Will the AJC Distance Itself From (Radioactive) Report?

The AJC’s report on “Only Self-Hating Jews Don’t Like Israel”—it’s actually called “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism”—is officially an embarrassment. I say officially because the report’s theme that it is “illegitimate” for Jews to question the nature of the founding of Israel, that such inquiries represent a “betrayal” of Israel, based on “tangled psychological” motives, is being criticized in the mainstream press around the world, as it should be. The Op-Eds pile up one after another. The report has exposed the Jewish leadership’s underhanded methods: smearing intellectuals as “self-haters.”

It has also got the AJC into a fight it doesn’t want with Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a longtime friend of Israel, who is named in the report because of his column last summer saying the founding of Israel was a well-intentioned “mistake.” Cohen is upset.

Among the first to call me after the Times piece appeared was the AJC itself. It apologized. It did not mean to include me with the others, and it would, its representative told me, soon set matters straight. It issued a news release saying that Rosenfeld’s characterization of me does “not reflect the totality of [my] occasional writings on the Middle East.”

Well, the AJC has not set matters straight with Cohen. It is still fiddling. On its website the AJC crows that it got the Times to run a correction of its characterization of the AJC as a “conservative” group. This is a pure expression of vanity (Jewish groups like to think of themselves as liberal). In the Jerusalem Post, David Harris, the AJC’s director, goes on for several paragraphs about the good news that he obtained a correction, and then seeks to justify the report: “[T]he individuals [author Alvin] Rosenfeld mentions are on the political fringes in asserting that Israel has no right to exist and should either be destroyed or morphed into a so-called binational state, which means the end of Israel as we know it.”

Harris then says this is not true of Richard Cohen, but he has nonetheless made “disturbing” comments about Israel.

This is called digging yourself deeper into a hole.

Today in the American Prospect, Gershom Gorenberg echoes the charge that the AJC is unfair to Richard Cohen—while by and large defending the report, by adding his own attack on anti-Zionists and non-Zionists:

They affirm the right of Palestinians to return to a remembered homeland, but negate Jews’ right to repatriate themselves to their remembered homeland. Jewish nationhood alone is a scandal. Morally, this is no different than deciding that everyone but black Africans has the right to self-determination…

Gorenberg’s analogy of the Palestinian refugees’ claims to the claim of, say, a former Diaspora Californian like himself to emigrate to Israel out of ideas he studied in a yeshiva that include religious messianism (as he states in his book The End of Days) is highly problematic. I think Gorenberg, a wonderful journalist by the way, is wrong.

Cohen undertakes a broader defense of the AJC’s targets: “It’s sad that the American Jewish Committee commissioned and published Rosenfeld’s report. I can’t imagine what good will come out of it. Instead, it has given license to the most intolerant and narrow-minded of Israel’s defenders so that, as the AJC concedes in my case, any veering from orthodoxy is met with censure… Shame.” Cohen gets at the great (backfired) achievement of the AJC paper and its coverage in the Times. It has ennobled the critics, and not just the critics Gorenberg, who made aliyah, wishes to defend.

Zionism’s DNA is being examined by American Jews. Tony Judt and Alisa Solomon are at last being heard widely, in their call on the American Jewish community to examine the religious nationalist ideology that has helped foster violence in the Middle East. Liberal integrationists like myself, who chose not to make aliyah, are at last being heard. Call it poison, call it illegitimate: the world seems interested in what we have to say.