The great hope for redeeming American Zionism, Ari Shavit, was on Charlie Rose two nights ago. Jeffrey Goldberg and David Remnick were there, too, as his offensive line, and the three Jewish journalists explained why Israel depends as a national security interest on the support of American Jews.
“Stand by me,” Shavit, author of My Promised Land, said to American Jews, before making this statement:
We must recognize that Jews are endangered. By the way, they’re endangered there [in Israel] and they’re endangered here. Their future is not guaranteed. But if we look that challenge in the eye and work together, I believe we will not only survive but thrive.
This was the last comment on the segment, so Remnick and Goldberg did not respond to it. But it raises a simple question for American Jews: Do you feel unsafe here? I think his statement is preposterous. We enjoy unprecedented power, wealth and prominence. (Channel-surfing took me next to Carl Levin, chair of Senate armed services, on the Senate floor, and then Andrea Mitchell, wife of the former Fed chairman, on MSNBC…). And maybe I’m wrong, but Shavit’s claim must be countered by the honest expression of American Jewish feeling.
Shavit’s statement is ideological. He was stating the (120-year-old) premise of Zionism, the need of Jews for a safe haven, and the premise of the Israel lobby too, that we must support Israel because we are in danger ourselves.
To the discussion.
At minute 33, Shavit says Israel is a heroic project, now facing an existential threat, the occupation, and Remnick echoes him. The New Yorker editor says it’s not just the Israeli elites with an extra passport and one foot out the door.
Remnick: I think also there’s an American issue here. Its traditional and strongest ally has largely been the United States, and a lot of that influence comes from Jewish Americans. And that pressure, that interest is becoming attenuated in certain communities, particularly in secular communities. Peter Beinart wrote about this in his book at great length… On this point I really agree with him. I think you see my orthodox brothers and sisters– and I have relatives in that community– are much more in the Israel right or wrong camp, which is not this book. But a lot of my brothers and sisters, especially younger people and their children, their interest in Israel is not what it was in prior generations, in fact some of them look at it with a measure of embarrassment, which I think is tragic–
Goldberg: Well also fatal for Israel.
Remnick: and a symptom of the cancer of occupation. It’s very hard to feel deeply close to something that is as morally questionable and flawed as this, as much as you might want to think otherwise.
Goldberg: You only have two great Jewish communities left in the world… The American Jewish community is becoming more universalistic, more assimilated, detribalized. Israel… seems to be from an outsider perspective becoming more tribal, more religious, more Middle Eastern… in the negative senses of Middle Eastern, and that can’t hold forever….
The support of the American Jewish community is a national security interest of the United– of Israel. It’s not just a nice thing to have.
Shavit: If I may I’ll take this a step further. And I totally agree with both of you. Totally. The importance of Israel when you go to the core was that it was an attempt to save non-orthodox Jewish civilizations. First to save the Jewish people physically from what happened 40, 50 years later [Holocaust] but beyond that to save non orthodox Jewish civilization. So the need for progressive Jewish Americans and progressive Israelis to maintain that is existential for both. I mean, progressive Jewish Americans need Israel, but they need an Israel that they can relate to. So in my mind the settlers are really the most dangerous post-Zionists there are–
Shavit: They are actually undermining the very essence of the Zionist project. I feel commitment. I want David’s kids and Jeff’s kids to be enthusiastic about Israel, I don’t want them to be embarrassed about Israel. And I feel a commitment as a Jewish Israeli to help them in their struggle to keep their life here as the great American Jewish community, and I want them to stand by me in a sense, and their kids– but to do that the settlements and the darker side of Zionism are the greatest obstacles. They are the ones endangering this relationship. We must get back to a progressive Israel working with progressive American Jews to save this project as a progressive and just project.
Remnick then says that the book is an implicit argument for liberal Zionism, Zionism as a progressive project, and Israel as a place of “great virtues… historic success in many ways.”
Shavit responds by speaking of the opportunities for alliances between the center-left and moderates, amid the “chaos.”
Although a lot of what I describe is harsh…. I really believe in the strength of that nation, and I do believe that although– we must recognize that Jews are endangered. By the way they’re endangered there and they’re endangered here. Their future is not guaranteed. But if we look that challenge in the eye and work together, I believe we will not only survive but thrive.
A few thoughts: Remnick has never been so upfront about the importance to Israel of the “influence” and “pressure” of American Jews, including himself, nor so upfront about his family ties. And Goldberg, saying that the loss of American Jewish support is “fatal,” both affirms Walt and Mearsheimer’s thesis and explains his attack-dog response to it. The interdependence of American and Israeli Jews is the basis of the Israel lobby; and the lobby exists because Jews don’t think that Israel can count on the goyim. And why can’t we count on the goyim? Because we’re endangered.
P.S. The late Tony Judt said it best, 7 years ago:
“Why is the American Jewish community so determined to convince itself that we are living in 1938. Why does the most successful, the most well integrated, the most culturally and politically influential, the most socially and economically well situated Jewish community since the late years of the Roman republic, why is it so worried about the demon of anti-Semitism—more worried than the Jewish community in any other country I know and certainly more worried than Israel itself?”
Why? Because we know that we have incredible power and prominence, and it gives us great fear of a backlash. And because this fear is the basis of Zionism, it must be stoked. Thus, Shavit.