Roll over Ben-Gurion and tell Jabotinsky the news: The Forward, which has been fiercely pro-Israel, ran two pieces yesterday that are sharply critical of the Zionist establishment.
First, here is a piece defending Students for Justice in Palestine chapters from the ongoing university punishments– SJP “is one of the few campus groups pushing for a just peace in Israel and Palestine”– written by a member and former member of SJP chapters (respectively, Joey Morris at Brandeis and Gabi Kirk, formerly of University of California Santa Cruz). Notice the complete lack of hysteria in this rendering of the argument:
Everyone has the right to criticize a foreign government when it breaks international law, even if others have deep emotional ties to it. …
SJP’s actions are, at their heart, meant to bring the Palestinian narrative to campus. If telling history from a Palestinian point of view makes pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable, that’s not anti-Semitic on our part. It’s denial on theirs.
While pro-Israel groups have filed many Title VI discrimination complaints with the Department of Education, not one has been found in their favor. Pro-Israel students have alleged anti-Semitic harassment and have failed to provide objective evidence, yet administrators still cave to their demands. In contrast, when Northeastern Law SJP student Max Geller received death threats, the university’s response was tepid. The administration applies a double standard to Palestine solidarity groups, delaying the response to their harassment claims while taking decisive action when Israel lobby groups complain.
And then this excellent attack on Hillel, in which Jay Michaelson of the Forward staff tells young Jews just to leave the organization rather than try and reform it from within. Notice how Michaelson goes right to the funding question. “Institution Is Beholden to Donors, Not Students,” is a headline, and he scores “Jewish philanthropists” in the piece. Michaelson explains that the Hillel guidelines shutting down intelligent conversation about the conflict aren’t about institutional ideology or love of Israel but about money.
Remember back in 2009, when the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco issued one of the first gag rules regarding Israel-Palestine? Why do you think they did that? Because they felt like it? No, because two major California-based foundations said that if one dime of their money went to support or endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, however indirectly — a film at a film festival, a speaker on a panel, anything — they would pull all their money. That’s why the policy was put in place, and that’s why it was mimicked around the country.
This is not to say, dear Hillel students, that you shouldn’t be outraged. On the contrary: you should be more outraged. The community institutions which pretend to involve your participation are a sham. Your Hillel “officers” are like student government: They can make petty decisions, but when the rubber hits the road, money talks and they walk.
So direct your outrage in a meaningful way: leave.
The only way these institutions will listen to you is if they begin to fail at their core mission. Their donors will then have to choose between their support of that mission, and their desire to maintain a particular kind of political purity. There is no point in arguing with your Hillel director, or Eric Fingerhut, Hillel’s president and CEO, or the Jewish Museum’s staff. You are clearly right. But if they listen to you, they will lose their jobs.
This is of course the reason that Vassar and Swarthmore have declared themselves Open Hillel’s and Harvard and Berkeley have failed to do so. Because the Harvard and Berkeley chapters are large and too embosomed in the local Jewish establishment to disentangle themselves financially. Michaelson is telling the students to break out now and form their own tabernacle in the desert.
Notice that both these pieces address the Israel lobby. So a progressive Jewish publication that sought to marginalize that analysis is now embracing it. You simply cannot understand the primacy of the special relationship in our politics without talking about the money of the Israel lobby.
The Forward’s apostasy underscores my mainstream political analysis: Not till Jewish progressive culture splits will American political culture break on this issue. You cannot get the Democratic Party unless you transform American Jewish attitudes; Jews are simply too important in the blue state liberal consensus. I’m all for organizing inside the rightwing of American life, with Rand Paul and the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship. But that just gets us back to a traditional opposition of the 40s and 50s, Harry Truman versus the State Department. And we saw how that worked out. You have to break down this powerful ideology in its own burrows.
Hat’s off to Forward editor Jane Eisner for having the journalistic integrity to take on these stories.