One effect of the Gaza massacre is that American Zionists have entered a bunker. As our mainstream media conveys overwhelming images of civilian deaths in Gaza, to the point that even our politicians are unnerved by the burden of service for the Jewish state, the American Zionist message is narrowing and hardening. The crisis is particularly acute for liberal Zionists. While many liberal Zionists have moved rightward, supporting Israel, others are clearly panicked by Israel’s behavior. M.J. Rosenberg has said that Israel’s image is “destroyed” in the U.S., and J.J. Goldberg has described the onslaught as a “massacre.”
Here is a quick, and disorderly, tour of Zionist responses to the Gaza massacre.
The neoconservatives (rightwing Zionists) have doubled down. On Monday, Bill Kristol’s shop, the Emergency Committee for Israel, released the following statement on the Obama administration’s call for a cease-fire in Gaza and John Kerry’s trip to the Middle East. Basically telling Obama to F— off.
Israel does not need a mediator. Israel needs an ally. Pressuring Israel to agree to a cease-fire that rescues Hamas from defeat and leaves it in possession of its missiles, tunnels, and terror infrastructure is foolish and wrong. If President Obama and Secretary Kerry want to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East, they should support Israel and its campaign to end the terror threat from Gaza.
But things aren’t rosy for the hardliners. MJ Rosenberg reported that AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby, called off a rally for Israel.
Also, AIPAC & other Jewish organizations considered a national rally in DC to support Israel. Decided it would flop.
Presumably the counter-demonstration would have been far larger.
More hardliners. Yesterday, Michael Bloomberg, the chairman of a leading media company, flew to Israel on El Al to support Israel’s call for an end to the Federal Aviation Administration’s ban on flights to the country (that ban is now lifted). The hasty, informal appearance included Bloomberg’s statement that
“Every time I come here I’m reminded of history, of where my family comes from.”
Scott Roth tweeted a smart rejoinder challenging the Zionist ideology inherent in Bloomberg’s statement:
@MikeBloomberg your family is from historic Palestine? What part?
And NYCJulie answered that with a jab at the privileged role of being an Israel lobbyist:
@MikeBloomberg is from the Upper East Side of Palestine.
Many liberal Zionists are standing with Netanyahu. Menachem Creditor, a “progressive” rabbi who opposes gun violence and engages in “social reform” in American cities, defends the Gaza massacre at Huffington Post– which I thought was a liberal publication– saying that Jews have a right to protect ourselves. His argument is frankly Zionist. It is about the right of self-determination of the Jewish people in historical Palestine, and he calls dead Israeli soldiers his “sons.”
I’m done apologizing for Israel…
My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel….
I ask the enraged critics of Israel’s defensive responses to Hamas: Would you have us not respond to this monstrosity? Do you think it’s not worth losing the PR battle to retain our humanity and save as many lives as possible? What country would stand by when thousands of terrorist missiles assault its citizens? I, a Jew, have lost 20 of my sons in the last three days, because I will not lose my humanity and stage a careless ground war in Gaza that would cause mass casualties. Though I fight monsters, I will not become one…
We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.
P.S. 20 percent of Israel’s population is non-Jewish.
J Street is caught in the middle, wringing its hands. The liberal Zionist group refused to endorse a rally in support of Israel in Boston; Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, said he’ll attend the rally, but he can’t sponsor it because it does not address J Street’s concern over Palestinian civilian casualties, or over what Israel is becoming:
What was missing for us in this rally, and what ultimately precluded our co-sponsorship, was that despite our efforts, there was no space made to raise the issues that follow from our commitment to Israel’s Jewish and democratic future. There was no voice for our concerns about the loss of human life on both sides, or the acknowledgement of the conflict’s complexity and that the only way to truly end it is through a political solution. Perhaps what was most critically absent was the means to raise the question of what role we as a community of hovevi tzion [lovers of Zion] can and must play to help make it so we are not back here two years from now, again wringing our hands in grief. Incorporating these thoughts and nuances in our communal reaction would have only strengthened our community and its advocacy on Israel’s behalf.
Ben-Ami stressed his solidarity for Israel in remarks to 20 Democratic senators yesterday. Though he also referred to Palestinian civilians.
As others have noted, this is a difficult time for friends of Israel. I was in Israel when the rockets began falling, and J Street’s thoughts are with our staff, family and friends who are there and the IDF forces suffering terrible casualties and making tremendous sacrifices.
We also note with great sadness the tremendous toll being taken on Gaza’s civilian population by this present violence – over 600 dead, many of them non-combatants and children, and over 100,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million people living in shelters.
The liberal Zionist New Israel Fund sent out a fretful email from Rabbi Brian Lurie and Daniel Sokatch that was most concerned with the threat to Israel’s Jewish democratic character from rising intolerance. The two employed circumlocution regarding Palestinian deaths:
We are all paying close attention to the situation unfolding in Gaza. Far too many are living in fear. Far too many have died. Soon, I pray, the fighting will end.
On the day after the fighting ends — when Israelis again look inward –- I’m terrified that they will see a society filled with anger and pain, where extremism is the norm and dissent is not tolerated.
Ali Abunimah called out these attitudes as self-centered and callous on Democracy Now yesterday:
What we have is this liberal Zionist navel gazing about how to preserve Israel as a so-called Jewish and democratic state. Enough Palestinian babies have been blown to pieces for this insanity. Enough of lecturing Palestinians that their resistance is illegitimate or futile.
Abunimah was debating JJ Goldberg, a liberal Zionist, who described the onslaught as a massacre and observed the shift in Israel’s image.
I think I wrote the wind shifted, and I’ve written in a couple of tweets and so on that Israel jumped the shark. It went—it went overboard. It went a step beyond what it had been doing. The ground campaign essentially was a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.
Abunimah brought the conversation to the contradictions in Zionism, an ideology that groups American Jews with Israeli Jews as somehow sharing interests:
The destruction of Palestine continues, so that people like J.J. can sit in New York and pontificate about how American Jews in North America need a spare country so that they can feel safe.
MJ Rosenberg has gone further than JJ Goldberg.
Any Jew who is not sickened by Israel’s behavior has forgotten what it means to be a Jew. Perhaps a visit to the Holocaust museum or Yad Vashem will provide a refresher course…
He says that Israel’s image has been destroyed by the onslaught. He’s seeing what I’m seeing, the American media is disgusted by this massacre and American compliance:
The lobby (which, in this case, includes its friends and clients in the media) have lost control of the story which has become, as it should have, the story of a strong military power killing innocents like some beast in a child’s nightmare.
And no matter what happens from this point on, Israel lost the war. Not even Netanyahu’s primary goal in starting this war, toppling the Palestinian unity government, has been achieved. Hamas, that awful organization that was teetering on the brink of collapsing in Gaza, is now stronger than ever.
Even worse for Israel is that its image has been destroyed.
Ori Nir at Americans for Peace Now also sought to remind American Jews of the optics here:
OK, my friends: if you have a shred of humanity, how can you not empathize w the suffering of civilians – humans like you and me – in Gaza?
— Ori Nir (@OriNir_APN) July 23, 2014
Though, covering his bases, Nir also tweeted claims by the Israeli government:
According to Isr’ pro-gov think-tank, of 204 confirmed Gazan militants killed, 118 Hamas; 59 PIJ; 27 “other groups”
Americans for Peace Now has tried to balance a recognition of the slaughter with a message of solidarity with Israel. I don’t think these two messages can be put forward equally; but APN tries:
Americans for Peace Now (APN) is horrified by the spiraling death-toll of the war between Israel and Hamas…
APN strongly supports Israel’s right for self-defense and its government’s obligation to provide security for its citizens. As a Zionist, Jewish organization and as the sister-organization of the Israeli grassroots movement Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), we fully share the security concerns of the people of Israel and the yearning of Israelis for peace.
We mourn the death of Israeli civilians and of Israeli soldiers in the current hostilities. We also mourn the alarmingly spiraling deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip – over 500 so far.
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world. Its residents have no place to escape to from the fire. Continued fighting in such an environment is a recipe for more bloodbaths such as the one we witnessed Sunday in Shuja’iyyah, a neighborhood East of Gaza City. Thirteen Israeli soldiers and many dozens of Palestinian civilians were killed there.
Finally, a more pleasurable moment. Yesterday Jeffrey Goldberg showed us once again that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. He called out Robert Mackey of the New York Times for writing too much about Israel– apparently, Mackey’s coverage of a disturbing story (which we got to first): Israeli snipers killing a Palestinian youth who was searching for his missing family in Shuja’iyeh. In Mackey’s story, Ali Abunimah called the case a war crime, and who can doubt that.
But Jeffrey Goldberg is a hard case:
I wish @robertmackey would cover Israel more.
Mackey bridled at the sarcasm.
I wish I never had to, but thanks for the constant guidance on what I should write about to make you happy.
Goldberg, pugnacious denial:
Constant guidance? Such as?
The previous two times you wrote to me to suggest I should change my reporting on this subject.
I don’t recall ever asking you to change anything. Could you send me the emails in which I asked you to change?
I didn’t say by email; the first time was by direct message; but you then emailed me last September 25, check your outbox.
Goldberg, on the run now:
But I don’t think I asked you to change anything. I asked you a question about the focus of your blog.
That’s not how I read either approach, or your bon mot today.
I’m obviously intensely interested in the way the Times covers Israel. You’re the guy who posts about it the most.
I cover the beat I’m asked to cover, but I earnestly look forward to nothing newsworthy ever happening in Israel again.
Abunimah pointed out Goldberg’s history and job description:
Hey @robertmackey, lay off Cpl. @jeffreygoldberg. He’s just doing his job policing what politicians, journalists can/can’t say about Israel!
Ali Gharib called Goldberg a “bully” and went back to the root cause, Zionism, and its contradictions.
Boy from Long Island moves to foreign country, takes citizenship & joins its army.
Boy says others are too focused on said foreign country.
Lisa Goldman of New America was arch:
It is stressful to be solely responsible for policing the discourse about Israel in the media.
While these snippets are random, they point in one direction: American Zionism is in crisis. The ongoing Gaza massacre is exposing the fact that whatever its merits on paper as a Jewish liberation story, Zionism unfolded in the real world to become what we see in the news, a violent and racist regime that, backed by powerful Americans, has lost touch with moral norms and is justly isolated in world opinion. The crisis is resounding inside American Zionist circles. The sentient understand full well what I am saying. And while enforcers like Jeffrey Goldberg refuse to tear up their party membership card, we are sure to see many liberal Zionists leave the fold in weeks to come. Some will come out for nonviolent resistance, BDS. Some will reckon that a Jewish state is not worth the killing of even one Palestinian child, and will abandon a tribal ideology and call for democracy, for a binational state, anything to end the long nightmare of religious nationalism.
One last point. In the latest New York Review of Books (not yet online), Jonathan Freedland praises Ari Shavit’s neo-Zionist book, My Promised Land, and dismisses John Judis’s book on Truman, Genesis, by saying that Jews– and he and I agree that Jews matter– will only hear criticism of Israel when it comes from inside the fold. The Haggadah tells us, Freedland says, that the wise son addresses the Jewish community from inside the Jewish circle while the wicked son speaks from outside the circle; and the Jewish community dismisses the wicked son’s ideas.
So a secular publication invokes a religious tribal understanding of community so as to cast out Judis’s criticism of Zionism (as a bigoted ideology that ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and gained immunity for those acts by bribing American politicians). In the NYRB’s view, Jeffrey Goldberg is a wise son because he stands inside the Zionist circle. Imagine a Muslim writer for the NYRB quoting sura’s from the Koran to recruit me in an Islamist ideology– that would never happen.
I agree with Freedland that Jews are the ballgame; but forget about the wise son wicked son crap. Jews of conscience must organize with one foot inside the Jewish community and one foot outside it. That is the only way to move the Jewish establishment, and America. Jewish Voice for Peace: a rally against the massacre, today in NY:
Meet JVP-NYC at 4:45 pm
South part of Foley Square in Manhattan
at Duane and Center Streets
March at 5 pm