Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of the New York Times, this month praised the American Jewish community’s role in “maintaining political support for Israel” because it “is a very small country in a very hostile neighborhood.” Weisman’s definition of that Jewish community was all Zionist organizations, leaving out the anti-Zionists of Jewish Voice for Peace. In fact, he gave credit to the view that anti-Zionists are anti-Semites.
Weisman spoke at a Jewish center in Seattle on January 17 with KUOW’s Kim Malcolm (broadcast on that public radio station a week later) to promote his book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” He said it contains a chapter, called The Israel Deception, about how the American Jewish argument over Israel gets in the way of our seeing anti-Semitism.
The point being that American Jews– we have AIPAC and J Street, we have the New Israel Fund, we have the American Jewish Committee. We have these large institutional presences now, and we argue over Israel. We argue incessantly over Israel. Even — I wrote this book and I go around the country, and I say, We spend so much time arguing over Israel, I’m just begging the Jewish community to look around at the world right around it. Because I feel like part of the reason that we didn’t see the rise of the white nationalist movement and the threat that it represents is because we were sitting there busily arguing over Israel.
And even when I say we argue over Israel too much, the fight always devolves into a fight over Israel, to this day, to this moment! When we open up the questions, I’ll probably get questions about Israel…
I got pushback in multiple ways. I certainly got pushback from the American Jewish Committee, which is very angry at me. Organizations like the American Jewish Committee believe that Israel is that important, it is the safe haven, it is the Jewish state.
Now my counter argument was always this, that Israel is obviously born of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history, the Holocaust, and its existence is a testament to the desire to keep Jews safe. But it lives in the national security umbrella of the United States. The Israeli Iron Dome missile shield was created out of remarkable Israeli ingenuity but with a lot of American help and a lot of American money. The joint strike fighter was actually designed in part by Israeli engineers, but when it comes off the assembly line, it will be coming off an assembly line in Fort Worth, Texas, not Tel Aviv. And that to maintain Israel as that safe haven for Jews, American Jews need to be paying at least as much attention to the United States and maintaining the United States as a friendly country to Judaism, as it does maintaining political support for Israel. Because ultimately Israel is a very small country in a very hostile neighborhood and it still relies on the United States.
I’d still make that case.
Now other pushback came from small Jewish social justice organizations that felt like I didn’t give them enough credit for the kind of organizing that is already happening, and another big pushback came from politically conservative Jews who felt, and still feel to some extent, that the real threat to American Judaism is not white nationalist far right bigotry but leftwing anti-Semitism…. Then came Pittsburgh. We can talk about it. Pittsburgh has changed that conversation quite a bit.
It is unfortunate that in relating the Jewish argument over Israel, Weisman’s entire range of Jewish organizations is Zionist organizations. He never acknowledges the existence of the anti-Zionist Jews of Jewish Voice for Peace, which issued a historic statement opposing Zionism on January 14, three days before his talk, let alone the existence of the non-Zionist Jews of IfNotNow.
And meantime, Weisman implicitly credits the view that anti-Zionism is “leftwing anti-Semitism,” while failing to say a word about Israel’s persecution of Palestinians (which is surely fostering anti-Semitism, as even a J Street speaker acknowledges; and which Weisman did mention in a recent article he wrote on the great schism occurring between American Jews and Israel).
I suppose it is not surprising to get such a conventional rundown from a New York Times editor, but the endorsement of the aims and methods of the Israel lobby is breathtaking. It recalls Times Magazine writer Ronen Bergman praising AIPAC, also to a Jewish audience. It recalls the fact that Max Frankel was once Israel’s proud backstop at the Times editorial page, that four New York Times reporters have had children serving in the Israeli army, and that the regular Times columnists include a battery of Zionists, only lately joined by Michelle Goldberg (who has stated emphatically that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic and it has long pedigree in the Jewish community.)
Weisman was even more concerned about leftwing views in Europe than here. He said, “The leftist party in France is actually pretty virulently anti-Semitic” and “The Labour Party in Britain has become conducive to anti-Semitic feelings– it scares me.” And he said that Trump supports Israel because of evangelical Christians in his base, a dubious assertion that fails to mention Trump’s biggest donors).