The Forward’s Nathan Guttman reports that the Netanyahu speech has enraged not just liberal Jews but centrist establishment types, who are finally becoming critical of Israel. The hardworking Guttman reports on an explosion in Washington ahead of the speech:
On March 2, [Florida Rabbi David] Paskin, who attended the AIPAC annual conference in Washington that coincided with Netanyahu’s speech, was among dozens at a packed closed-door session on pro-Israel outreach to progressives. There, the discussion quickly turned heated when former Democratic congressman Barney Frank (who is [AIPAC operative] Ann Lewis’s brother) chided the lobby for not speaking out against Netanyahu’s visit and for avoiding any criticism of Israeli policies. According to two session participants, Frank argued that this reluctance causes pro-Israel activists to lose their credibility among progressives.
Tempers flared even more, they said, when Frank claimed that Israel and AIPAC had lobbied members of Congress a decade ago to support the war in Iraq. Similar arguments in the past have been hurled at the lobby by anti-war activists from the left and have always been vehemently denied. Frank, faced with vocal resistance from AIPAC members in the room, clarified that while calling for war was not the lobby’s official position, some of its top members advocated for it personally in their meetings with him and other members of Congress.
Efforts to contact Frank to ask about this exchange were unsuccessful.
Remember that Walt and Mearsheimer were tarred as anti-Semites for saying in 2006 that the Israel lobby pushed the Iraq war. I supported the two scholars’ argument because I had heard as much myself; in 2002, my brother shocked me when he said, “I demonstrated against the Vietnam War, but my Jewish newspaper said this war could be good for Israel.” The Jewish community has never had an honest conversation about this matter; no, Jeffrey Goldberg and Marty Peretz and friends shut it down by calling Walt and Mearsheimer anti-Semites. That conversation would include asking Tom Friedman, David Remnick, Peter Beinart, and Kenneth Pollack if they pushed the Iraq war in part out of concern for Israel’s security. And did they believe that Jeffrey Goldberg and Judith Miller were carrying water for Israel when they put out their bogus reports on Saddam’s WMD? This is another great benefit of the Netanyahu speech, problematizing the issue of what Joe Klein called divided loyalties inside American Zionist life. Not a witchhunt, an accounting.
By the way, Barney Frank voted against the Iraq war.
Guttman’s piece says that Netanyahu’s speech has crystallized a conflict inside the American Jewish community over how long it must support the occupation and human rights atrocities (which Frank was silent about).
The difficulty in reconciling liberal values and support for Israel has been on the mind of the Jewish community for years, and has only deepened since the collapse of the latest American attempt to broker a peace agreement and Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank drags on, with no end in sight amid repeated wars in Gaza take place with high civilian death rates.
AIPAC has responded by highlighting Israel’s liberal values, at least relative to the region, including civil rights, religious freedom and progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
Yes, AIPAC did a whole light show around Selma, and had three African-American activists out on stage to talk about their love of Israel.
But that contradiction cannot last. Guttman quotes Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace on the growing inability of Democrats to maintain PEP (Progressive Except Palestine):
“The idea of being progressive about everything except Palestine has become harder to maintain,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. She said those on the left who support Israel live in a “cognitive dissonance,” which Netanyahu’s speech made even more evident. The partisan divide emerging over Israel, she claimed, can make it easier for Democrats to express dissenting views.
Guttman also quotes a lot of Jewish establishment types who think they can put Humpty Dumpty together again:
“We have some repair work to do with people to the left of center,” said Rabbi Jack Moline, former head of the National Democratic Jewish Council and currently executive director of the Interfaith Alliance. He does not believe, however, that liberals are turning their back on Israel. Those who are, Moline argued, are “politically insignificant.”
The struggle over Israel between those on the left and the Jewish community’s pro-Israel institutions is evident on both sides of their growing divide. With increasing urgency, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large, establishment Washington Israel lobby, is seeking out liberal activists to shore up its bipartisan bona fides. On the other side, Israel has become such an explosive issue that some liberal politicians will do anything to run away from dealing with it. Literally.
Guttman refers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s famous escape from the Gaza question.
Moline is wrong. You cannot put Humpty Dumpty lobby back together again. I got the following press release from Open Hillel at Wesleyan two days ago. These young Jews are leading the community.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Following landmark Open Hillel event at Harvard, Wesleyan hosts JVP Shabbat
Powerful event defies restrictive Hillel “Standards of Partnership,” brings together Wesleyan community
Middletown, CT — On Friday, February 27, the Wesleyan Jewish Community hosted “Jewish Voice for Peace Shabbat,” drawing together almost 50 students in defiance of Hillel International’s “Guidelines for Campus Israel Activity.”
In April 2014, the Wesleyan Jewish Community, an affiliate of Hillel International, announced that it was an Open Hillel, joining the student movement asking the “Center for Jewish Life on Campus” to remove restrictive standards about views on Israel are welcome.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) Shabbat brought a group that has been previously excluded into Wesleyan’s Jewish Community. This event occurred just two days after Hillel International endorsed Harvard Hillel’s decision to break its own Standards of Partnership by allowing boycott, divestment, and sanctions supporter Dorothy Zellner to speak on a panel about faith and solidarity inside the Hillel building.
“Wesleyan’s JVP shabbat was a great example of how communities will be grappling with essential topics after Hillels have been opened,” said Yael Horowitz, a sophomore at Wesleyan and organizer of the event. “Though there were disagreements surrounding the event, at least the community was openly talking about an issue that has been under the surface of our community for a very long time.”
Many attendees commented on how powerful and important the event was. One wrote in a comment in the Wesleyan Argus, “I found the [JVP] Shabbat service to be quite spiritual. A large part of my feeling that way was a product of views being explicitly shared rather than implicitly expressed in the texts.”
The “Standards of Partnership” guidelines adopted by Hillel International exclude groups and individuals from Hillel based on their political views on Israel. In particular, the Standards say that “Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that… support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.” According to JVP’s website, the organization “supports the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement through divestment from companies that profit from the occupation” as part of nonviolent efforts to end the Israeli occupation.
Wesleyan’s JVP Shabbat is an unprecedented event. In May 2011, Brandeis Hillel rejected JVP Brandeis’s bid for membership. And last year, Hillel International President Eric Fingerhut wrote in an open letter to Swarthmore Hillel, another Open Hillel, that “‘anti-Zionists’ will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances.
Nonetheless, students are committed to creating the inclusive Jewish community they want to see on campus.