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Note to progressives – it is not possible to have a different set of rules for Israel

Opinion
on 21 Comments

On November 14, 2019, The New York Times published an opinion piece titled, “On the Frontlines of Progressive Anti-Semitism.” The first thing that caught my eye is that the author is a Mr. Blake Flayton, a sophomore at George Washington University who describes himself as a Jewish progressive and an advocate for gay rights, abortion and the environment. As a writer and social commentator, I am painfully aware of how difficult it is for a not-so-famous person to get an opinion piece published anywhere, particularly at the very high falutin NYT.

As a liberal minded person, Mr. Flayton is apparently very tired of being called “an ‘apartheid-enabler,’ a ‘baby killer’ and a ‘colonial apologist.’” Okay, so maybe he actually wrote the technically very well composed piece or maybe he was fed the talking points. Interestingly, a quick review of his social media reveals that he is a student, (reassuring) writer, lover of Mexican food, a musical theatre enthusiast, and a “courageous Zioness and student activist, involved at GW Hillel.” Now Zioness is a very slick organization that vigorously defends the idea that one can be progressive and Zionist at the same time. It is registered as a 501C3 and interestingly shares the same address as The Lawfare Project. Zioness’ founder and CEO Amanda Berman was an employee of The Lawfare Project which is now ironically complaining that Zioness is not unabashedly Zionist enough. The Lawfare Project describes itself as “the legal arm of the pro-Israel community.”  It functions as a kind of legal pitbull on all things Palestine and its main attack strategy is that universities that do not suppress Palestinian solidarity work are failing to protect Jewish students.  Hillel is an international Jewish campus organization that provides a home for Jewish students (from kosher food to a large collection of nice Jewish boys), and also espouses a clear stand-with-Israel against boycott, divestment, and sanction and other criticisms policy.

I have a number of issues with this oped, beyond the fact that the NYT thought it was a good idea to publish it.  Some of the problems are factual. The author claims: “I, like 95 percent of American Jews, support Israel.” Supporting Israel is a rather undefined phrase.  Are we talking the rightwing policies of Netanyahu or his challenger Gantz? The post-Nazi Holocaust rising from the ashes Israel? The Jews in Israel as distinguished from their government? The mythos of kibbutz life or the “only democracy in the Middle East” or the sanctuary against antisemitism? The article he cites actually states “95% of Jews have favorable views of Israel” but notes other research showing only 76 percent of Jews were “somewhat emotionally attached to Israel,” more than half felt that caring about Israel was not part of being Jewish, 42 percent said “Trump favors Israel too much.”

There are also mountains of articles and more reliable polls that reveal an enormous dissatisfaction with Netanyahu and his policies, major concerns over the continued occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, and a major shift in allegiances in younger Jewish populations who are concerned with racism, colonization, and the human rights of Palestinians. In other words, these Jews actually care about justice for everyone.

The author is upset that a student government meeting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign supported a resolution that condemned the “conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.”  Guess what? The US state department has blessed that conflation as well as a host of mainstream Jewish organizations and the State of Israel as well. And it’s wrong. Anti-Zionism is a belief that is critical of the political movement that privileges Jewish history, trauma, and aspirations over the indigenous Palestinians in historic Palestine. Antisemitism is a hatred of all things Jewish solely because they are Jewish. Thank you student government for a moment of clarity that seems to have escaped your parents.

Mr. Flayton sees the establishment of Israel as “a fundamentally just cause,” but he is unable to see the ethnic cleansing, dispossession, and trauma that is the other side of that history. He is still hoping for a two-state solution despite the fact that Israel controls all of historic Palestine, has annexed the Jordan River valley, and created a massive Jewish settlement project with bypass roads and military installations that continue to dispossess and fracture Palestinians. Even Israeli leaders no longer espouse the two-state fantasy.

Despite Mr. Flayton’s so-called liberal ideology he has not grappled with the painful history of Zionism, the settler-colonial roots of the State of Israel, and the obvious apartheid in the territories and racism within the 1948 armistice borders. Ironically he worries, “We also believe that any politics that excludes, ignores or dehumanizes the voices of minorities is a politics that is dangerous for all of us.” It is clear to me that this philosophy of his does not apply to Palestinians in Israel or the US.

My most serious concern with this student is his inability to see the history of Israel/Palestine through a lens that goes beyond Jewish exceptionalism, his unwillingness to not only be anchored in centuries of antisemitism and Jewish persecution, but to understand the forces of colonialism, racism, and apartheid that characterize the struggle today.  Zionists are going to have to face the painful truth. It is not possible to be a progressive, to celebrate human rights, gay rights, democracy, etc., etc., and then to have a different set of rules for Israel. This stance is both deeply corruptive to the diaspora Jewish community as well as the State and it trivializes the fact that Palestinians are engaged in a liberation struggle against one of the strongest military powers in the world. Refusing to distinguish between antisemitism and criticism of Israel also minimizes the antisemitic threats from white nationalists, skinheads, and neo-Nazis that have reared their ugly heads in the Trump universe and beyond.

Maybe Mr. Flayton needs to step out of his bubble and spend a few nights in Hebron with some very principled soldiers from Breaking the Silence.

Alice Rothchild

Alice Rothchild is a physician, author, and filmmaker who has focused her interest in human rights and social justice on the Israel/Palestine conflict since 1997. She practiced ob-gyn for almost 40 years. Until her retirement she served as Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Medical School. She writes and lectures widely, is the author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience, On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, and Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine. She directed a documentary film, Voices Across the Divide and is active in Jewish Voice for Peace. Follow her at @alicerothchild

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21 Responses

  1. wondering jew on November 21, 2019, 5:02 pm

    Israel has not (yet) annexed the Jordan Valley.
    One wonders why editors of Mondoweiss allow such obvious misstatements.
    just a matter of accuracy, something that journalism used to take seriously. i guess i’m old fashioned.

    • bcg on November 21, 2019, 10:08 pm

      @Wondering Jew: Technically you are correct, Netanyahu merely said he was going to annex the Jordan River Valley if elected ( https://www.wsj.com/articles/netanyahu-vows-to-annex-jordan-river-valley-if-re-elected-11568136801 ), and then we have this: “The bill approved Tuesday by the Israeli Prime Minister would authorize the Israeli annexation by military force of the Jordan Valley, home to tens of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom can trace their roots in that area back hundreds and thousands of years.” ( https://imemc.org/article/israeli-prime-minister-approves-settlement-expansion-in-jordan-valley-following-us-announcement/ ).

      Do you have anything substantive to say about the article?

      • Misterioso on November 22, 2019, 8:53 am

        @bcg

        “Do you have anything substantive to say about the article?”

        Bingo!

        I’ve become convinced that these Hasbarats get paid by the word.

      • Mooser on November 22, 2019, 1:28 pm

        “I’ve become convinced that these Hasbarats get paid by the word.”

        And what’s so ironic, Mondoweiss is the only place they can publish so they can get their per lorem ipsum paid.

        Oh well, everybody’s got to earn a living, I guess.

    • echinococcus on November 22, 2019, 1:46 am

      Reb Fredman is asleep. Competing with the Beauty of same name. The Jordan Valley and all of the remainder of Palestine was annexed, and for good, or shall we say for evil, in June 1967.
      And, dang it, they forgot to tell you!

    • Eva Smagacz on November 22, 2019, 3:15 am

      Pilpul

  2. RoHa on November 22, 2019, 1:16 am

    ‘Mr. Flayton sees the establishment of Israel as “a fundamentally just cause,”’

    Does he offer even a scrap of an argument for this?

  3. Misterioso on November 22, 2019, 10:11 am

    Further confirmation that “Israel” is most assuredly not “a light unto nations.” Indeed, it bears striking and increasing similarity to Germany’s Third Reich:

    https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-only-a-jew-can-be-an-israeli-1.8098964

    “Only a Jew Can Be an Israeli” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, Nov. 10/19

    “There’s no such thing as non-Jewish Israelis; Israel will do everything so there never will be. There are nonevangelical Americans, non-Catholic French people, non-Protestant Germans and even non-Muslim Arabs. There are some 1.8 million Canadians of Chinese origin and at least 80,000 Swedes of Serbian origin. They are all considered members of the nation of the state in which they live. Judaism hasn’t yet decided whether it is a religion or a nationality, but Israel has decided that a person who is not a Jew cannot be an Israeli. It will deport such people or at least exclude them from Israeliness. Israel doesn’t belong to those people.

    “How many times have you said ‘Israeli’ when you really meant ‘Jewish’? How many times have you said ‘Arabs’ and meant ‘non-Israelis’? That’s the attitude of the state to its Arab citizens and that’s also the explanation for the abuse of the children of foreign workers: children who were born, raised and educated here, who have no language other than Hebrew and no society other than Israeli society are not Israelis. They dream of serving in the army and becoming obedient, dedicated soldiers, but even this sacred entry threshold is not enough.

    “Israel wants to deport them. It doesn’t want to be the state of the Israelis, not even the state of the Jews. It wants to be the state only of Jews. Who is an Israeli? A Jew, and only a Jew.

    “By acting in this manner, the state brings racism to new heights of distillation. The term judenrein takes on new meaning, not significantly less chilling than its original meaning, changing from a place that is free of Jews to a place that is free of non-Jews. Ethnic purity. When this ultranationalism is directed against Israel’s Arab citizens, there are numerous ways in which it can be justified: their dubious loyalty to the state, in light of their nation being the enemy of their state; the struggle over the land; the constant suspicion that they are a fifth column; the ‘demographic danger,’ real or imagined; the religious fundamentalism and their way of life, which supposedly pose a threat to secular, liberal Israel.

    “These excuses cannot be used against the Israeli-born children of foreign workers. Here there’s no cult of security, no danger, even imagined, except for the danger of ethnic purity. It’s pure racism. Myron, who is in the sixth grade at the Gavrieli-Carmel elementary school in central Tel Aviv, is an Israeli child, all-Israeli, only Israeli, and he can’t be considered as such, because he’s not Jewish.

    “Israel should get down on its knees to thank the parents of these children, who care for its elderly with endless devotion, sometimes even more than their own children do. This phenomenon, extreme in its magnitude, in which elderly Israelis have their own servant at bargain-basement prices, has its negative aspects, and still, Israel owes a huge moral debt to these workers.

    “Now Israel must also thank their children, because the hunt for them in the schools is the most important civics lesson Israeli children have ever had: You can see from the window of your classroom what kind of a society you’re growing up in. More than a thousand lessons in history, and the associations they carry, are taking place before your very eyes: agents of the immigration police who abduct children from their bedrooms and their classrooms because of their origins; terrified messages sent by the children to their friends: I’ve been arrested, Mom has been arrested, and talk of hiding children in attics.

    “The fate of thousands of children who are shot, beaten and humiliated in the occupied territories never touched the hearts of Israel’s children or their parents. Brainwashed and ignorant, they have been trained to think that this happens because these people are ‘terrorists.’ But when the abductions and the deportations come to the schools in Tel Aviv, the children and their parents can no longer avert their eyes and remain indifferent.

    “Evil and racism have been promoted: They stand stark naked, without excuses, before Israel’s children. Interior Minister Arye Dery and the director general of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, have become the greatest educators of this generation. Their pedagogic poem will be inscribed deep in the hearts of Israel’s schoolchildren. A friend being nabbed at the school gate and deported is a formative, unforgettable experience. And now, for tomorrow’s homework: Write 100 times: Only a Jew can be an Israeli, only a Jew can be an Israeli, until you understand it.”
    _________________________________________________________

    https://ppost24.com/post/506/israeli-jewish-rabbi-burning-christian-churches-in-israel-justifi

    “Israeli Jewish rabbi: Burning Christian churches in Israel justified” Palestine 24 Post, Nov.19/19

    “The rabbi said he is ready to spend 50 years in prison for burning a church.”

    “The Israeli Jewish Rabbi Benzi Gopstein has said that Christian churches in Israel must be burnt because Christians worship idols and idols must be destroyed.

    “Gopstein, the head of Lehava group, made his remarks at a panel discussion for Jewish yeshiva students when asked by a fellow panellist if he believed burning down churches in Israel was justified.

    “’Did the Rambam [Maimonides] rule to destroy [idol worship] or not? Idol worship must be destroyed. It’s simply yes – what’s the question?’ Gopstein told the panel.

    “His comment alarmed his questioner Benny Rabinovich, a journalist, who told him: ‘Benzi, I must say I’m really shocked by what you’re saying here. You are essentially saying we must go out and burn down churches. You’re saying something insane here.’

    “Told by another panellist, Moshe Klein, that the discussion was being filmed and that his remarks could lead to his arrest, Gopstein answered: ‘That’s the last thing that concerns me. If this is truth, I’m prepared to sit in jail 50 years for it.’

    “Gopstein later tried to evade accusations of inciting his followers to fire-raise, saying it was the government’s responsibility to carry out what he presented as a religious teaching of the 12th century Jewish philosopher, Maimonides.

    “In 2015, Shin Bet – Israel’s domestic intelligence agency – concluded that there are no legal grounds for outlawing Lehava, despite a request from the then Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon to consider doing so.

    “Lehava – whose name means ‘flame’ – regularly holds open gatherings in Jerusalem’s Zion Square, where members distribute literature warning of the dangers of relationships between Jewish women and Arab men.

    “The group held a demonstration at which members chanted ‘death to the Arabs’ outside a wedding between a Muslim and Jewish woman who had converted to Islam in 2014.”

  4. annie on November 22, 2019, 10:22 am

    another great article/analysis by Rothchild!

    i’m probably not the only one who has noticed the new “95%” hasbara mantra that’s cropped up this year wielded by the usual suspects, bari weiss, batya, this new kid, etc, tossing it around the way “the overwhelming majority of americans support israel” used to be tossed around last decade. 95%? seriously. it’s not a coincidence, it’s the new talking point — and it’s a lie.

    • Misterioso on November 22, 2019, 10:32 am

      @annie

      “… it’s the new talking point – and it’s a lie.”

      Precisely!! And because its a “lie,” the Zionists are in an ever increasing panic mode. The writing is on the wall. Inevitably, the “special relationship” will end!!

    • RoHa on November 23, 2019, 1:17 am

      It looks to me like an appeal to consensus or majority opinion, and that is always a dead giveaway. It shows the people using it have neither evidence nor argument, so they fall back on to psychological trickery. It is a marketing ploy. Eight out of ten cats prefer it.

      But I don’t know which customers the ploy is aimed at.

      Zionist Jews? (Message: “You are in the majority, so you are right.”)
      Anti-Zionist Jews? (Message: “You are letting the side down.”)

      Those seem pretty clear. But is it also directed at uncommitted Gentiles and/or anti-Zionist Gentiles, and, if so, what is the message supposed to be?

      • echinococcus on November 23, 2019, 10:27 am

        RoHa,

        Very pertinent question (re 9.5 –not just 8– out of 10 cats prefer it), worthy of a professional philosopher:

        “But is it also directed at uncommitted Gentiles and/or anti-Zionist Gentiles, and, if so, what is the message supposed to be?”

        The effective message to a logical human (regardless of gentility) should be that, with a statistically almost negligible exception, “Jewish” should be considered as synonymous with “Zionist” in the absence of proof to the contrary.

        The lower figure of 76%, proposed by the author, does not characterize the exception as insignificant but it still represents no more than a small minority. The sane listener with statistical instinct should still get the message that extreme caution is recommended with Jewish persons, which may safely be assumed to be Zionists in the absence of contrary evidence.

        As for the author’s remark re
        “more reliable polls that reveal an enormous dissatisfaction with Netanyahu and his policies, major concerns over the continued occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the siege of Gaza, and a major shift in allegiances in younger Jewish populations who are concerned with racism, colonization, and the human rights of Palestinians,”
        that is of course totally irrelevant to attitudes about Zionism. All of that remains totally compatible with Zionist invasion.

      • RoHa on November 23, 2019, 10:30 pm

        I suggested answers in a separate comment.

      • echinococcus on November 23, 2019, 10:51 pm

        A separate comment that I, for one, will be expecting eagerly.

      • RoHa on November 24, 2019, 8:36 pm

        You will wait in vain. It draws reasonable but unacceptable conclusions.

      • Keith on November 25, 2019, 12:14 am

        ROHA- “You will wait in vain. It draws reasonable but unacceptable conclusions.”

        Indeed, we have reached the point where ideology trumps rationality 24/7. How did it come to this?

      • RoHa on November 25, 2019, 8:31 am

        We passed that point long ago.

      • Mooser on November 25, 2019, 12:35 pm

        “You will wait in vain. It draws reasonable but unacceptable conclusions.” “RoHa”

        Now you’ve got them, “RoHa”. If your conclusions are unacceptable, they must be true!
        Or maybe you’re just being silly, indeed, you are Mondo’s most super-silliest commenter.

      • RoHa on November 25, 2019, 9:29 pm

        They don’t get published, so you won’t be able to judge whether they are true or just silly.

  5. Mooser on November 22, 2019, 12:32 pm

    “Mr. Flayton sees the establishment of Israel as “a fundamentally just cause,” but he is unable to see the ethnic cleansing, dispossession, and trauma that is the other side of that history”

    Stop me if I have said this before, but ‘that’s just the way the matz‘… okay, okay, I’ve said it before. Never mind.

  6. Peter in SF on November 24, 2019, 5:15 am

    The most-recommended comments on this article on the NYT website are one commenter after another praising the author for his general attitude and observations but not pointing out anything specific that they liked.

    Notice that Mr. Flayton keeps using the term “Zionist” but never says what he means by that term. He says he went to “a recent political club meeting” (what kind of political club, he doesn’t say), in which “leadership” described Zionism as a “transnational project.” As a factual matter, this hardly seems controversial: just go to the WWW home page of the World Zionist Organization, and you’ll see that the first two links are to “Diaspora Affairs” and “Aliyah Promotion”. Hence, transnational. And a project. But this writer says that describing Zionism as a “transnational project” is “an anti-Semitic trope that characterizes the desire for a Jewish state as a bid for global domination by the Jewish people.”

    He kind of hints at what he means by “Zionist” by saying that he understood “progressive” and “Zionist” as “being in sync, given that progressives have long championed the liberation movements of downtrodden minorities.” Since when do we use the phrase “liberation movement” for an emigration movement of a minority group within a country? Well, he does go on to say that “It is my Zionism that informs my view that the Palestinian people also have the right to their own state.” So, great, he supports a Palestinian liberation movement that would be an emigration movement to “their own state.”

    He characterizes the dominant view of GWU progressives as “It does not matter if you believe in the right of self determination for all people, including Palestinians; if you still feel a connection to the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people, you are on the wrong side of history.” He doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of “self-determination”, something that Prof. Levine has written about cogently here on MW.

    And where does this born-and-bred American get off calling Jews “the most persecuted people in human history”? He’s trying to tell us that “centuries of displacement, intimidation, violence and genocide” against Jews constitute more persecution than experienced by any native American people.

    He says that he “was assured that anti-Zionist Jews were already a part of the club” that viciously described Zionism as a transnational project, and decries this “tokenism” because “such Jews are a tiny fringe of the Jewish community” — but he shows zero indication that he ever met any of these people, or was even interested in doing so.

    I am curious about the May Day rally for the GWU custodial staff that included invited speakers from JVP and SJP. Does anyone affiliated with these organizations know about this, and what other organizations had speakers at the rally?

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