Three days ago, in its role of feeding unending Israeli propaganda to the American and Jewish elites, the New York Times ran an op-ed by the conservative Israeli, Shmuel Rosner, titled “Israel’s Fair-Weather Fans,” that arraigned liberal Zionists Roger Cohen, Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein and Peter Beinart for going wobbly over the Gaza slaughter. And Jon Stewart too (though I’m not sure he’s a Zionist). Rosner was saying, Bugger off. But he also said that Israel needs America– “support from America is a cornerstone of Israel’s security.” So he seemed to call for “family” loyalty.
Here are some excerpts from Rosner’s appeal/malediction, followed by several criticisms of Rosner:
If all Jews are a family, it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin. If Jews aren’t a family, and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews.
Moreover, the threat of liberal Jews distancing themselves from Israel is a hollow one. Jews of other nationalities are the proud and patriotic citizens of other countries, and they are free to make the decision to detach themselves from the greatest Jewish enterprise of the last two millenniums….
If they still want to root for a Jewish state, there’s no substitute for Israel. If they believe there is a need for Jewish sovereignty, Israel is the only option available to them….
Clearly, these critics of Israel’s behavior believe that Israelis themselves would be safer if the country adopted their prescribed liberal policies. That might be true, but it makes no difference.
On matters of life and death, war and peace, Israelis are going to make their own decisions. If they lose the support of some liberal Jews over it, that would be regrettable, but so be it.
The criticisms. First, Donald Johnson:
This piece is its own satire–it’s a very economical way of writing and thinking when your position is inherently so ridiculous it contains a thesis, its antithesis, and what Jon Stewart would make of it. Most of the commenters at the NYT are having a field day. Everything one could say about the narcissism of Israel and its most rabid defenders is right there in this post. Morality or even simple logic are totally absent. You should make this guy a regular front page poster at Mondoweiss. He makes your case better than anyone who writes there.
Interesting that he brings up the family metaphor: you don’t criticize your family in front of strangers. But though family comes up only optionally in the argument, it’s meant to carry decisive weight against Peter Beinart, Jon Stewart, etc. What always occurs to me is how special a case people make of the idea that your country is like your child (or your nephew or uncle or grandmother). Because they have in mind a pretty good child. A child, anyway, “as good as he should be.” One who if he commits a fault is sure to make it something medium-small like stealing a case of beer; or bigger but remediable, like spraying graffiti on your neighbor’s house.
But what if your child is running with a criminal gang, and brings home guns, and starts to tell of hair-raising encounters with loan sharks and being a witness to rough treatment used on people who owe. What then? Must you never call the police? And what becomes your responsibility when the child starts doing things that are worse than all of the above?
Ryland Lu (whom I met at J Street):
I am a longtime reader who usually stays on the sidelines (i.e. I’ve never commented or had an article posted). I felt compelled to email you, however, after reading this awful Op-Ed piece by Shmuel Rosner in the New York Times… Note how Rosner is lashing out at the liberal Zionist criticism of the Gaza offensive and also how his demand for Diaspora Zionists to unconditionally obey the decisions of the “state” echoes the “sovereign dictatorship” theory of the fascist political philosopher, Carl Schmitt.
Finally, here is a liberal Zionist critique from Emily Bazelon at Slate, titled, “Is there a line American Jews should not cross?” She says that she did not read Klein, Beinart, Chait, and Cohen as Rosner did; she didn’t see them as abandoning their Zionism.
I didn’t read the columns that way at all. In his response to Rosner, Chait called his own Zionism “immutable.” Reading him and the others, I assumed that, too. I realize that talking and writing about Israel is like picking one’s way through a minefield, especially in a period of tension and violence, and even more so if you’re Jewish. Still, I saw these pieces as thoughtful if sad entries in a long-running debate over what Zionism means, not whether Jews deserve a homeland.
I went to Israel for the first time when I was 11, with my grandparents, who were proud Zionists. I went back at 16, and then again for a summer during college to research my senior thesis. On that third trip, [here Bazelon addresses Ruth Margalit] I stayed with your aunt and uncle in their lovely, sunny flat in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Baka. You were half of a pair of adorable 8-year-old twin nieces who lived down the hall. I came back after I graduated, to study and write for a year. Throughout and ever since, your family has been my entry into a deeply thoughtful and compassionate circle of the Israeli left.
I offer the Bazelon somewhat ironically. She’s a writer on American mores who teaches at Yale and espouses liberal ideas; now it turns out she’s an ardent Zionist who affirms that critiques of Israel must be put forward by folks who believe Jews “deserve a homeland” (and has surely never thought about who lived in that house in Baka before her friends did). So the mainstream media offer us another lecture on the rightfulness of Jewish sovereignty, i.e., privilege, in the Middle East from an American Jew who insists on minority rights and religious freedom in this country.
And as for what line American Jews must not cross: some years back at a J Street conference, Jonathan Chait told Matthew Yglesias that it was OK that he was on a panel there, but a panel must never include me. Thus the American Jewish establishment excommunicates anti-Zionists. What damage these people are doing to Jewishness, it’s unfathomable. I thank heaven for JVP and Jews Say No.