It’s Official: Jewish Progressive Criticism of Israel Is Now a Movement

The New York Times’ stunning piece last week about the American Jewish Committee’s effort to smear leftwing Jewish critics of Israel as antisemites did what 1000 blogs, 100 human rights reports, even 10 pieces by Tony Judt, could never do: It embarrassed the Jewish leadership, by exposing the retrograde methods it has resorted to to try and stop debate. More than that, the Times report took a scattered opposition and solidified it, by telling us what we didn’t understand: We’re having an impact.

Let’s declare what’s afoot right now: it’s a movement. Progressive Jews all over are denouncing the mainstream leadership’s staunch support of the hateful occupation, and some of them are linking it to the U.S.’s bloody occupation of Iraq. In England, Independent Jewish Voices, a group of anti-occupation Jews (including Harold Pinter and Eric Hobsbawm) is breaking away from the mainstream organizations to show how bankrupt their lobbying position is. In Australia, Antony Loewenstein sees “dissent growing.” His book My Israel Question, which I gather is even more off-the-hook than stuff I write, is to be published in the States this spring. And speaking of the States, Jewish Voice for Peace, an Oakland-based group with chapters nationwide, has lately launched a fabulous website, Muzzlewatch, dedicated to fighting the smears and threats that the lobby has always used against Jews who want to treat Palestinian Arabs with dignity. Meantime, the Union of Progressive Zionists, which brought Breaking the Silence to the U.S. last fall to describe real conditions in the West Bank to young Jews, is fighting to keep its membership on the Israel on Campus Coalition, and winning—a battle with the ZOA whose onset I reported on this blog two months back. Some Hillel groups have welcomed Breaking the Silence.

The one comment I’d add is that I give credit to progressive gentiles for helping to break open this discussion. Yes, Meretz-USA has been tireless. Norman Finkelstein has given hundreds of speeches. But Mearsheimer, Walt, and Jimmy Carter released this movement last year by embarrassing Jews with statements about the immorality of the treatment of Palestinians that were mainstreamed. They gave license to the media to write about this stuff, and have spurred progressive Jews to play their part and recover progressive voices going back to Hannah Arendt and Elmer Berger. 60 years before Walt and Mearsheimer, Rabbi Berger warned in The Jewish Dilemma about the Zionist “machine” and the ways it would transform Jewish identity and politics in the name of nationalism.

Hark! I hear the sound of the tumbrils, rumbling through the streets of northwest Washington, collecting neoconservatives.