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Big brave Charney Bromberg says… it’s apartheid

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At Columbia University last night they had a panel about the coverage of Israel-Palestine, hosted by Campus Media Watch, a junior Israel lobby group. Free falafel dinner, free Campus Media Watch pens on every seat. It started out right enough, about the delegitimation of the Jewish people’s right to a homeland. One neoconservative said that anti-Semites are behind media coverage that singles Israel out the same the same way a Sunday school teacher gets singled out for having an affair. Another said that Israel’s response in Gaza was just right, proportionate– look, it stopped the rockets. A Christian Zionist in suspenders who used to work at fishing magazines said that Israel’s open media are “weaponizing” Israel’s enemies globally by giving them information about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Max Blumenthal kept cracking me up. He mimicked the Christian Zionist saying that the sharks are delegitimizing the dolphins, and he said the two neocons were shmegegges. That’s Yiddish for nobodies. They were both small men with complaining voices. I had that icky feeling I sometimes get that Zionism has called on the most crabbed part of Jewish character, the hunted powerless feeling. Kafka said that going to a Zionist meeting made him feel like a wooden clothes rack, "pushed into the middle of the room."

But then we got to the liberal side of the panel, beginning with Gershom Gorenberg. He said that journalists are professionals working on time constraints and everything you hear is true, from both sides, and it’s a very complicated situation. "As a religious person, I would say, I only know one objective source and he has not given a press conference in 3000 years." Great line. 

Gorenberg’s photo makes him look fey but I was surpised to see that he’s anything but, he’s thick and close to the ground and professional and a little hardheaded. He wears a yarmulke and has a thick gray beard you could lose a pencil in. Gorenberg moved to Israel from California for religious reasons 30 years ago and his rap is that both sides are victims. There came a spectacular statement of this philosophy last night when he referred to the expulsion of the Palestinians in ’48– the Nakba– as the Palestinian “exodus.” It just came out. He elaborated that the purpose of journalism is to make something simple complex. I see his method: His book the Accidental Empire absolves Israel of any real responsibility for the criminal settlement project, it was just a concatenation of events, as his piece on the accidental Nakba said that Israel didn’t realy expel the Palestinians, sh*t happens. P.S. They weren’t allowed to come back, 750,000 of them, after the dust had settled; as if there was not policy in that. I can’t wait for him to get to slavery. And if you consider his religious dictum, you’ll notice that he’s abdicating all judgment to some guy with a gray beard 3000 years ago.

Let’s be clear, Gorenberg is the sh*t right now. He gets hired by a lot of American publications to explain Israel, but he’s got a very strong point of view. During the Q-and-A (which was only via 3-by-5 cards for crowd control purposes) he gave a lecture against the questions saying they were ideological statements or leading questions, they weren’t designed to elicit information from the expert panel. I don’t know where this guy got his ideas about how people ought to conduct themselves at a public event on a controversial subject. He said he woldn’t accept questions like this in his journalistic seminar. So we were attending a seminar, by four Zionist Jews and a Christian Zionist? And the Palestinian-Americans and anti-Zionists in the audience have to defer to teacher?

Charney Bromberg was next. Just to stay on the shmegegge theme, I’d note that he was the only big guy on the panel. I like a big Jew. I like a big redheaded bearded squarejawed barrelchested Jew, which is Charney Bromberg. He’s a giant.

And Charney Bromberg is in agony the way any conscious human being should be. Even Biden said the status quo is unsustainable; when I was in Israel/Palestine for a week recently I understood that it’s in crisis, a country can’t sustain itself if half the population makes all the decisions for the other half. And Bromberg was the one guy on the panel who was on to this. He spoke with honesty and sadness. The Israelis have hermetically sealed themselves off from the occupation. Listen:

Most Israelis have no idea. They won’t travel to East Jerusalem. They certainly won’t go to the crossing point…What you have is a country that has become hermetically sealed from the issue and the problems. And if you believe that you can have peace without a peace agreement, then that’s good, and you go with it, but this situation is not going away. It may well be that it will be there for decades and decades more, but in the process, something has happened that is a serious affront to the idea of a good Israel that I  believed in when I first started this work some 35 years ago.

[Long pause.]

I’m very leery of the word apartheid. Bishop Tutu says it’s apart-hate, as in hate. Israel was not created as a racist state. I do not believe Israel is a racist state. But cross the Green Line and you will see so many of the accoutrements that the South Africans placed to control their — what they believed to be their hostile population. Roads for whites only. Roads controlled at every pass. Roads controlled by fences and guards.

After that, Bromberg told about his soul-crushing trip to Hebron. Bromberg had been introduced to the audience with a bio about his being a civil-rights activist in the 60s, and he was a marked man for the KKK. Well unlike so many other Zionists, Bromberg is trying to reconcile the ideals of his youth with what Israel has become. In Hebron, he saw the young settler girls attacking Palestinian women — I saw videos of the same there– and now he’s bearing witness. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can believe in Zionism as a living ideology when you see that.

Then he criticized the journalists for not raising questions.

"There are pieces that come across in youtube and elsewhere that at least should be looked at." He referred to the killing of a young Palestinian at the fence the other day. I think he means Ahmad Deeb, killed demonstrating in Gaza. God bless Charney Bromberg for mentioning that.

Why was live ammunition used and why was live ammunition aimed at the chest and the head and not at the legs?

Well Charney that doesn’t really follow. It’s crazy. They fired at Ahmad Deeb’s legs. They killed him by hitting his femoral artery. That happened in Palestine, not in Kent State 40 years ago or in Mississippi 47 years ago. They fired on a demonstrator. And this unendable occupation is why many people are calling for a democracy in Israel/Palestine, one country of its citizens, and asking Jews like Charney and me to try and help imagine it so that the shmegegge Jews won’t be afraid.

When Bromberg was finished a bunch of my friends stood up and gave him a standing o. But Bromberg was taken aback by the applause, and promptly distanced himself from any one-state folk. I saw him lumbering out later, a big redheaded Jew who knows that the spirit didn’t just show up 3000 years ago, the spirit is alive in history.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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