Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times said that the “taboo” on speaking out on Israel is real, and many progressives feel they will suffer professional consequences for doing so. “I feel it is very difficult to speak rationally and forthrightly about real human rights abuses in the West Bank,” she said.
Goldberg also said that the base of the Democratic Party supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in line with two congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, that’s “a lot of the future of the party,” and the left is noticing the pattern of attacks by the Jewish community on African American women over Israel and seeing the attacks as in bad faith.
The columnist spoke last night in New York at the Streicker Center of Temple Emanu El in a panel on “Across the Divide: Speaking Candidly and Constructively About Israel.” Goldberg was the only true liberal on the panel regarding Israel. Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, Mona Charen and Michael Doran (the only non-Jew on the panel) were all boosters of the Israeli government and its policies, albeit with mild criticisms of the settlement project. No declared non-Zionists or anti-Zionists or Palestinians to be seen! Though Goldberg stood up for IfNotNow.
The discussion is on video here. Goldberg began by explaining that Israel’s rationale for its future has no traction on the left.
It is very hard to explain to an American liberal, particularly someone who is on the left and young that basically the Palestinians should be denied their right to self-determination in perpetuity because otherwise it would threaten the demographic interest of the Jewish people. I don’t think leftists would accept that argument about any other people. I actually don’t think liberals would make that argument about any other people…
Then she responded to Daniel Shapiro’s assertion that only a “tiny minority” of the Democratic Party is for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
As you said, there are only two members of Congress who have come out for BDS– but that is where a lot of the base of the party is. That’s where a lot of the future of the party is…. Although right now you see Eliot Engel an old line Democrat with conventional foreign policy views doesn’t want Rashida Tlaib to lead a congressional delegation to Palestine, I think that Rashida Tlaib’s and Ilhan Omar’s views about where our sympathies should lie in the region are probably ascendant.
Greenblatt asked Goldberg why “anti-Zionism catalyzes anti-semitism.” Why does “a liberal crowd that identifies with human rights and the oppressed so often resort to anti-semitic tropes when they talk about Israel”?
She refused to take the bait.
We fundamentally disagree on whether anti-Zionism and anti-semitism are the same thing, right, so I’m just not going to concede that that’s necessarily antisemitic. Though I would not defend Ilhan Omar’s tweet [of 2012 saying “Israel hypnotizes the world”] which I don’t thinks she is defending any more either; she apologized for it– there is leftwing anti-semitism. It’s been a constant, I think it’s more a problem for example in the UK than it is here, but it’s absolutely there. You see it in the controversy over the women’s march.
I do think and I know from conversations– because a lot of people on the left, particularly there’s been a series of attacks or controversies involving Israel and various African American women, some of whom have come under attack for just opposing Israeli policy, some of whom who have come under attack for actually anti-semitic rhetoric– when people feel as if the attacks on people who are critical of Israel are sort of unfair and in bad faith, it makes it harder for somebody like me to say, You know, yeah, those attacks are bullshit, but you can’t use words like hypnotize the world. Or to say to somebody like the leaders of the women’s march. You know, Yes, some of the attacks on Linda Sarsour have been outrageous and that doesn’t mean that it’s anyway OK or defensible for you to be associating with Louis Farrakhan.
So I do think that because people feel as if there are a lot of bad faith, baseless attacks on people for being critical of Israel it makes them less willing to hear or be sensitive to critiques about where you come up to the line.
Goldberg then said that people do fear speaking out about Israel lest they suffer career damage:
So one of my colleagues Michelle Alexander recently wrote a piece that I’m sure a lot of you didn’t like, but the feeling that she described in the piece– I know that a lot of people rolled their eyes and said, ‘What, it’s new to be speaking out against Israel, it’s new to be criticizing Israel in pages of the New York Times?’ — I will assure you that the feeling she had, of, I have these doubts, these reservations, what they’re doing seems horrible to me, I feel like I can’t speak out without suffering professional consequences–that is very present for a lot of people. That taboo is real. The taboo creates a kind of countervailing sense of hidden truths. Right? That we’re going to speak out and we’re going to be brave and we’re going to reveal how awful this place is, and so I feel like there becomes a sort of a melodrama where because there are like these two countervailing pressures that make– I feel like it’s very difficult to speak kind of rationally and forthrightly about real human rights abuses in the West Bank. And at the same time, I think that people who are describing those human rights abuses again because they feel like there is some sort of taboo become hysterical and start treating Israel and see Israel as the creator of that taboo and thus as possessing some sort of outsize power.
Despite the hedging, these are important statements by Goldberg and are sure to make it easier for others to tell plainly the horrible things they have seen in the occupied territories. I sense that Goldberg would describe herself as a non-Zionist; and she is now in a position of leadership in the mainstream. Who will be first, herself or Peter Beinart, to grasp the nettle and follow Lisa Goldman’s brave lead and announce, I was radicalized by the persecution I saw on the West Bank, I must bear witness, I am no longer a Zionist!