The liberal Zionist lament: Joe Klein and Jodi Rudoren try to explain away Israeli racism

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“We’re not going to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem this morning,” WNYC public radio host Brian Lehrer told listeners Monday at the close of his all-Jewish discussion with NY Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren and Time columnist Joe Klein about the Netanyahu victory aftermath. They might have come a little closer if his guests had included a Palestinian instead of two Zionists—­one who tilts coverage in the “newspaper of record” to Israel’s benefit, and the other a “liberal” who recently wrote that Palestinians have given Israelis good cause to be harsh, bigoted tyrants.

But for insight into the struggles of Israel’s liberal supporters since last Tuesday, the half-hour radio segment was interesting. Klein praised Obama for what Lehrer called his “public break with Netanyahu” in the President’s Huffington Post interview this weekend. Rudoren said that “people here are quite, quite stunned and a little scared about what’s gonna happen next” because of Obama’s unprecedented criticism.

On the show, Klein denounced the “overt racism” of Netanyahu’s final election appeal. “He has now, really, at the highest levels, introduced anti-Arab bigotry against Israeli citizens into the political discourse. That kind of stuff has a real consequence.”

Klein used similar words in last week’s Time column. But his own tolerance for racism is more than slight. While lamenting that Netanyahu “won because he ran as a bigot,” he offers that Jews “have had cause” (wars, terrorism and “overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry”) to “regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regarded Jews.”

Citing critics who see the election results as proof that “Israel has become a harsh, bigoted tyrant state,” Klein insists: “It has certainly acted that way at times, but usually with excellent provocation.”

Klein’s justification for Israel’s horrors stems from the same gooey-eyed blindness that afflicts David Brooks. Completely missing the irony, he finds inspiration for Jewish-Palestinian togetherness in seeing settlers welcomed to a land where longtime residents can’t return:

When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem. It still brings tears to my eyes. My near annual visits to Israel have always been memorable. About a decade ago, I was at a welcoming ceremony for new immigrants—­thousands of them, Russians and Iranians and Ethiopians. And I thought, if Ethiopians and Russians could join that way, why not, eventually, Semites and Semites, Jews and Arabs?

How many Palestinians should die or lose their homes so liberal American Jews can get choked up over a song? The problems between “Semites and Semites” are due to decades of institutional theft, displacement and discrimination, not hardwired ethnic hatred which is the Zionist’s go-to explanation for the conflict.

Klein’s column approvingly echoes Ari Shavit’s infamous justification for Israel’s 1947-8 Nakba: “It may be argued that the massacres were necessary, that Israel could not have been created without them, but they were massacres nonetheless.” He blames Netanyahu for reviving those supposedly vanquished horrors by conjuring the specter of “droves of Arab voters.”

But Klein never reflects that the racism he frankly labels “dehumanizing” is essential to maintaining Jewish supremacy, that it’s been there the whole time, and that it far predates Israel’s founding. And he omits the anti-Arab campaign themes used by the Labor Party’s Herzog.

It’s sad that a writer who defends the necessity of Israeli massacres, or who thinks there could ever be “excellent provocation” for bigoted tyranny, would be booked to represent a liberal viewpoint on a public radio show (­or still be employed as a Time columnist).

On the Lehrer show, Rudoren acknowledged that some Palestinians and left-wing Israelis advocate “one person, one vote.” She even referenced “ethnocracy” and the phrase “from the river to the sea.”

But with a derisive laugh, she said “I don’t see any of these [one state] models particularly working… I don’t think Israeli Jews basically want to live in some kind of melting-pot state based on one person, one vote, they want to live in a Jewish state with not only a Jewish majority but with, you know, a Jewish anthem and flag and institutions and holidays and things like that.” (Just imagine the year is 1965, and substitute “Mississippi whites” for “Israeli Jews.” Is there any other nation whose desire for segregation we defer to, or celebrate as “sharing our values”?)

“And I don’t think that Palestinians really want to live in a… I don’t think it… maybe some of them want to live there,” she fumbled, then stipulated: “I don’t think it sort of speaks to Palestinian national aspirations to have a state that’s, you know, fifty-fifty or sixty-forty or whatever, where, you know, with, within, with all the history of Israeli institutions. I don’t think that quite answers their yearning either.”

But how would she know? After praising Rudoren’s blinkered reporting as “spectacularly good, really great stuff,” Klein asked her what West Bank Palestinians thought about Netanyahu’s video. She confessed that she “unfortunately” hadn’t visited the West Bank—just minutes away from her West Jerusalem enclave—since the election. Instead, she described the reactions of Israeli Jews, many of whom she said condemned the video as a “beyond-the-pale moment,” insisting that “nobody has supported this kind of statement on Election Day.”

Reversing herself instantly, she acknowledged having herself been “shocked” during her time in Israel by “the racial discourse on both sides [?!]… it’s very blunt here, in a way that is very uncomfortable for an American sensibility.” (Not that you’d know it from reading her stories.) Netanyahu’s race-baiting was “a small move, I think, beyond a line for a lot of Israelis. It was not, you know, a completely out-of-the-box, ‘I’ve never heard anything like this.'” Israelis don’t view race “in the same way that we do.” (Remember, this country supposedly shares American values.)

Of “Israeli Arabs,” Klein asserted incredibly, “their loyalty is to Israel.”

At the end of his Time column, Klein calls Netanyahu’s Election Day speech “beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing.” Unknowingly, he nails it. For liberal Zionists, it’s not the tragedy of generations of Palestinians exiled, slaughtered or marginalized because powerful outsiders claim their land—­it’s the shame and embarrassment of those who have to reconcile their support for all of that with their liberal self-image.

Ali Abunimah live-tweeted the WNYC segment with rising disbelief:

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Have you seen David brooks’s latest? Like Klein and Jodi-Jodi-Jodi it deals with Jewish “specialness.” It’s called “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” and it’s pretty bad, even for a Brooks column. There were a bevy of excretory quotes but I think the one I saw on Twitter sums it up quite… Read more »

Sick !!!!!

Sickening !!!!

But with a derisive laugh, she said “I don’t see any of these [one state] models particularly working… I don’t think Israeli Jews basically want to live in some kind of melting-pot state based on one person, one vote, they want to live in a Jewish state with not only… Read more »

The holocaust was not merely violent but exterminatory — of Gypsies, Gays, mentally-impaired, some physically-impaired, and — oh yes!, Jews. Maybe Slavs as well. And never forget Communists, Labor leaders, etc. And so, for Brooks and many others who cannot see any problems other than the problems of Jews, antisemitism… Read more »

“When I was a little boy, my grandmother would sing me to sleep with the Israeli national anthem.”

You had a grandmother? You’re very lucky.