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Struggling Israel supporter laments hardhearted Israelis and ‘hegemony of big donors’

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Here are three more signs of the end of mainstream American consensus on Israel.

First sign. Rabbi Steve Gutow is a longtime Israel lobbyist at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. I’ve seen him talk at liberal Zionist events. He has a piece in the Forward relating that a group of Israeli journalists from left to right asked him how he can “hold off BDS.” He told them he can’t do it unless Israel can show that it cares “about the generations of Palestinians who have lived in a state of poverty and lack of freedom.”

And the journalists didn’t get it:

The Israeli journalists I addressed, even the most liberal ones, seemed to find it difficult to contemplate the very idea of real compassion and empathy for the Palestinians. But it is absolutely necessary for us as a moral and politically astute community, if we want to slow or stop the growth of BDS.

Gutow laments the outsize influence of Jewish donors inside the Jewish community, and beyond.

Another challenge is money. We cannot allow money to make the community’s decisions. Wealthy people often have the wisdom to make money but not necessarily to decide about war and peace, how much to spend on education, how best to deal with immigration or prisons. In our community, there is this strange hegemony of big donors demanding control of decisions. They should have a vote, but, as we say in my Reconstructionist movement, not a veto over what we do and do not do….

I think he’s talking about neoconservatives there. Then there’s this about Jewish “insularity”:

[O]ur community understands the need to balance the universal with the particular. We cannot be a whole community in America and worry only about Israel, anti-Semitism and Jewish issues.

Second sign. Ari Roth famously got canned as artistic director by the Jewish Community Center theater in Washington for wanting to do drama about the Palestinian experience. He has now started his own theater, Mosaic, that will be staging a production of “I Shall Not Hate,” based on the writings of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the kind Gaza doctor who has been censored at Theater J and by 92d Street Y (a one-man-wrecking crew for American Jewish consciousness, Abuelaish lost his daughters to Israeli aggression but isn’t allowed to tell that story).

Now Playbill reports that Adam Immerwahr is the new artistic director at Theater J in Washington, replacing Roth– and he plans to ask questions about Israel but ask them “excellently”:

In an interview with the Washington Post, Immerwahr said, “It’s very clear that the first season I program will be subject to a certain kind of scrutiny. My goal is to program a diverse variety of plays on a great many themes and topics, and Israel is absolutely one of those. There are difficult questions to ask about Israel for all American Jews, and we won’t be shy about asking them if we feel there is art that asks them excellently.”

McCarter artistic director Emily Mann said, “It’s all about de-escalating. If anyone can do it, I think he can.”

How can this issue be deescalated? It can’t, without American Jews having open discussions about why they married Zionism.

Third sign: a review by Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker of Dennis Ross’s book on the U.S.-Israel relationship called “Doomed to Succeed.” The piece is nearly vitriolic when it comes to Dennis Ross. Filkins says that the former State Department aide is indifferent to the idea of “justice,” that his highest compliment is that an American president is a “friend of Israel,” and that he can’t bring himself to criticize Israel.

In four hundred-plus pages, there is almost no mention of the changes that have transformed the Israeli polity in the past six decades, and surprisingly little discussion of the steady growth in the settlement population, which now exceeds half a million. For Ross, who was the State Department’s director of policy planning under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coördinator under President Bill Clinton, and an adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the settlements are evidently problematic only insofar as they present an obstacle to a smoothly functioning bilateral relationship. The United Nations and most foreign governments consider them illegal, but for him they are a political difficulty to be finessed. There is no talk of justice. Pressure on Israel—by Palestinians, by Europeans, by President Obama—appears to Ross bewildering and unreasonable.

Ross describes a situation, in 2010, when Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, refused to negotiate with Netanyahu unless he agreed to extend a moratorium on settlement construction, and the Obama Administration tried and failed to broker a compromise. His conclusion: Abbas “showed little flexibility and squandered the moratorium.” And Ross criticizes President Obama for “putting the onus on Israel.” This sort of analysis makes sense only if you regard the expansion of Israeli settlements and the Palestinian objections to them as morally equivalent.

Ross is as impatient with Palestinian efforts to gain a more sympathetic hearing at the United Nations and elsewhere as he is sensitive to the political needs of Israeli Prime Ministers. Yet he says almost nothing about the political realities that have shaped the situation, or how those realities might be changed. He evinces almost no sympathy for similar pressures on Abbas and others at the Palestinian Authority. Only near the end of the book does he bring himself to criticize Israel. Netanyahu’s decision to accept an invitation from John Boehner to address the House of Representatives, thereby defying the White House and inserting himself in a domestic political debate, was, Ross says, “a mistake.” He writes repeatedly that Israeli leaders will make concessions only when they feel secure. This may be true, but where does this leave American policy? And where does it leave Israel?

The highest compliment Ross seems able to pay an American President is to say that he is a “friend of Israel.” But how can an American President help an ally steer away from a potentially disastrous course when that ally, by the nature of its own domestic politics, isn’t able to do so by itself? Ross doesn’t say.

It’s about time Ross’s reputation gets adjusted in the liberal press. Compare Filkins’s straightforwardness to the Scott Anderson review of the Ross book in the New York Times. It also criticizes Ross, but not before it kisses Ross’s behind. Writes Donald Johnson:

Anderson keeps praising Ross for “fair-minded”-ness and repeats the claim that Arafat walked away from a great peace deal. And he repeats the American complaint that Palestinians see themselves as aggrieved and don’t propose what Americans perceive as sufficient compromises. In fact, this is because the Palestinians are in fact the aggrieved party, have international and human rights law on their side and have already lost most of their land. This is too hard for the government officials of powerful countries to understand. No wonder they lose their tempers as they have more important things to worry about. Anderson over praises Ross and agrees with his “fair mindedness” in order to stick the knife in at the end–the Israelis do nothing without pressure and see no reason to reach a peace agreement if they can just keep building settlements. Anderson conceded way too much to get there.


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7 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    October 27, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Phil, a lot of very good signs of change. Back to BDS,

    ast June, a group of Israeli journalists from left to right, from Haaretz to Israel Hayom, asked me, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs: “How long can you hold off BDS?”

    I told them that only Israel could hold off BDS. We would do what we could here in America, but unless Israel could show the world that it cared about the generations of Palestinians who have lived in a state of poverty and lack of freedom, it would be hard to convince those who lean toward BDS to lean the other way instead. Israelis do not have to give an inch on matters of security; they do have to change their words and actions on matters of compassion. And we have work to do here, too.

    Isn’t it a sign of mental/moral/emotional deadness that people want to defeat BDS and cannot imagine what it has come as a response to.

    I suppose if people told me that my breathing was a crime, I’d react with the same uncomprehending disbelief that Israeli Jews (and Ziobots) bring to the idea that Israel is doing something (which BDS supporters think is) profoundly wrong. After all, my breathing is necessary to my life! Anyone can see that! And, I guess, Zionists have come to believe that the use of overwhelming violence against Palestinians and the endless denial of their dignity or human rights is somehow “necessary” to their own life.

    Funny thing. I live in NYC and most of my friends are Jews. they know my politics, and occasionally we talk I/P, but whether they agree or not, not one of them resorts to the use or threat of overwhelming violence against me. We live in the USA which (inside its borders, anyhow, and in comfortable neighborhoods) is an OK place to live. Why don’t Israeli Jews see this as a model? As a possibility? Why do they prefer Bibi’s commandment/realization that they must live by the gun forever? Do they have a death-wish (disguised as a killing-others-wish) in the manner of Jonestown?

    • MRW
      October 27, 2015, 1:18 pm


      Why don’t Israeli Jews see this as a model? As a possibility? Why do they prefer Bibi’s commandment/realization that they must live by the gun forever?

      Exactly. Moreover, why don’t American Jews see this as a model?

      • Kay24
        October 27, 2015, 10:15 pm

        Why can’t they realize that stealing lands and keeping helpless civilians under occupation, in limbo, and no hopes for freedom, can result in those victims retaliating in every way they can?

        Why don’t they realize that stopping the land grabs, and giving them their freedom is the only way for the violence to stop. They have been told all their lives that the Palestinians are their enemies, to hate their Arab neighbors, and they have to keep the occupation going to survive, and now that they can never get their minds to comprehend a different path?
        They all seem to accept the status quo very easily. The zionists have a master plan and it is working.

      • oldgeezer
        October 27, 2015, 10:22 pm

        All but the most dimwitted realize the true score. A few casualties enroute to Eretz Israel is an acceptable price. They care no more for their fellow Jews than they do for their fellow non-Jewish Israelis or Palestinian neighbours. Especially since many of those deaths serve to further their cause. It’s cynical, manipulative, uncaring, I’m moral but that doesn’t weigh on an absent conscience. Conversely they are that dimwitted.

  2. JWalters
    October 27, 2015, 9:00 pm

    “hardhearted Israelis and ‘hegemony of big donors'”

    Thankfully for humanity, and for the Jewish community, there are Jews who are not hardhearted religious supremacists or worshipers of money. Proving this point is one of the valuable services provided by Mondoweiss.

    • tokyobk
      October 27, 2015, 9:52 pm

      This is certainly true but I predict perhaps with Weissian optimism, that some of the money worshippers will move into the pro-equality camp including even BDS.

      • Mooser
        October 27, 2015, 10:10 pm

        “some of the money worshippers will move into the pro-equality camp including even BDS.”

        Some may even go as far as the pro-legality camp! Sorta hard to have equality in a basically illegal situation. But we will have to hope for the best.

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