Bari Weiss is taking over the old role performed by Tom Friedman-then-Jeffrey Goldberg, of explaining to American elites why they should support Israel. The young New York Times opinion editor is fluent, self-assured, tough, and impassioned, all of which makes for a compelling performance. And though Israel advocacy has been a good career move for Weiss, her job is a lot harder today than it was when Friedman was doing chalktalks about Israel’s Sinai campaign to the uninitiated.
Weiss’s latest column arguing that it was anti-Semitic for Ilhan Omar to write during the 2012 attack on Gaza that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” has had a big effect overnight. After seeking to defend the tweet on several occasions before, the Minnesota congresswoman has now apologized for the tweet. That’s clout!
But Weiss’s core issue is Zionism, or in her understanding the liberation movement of the Jewish people, and her latest column is given to declarations of that faith that may leave her liberal audience cold.
She moves on from Ilhan Omar’s tweet to why it’s anti-semitic to criticize Israel. Here Weiss takes a page from the pro-Israel hasbara playbook: the “three d’s” of anti-semitism are demonization, delegitimization, and double standards.
[T]he biggest “Jew” today in the demonology of modern anti-Semitism is the Jewish state, Israel. While there are perfectly legitimate criticisms that one can make of Israel or the actions of its government — and I have never been shy about making them — those criticisms cross the line into anti-Semitism when they ascribe evil, almost supernatural powers to Israel in a manner that replicates classic anti-Semitic slanders.
Those who call themselves anti-Zionists usually insist they are not anti-Semites. But I struggle to see what else to call an ideology that seeks to eradicate only one state in the world — the one that happens to be the Jewish one — while empathetically insisting on the rights of self-determination for every other minority. Israeli Jews, descended in equal parts from people displaced from Europe and the Islamic world, are barely 6.5 million of the world’s 7.7 billion people. What is it about them, exactly, that puts them beyond the pale?
They insist. Translation: anti-Semites doth protest too much.
Weiss then accuses Omar, Marc Lamont Hill and Tamika Mallory of having “exposed their anti-Semitism.” In Hill’s case, this is a reference to the Temple professor expressing an anti-Zionist wish at the U.N. last November when he concluded a speech by saying “what justice requires… is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
Hill promptly lost his job as a CNN commentator because of the stance, and sought to explain his views in a tweet:
I believe in a single secular democratic state for everyone. This is the only way that historic Palestine will be free.
There he goes, insisting he’s not an anti-Semite!
Despite the price Hill has paid for his views, anti-Zionism is now going mainstream. Michelle Goldberg and Michelle Alexander have made arguments for anti-Zionism in the pages of the New York Times. That is why Bari Weiss needs to lay down the law. Donald Johnson explains the effectiveness and intellectual abuse in Bari Weiss’s column: “Israel supporters can just pull out the antisemitism charge and because there really are anti-semites around and people don’t want to be linked to them, they will run for cover. It is the antisemitism charge that constitutes the Israel lobby’s real power with liberals. Donations by themselves wouldn’t be enough.”
Just last week Debbie Wasserman Schultz pulled out of the Women’s March by equating Linda Sarsour’s criticisms of Israel and the lobby with anti-Semitism. Jewish women, DWS said, “have stood for equality and inclusiveness since before the Women’s March even came into being.” Maybe here, but not in Israel.
Johnson warns anti-Zionists to be mindful: “Now that anti-Zionism is coming into the mainstream, it really is important that there be no blurring with antisemitism, both for moral and practical reasons.
“All the folks who have a kneejerk reaction to any hint that antisemitism might be a real problem are themselves a problem. Nuance is a good thing. The Zionist side throws the antisemitism charge around like confetti and it is actually racist what they do with it, but it is also a mistake to pretend Pittsburgh didn’t happen. It is a childish reaction, like we are sports teams, everything is a zero sum game and any concession we might make about the reality of antisemitism (sometimes) is somehow a victory for Zionism. It is self-defeating to do this. Also factually and morally wrong…”
I would add that anti-Zionists aren’t trying to eradicate Israel, as Bari Weiss says. We are seeking a profound constitutional change in the country, to give everyone equal rights. Some of my friends like to call me a radical for saying that, but I draw proudly on liberal American traditions of equality, and of the separation of church and state. Indeed, before he ultimately caved on the issue under pressure, Harry Truman opposed the lobbyists seeking the establishment of a Jewish state in 1945. “He objected to a religious state, whether Catholic or Jewish,” John Judis writes. “He also expressed fear that trying to establish one would lead to war.” (Truman stressed that view in a letter to his wife: “I just don’t discuss religion. It has caused more wars and feuds than money.”)
As to singling Israel out, I do so because my government singles Israel out and the American Jewish establishment singles Israel out. The U.S. does so with a “special relationship” that has entailed massive military aid and the mimicry of Israel’s conduct, occupying Arab lands. The Jewish establishment does so by stating that Jews are one people whose homeland is the Jim-Crow land of Israel. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said so when she told Jews it is “our responsibility” to make sure that Israel support is never politicized. Dennis Ross said so when he told a New York temple audience that “we need to be advocates for Israel,” not Palestinians. Bari Weiss said so when she told a temple audience that all Jews welcomed rightwing Israeli officials Naftali Bennett and Ron Dermer to Pittsburgh in the wake of the massacre because “we are all one, Am Yisrael [the people of Israel].”
“I thought it was fun seeing Bari Weiss say she has never hesitated to criticize Israel,” Johnson adds. “Yeah, Bari Weiss, champion of Palestinian rights.” The two links she offered for her criticism were women’s access to the Western Wall, which is all about Jews, and her support for Lara Alqasem when Israel threatened to deport her, a case that involved an American student who had once advocated for boycott being allowed into Israel to study at the Hebrew University with the backing of many American Zionists.
P.S. Weiss also says that it’s anti-Semitic to blame “Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith — Bush administration figures who happened to be Jewish — for a military campaign that had been ordered by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.”
Perle and Feith also happened to work for Netanyahu before Bush, arguing for Israel’s expansion on any terms. Israel’s interests were at the front of their minds for years, including when Feith worked for One Jerusalem and Perle lectured about Israel’s defensible borders at AEI. They then got their jobs the same way John Bolton did, thanks to Sheldon Adelson. To say that their ideology was insignificant, and their push for war was meaningless, is the kind of immunity other bad actors can only dream of getting from the New York Times.
Besides, Weiss is dismissing the very power she is engaged in herself, the dissemination of ideas. If foreign policy were as cut-and-dried as Weiss suggests, David Halberstam could not have written “The Best and the Brightest,” in which he blamed a lot of brilliant advisers for getting us into Vietnam.
H/t James North, Adam Horowitz, Allison Deger, and Peter Feld.