O.K., Leftwing Jews Have a Movement. What Does It Stand For?

A reporter called me yesterday and said I was wrong in declaring there’s a movement of progressive Jews who are criticizing Zionism. He asked for my evidence. I started with Jewish Voice for Peace, which runs muzzlewatch and rallied in the cold to support Jimmy Carter at Brandeis. He said, “But they’re kind of a fringe organization.”

Well, gee. That’s actually what movement means, a rearrangement of the political hierarchy (of which that reporter is a part) to include a formerly marginalized group. The women’s movement. The settlers’ movement. The evangelical movement.

Now here are a few more straws in the wind, demonstrating that the formerly-marginalized progressives are movin’ in.

—In Australia, the Age today does a piece on perestroika in the Jewish community (saying that author Antony Loewenstein is leading a breakaway to challenge the Israel lobby), and The Age’s sidebar exposes as objectionable a regular practice in the Jewish community: Zionists use the word “self-hating” to describe Jews who dissent from the program;

—The Times piece on the American Jewish Committee‘s report on these matters of 1/31 devotes real space to a book that nettled the AJC: Wrestling With Zion, edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon. This wonderful book, which includes a great number of Jewish writers who are uncomfortable with Zionist ideology (and some who aren’t so uncomfortable with it), came out nearly 4 years ago. It was never reviewed by the Times, mentioned only once in passing. Now it is mentioned prominently in the Times, and in a positive light. Change.

—In Washington last week, Theater J held a reading of the heterodox historical play I saw performed in N.Y. last spring, David Zellnik’s amazing “Ariel Sharon Stands on the Temple Mount and Dreams of Theodor Herzl”. The reading went well, before a good-sized crowd in the Jewish Community Center in Northwest D.C. No one jumped up and screamed antisemitism, they wanted to talk about Zionism.

—In yesterday’s Washington Post, an aggrieved victim of the AJC (as opposed to one of the victims who’s reveling in it), Richard Cohen, says “Shame” on the AJC for “promiscuously” throwing around the word anti-Semite.

—Australia again. Today’s Australian features a sharp opinion piece by TAMU’s Michael Desch, a Holocaust scholar, who hops on the self-hating thing again. Dismissing “Jews who deviate from the pro-Israel line” as “self-hating” is the kind of “dirty pool” regularly practiced by the lobby.

O.K. So it’s a movement. We’re gaining traction. What do we stand for?

I’m not a political organizer, but I feel that if a conference were held tomorrow, the issues on which these people agree would be: Israel’s occupation is wrong and fueled by parochial and often-racist religious ideology, efforts to suppress that view in the U.S. (the lobby) is not healthy for the U.S., Israel, and children and other living things.

The issues on which we wouldn’t agree are: Is Zionism discredited? Is it still possible, or desirable, to have a 2-state solution?

The fascinating thing about this is that it essentially revives a battle over Zionist aims that took place 60 and 70 years ago within the Jewish community but that was eventually suppressed after the Holocaust. Through the 20s, 30s, and 40s, Zionists tried and ultimately succeeded in organizing American Jewry along defiant principles: they belonged to a “people” whose peoplehood transcended the nations they were in, they were homeless, liberal emancipation in the west was a failed hope, they had to support a nation in Palestine. Most Jews were against these ideas, or indifferent. The American Jewish Committee, at that time dominated by German Jews who were, like myself, integrationists, or assimilationists—i.e., they wanted to be like other citizens of the nations they were living in—tried at times to distance itself from Zionism. No more.

The conversation is being revived because the underlying issues were not resolved; and everything that anti-Zionists said would happen did happen: endless violence in the Middle East, and incredible and unfair pressure on Jews in other countries to support Israel and fund Zionism. The progs have had enough.

Again, I’d emphasize that a number of events outside the Jewish community, many of them embarrassments, led to this wave: the Rachel Corrie censorship of last February at the New York Theatre Workshop, a censorship no one would stand up for once it was exposed, but that no one at NYTW would rectify either; the Walt-Mearsheimer paper a month later, published in a foreign land, not here (and followed by the Tony Judt piece in the Times in April supporting W&M when leftwing Jews were afraid of W&M, thereby giving the paper (warning, here comes Yiddish) hecksher, Kosher certification); the Lebanon war, followed by many international human rights reports critical of Israeli tactics; Jimmy Carter’s frankly pro-Arab book, featuring that glory of Jewish civilization on the cover, the apartheid wall; the Iraq Study Group calling on a revival of the peace process in a crucial arena of the Middle East… I’ll shut up now, I’m even boring myself.