Media Analysis

American Jewish Committee seeks to ostracize anti-occupation Jews as ‘radical fringe’

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It goes without saying that the mainstream discussion of Israel/Palestine got a huge liberation this year when a few leftwing women of color entered the Congress — “the Squad”– and suddenly the Democratic establishment had to reckon with boycott supporters, or in NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s case, someone who described the Israeli attack on Gaza in May 2018 as a “massacre” and didn’t go along with the anti-boycott bill.

On Tuesday, AOC tried to pry open the discussion further when she appeared on a NY radio show and praised the young Jews of IfNotNow who are critical of Israel:

There are really amazing organizations of young people, groups like IfNotNow. They are young Jews organizing for justice because they realize that all our fates and our destinies are intertwined and there cannot be justice in Israel without justice for Palestinians too.

IfNotNow holds that the Israeli occupation should be a crisis for American Jews (who have pretty much supported it blindly since it began), and it has demonstrated at the Damascus Gate, at AIPAC offices, and at Birthright offices. The group is not anti-Zionist (like Jewish Voice for Peace); its members typically are young adults responding in fury to the lies they were told about Israel by Jewish institutions. And they have put their bodies on the line, getting arrested in sometime-brutal fashion.

IfNotNow’s latest campaign is demanding that Democratic candidates debate the occupation. They want the Israel lobby group AIPAC to get out of the Democratic Party. This is a frightful prospect to the Israel lobby, which seeks fencepost-to-fencepost support of Israel in the political establishment.

So today the Forward published an attack on both AOC and IfNotNow by Seffi Kogen of the American Jewish Committee.

Kogen says that IfNotNow are not representative Jews. They’re a radical “fringe” on an issue that American Jews are united on: supporting Israel.

When asked by the Mellman Group whether they are “generally pro-Israel,” 92% of American Jews answered yes (this includes American Jews who qualified their yes with criticism for the current Israeli government). Of the remaining 8%, only 3% answered that they were “generally not pro-Israel.”

That’s why it was so disturbing to see Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praise the radical anti-Israel group IfNotNow, which refuses to even take a position on whether the Jewish state of Israel should go on existing.

Kogen’s own boss disagrees with him. David Harris of the AJC lamented in a synagogue in 2017 that young Jews are hostile to Israel. “What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?” he asked.

Every time I hear in a Jewish meeting concerns about our children and their lack of interest in Israel, their apathy about Israel, their hostility to Israel, those friends of theirs who are involved in anti-Israel activity on their campuses or in their schools– to me it’s extraordinarily painful, and I ask myself, Where did we go wrong?..

Why? Why can’t we convey to our own children successfully– why can’t Jewish day schools and synagogues in their after-school programs convey successfully a sense of unbridled joy and pride and thrill… in the extraordinary excitement of the Jewish people returning to their land and rebuilding their state and defending their state.

What is it that brings shame among some? What are we doing wrong in our homes? What are we doing wrong in our schools?

Jewish establishment organizations are still sworn to support Israel and the occupation, but there is clearly a generational divide.

Harry Reis of the liberal Zionist New Israel Fund put out a series of tweets in defense of IfNotNow and AOC, offering a progressive view of Jewish life. Excerpts:

@AJCGlobal… can’t abide any elected officials registering any serious moral objection to Israel’s occupation. @AJCGlobal does *NOT* have a monopoly — by any stretch — on Jewish representation. It does not speak for most Jews. Most Jews hold liberal values. @AOC is a progressive and it’s legitimate for her to be in relationship with her progressive Jewish allies, among them @IfNotNowOrg

@IfNotNow exists to remind the American Jewish community that Israel’s 52 year old occupation is the moral crisis of our generation and that the establishment organizations are complicit in upholding it. They are correct… The reason they gets under @seffikogen skin, is because @AJCGlobal would like to sweep the occupation under the rug — and they insist on naming the moral crisis that it is.

The opinion editor of the Forward, Batya Ungar-Sargon, described the “generational divide” among Jews over Israel at a big NY synagogue last year. On the one hand, to be Jewish is to be pro-Israel, she said:

“I think 95 percent of the American Jewish community is pro-Israel. We are all still pro-Israel. What we are not is willing to give it unconditional support. That is not to not be pro-Israel. You can be pro-Israel and criticize Israel. That is what it means to be an American Jew. We are no longer willing to give unconditional support.”

But young Jews are so ashamed of the occupation, some are “becoming crazy lefties and scaring you.”

The younger generation has grown up not under the shine of that [1967] military success but in the shadow of the occupation that came about because of it, and instead of pride they look at Israel and see shame, and I think that has had a very deep impact on our community…. There’s no amount of educating that could make [the occupation] OK to young Jews that I know.

Seffi Kogen is just lying. The American Jewish Committee is frightened that the insurgents of IfNotNow are going to crack open the Democratic Party over the occupation, and hasten the partisanization of Israel support. Republicans will be the Israel party, Dems “anti-Israel,” as Trump puts it.

And yes, we have a long way to go. AOC can’t be pro-boycott. The New Israel Fund is a Zionist org that blames the problem on Netanyahu (not Zionism). Batya Ungar-Sargon baited Rep. Ilhan Omar over supposed anti-Semitism when she dared to say that the Israel lobby depends on money.

Zionism is the official doctrine of the Jewish establishment, and an article of faith inside the Beltway. It is going to take a lot to liberate American Jews from the Zionist ideology. IfNotNow is an ally in that struggle.

H/t James North.


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“Pretty much supported it blindly from the beginning…” Blindly is totally a misconception as well as an opinion, not a matter of fact. Some jews might feel that way, most do not. The inn might or might not gain momentum but I’m pretty sure they will remain a radical fringe. That is their raison d’etre

@DaBakr Meanwhile, in the real world: EXCERPT: “Growing Number of U.S. Jews Support Evacuation of All West Bank Settlements, Survey Finds” by Judy Maltz, Haaretz, June 2/19 “AJC poll exposes deepening divide between American and Israeli Jews on issues like Trump’s policies and the importance of ‘caring about Israel'” “Fewer American Jews consider ‘caring about Israel’ an important part of being Jewish, a survey published on Sunday by the American Jewish Committee finds. Those… Read more »

Things might start improving the day israel accepts criticism of it’s actions.

Jews who oppose the occupation are plentiful. It is less plentiful to find Jews who are educated about the occupation and who possess an inkling of a strategy regarding what it would take to undo the occupation. According to the statistics of the poll that this is based upon, Jews like Phil Weiss are in the radical fringe. The location of “if not now” is not as precise as the location of Phil Weiss. The… Read more »

“a sense of unbridled joy and pride and thrill… in the extraordinary excitement of the Jewish people returning to their land and rebuilding their state and defending their state.” That was an understandable feeling at times and places where Jews felt like eternal homeless wanderers but it is no easy task to recreate such a feeling in societies where Jews are fully integrated. You have to immerse them in representations of a receding past to… Read more »