Last night I attended a jampacked event in New York for this book about imagining a socialist America. The event was taped for CSPAN; several speakers said socialism is in the zeitgeist.
As we milled around afterward, I heard many expressions of rage against New York’s progressive new mayor, Bill de Blasio, for his secret sucking up to AIPAC, his saying his “job description” was to defend Israel. Some of my friends’ comments:
–He’s insulting us. He is attacking Palestinian human rights. He needs to feel it, and he’s not going to get away with it. We’re his base.
–I knew I wasn’t voting for him when he said that the Park Slope Food Co-Op board measure for boycotting Israel goods came from a marginal group. He called us marginal. I really think he believes there is an epic struggle with Islamic radicalism. He’s deluded. But someone’s convinced him of that.
–I’m surprised but not shocked. It’s Matthew Hiltzik. The p.r. guy who worked for Hillary. He’s close to de Blasio and got him on the Iran Watch board, sucking up to Israel, long ago.
–He doesn’t know Jews well; he doesn’t understand that many NY Jews don’t buy into AIPAC. It’s unsophisticated of him. He’s used to the Brooklyn Jews in Crown Heights. But even some of them are anti-Zionist.
–His wife and son and daughter would be cavity searched at Ben Gurion if they weren’t with him on his trips. That needs to be explained.
–We have to organize but we also have to hit the American interest piece of this. I don’t particularly agree with it, but can you imagine signs saying, The mayor has said that his “job description” is supporting a foreign country?
I was cheered by the outrage, and also reminded of something important. The six people who angrily brought up de Blasio with me are all Jewish, and it’s not just a coincidence that all are sympathetic to the socialist ideas in that book. Socialism is a longtime current in Jewish life. It is older than Zionism. Both began as liberation stories, one in a desire to escape into one’s own tribe, the other the desire to radically reform society for all. These two “engines” of Jewish public opinion (as Steven Zipperstein put it in his speech on the Kishinev pogrom at Yivo earlier this month) have been competitive for a long time. Both frightened the rulers of Russia. Both were alive on the Lower East Side.
Zionism won inside Jewish life, even converting the formerly-socialist Forward newspaper. But Zionism has failed. The supporters we’ve had from inside Jewish life for this site– many come out of that socialist tradition. They opposed the tribal impulse; none of them ever said, Is it good for the Jews? None had to be schooled by me to criticize Israel; they got there on their own, long before I did.
And their fury makes me agree: de Blasio does not understand Jewish life. Anti-Zionism is a long tradition. We are angry, we are determined to make him regret his secret speech.
This of course touches on a central political question about the Israel lobby, is it the Jewish lobby? Certainly politicians have long understood it to be that; and afraid to alienate Jewish money and votes, they have staked out pro-Zionist positions. In turn, the Zionist Jewish organizations portrayed pro-Israel views as the heart and soul of the American Jewish community generally, to hold the politicians. They linked the Zionist story of deliverance in Israel to liberation movements in the U.S. that Jews were active in, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights; and so everyone on the Democratic side believed that it was progressive to support Israel. And even if many Jews were never converted to Zionism, the American Jewish community was able to maintain a high degree of solidarity. The Union for Reform Judaism supported the neoconservatives on the Iraq war. Americans for Peace Now has stayed on the board of the Conference of Presidents, even as that group’s leader took rightwing stances that are entirely contrary to APN’s position on settlements. Barney Frank was lame on the settlements issue. de Blasio learned these lessons well. Just as Hillary is saying nothing to support the Iran deal because she needs AIPAC for 2016, MJ Rosenberg says.
This is changing. The Jewish community is beginning to diversify. Young people aren’t as interested in Israel, some are critical. Jewish Voice for Peace is vocally non-Zionist. And the Iran sanctions are publicly dividing the lobby: Peace Now warns that all the Jews trying to break the Iran deal could undermine Jewish safety in the U.S. (“The lobby’s actions, now more publicized than ever before, jeopardize the Jewish future in America, the safest home we have ever had,” MJ Rosenberg writes.)
That diversity has to be brought home to de Blasio. He insulted us.