JJ Goldberg has a thoughtful column up at the Forward about the new political conversation about Jews, in which he allows that Ann Coulter’s “fucking Jews” tweet and President Obama’s explicit defiance of big donors and foreign interests and the New York Times’s frank Jew-counting may all be legitimate political commentary. Though such comments were felt by many Jews to be anti-Semitic, such talk is inevitable given the organized Jewish community’s frank support for a foreign country. Excerpts:
This past summer, the organized Jewish community — that is, the major Jewish advocacy organizations, backed by much of the most militant grass-roots — plunged headlong into an intensely partisan battle against the administration. It landed some punches and drew some blood. That’s changed the rules in several important ways that most of us have barely recognized, much less adapted to.
For anybody keeping score in the Iran debate, how the Jews match up against their political foes is too important an issue to ignore. Unfortunately, it’s an issue nobody knows how to talk about…
Advocates of Jewish rights — often the same advocates battling the administration — will howl about the overtones of anti-Semitism in the debate. But that will only fuel more debate, as cynics assume that the advocates are crying victimhood for political advantage. Or perhaps just trying to keep their tactics hidden…
The trouble is, changing the rules of Jewish advocacy, as Netanyahu is doing, brings consequences, and it’s not clear that American Jews understand or welcome those consequences. As the Jewish community’s representative bodies enter the swamp of Washington partisan politics, the Jewish community as a whole comes to be seen as part of that swamp and subject to its rules, including the insults and dirty tricks that other partisan factions are used to.
At a time when many liberal Zionists are fearful about the new rules, this is the best treatment of the topic I’ve seen. Goldberg says there’s been a “tectonic” shift in the conversation, and the press is talking about Jewish influence openly.
He also notes that Israel advocates were careful to seek to avoid open displays of dual loyalty charge in the past, but Israeli PM Netanyahu dismissed that inhibition as anachronistic:
From defiant actions like denouncing White House policies before Congress, to subtler signals like appointing to Washington successive ambassadors who are former Americans now loyal to the Jewish state, he’s shown repeatedly that the old diffidence is gone.
And in Washington political debates, Goldberg implies, opponents are allowed to use insults, so dual loyalty is fair game. Bear in mind that Michael Oren, Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky all made direct appeals to American Jews to oppose U.S. policy on Iran, and sought to manipulate us by saying we’d failed to speak out during the Holocaust. Major Jewish organizations spent tens of millions of dollars– money that could have gone to far better use– in that failed effort; and Oren rushed Random House to publish his book ahead of time so it would be a political tool in firing up the Jewish community against the deal. He also failed.
Goldberg is wrong that we don’t know how to talk about this. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer began talking about it ten years ago. I’ve been talking about it for years. Walt and Mearsheimer made the mistake of being non-Jewish and raising the subject; I made the mistake of being an anti-Zionist. Walt and Mearsheimer were called anti-Semites; I was said to be fostering hatred. We just wanted to discuss the real forces affecting foreign policy. At bottom, the Israel lobby is a theory of organized Jewish influence: I think we have to cop to that; but as Goldberg admits, people have a right to discuss influences on foreign policy. And as my partner Adam Horowitz points out, Since when did anti-semitism get redefined to mean, Being critical of Jews?
The other thing Goldberg addresses is the rift in the Jewish community, with fearful Israel advocates rushing to the Republican Party because they think Israel’s survival is on the line. This partisanship is of course a great development, and it will not be healed. The open division is a measure of Jewish affluence and also maturity; we are not sticking together. It means that, with the decamping of the neoconservatives, the Democratic Party is now going to become a battleground for anti-Zionists and liberal Zionists.