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You know Israel’s in trouble when ‘NYT’ runs op-ed saying it’s replacing Iran as isolated theocracy

on 21 Comments
New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

New York Times headquarters. (Photo: Wikipedia)

A half dozen people have sent along the link to this long astonishing piece that ran in the NYT opinion pages yesterday, by two Iranian and Israeli scholars, saying that Israel and Iran are trading places: Israel is becoming an intolerant religious theocracy where extremists attack the U.S., and its failure to end the occupation means that it will become ever more alienated from the world’s good opinion, and ultimately from the U.S.– even as Iran is becoming a secular society with a relationship to the west.

The BDS movement is gaining momentum, the authors say. And the Israel lobby can’t save Israel, because its losing power; too many young Jews are marrying non-Jews here to give a hoot about the Jewish state.

“You know Israel’s in trouble when the Times is running pieces like this,” one friend said.

The authors are Abbas Milani and Israel Waismel-Manor, who are both at Stanford. Some excerpts:


Although the Israeli and Iranian governments have been virtually at war with each other for decades, the two countries have much in common…

Both Iran and Israel are now entering potentially challenging new stages in their relations with the outside world, and particularly with the United States….

As the winds of change blow across Iran, secular democrats in Israel have been losing ground to religious and right-wing extremists who feel comfortable openly attacking the United States, Israel’s strongest ally. In recent months, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, called Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic,” while Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, labeled Mr. Kerry a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.

Israel’s secular democrats are growing increasingly worried that Israel’s future may bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Iran’s recent past….

As moderate Iranians and some of the country’s leaders cautiously shift toward pragmatism and the West, it seems that many Israelis are moving away from these attitudes.

The piece is frank and neutral about the fact that Israel’s own conduct is propelling the rise of the boycott movement, BDS. Notice the importance the authors give the divestment movement on US campuses, alongside European banks.

If Israel continues the expansion of settlements, and peace talks serve no purpose but the extension of the status quo, the real existential threat to Israel will not be Iran’s nuclear program but rather a surging tide of economic sanctions.

What began a few years ago with individual efforts to get supermarket shoppers in Western countries to boycott Israeli oranges and hummus has turned into an orchestrated international campaign, calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies and institutions.

From academic boycotts to calls for divestment on American university campuses to the unwillingness of more and more European financial institutions to invest in or partner with Israeli companies and banks that operate in the West Bank, the “B.D.S.” movement is gaining momentum.

Then there’s talk about the Israel lobby, and Jewish intermarriage rates in the U.S. in a not-emotional manner:

Moreover, as Western countries shift toward greater respect for human rights, the occupation is perceived as a violation of Western liberal norms. A new generation of American Jews sees a fundamental tension between their own liberal values and many Israeli policies.

This, coupled with the passing of the older generation and a high rate of interfaith marriage among American Jews, means the pro-Israel lobby will no longer be as large or as united as it used to be.

Straight talk on the NYT op-ed page. Breath of fresh air. Thanks to Harry Hjalmarson and others.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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21 Responses

  1. Krauss on April 14, 2014, 1:10 pm

    Not sure if I agree.

    The whole Op-Ed reminds me of Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s book about the Israeli-South African alliance. It was written from a Beinartesque point of view. Basically, everything in Israel went wrong after 67 and that Israel had provided “moral leadership” before 67. That book was published in 2010, not 1950, yet its analysis is dated over 50 years. The same strain runs through this Op-Ed.

    Let’s begin by this:

    while Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, labeled Mr. Kerry a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.

    You’ll notice that the last bit isn’t in scare quotes. It the way the authors portray BDS in a neutral way. Not “how he sees it”. The point is to say that Bennett is incorrect to say that Kerry is a mouthpiece for “anti-Semitic elements” – but not that those elements pushing for BDS are anti-Semitic itself.

    It’s hilarious as it at once tries to portray Bennett as a right-wing extremist(which he is) and at the same time, seconds later, it fundamentally agrees with his diagnosis of BDS and that of Netanyahu, which branded BDS as anti-Semitic in his AIPAC speech. This is the slippery dance of “liberal” Zionists we all know too well.

    Later, it says:

    Israel’s secular democrats

    Where are these democrats? Tzipi Livni? The woman who sees Arab babies as the biggest threat to Israel and the former darling of Ariel Sharon who praised him as a second father?

    Honestly, humor, name even one which is a genine democratic liberal.
    You have secular ethno-nationalistic racists in Israel, plenty of them, but that isn’t the same thing. Yet to the authors, because they have J-positive blood, that inoculates them from being what they would be called in any other Western state: racists.

    Israel’s shift toward orthodoxy is not merely a religious one. Since the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are also against any agreement with the Palestinians, with each passing day, the chances of reaching a peace deal diminish.

    Ah, blame the Orthodox! All the seculars in Israel are peaceniks! That’s funny, because the vast majority of the Israeli elite up until now have been seculars. All the tired tropes of “liberal” Zionism bubble up to the surface.

    This, coupled with the passing of the older generation and a high rate of interfaith marriage among American Jews, means the pro-Israel lobby will no longer be as large or as united as it used to be.

    And then some fearmongering about intermarriage rate at the end. The only thing missing is expressing racial anxiety about Arab babies and the circle would be complete.

    • Krauss on April 14, 2014, 1:22 pm

      Shorter Krauss: Phil, the piece is the standard-issue “liberal” Zionist fearmongering, portrayal of BDS as anti-Semitic, attacking/scapegoating the Orthodox for diminishing peace chances; thereby implicitly saying that the hope for peace lies in secularism, in the face of ALL Israeli history up until now.

      Who stood for the ethnic cleansing? The emergency laws? The racial laws dictating every aspect from schooling, marriage, immigration to the housing market? It’s shocking how stupid their kind of claptrap analysis is. And this is somehow a “radical” Op-Ed?

      It is not hard at all to see why NYT would accept it.
      It is doing nothing but checking every box of prejudices about the conflict that any establishment “liberal” Zionist institution has.

      Come back when someone writes on the Op-Ed page from a non/anti-Zionist perspective that isn’t replete with factual errors and blatant fantasies about the history and the present moment of the conflict.

      Until then, move along, people, move along.

      • puppies on April 14, 2014, 8:17 pm

        @Krauss – No need to take down all of it. There is something very positive here; it’s their mentioning, cool as a cucumber, that Israel is a theocracy. This in the Times, without a big explosion. Anyone writing this, and not only, also using it to base a whole geopolitical theory over it, would have been thrown out of society without further ado, not given space on the NYT. Yes, the milestone deserves to be celebrated.
        Your observation that (with my spin on it) for the first 80 years of so Zionism has mainly been the hobbyhorse of atheist nationalist fanatics is totally irrelevant to the theocratic character of the contraband state. It is deeply theocratic in structure, in addition to racist (and anyway it is now becoming theocratic with a popular basis, too, given that the post-67 occupation “settlements” are the bastions of Jewish al Qa’ida, indestructible in peace.)

      • bilal a on April 15, 2014, 10:46 am

        this is confusing, to my limited knowledge, Netanyahu, like every Israeli Prime Minister in history, is an atheis, and Israeli legal and social norms are highly permissive.

        Israel is only a ‘theocracy’ in regulation of marriage and citizenship, but to my mind, this is contrary to Judaism, rather it is ethnic group nationalism.
        Its clergy do have a formal role in the state , as in Iran, Egypt, and Great Britain, but I don’t see their influence on regulation of business and social ethics.

        Calling Israel a theocracy is then merely a slur against religious Judaism.
        But it works with the large percentage of Jews and non-Jews who are hostile to religion.


  2. mbraverman on April 14, 2014, 1:58 pm

    First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.

  3. brenda on April 14, 2014, 2:50 pm

    “You know Israel’s in trouble when the Times is running pieces like this,”

    right. At the very least, the Lobby has lost control of the narrative. The NYT has been a marvel lately. Useful reporting and editorializing, but this piece had to have been gratifying for Phil and Annie — very prominent and positive mention of BDS. Stand up and take a bow, you guys, you’ve worked your little butts off for years, you’ve taken a lot of shit and now finally seeing some payoff. You just got legitimized by the Grey Lady.

  4. Feathers on April 14, 2014, 4:28 pm

    Abbas Milani lacks credibility among many Iranian thought-leaders.

    His extrapolation of Iran’s declining birth rate —

    By contrast, Iran has a falling birthrate — a clear indication of growing secularism, and the sort of thing that keeps Ayatollah Khamenei awake at night.

    is completely off-base: In a radio interview from Charlottesville, VA in ~2009, Nesta Ramizani, wife of highly-respected Univ. of Virginia professor Rouhi Ramizani, explained the reproductive policies implemented by the Khomeini and subsequent Islamic governments in Iran.

    Iran lost nearly a million of its people in the war with Iraq, many of them young men who would have started families. The Islamic government of Iran encouraged reproduction by providing financial incentives, housing assistance, medical coverage, and education for women, with special emphasis on girls (and boys) in rural areas.

    As Iran’s demographic status improved, the Islamic government encouraged and subsidized various forms of birth control. Iran has been under sanctions since 1995; it has a large population in the under-35 range; the Islamic government did not think it prudent to continue to expand population while the nation was under economic threat.

    Perhaps Milani has data that could support his assertion that secularization is causing a decline in Iran’s rate of reproduction; absent compelling evidence, I don’t think that is the case.

    As well, the notion that Iran will “secularize” is more of the same Orientalist arrogance that seems to afflict the West. Flynt and Hillary Leverett argue ceaselessly that the Islamic Republic of Iran must be accepted on its own terms. Granting Iran inclusion in the “international community” to the extent that Iran westernizes is equal parts arrogant and foolish: it’s not going to happen; the West really doesn’t have such a marvelous track record, and the world will be richer to the extent it can incorporate cultures different from the western model.

  5. piotr on April 14, 2014, 7:28 pm

    Perhaps the authors meant well, but when you equate “good” with “Western, free market and secular” than you describe positive trends as “secularizing”.

    I think that Abbas Milani, being a think-tanker, is putting his thoughts in terms that are well received by this customary audience. But indeed, how to interpret the drop of birth rate in Saudi Arabia?

    By the way, recently I have learned that halacha forbids Jews to charge interest to Jews, so in Israel there are halachic banks like in Muslim countries there are Islamic banks.

    • bilal a on April 15, 2014, 10:53 am

      Perhaps the authors meant well, but when you equate “good” with “Western, free market and secular” than you describe positive trends as “secularizing”.

      It’s difficult to explain the last century’s rise of secularism as correlated with world peace, reduced poverty, freedom, or human happiness; quite the contrary.

      case in point, the murder and torture of children by the secular coup leaders in Egypt

  6. on April 14, 2014, 8:08 pm

    Very good. This article confirms in a “respectable” venue what many voices in the wilderness have been saying for several years. That is, the rightwing nuts in control in Israel are now worse than the nuts in Iran. Except that the nuts in Israel are younger and they have hundreds of atom bombs. In my opinion the right wing in Israel is more dangerous and less sophisticated than the Iranians.

  7. just on April 14, 2014, 8:21 pm

    Can it be true that truth has finally hit the NYT right between the eyes?

    More, please.

  8. Kay24 on April 14, 2014, 11:37 pm

    The NYT and the US zionist media have the truth staring at them for years, but they seem to have selective vision, and hearing. You want the truth, you have to leave our shores and look outside. The zionist media has been controlled, and their message totally biased, so although this article may give some hope that things may turn around, usually it is just a fleeting criticism of Israel, soon lost in in silence, and lack of response by our top journalists. The total disinterest, lack of cooperation, and the endless insults by Israel, that the US had to endure, when it tried to broker peace between the occupier and occupied, and the recent refusal to support the US against Russia, should have made huge headlines, and sparked outrage among our media, but we only had whispers of it, after all the zionist press cannot, and will not utter a peep against Israel, even though criticism is long overdue.

  9. W.Jones on April 15, 2014, 2:37 am

    Unfortunately, “Palestinians” are only named once in the whole article. It’s like they don’t really count, their society doesn’t really exist. The authors may counter that their article is about Israeli society, not Palestinians. But in any case, this is a hallmark feature of liberal nationalist thought- the other society doesn’t count or enter into the picture. Others have noticed this looking back to their nationalist upbringings- they only heard the name “Palestinian” later on.

  10. on April 15, 2014, 9:55 am

    The amazing take-home message is that the NYT is saying that Israel is a theocracy just like Iran. I can hear the Zionist spinners spinning but it is difficult to come up with an answer. The truth is out but it is such an obvious truth. Intimidation and suppression have indeed kept this truth out of the newspapers for many years. Sincere thanks to all at Mondoweiss for clearing a path through the jungle of obfuscation. You have definitely had a positive effect which is starting to increase exponentially as we speak. There is already a notable change at the New York Times. I know that many of us are constantly emailing Ms Sullivan about distortion of Israel/Palestinian reporting at the NYT. Perhaps this is having a positive effect and the partisans at the NYT are finally raising their standards and suppressing their obvious conflict of interest instead of suppressing the truth.

  11. Citizen on April 15, 2014, 10:42 am

    Mmmm, so now will US politicians tell us Israel is a theocracy just like the USA? It’s a joke. Why? Because the NYT will not follow up with just how much sky is between US and Israel, and why do our politicians say there’s none at all?

  12. W.Jones on April 15, 2014, 11:30 am

    “Palestinians” get one mention in the whole article.

  13. Krusty on April 15, 2014, 12:36 pm

    I certainly think Israel is veering rightward in a problematic way. However, the conflation of this with the rise of religiosity is indicative of a seriously thin understanding of Israeli politics.

    The latest election cycle was predicated on Lapid’s Yesh Atid’s ascendancy, which is a secular party which sought (successfully) to integrate the Ultra-Orthodox through ending draft exemptions and the like. FM Lieberman’s YB is a secular-zionist party. Naftali Bennett is threatening (with no seriousness) to bolt from the Coalition. The latest rumblings are that there’s a Shas-Labour union in the offing (potentially with Meretz?) which is trying to pick off Lapid and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah (something that I think is actually fairly likely, in a way similar to the undoing of Barak’s tenure in the early 00’s.) Herzog (Labour leader who is explicitly pro-peace) has been saying that Israel needs to adjust to something similar to the Arab League Initiative terms!

    Pegging religiousity to ascendant conservatism in Israel is utterly falacious. The State of Israel remains a recognizable liberal democracy and I sincerely doubt that’s changing any time soon, even with the demographic shift underway due to massive Haredi birthrates.

    I think the Times is right here. If Kerry were to just publish his rumored framework and leave it on the table as the official US position, it would have to effect of likely breaking the Likud-YB coalition. Most of the Israeli moderate right, and virtually all of the center and left seek a peace deal and the Kerry Framework would placate all of those groups. In the meantime, it would leave open the possibility of someone more sensible like Livni, Herzog, or Lapid becoming PM, and that is obviously an outcome the Obama administration would prefer. Similarly, an officially stated US position might actually push the Palestinians to move away from Abbas (who certainly isn’t the most moderate leader the Palestinians could put forward) and towards someone new and more reasonable such as Dahlen, al-Masri, or Fayyad.

    To Mr. Weiss, chag sameach!

    • piotr on April 16, 2014, 4:30 am

      The labels “secular” and “religious” are hopelessly ill-defined and thus not helpful. Israel, like Pakistan, is defined by its religion, and while founders were “secular” in the sense that the legal framework of those states was not based on religious law, the state identity was linked to religion and thus religious principles were growing in importance. Including, I am sorry to say, the least fortunate bits of those principles.

      In the case of occupied territories, there is a dispute in Israel if they should be ruled according to international laws of occupation (few oddballs favor that opinion), Israeli civil laws, Israeli military laws or Torah. The practice is a weird combination of the last two. The most visible settlers recognize Torah as the only authority and some military units are given task to operate effectively under their control, while other are under direct orders of the command chain. This way or another they work in tandem, but occasionally conflicts flare up who should have last word when there is some small divergence of opinions.

      Yisrael Beitenu is a good example of unhelpful “secular” label. That party cooperated closely with messianic settlers (do not confuse with “messianic Jews” which in Israel means Jews for Jesus) and gave some ineffective lip service to the needs of secular Russian-language voters. The current ruling coalition includes Likud/YB, “national religious” Jewish Home and secular Esh Atid. I did not hear anything about steps toward more secular system, like an option to have non-religious marriage, but there was a step of “national religious” nature against “traditional religious”, imposing military service on Jews who believe that their tasks in the holy war against non-Jews are to study Torah and thus gain the goodwill of the Almighty for the State, or at least for the Jews in general (some traditional religious doe not .

      It is quite possible that the new changes in electoral law in Israel will force more cooperation between secular and religious political movements that are aligned according to various principles.

      • LeaNder on April 16, 2014, 10:41 am

        thanks piotr, helpful.

        The most visible settlers recognize Torah as the only authority and some military units are given task to operate effectively under their control, while other are under direct orders of the command chain.

        Yes, I have to admit that initially left me perplexed. It’s hard to understand the power they obviously have to even control the military and beyond that the whole party system. Really odd, I cannot imagine this happening anywhere else. But maybe not really, the closer one looks into Israel’s history and its core ideals.

        Concerning the hopeful scenario Krusty offers above (Labor-Shas, rumblings, Shas?) reminds me of a comment by our Shmuel (Sermoneta-Gertel, more rare lately), or more precisely his harsh criticism of Shelley Yacimovich, who I wanted to regard as a tiny light on the horizon at one point. He shattered that hope, completely. And there seems to be almost none left by now. I guess, to stay with the ladies, I cannot regard Tzipi Livni (Likud-Kadima-Hatnuah) as a sign of hope either.

        From Wikipedia:
        Pro-peace politics
        Third Way
        Green politics

        I am hesitant about “third ways”. Both historical and more recent attempts.

        Isn’t the more likely scenario that the parties, the vast majority of them anyway, plan to sit out Obama and hope for a GOP candidate more aligned to their security needs? Some type of second Bush jun?

  14. James Canning on April 15, 2014, 1:59 pm

    This indeed was a welcome opinion piece in the NYT. However, I tend to think more intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the US is actually a good thing for Israel’s own true best interests.

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