One of my goals these days is to support the New Israel Fund in its fight to promote democracy and human rights in Israel. I do so because even though it tends to overlook apartheid conditions in the West Bank, NIF has done great things: it has supported the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah against ethnic cleansing, and it has supported the heroic soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence.
But there are clear differences between progressive Zionists like NIF and my crowd of non-, anti-, post-Zionists. The other night in New York NIF held an event called "a provocative discussion of the competing rights — and wrongs — in today’s Israel" at Bnai Jeshurun, a forward-thinking synagogue on the Upper West Side. It sure provoked me. There was hardly a word about the Occupation or Gaza. Naomi Chazan of NIF said she is trying to "repossess Zionism" from the settlers and reinvigorate the brand. (I think she might start with the Studebaker.)
I watched the webcast– NIF says it will stick up a video of the event soon– and I was particularly taken aback by comments from the moderator, Jane Eisner, the editor of the Jewish Forward.
First, when talking about the status of Palestinian citizens of Israel, Eisner expressed the concern that the “growing Islamization of violence among some of these citizens” means that “Arabs citizens" might be "fighting against the state from within." Later she connected this concern with the idea that "most of the Arab world doesn’t want Israel to exist."
Panelist Avraham Burg chided Eisner. He told her not to talk about "the Arab world," a generality that takes in 22 societies. Talk about what is happening to Palestinians right in Israel.
Second, Eisner expressed the fear that soldiers’ testimonies about killing civilians in Gaza– published by Breaking the Silence, which gets money from the New Israel Fund— will be used by Israel’s enemies. My notes are somewhat fragmentary; but some of her comments: "What happens when we air our dirty laundry?… They [Breaking the Silence] believe that they are protecting democracy by exposing these abuses… Others are worried about the ramifications." Then she went on to worry about those ramifications. The testimonies may be "embarrassing" to Israel, and might serve those who wish to see Israel eliminated. She said the desire to expose "our faults" must be balanced by the need of "protecting the state."
When other panelists didn’t take up the point, Eisner said, "I just want to challenge you on this." She then said that journalists face these issues all the time. "We draw the line every day, every week." Any organization has a responsibility to think about words because words have "so much power…"
The clear thrust of Eisner’s comments was that Breaking the Silence should, as the saying goes, STFU.
Eisner is a longtime American journalist, editor, teacher of journalism. I wonder whether she can produce any situation akin to the Breaking the Silence testimonies: a situation in which American soldiers were ordered to shoot civilians if they saw one untoward move–and then did kill many many civilians–and some soldiers then came forward, and the press rightly suppressed their stories so as not to aid the enemies of the United States or embarrass the U.S. Of course, maybe she’s not speaking about the U.S., but Israel– "our dirty laundry… our faults."
The event was a progressive Jewish event. But with progressives like this, why do we need neoconservatives? I have always said that neoconservatism came out of Jewish life and drew on parochial/hawkish feelings inside the Jewish community that defy the usual categories of liberal, conservative, Democrat, etc; and Eisner’s fear-based concerns about the future of the Jewish state and how we have to respond demonstrate just what I mean about that process.
Also, I don’t know what Eisner means by the Islamicization of violence inside Israel. More neoconservative echoes.