After last Monday's 92d Street Y panel on a liberal Jewish lobby, Justin Elliott of TPM did this wonderful interview with one of the panelists, Michelle Goldberg. Goldberg is a lover of Israel who is agonized about what Avigdor Lieberman means. She makes the following statements:
–"My sense is that American Jews have never grappled with the inherent contradictions…between Zionism and liberal democracy…"
–"Many of us would argue that the continuing existence of Israel is more important than the reconciliation of all of our ideals. Nevertheless, this is a sore spot." And Avigdor Lieberman exploits it. He is "Zionism without contradictions."
–The domination of one group by another "perverts the deepest ideals of Judaism."
–The "hysteria" against the South Africa comparison is symptomatic of "bad faith" on the part of Israel's defenders. "There are people in the Jewish community who understand that they are defending the indefensible." [This is brilliant. And it is precisely what
John Mearsheimer says: that Israel's defenders have been reduced to "smashmouth"
–The Israel lobby is a misnomer. It should be called the rightwing lobby, because it is rightwing Jews supporting right wing governments.
–Criticism of the settlement projects is being heard in quarters it has not been heard before.
–Elliott asks, Have you experienced "pressures" as a journalist not to say things?
"Yes, to be honest, there are certain things I'm not going to talk about [because I don't want this to be about myself]. Everybody knows that if you write certain things you put yourself beyond the pale of certain publications. And not just the obvious ones like the New Republic. I mean you take a certain stance and you consign yourself to the loony left. I think that is maybe becoming less and less true." She has been told on some occasions, "You can't write something," and there "is a degree of self-censorship as well."
Wow! Do I have a lot of responses. Mainly: I celebrate Goldberg for being so honest. She obviously feels some sense of duty not just to Jewish life, but to the American discourse. We need it. She's articulate, and thoughtful. Great for her to open up.
The last question first. Her description of the journalism world absolutely squares with my own view: I have 20 years in this business and haven't been able to make any money to speak of off the issue I care most about, and publications I used to work for have shut the door. Dan Drezner sniggered at me a few weeks back over the idea that there are career consequences for criticizing Israel–and in the same post he said that it would disqualify someone from senior level Presidential appointment, a statement borne out by the Freeman affair. Well Goldberg has said just what I say about journalism, and both of us decline to be more specific for reasons that Ivory Tower folks might not understand, it could hurt our careers.
Also note: When Goldberg says "Everybody knows" this, she means: Everybody knows this. Don't pretend that I have not been blacklisted. Our journalism is broken.
In this connection, I would note that during the panel discussion, Rabbi Steve Gutow, an establishment Jew, looked around at the liberals and said, Well this just shows the diversity in our community! This is crap. Because I am not on that panel, Jack Ross is not on that panel, and I believe only one Jew who expressed outrage over Gaza was on that panel, Jeremy Ben-Ami. It reminds me of Ralph Seliger of Meretz saying to me, Phil you demonstrate the diversity in the Jewish experience. But that alleged diversity is never honored. If you hold my views, you will get no support from the Jewish community.
That said, let me emphasize: I think communities have the right to define themselves as they please; and truly I may be outside the community; but consider how many feel the way I do, and what that means about the nature of the remaining community.
Goldberg hints at these issues in her statement that "many" Jews, apparently including herself, would argue for the continuing existence of Israel notwithstanding its absence of democracy for people who are religiously/ethnically different. This is presumably because she believes in the significance of anti-semitism (and indeed Goldberg has written alot about the snakehandling Christian right–skeery). But speaking as an unaffiliated American Jew who cares alot about the Jewishness that formed him, I think this is a disastrous call; and the job of American Jews is to help imagine a better path for the people of Israel/Palestine. Tony Karon, who was also not invited on that panel–and who, gosh, seems to write a lot more about Israel/Palestine in The National out of Abu Dhabi than he does for his primary employer, Time Magazine in New York–writes here that It's apartheid. On that point, Michelle Goldberg is merely in denial. Desmond Tutu says it's worse than apartheid. So did a South African I met in Hebron nearly 3 years ago.
How many American Jews will remain in denial, out of an ethnocentric failure to perceive others' suffering?
Now to Goldberg's claim that the lobby is just a rightwing lobby. Chas Freeman has said the same thing lately.
Three years ago Goldberg wrote a largely-negative piece for Salon about Walt and Mearsheimer's LRB paper, saying they had stupidly picked up antisemitic ideas in blaming Jews for the Iraq war–a "horribly sensitive" issue. And on that occasion, Goldberg made the same argument she did at the 92d Street Y: that the lobby doesn't represent the vast swath of liberal American Jews, it's just a rightwing lobby. I don't buy this. When push comes to shove, as Goldberg says, "many" Jews will support Israel notwithstanding apartheid, and that "many" includes many liberals. When push comes to shove, their ethnic identification, or fear of anti-semitism, or strong belief in "the
historic Zionist project" (as another liberal on the 92d Street Y panel, Eric Alterman, puts it) means They're sharing quarters with the neocons. Dershowitz is a liberal who I think opposed the Iraq war; but he has said that it is the "secular religion" and "sacred mission" of American Jews to support Israel, and many Jews share that belief. In her Salon piece, Goldberg attacked Walt and Mearsheimer for "crudely" mentioning that 60 percent of the money to Democratic candidates comes from Jews. But her comment now that "many" Jews would side with Israel notwithstanding apartheid means that you really have to talk about Jewish money in the political process, you simply
can't avoid it. Even center-left Jewish money is invested in the Israel
project– as Mark Green demonstrates when he refuses to say a word about
Gaza, and when his "left" network Air America fires its pro-Palestinian voice, Sam Seder.
Everybody knows you can't write about these issues. And not because of rightwingers. All the rightwing Jews went to McCain anyway, and still Obama is beholden to the Mel Levine/Howard Berman liberals. What does it mean that criticism of the settlements–a truly wicked project, now 41 years old–is only being expressed now in certain quarters, per Goldberg?
I want to get past the criticism. This site is trying to be about intellectual leadership. I'm excited by Goldberg's honesty and sensitivity and intelligence. And the only issue going forward is: Can J Street empower her? Can it work with other groups to reach out to the unaffiliated and alienated Jews like myself, and to the progressive realist gentiles like Steve Walt, and build a coalition? As I've said before, without that coalition, which will have to include big Jews (i.e., money), American foreign policy won't change, and Jewish life won't either.