resisters is same as Jews resisting Nazis
  • We aren't the world
  • Beinart's influence: 'Tablet' author says Israel is a bully and Zionism is toxic subject
    • He seemed to believe there is a distinct "Israeli" culture--neither specifically Jewish nor specifically Arab but shared today by all of Israel's citizens--that constiututes the basis of its claim to independent statehood. He was against the Jewish law of return, though, if I recall.

    • Sand favors the two-state solution. I heard him say so in person. I guess that makes him anti-Israel.

    • The least you can do is not engage in Nakba denial by saying "but left." Would you say that European Jews "left" their homes during WWII and thus have no right to request a reinstatement of their Polish or German citizenship? That would be Holocaust denial.

      I don't understand your question about democracy. You seem to be saying a state can differentiate among--provide differential rights and privileges to--it's citizens by religious or ethnic "community" and still be democratic. Most Americans would reject this, and I reject it. In any other context but Israel, you'd reject it, which exemplifies the mental and moral contortions young Jews are being asked to engage in. It's no wonder they reject it too.

    • Richard, I'm not advocating for Israel not to exist. I, and others like me, do not feel comfortable being represented by a state that discriminates along ethnic/religious lines in order to ensure the demographic supremacy of a particular group of people. This includes laws that regulate land use, prevent intermarriage, and regulate immigration (including the Jewish law of return). If Israel were to reform these laws and policies, as you suggest is proper, I would be satisfied. However, since this would open the door to an increase in the Arab population relative to the Jewish one, it might incidentally lead to deep structural changes in Israel's Jewish character. Would that, in your view, cause Israel not to exist? If so, your reform/revolution dichotomy really collapses, analytically.

    • I'll tell you where you're wrong, Richard. There's another category: non-Zionist liberals. We're not radically anything. Or, inherently, anti- anything. We just have no preconscious attachment to Israel and Zionism. And we are in favor of the basic liberal principles, applied uniformly without distinctions of religion or ethnicity. And we don't see Israel or Zionism as even TRYING to approximate these values.

      And we constitute the silent majority of the younger generation that Beinart is so anxious about.

  • Never ceases to fascinate me
    • Don't be foolish. There was no mention of racism, or Zionism. Just the hypocrisy of Jewish groups in the U.S. who endorse liberal, universalist democracy here, and ethnic/religious exclusivist democracy over there. I wonder how J Street and the ADL would feel if the U.S. declared itself a white, Christian democracy.

    • The message is pretty clear: J Street supports the blurring of church/state boundaries in Israel by endorsing "Jewish democracy," while the ADL praises Stevens for upholding that fundamental separation in the U.S.

  • Then I guess I'd have to say it's dysfunctional
    • Did you see how McCain used the exact same "family spat" metaphor? Is this straight off an AIPAC talking point memo handed out to sympathetic congresspeople?

  • Israel's existential crisis comes to New York
    • I marched in this protest. At one point, a counter-protester insinuated herself among our ranks and began shouting "Kill the Jews! They're imperials!" (sic). Another one ran over and shouted "The Neturei Karta synagogue in Monsey was just bombed! God shows his wrath to those who support Hamas!" (As far as I can tell, no synagogues in Monsey were bombed.) And, of course, there was the guy ranting about clitorectomies in the Sudan.

  • The David Project swarms an apartheid-week event, and pathos prevails over logos
    • I put the question to Finkelstein in an email and he had this to say:

      "(1) It cannot be doubted that Palestinians have a right to return.  Representative international institutions (United Nations General Assembly) and human rights organizations (Amnesty, HRW) have upheld the right;
      (2) A distinction needs to be made between the existence of a right and the exercise of the right: one can choose not to exercise a right;
      (3) I was denied tenure at my last university.  The consensus was that I had the right to tenure and that if I went to court I would win back the right to return;
      (4) I decided that rather than engage in a protracted legal battle I would elect a settlement;
      (5) The burden was on the university to present terms for a settlement such that I would choose not to return;
      (6) Ultimately such terms were mutually agreed upon;
      (7) In my opinion the same logic and principles (obivously, not suffering) applies in the case of the Palestinian right of return:
      (8) The right is theirs; no one has the right to tell them to forego the right; the obligation on the rest of us is to support their right;
      (9) If Israel does not want them to exercise the right, it must present terms for a settlement that would be acceptable to Palestinians;"

    • I attended this event, and I could not agree more with this excellent assessment. Given the wealth of compelling information that could have been, but wasn't, presented at the two IAW events I attended this year, I'm tempted to conclude that the organizers of this movement (at least here in New York) are incompetent. But the actual problem, as I've learned from speaking with them, is that they are simply not interested in educating people, but rather in "building solidarity" among activists who are already predisposed to support leftist causes. This may be an effective stratagem in Europe, which has a thriving left and a media that does not distort the I/P reality. But here, you're always going to be a voice in the wilderness unless you adopt a reasoned, fact- and law-based approach. IAW, to the contrary, traffics in emotional appeals and unexplained, decontextualized accusations which, however accurate they may be to the well-studied, do nothing to educate the general public about Israel/Palestine and in fact just provoke an equally emotional backlash by Zionists some of whom otherwise might have been convinced to tone down their rhetoric.

  • People never change their views
    • No, I won't tell you where he stands. You can read what the man has written and divine for yourself. What I will say is that one shouldn't traffic in "either/or" simplifications that subject an individual's complex morality to some kind of absurd litmus test--particularly when that individual regularly generates compelling analyses of Israel's West Bank apartheid system.

    • Hey, here's an idea--why don't you simply Google his writings and find out for yourself, rather than posting knee-jerk insinuations?

  • Siegman: the world will stop the 'relegation of Palestinians to apartheid existence'
    • Here's a thought experiment. Say Israel managed to completely destroy the Palestinian national movement, sap all Palestinian will to resistance, physically disbursed them into small, resource-poor enclaves and addled them with alcohol and gambling. Say Israel, through sheer force of its arms, managed to sustain this total domination for 200 years. Would this, in your mind, make Israel any more legitimate as a state than you currently understand it to be?

      I ask because this is essentially the story of the United States. The entire country is founded on a genocide considerably more horrific than the Nakba (which was horrific in its own right), perpetrated by racist European colonizers. In order to maintain some kind of logical and moral consistency, you'd have to argue that the U.S. is equally illegitimate. If you are seriously willing to adopt that position, then I applaud you and have nothing more to say.

      Siegman, however, would probably argue that Israel, within its internationally recognized minimum boundaries (1967)--recognized at this point in history by the PLO, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people--is a legal and practical fait accompli. It exists as a state, it provides (more than) the minimally acceptable degree of security for its citizens. Yes, there are civil rights infractions that approximate the Jim Crow South, and church-state-ethnic legal complexes that approximate those in Iran and Pakistan. But such flaws do not strip a country of its legitimacy under international law (which, as I understand it, is rooted in international recognition). Siegman would probably argue that one can recognize the historical injustice, but that has no legal bearing, and if you take the case of the U.S. to heart, perhaps no moral bearing on the question of a state's legitimacy (unless, again, you'll argue that the U.S. has no moral legitimacy as a state--in which case, what can I say? That would be laudable moral consistency).

  • Someone explain this to me
    • Whether you support it or not - and I think, were it still a serious possibility, I'd support it - there is nothing fair about the two-state solution. That said, it's true, as another poster wrote, that the U.S. manages non-contiguous territories without much of a problem. If they removed all the obstacles and built a high-speed passage between Gaza and the West Bank, you'd be able to get from Hebron to Gaza City in like 30 minutes. Much easier than getting from L.A. to Honolulu.

  • The right of return, universal justice, and U.S. foreign policy
    • If you think that the United States is incpable of bringing Israel to its knees by witholding its support (financial, military, diplomatic, economic), then I think that you may be deluding yourself.

      We don't provide Israel with any material aid other than military. The economic aid has been reduced to zero. Israel ranks among the top arms developing and manufacturing countries in the world. Our military aid is nothing but a token of US commitment. It would have no serious impact if withdrawn, although I would say it can't hurt to try. Our so-called "diplomatic" aid also doesn't provide any service of value to Israel. The UNGA routinely condemns Israel over the objections of the U.S., to no effect, and as you can see, despite American moral support, Israelis involved in Cast Lead are still under threat of arrest when they visit Europe.

      So we are back around, not to what is just, or even in the American interest, but back to ....

      Well, in general I don’t swallow arguments that go “this isn’t happening now, and has never happened before, therefore it will never happen in the future.”
      which is , again, inconsistent with what you have just said.

      That was not the argument I made. The argument is that not that we WON'T coerce Israel but that we simply don't have the leverage, even if you totally eliminated the Lobby, we'd still have no leverage over Israel short of military action. And again, its a question of whether you want to wait around for the Lobby to dissolve itself and for the American people to develop the wherewithal to invade Israel and compel them to accept the right of return. Can that happen? If so, its decades off. In the meantime, its conceivable RIGHT NOW that we can secure core Palestinian human rights through the two-state framework. It's YOU guys who seem to want to subject Palestinians to endless deprivations. Your argument is not simply that a two-state solution is impossible now that 500,000 settlers live in the West Bank. It's that, even if it were possible RIGHT NOW, you would reject it because the Palestinian right of return would go unrealized. That seems sadistic. Or, if you're a Palestinian, masochistic.

    • Do you think that Jews who were forced out of Germany pre-WWII have no right to return there if they so desired?

      They do. So do Palestinians. But is it a core human right (i.e. should it never be sacrificed in the name of securing other, more important rights)? Probably not. If the reality of the situation was that Jews had to live indefinitely under military occupation, deprived of safety, property, self-determination, expression, etc., because the Germans would not let them return to Hamburg, and the situation was not going to change without 50 years of bloody struggle against the German government, then I would say its preferable to establish an independent state where they can enjoy all the rights I just mentioned, even if that means having to forfeit the right to return to Hamburg. Your position is this: that if the choice exists between 50 years of bloody struggle for the right of return, on the one hand, and an independent state on the other, the 50 years of bloody struggle is preferable because it satisfies the right to return to the land of one's birth. I'm not a Palestinian so I can't decide for the Palestinians what they should choose. But as an American, I can choose what policy I think my government should pursue, and I think the independent state option is better both for America and for the Palestinians.

    • Why is compensation more in the US strategic interest than the other two? Is it because Israel is more likely to accept it (as long as Uncle Sam foots the bill)?


      Why is it not in the US strategic interest to determine what the Palestinians would be more likely to accept, and convince Israel by threatening to withold aid and weapons?

      It would be in the American interest to do this. We just lack the capacity. Obama can't seem to coerce a settlement freeze, no less something like the right of return, which Israelis universally regard as national suicide. If you really believe that withholding military aid--something Israelis don't even need, and something Israeli neocons have been urging them to give up for years--would induce Israelis to allow the refugees to return, I think you may be deluding yourself. It's just not within our power.

    • Judging by US government actions in recent years (assuming these are decided in accordance with strategic interests), I can't help but conclude that both political parties see perpetual conflict in the ME as being in the best interests of the United States. I have no other explanation for their conduct.

      Really, Shmuel, you have no other explanation for U.S. behavior? Not perhaps that a domestic lobby allied to a foreign government consistently frustrates the realization of the true, and in the case of Obama the stated national interest?

    • "Why do you think it is not in the US's interest to promote a truly democratic and non-discriminatory Israel?"

      I do think it is. The question is whether that Israel will stretch across all of historic Palestine or whether it will terminate at the pre-1967 border and abut an equally democratic state of Palestine. I explained above why I think the second course is preferable. But within the borders of Israel, whatever they may end up being, I support full democracy and a non-discriminatory order.

      As for this:

      "It seems from your arguments your interest in two states overwhelms your interest in full human rights for all involved"

      It depends on how you define "full human rights." As I have written, I don't think its a universal human right to return to property that's been expropriated by a state. But it IS a human right to live in a state that guarantees you property rights and physical security. This is achievable by establishing a Palestinian state. In the absence of a Palestinian state, the Israelis are in perpetual violation of that human right. But again, this is my personal understanding of human rights. You are free to differ. Personally, I think satisfying American interests also, incidentally, entails satisfying Palestinian core human rights.

    • Shmuel,

      Absolutely Palestinians deserve compensation for their property. But the question of actually returning to reclaim that property is different.

      I cannot be sure about this, but I would assume that the German government did not, and would not, expropriate property from the ancestors of people who received stolen Jewish land/buildings from the Nazis, in order to revert it to its Jewish owners, if those owners wished to return to Germany. If this has actually happened, I'd be interested in reading about it, and it would change the way I think about these things.

      And as to the question of understanding the Palestinian people's deep connection to their ancestral homeland, I think, whether you buy it or not (I certainly don't), you'd hear religious/messianic Jews speak about "Eretz Israel" in the same way that Palestinians talk and think about Jaffa or Ramle or wherever. Were I an Israeli, I wouldn't support the Jewish law of return. I do not believe that a Jew from Brooklyn, just because he feels a deep spiritual-national kinship with "Eretz Israel," should be able to settle there. Equally, I do not think the Palestinian "ancestral" connection to a particular piece of land, however strong this feeling is, should factor into a discussion of human rights. Palestinians deserve by right a comfortable, defensible, non-resource-deprived piece of land, they deserve safety and the right to determine their own political arrangements on that land. But a discussion of law and rights cannot deal in quasi-mystical categories, like Jewish longing for "Eretz Israel" or even Palestinian ancestral connections.

    • and tree, if you don't actually read what I write, then there's no reason for us to have a conversation:

      "Except that it appears you have swallowed that very argument with respect to a one-state solution, or any chance of equal rights within Israel."

      I have both a) never said that anywhere and b) implied exactly the opposite. Everything I've written here implies that I see the one-state solution as a clear possibility--just not one that would be in the American strategic interest.

      "If two or more "states" do materialize and are "bantustans" under the nominal control of Israel without full legal human rights and protections, and the Palestinians are still treated like third class citizens within Israel, why would you not support continued BDS?"

      In what I wrote earlier, I said that any Palestinian state should be "viable and sovereign" which would mean, by definition, not a bantustan. Were it a bantustan, neither I nor any Palestinian delegation would support it.

      "Don't try to convince yourself you are interested in justice, because that does not appear to be your main concern here"

      First, I clearly stated that my interest was in the American strategic position, not in the realization of Palestinian conceptions (and especially not Israeli conceptions) of justice. Second, if you are going to go ad hominem, there's no reason for us to speak.

    • potsherd, I don't see how democratizing Israeli society through BDS is any more of a realistic prospect than uprooting the settlers and repatriating stolen West Bank property to its original Palestinian owners. They are both enormous feats. If one can be achieved, so can the other.

    • A strict adherence to property rights would also dictate that the largely poor, black victims of subprime mortgage lending should not be allowed to remain in their homes--rather, the banks, which now lawfully own their houses, should be allowed to dispense with them as they see fit for maximum profit.

      The point is that property rights and human rights can interfere with the realization of the other, and that in such cases I grant privilege to human rights.

    • Well, in general I don't swallow arguments that go "this isn't happening now, and has never happened before, therefore it will never happen in the future." There are huge institutional obstacles and Obama seems to lack the wherewithal. No question. But I don't see any reason why its totally beyond the reach of a determined President, especially now that J Street exists to provide some degree of political cover.

      But, anyway, that doesn't preclude the BDS people from continuing to agitate for human rights and democracy. They should. It will make two states seem even more urgent. But if two states somehow materialize and the BDS people continue agitating, I couldn't support them.

    • I think the confusion is coming from a distinction I have in my mind between "universal rights" and legal rights granted by the UN. I see self-determination, the rights to religious and self-expression, the right to be protected from undue bodily harm, etc., as rights that exist whether or not they are codified and promulgated by the UN. I don't see property rights as having this sacred or universal character. And, in my mind, if the Palestinians can achieve these universal rights (as I see them) in a two-state framework, then the right of return guaranteed by the UN ends up just being a property right. The right to reclaim stolen land. Which, to me, is secondary to the other human, universal rights, and could conceivably be forfeit.

    • You characterization of Israel's behavior is of course correct, but I think it's besides the point. If anyone ever believed that Israel was going to negotiate a two-state solution on its own, out of the sheer love of justice, they would have a totally deranged conception of state behavior. A two-state solution is manifestly not in the Israel's strategic interest, as Israelis define it. They see the borders as indefensible, they see Greater Israel their God-given birthright, they see the Palestinians as barbarian hordes. A two-state solution was never on their agenda, and nobody should ever expect it to be.

      But that doesn't mean it won't happen. It will just take an exogenous force--the United States--to impose that solution on the parties. Why? Because two states are in the American national interest. It is in the American national interest to avoid a one-state civil rights struggle. The U.S. has multiple priorities in the Middle East, and all the problems associated with these priorities would be exacerbated by continued Israeli brutality. Were the Palestinians to shift their struggle to one-state mode, it would ensure another 50 years of Cast Lead-grade violence, all of which would be identified with the U.S. Since there's no way an American President could withdraw American support for Israel, thanks to the Lobby, the only option is to press hard for two states.

      Now, if you want to argue that two states are impossible because of the sheer number of settlers in the West Bank, or something like that, that's different. But I think to predicate the possibility or impossibility of the two-state solution on the attitude of the Israelis is to miss a fundamental truth, which is that the two-state solution is America's solution. Whether the Israelis or the Palestinians desire a two-state outcome should be irrelevant to our policy.

      That said, Obama is failing. He has no strategy. It's totally miserable and disheartening. I wish it weren't so.

    • See my clarification above.

    • Maybe I didn't articulate my question properly. It was not a question about law. I am familiar with the UN declarations on refugees. The question is simply this: since we know that a one-state, civil rights-type struggle (i.e., a struggle to implement those laws) will take decades to succeed and produce (hundreds of?) thousands of dead, isn't it morally preferable to allow the realization of Palestinians' basic human rights in the framework of a separate state? Once those basic rights--security, self-determination--are realized, then the "right of return" simply becomes an issue of property rights, which is hardly, in my mind, worth huge amounts of bloodshed (whereas the other, human rights I mentioned are non-negotiable).

  • J Street: Do we really need another Jewish-only road?
    • "If we were talking to Palestinian friends and colleagues, we would already know that we cannot control the Palestinian struggle for human and civil rights. No matter how many congress people we talk to, or how many J Street members are recruited, the Palestinian struggle for freedom is in their hands."

      I'm sorry, but that is an absurd and irresponsible thought. If the traditional Israel Lobby, with the billions of dollars and diplomatic cover it provides, can have such a malignant effect on the peace process, why would an organized attempt by Jews to subvert or dismantle that Lobby NOT be a positive contribution to the Palestinians' struggle for human and civil rights?

      Like the other poster, Ahmed, you seem to miss the point of J Street. It's an attempt by organized Jewry to CORRECT THEIR OWN BEHAVIOR. If they have to invoke a liberal-Zionist, and thus necessarily ethnocentric, discourse to build popular support for this, who cares?

      You say: "In addition, peace will not emerge if we don’t start holding ourselves accountable for the massive abuse of human rights Palestinians endure at our hands, which has been meticulously documented for decades and more recently, in the Goldstone report."

      Guess what? That's exactly what J Street is doing! Jeremy Ben-Ami called for an independent investigation, and people cheered just as they booed the recalcitrant Eric Yoffie when he refused to acknowledged Goldstone's legitimacy. On one hand, you don't want American Jews to organize themselves because, to you, it reeks of exclusion. But on the other hand, you WANT them to express collective responsibility. I'm not sure I follow the logic. And I'm not sure the kind of handwringing your article displays is helpful or warranted.

  • Impressions from the 1st full day at J Street conference
    • Well, the "J Street U" campus advocacy program that Phil mentioned in his post is a grassroots-type initiative. I guess it was my own expectation that it would expand from there.

    • Hi Phil. I attended the first two days of the conference, including the blogger panel. I thought I'd share some impressions that I recorded in an email to a friend:

      "Overall, I came away feeling like--while I support J Street and what it's attempting to achieve, while I respect their pragmatism--I am not one of them. The discourse that saturated every proceeding was geared toward, quite literally, people who love Israel, who have a deep emotional or spiritual connection to the country. In a panel I attended, J.J. Goldberg suggested that J Street activists should initiate any criticism of Israeli policy with the words (quoting directly here) "I love--not like, not support, but love--Israel, and that is why I am concerned about [x policy issue]." Afterwards, Goldberg recounted at a subsequent panel, a conference attendee approached him and said "How dare you tell me I have to love Israel. Are you implying that I shouldn't be here if I don't?" "Well," Goldberg thought to himself, "maybe you shouldn't."

      During the inaugural plenary, we sat at round tables and were asked to discuss a list of questions with our table-mates. The first and only question we were able to address in the time given was "What is your connection to Israel?" My table consisted of myself and a group of seven retirement-aged friends, most of whom had made aliyah in the 1960s and had been involved in the peace movement for decades. Naturally, I was the person they insisted go first and explain my Zionist bona fides. Uncomfortably, I had to tell them that I had no connection with Israel besides the fact of my being ethnically Jewish, that I have never in fact been to Israel nor do I have any friends or relations there. "Then why are you here?" one lady replied. I muttered something about human rights and changed the topic.

      And that was essentially the tone of the conference as a whole, as I experienced it. It was not a place for peace oriented non-Zionists or anti-Zionists, or even liberals who recognize Zionist aspirations in principle but are not themselves ideologically committed--it was for unabashed lovers of Zion. That's the J Street audience. And I am conflicted about it because, on one hand, those people need a voice, a voice that isn't AIPAC, the ADL or the Conference of Presidents. They need to be brought into the peace fold and not left to the wolves. But on the other hand, its an alienating discourse for many young Jews who lack this emotional linkage, and I imagine they, like myself, will not feel comfortable taking a leadership role in the emerging grassroots movement J Street is trying to create."

  • Ben-Ami warns mean Marty Peretz, muzzling American Jewish anguish over Israel will destroy the community
    • You know, I wrote a comment in defense of J Street a few days ago, but I'm now inclined to retract it after hearing this interview. I'm surprised you didn't point out the most egregious part of the exchange. For me, it wasn't anything Peretz said. He was just mechanically regurgitating well-known talking points. Unsurprising. The truly disheartening moment for me was when Peretz recounted his textbook Zionist history of Arab "rejection" and Ben-Ami was asked to comment. He could have easily said something like "Well, we don't have time to delve into the historical record, but I will say that Marty's picture is quite simplified and a number of respected Israeli historians would take issue with the categorical statements he makes." But instead he said that Peretz "has it spot on, in terms of history."

      I'm down with pragmatic ambiguity and tactical omission. But I can't countenance an active distortion of history, even if the means justify the ends. I thought Ben-Ami was above that.

  • J Street's game is to build Jewish political capital for Obama
    • I'll tell you, as a member of what you call the "Jewish universalist left," I face internal conflicts all the time when thinking about J Street's particular brand of pragmatic ambiguity. But one must be fair, as I believe perhaps you are not, and acknowledge that J Street does not openly endorse an ethnocratic Israel. Insofar as it inveighs on Israel's internal character at all, it merely advocates for "democracy" and the continued existence of a "Jewish home." It eschews the phrase "Jewish state" just as it conspicuously avoids any further elaboration on what it might mean to be "pro-Israel, pro-peace." The "pro-Israel" designation is an empty shell, left for J Street's (unspoken) target audience of American Jews to fill with whatever content might appease their conscience.

      Nor can they be said to reject universal inclusive values in favor of an insular conception of "Jewish community." J Street doesn't operate on that plane of discourse and to depict it that way is a misrepresentation. You might note that Rivlin and Ben-Ami went trolling for Jewish signatures "as individuals," not as representatives of J Street. There is a reason they made that point explicit, and it's because J Street simply doesn't traffic in cultural representation. Again, it presents an open-ended political message that different types of people--universalists and Jewish chauvinists alike--can equally embrace. I think it would be a mistake to confuse their strategy of ambiguity with some kind of crude pandering.

      They want to build a broad coalition. You can't do that without a broad message.

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