Here are two recent stories suggest that in some quarters of the liberal American discourse, Israel is on its back foot.
First, at a gathering at the Peninsula Beverly Hills Monday night, Fareed Zakaria promoted his new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education, and Haim Saban immediately landed on him for being “anti-Israel” on CNN. But Zakaria came right back at Saban, and said that Israel is destroying itself, and ultimately refused to let Saban keep talking. “I have the mic.”
“Speaking of education, I think you need an education about what Israel really is.” Saban [said]… “Your point of view is so anti-Israel, I’m banging my head against the wall every time I watch you.”
Responding to Saban’s challenge to his understanding of Israel, Zakaria gave a concise, impassioned history of the country, then outlined the issues it must address as a democracy with regards to the Palestinians, referring to the situation as a “creeping cancer that has grown larger and larger and larger.” Finally, he confronted Saban by saying, “Frankly, Haim, I don’t give a damn if you think taking that position is anti-Israeli. I think it is more pro-Israeli than you because I think you are selling the country down the river by continuing to say that whatever the Likudniks want is the right answer — no matter what — and kick the problem down the road, hoping one day we’ll sort it out. One day, you will have 10 million people who are living without a vote. No,” he continued as Saban requested the microphone. “The beauty of this, Haim, is that I have the mic, and as Ronald Reagan once said, ‘I paid for this microphone.’ Actually, Nicolas paid for it.”
Zakaria was referring to Nicolas Berggruen, the German-American leader of the Berggruen Institute, which is an internationalist organization. And Berggruen has real estate investments in Israel but is evidently not sectarian about the conflict.
So Zakaria feels real autonomy in stating that the occupation is a “cancer” and Israel faces the likelihood of having 10 million people without a vote.
Saban is a very powerful man, and of course a big Democratic supporter of Israel. He has backed the Clintons and Obama.
Next, here’s an amazing report on US Rep. Donna Edwards’s Maryland Senate campaign in the Washington Post. The thrust of the article is that she’s been a bad girl on Israel. But to her credit, Edwards didn’t even talk to the reporter; she evidently thinks J Street, the liberal Zionist org, and her own constituents have her back.
The Post’s Rachel Weiner even speculates that Edwards may be building a political space for herself as an Israel critic:
As she campaigns for the Democratic nomination, Edwards is facing pushback over votes on Israel that put her to the left of both [MD Senators Ben] Cardin and [Barbara] Mikulski. Whether that record will stymie her reflects a larger struggle among Israel’s liberal critics to prove that stepping out on Mideast politics is not a political liability for Democrats.
[Rabbi Mitchell] Wohlberg, who has long deemed President Obama’s support of Israel insufficient, praises Cardin, Mikulski and Edwards’s primary rival, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D), as more “comfortable” for Jews, who make up about 4.3 percent of Maryland residents. They tend to be reliable Democratic voters, concentrated in populous Montgomery and Baltimore counties.
Edwards’s crimes include not signing on to AIPAC letters. The Post’s Weiner reports that “Her views align with those of J Street,” the liberal Israel lobby group, but obviously that’s not good enough.
Edwards’s record on Israel-related issues has been problematic for her before. In 2010 and 2012, a Montgomery County-based group of Jewish donors backed a candidate who ran against her in the primary. Both challenges fell far short of unseating Edwards, who is strongly backed by national progressive groups.
Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a supporter of Obama and Van Hollen who was part of the 2012 effort, said Edwards’s record “does show inconsistency, and on things where there’s really nothing to have lost — by signing on to a bipartisan letter, for example.”
Edwards went to congregation Beth Am in Baltimore last week to show she loves Israel:
“I have a number of Jewish friends that are so right-wing that if they saw her here, they wouldn’t even go up to meet her,” said Sheila Lemel.
Because I’m such a starry-eyed liberal, I think the real story here is that there is space on the lib-left to criticize Israel. Edwards knows it and so does Zakaria, they both think they can get away with it. More power to them. They feel this confidence partly because they know the Jewish community is now officially divided, there are anti-Zionists speaking up inside that community, and no one will be able to accuse them of anti-Semitism for knocking Israel. Though of course, just what knocking Israel means for these mainstream actors is another question. It’s not like either is supporting boycott. Yet.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.