Deborah Lipstadt, the scholar of anti-Semitism, made some remarkable comments to Peter Beinart at the Forward in March (a discussion I’ve been belatedly mining). Anti-Zionist Jews are “belated” Jews, late to discover they are Jewish. All Muslim-majority societies are intolerant of religious minorities. Satmar Hasidim are possibly anti-Semitic because they’re anti-Zionist; the jury’s out.
The left has a false understanding of the Nakba: Palestinian leaders told Palestinians to leave in 1948 so they could have “free rein to wipe out the Jews” and take their houses and possessions. Though yes, in “certain cases,” Jews kicked out the Palestinians.
Lipstadt says anti-Zionist Jews just discovered they’re Jewish. This is the first of several cracks at Jewish Voice for Peace.
What we’re getting today particularly from groups on the far left, I would say Jewish Voices for Peace, many of whose members, not all, certainly not all, but many of whose members, to quote Howard Jacobson, a line he has in his wonderful and very funny novel The Finkler Question, which won the Mann Booker Prize, You know some of the people there discovered they were Jews when it came time to criticize Israel.
It’s anti-semitic to oppose the existence of a Jewish state, Lipstadt says. Muslim majority countries are intolerant across the board. And those anti-Zionist Jews never set foot in a Hillel.
To my mind, if you were opposing the existence of the state of Israel, in the 30s, even in the 40s, in the 20s certainly, Bundists arguing with Zionists, that wasn’t anti-semitic, that was Jews having Friday night dinner, that was Jews debating with each other. Two Jews, six opinions, four of which are right.
Today– I’m going to speak in very practical not theoretical terms. You have a Jewish state, with what’s the Jewish population, 6, 7 million… 8 million Jews, unheard of and unexpected. I remember when it was 3 million…. Today to say I am against a Jewish state and there shouldn’t be a Jewish state, My first question is, well where should those Jews go? Remember… Helen Thomas said, well let them all go back to Poland. Well as you know… what is it, over 50 percent of the Jewish population of Israel would be considered people of quote unquote color. Morocco, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, etc., etc., places from which many of them were kicked out, let’s also acknowledge that.
The retort will be let’s have one state without any religious identity, one state where everyone is fully equal… Show me, again being absolutely practical, show me one Moslem-dominated state, and here I’m going outside the Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc., where a religious minority is thriving, where a religious minority lives in peace and in freedom and ability to practice their identity. It doesn’t exist. Maybe there’s one example, but I can’ t think of it.
Suddenly for people sitting in a sound room at Emory University [as she is] or at the City University of New York [Beinart], and I’m not putting this in your mind– people say, let it be one state, let them try! For Jewish Voices for Peace sitting outside in their demonstrations for Open Hillel, which most of them were never members of before they started protesting it… it’s very nice for them to say that, but it just doesn’t work. At the same time I’m arguing there has to be equality. Because it’s a Jewish state, but it’s also established as a democracy. From Ben-Gurion if not earlier, that was inherent to the existence of the state…
The Satmar Hasidim, who are anti-Zionist, may be anti-Semitic.
There’s always the ringer… People like Satmar Hasidim, who have amongst them Neturei Karta comes out of there, and within the Neturei Karta there is the crazies who love to show up at Palestinian demonstrations, at Holocaust denial. A group of them showed up at the Holocaust denial conferences in Iran, etc. Are they anti-Semites? Well I think the jury is a little bit out on that. But it does complicate the matter. But I think it’s an exception which doesn’t prove the rule.
(Wikipedia says there are 60-75,000 Satmar Hasidim.)
Lipstadt on the Nakba. The 750,000 Palestinians, or most of them evidently, left so that their forces could have “free rein to wipe out the Jews.”
Or another answer I often get or read, is that Israel was founded in sin. Because as we know, in certain areas of then-Palestine, the Arab residents left because they were told by their leaders, Leave now so we have free rein to wipe out the Jews and then you’ll come back in a week, in ten days, whatever it was, and get their farms and their businesses and their orchards and their possessions and everything will be yours. But in certain cases the Jewish fighters, whatever group they were associated with, before the consolidation of the fighters as Ben-Gurion did into the Haganah and the IDF, chased the Arabs out, we know that.
So people will say to me, Well it was founded in sin. They chased those people out, even though they say everyone was chased out, which isn’t true. So it doesn’t have a right to exist. So my response to that is Let’s contextualize this historically, let’s look at other countries where that happened with the indigenous citizens, the indigenous residents were treated less than fairly. We can start with the United States of America, the Native Americans, or slavery. For a long time we had slavery in this country, people being owned. Or Canada and its treatment of what is called the First Citizens [First Nations], horrific treatment. Or Australia and the treatment of the aborigines, or New Zealand and the treatment of the Maoris. That doesn’t make it right. I’m not saying these other things and saying therefore it’s right. But when the only country you focus on and you have that myopia, you have to ask, Why the singular focus?
Beinart defends Jewish Voice for Peace. “I’m uncomfortable with casting aspersions on other people’s Jewish identities.” Many are alienated from Zionism and maybe also traditional Jewish practice. But we can disagree with their views without discussing their Jewish identity.
Lipstadt agrees. “There are a myriad of ways of being… connected to… Jewish identity.” You don’t have to be religious, it can be through art, literature, politics, community, social justice. But Lipstadt can’t let it go: Anti-Zionist Jews are “belated” to their Jewish identity
I do find that many people on the left have latched on to this, with a — not all– with a belated discovery of their Jewish identity. And a certain simplistic view of what is going on in the Middle East.
Israel is gonna be an uncomfortable place for non-Jews, but so what. Lipstadt exalts the American ideal of separation of church and state but says you can’t have that in Israel.
It is a Jewish state and that’s going to make me feel, if I were not a Jew, a little maybe less comfortable, a little less belonging, but I shouldn’t face any discriminatory elements because of it… My village should have the same running water and grid and schools… Is it going to be problematic, yes, but you can’t take the American model of separation of church and state, that First Amendment last I checked was still in existence, it’s hanging on by its fingernails, but it’s still hanging on! .. It’s going to be problematic.
I just find it a little bit dare I say chutzpah to sit in the safety of your home not facing this issue and make pronouncements about what should be, and Give it a try… There are far worse human rights problems…
Thanks to Yaakov Shapiro, who brought this interview to my attention. H/t James North and Adam Horowitz.