While fisking Evan Krasner’s New Voices post yesterday, I came across this gem of an article by Sam Green. I quickly posted it to Twitter, along with some suitably snarky comments, and a lively conversation ensued. KFJ posted his own fisking, and I’m going to do the same. I definitely recommend that you read his; it’s very good, and I’ll be hitting some different points, so if you see something I appear to have missed, it may just be because he already covered it.
Right off the bat, Sam’s got a pretty questionable statement:
…when we speak of Jewish anti-Zionism today, we refer to a growing number of secular, disaffected Jews…
In what world does Sam live in where the only anti-Zionists are secular and disaffected? There are all sorts of reasons for opposing Israel as a religious state. Many are valid. Many are not. Lumping them all together under the categories of “secular” (implying “not Jewish enough”) and “disaffected” (implying “lacking in proper Jewish education”) does a great disservice to the diversity of opinions on the nature of Israel.
But these students, like one who said—at a Shabbat dinner, no less—that she believes that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state,” maintain a confused ideology.
First of all, note the derision towards a student expressing anti-Zionist sentiments at a Shabbat dinner, as if the notion of Shabbat (in its capacity as a ritual of Jewish observance) is antithetical to a certain political opinion on Israel. Second of all, the fact that Sam falls back on “confused” is a good demonstration of the fact that there isn’t a substantive flaw in the anti-Zionist argument. That doesn’t mean by any stretch that you can’t disagree with it, only that it’s not an inherently invalid argument. Sam fails to give it the consideration it merits.
Advocacy for Palestinian human rights and self-determination must come alongside equal support of the same rights for Israelis. Eliminating Israel as a Jewish state will not achieve these goals for either people. The death of Israel will hurt the lives of the former Israelis and will not improve the lives of the oppressed Palestinians, whose leadership is proving unable to run a democratic government.
I tend to agree with Sam on this one on a purely practical level; dissolving Israel would lead to more violence in the region given the current political and economic situation. But it’s wrong of Sam to lump together those who question or oppose the existence of Israel as a religious state with those that actually want to wake up the next morning and have it no longer exist. To be clear: I harbor serious moral problems with the idea of a Jewish state, but I don’t advocate for dissolution. Given a peaceful two-state resolution to the conflict, we’ll have space to deal with more fundamental questions of Israel’s cultural and religious identity. For now, those have to wait until people aren’t dying anymore. Sam’s argument doesn’t account for a position like mine, which, while questioning Israel’s nature (as many Jews do), recognizes the functional problems associated with its dissolution.
I also seriously question the assertion that the Palestinian leadership “is proving unable to run a democratic government”. Have you ever tried governing in an occupied territory? It’s a bit difficult. We should recognize that the circumstances under which the Palestinians are attempting to govern are far less than ideal, to put it quite rosily. It’s unfair to hold them to the same standards that we hold, for example, Israel or the US.
Whether or not these anti-Zionist Jews choose to recognize it, the state of Israel exists for their benefit and has made significant efforts toward peace with the Palestinians.
Good to know that Big Brother is watching out for me. This is honestly some of the most condescending nonsense I’ve read in a long time. There are absolutely Diaspora Jews who feel that the existence of Israel is vital to their identity as religious and cultural Jews. I’m not one of them, but I’ve learned to deeply respect that feeling. I resent Sam’s implication that all Diaspora Jews should take on the same feeling about Israel that he clearly possesses. Sam, kudos to you for understanding and being proud of your strong connection to Israel. Don’t imply that I or anyone else is obligated to feel the same way.
I agree with Sam that Israel has made significant efforts toward peace with the Palestinians, but it’s not a terribly convincing argument when you’re actually trying to determine why there still isn’t peace. Rather than saying “look how much they’ve already done”, Sam should be arguing why the existence of Israel is crucial to the peace process. As it is, his argument is that since Israel is trying to make peace, it should exist. Not very convincing.
Many liberal Israelis, such as the members of the leftist Zionist group Peace Now, support human rights and self-determination for Palestinians under a two-state solution. But such a voice is weak in the leadership of the Palestinian side and some leading Palestinian groups are dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Screaming to high heaven in the name of human rights, therefore, every time the Israeli government is required to conduct a military operation against these groups is about as confused an action as a liberal political activist can take.
Since when does Palestinian leadership not endorse a two-state solution? When last I checked, Abbas was busy actually building one. As to the inflammatory claim that some Palestinian groups are dedicated to Israel’s destruction, this depends on how you define “leading.” If you’re going with “whoever gets the most media attention”, then sure. The guys in masks with rocket launchers always get more airtime than the ones in suits building the economic infrastructure for Palestinian self-sovereignty. It’s also notable that there are plenty of hard-right Israeli groups that would be just as happy to see Palestine disappear. Sam applies a double standard in judging Palestinians by their most extreme elements but giving Israel the benefit of the doubt. In reality, we should be listening to the reasonable people on both sides, not the ones with guns and bombs.
Furthermore, decrying an Israeli military operation that you believe is doing something wrong is not a “confused” point of view, nor is it inherently incongruous with being “a liberal political activist”. Sam, you can either discuss the nuanced merits and faults of Israeli military policy and the actions of the IDF, or you can just say that people are confused when they disagree with you. Your choice.
Supporting Israel may not be attractive to young, disaffected Jews because they think of the pro-Israel community in terms of guys wearing large Israeli-flag kippot in synagogue to cover their bald spots. The reality, however, has changed: J Street and its campus subsidiary J Street U are new “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organizations that support, according to their website, “Israel as a democratic home for the Jewish people, the full and equal rights of Arab and other non-Jewish citizens of Israel and the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own.”
Sam’s description of the pro-Israel community is pretty accurate as far as I’m concerned, but his description of the perceptions of anti-Zionists is decidedly not. Has he even considered that perhaps anti-Zionists hold their beliefs not because they’re confused, disaffected, or tired of Israeli-flag kippot, but because of legitimate political and moral disagreements with the pro-Israel community? Nope. Sam again refuses to take on the structure and substance of anti-Zionism, preferring instead to ignore it with an offensive mixture of disdain and pity.
…at my college, where radical-chic is most definitely in. I suspect that the motivation of the Jew who claims that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state is really a strong desire to break with the past, advocate for radical change and be different from the previous generation.
Wow, “radical-chic”? Congratulations, Sam, on one of the most condescending phrases I’ve ever heard to describe an entire class of ideas. And your suspicions about the motivations of Jewish anti-Zionists? They’re just that: suspicions.
…anti-Zionist Jews may be raising valid protests, but they are taking it too far.
According to you.
No matter how disconnected a Jew may feel from the Jewish people or Jewish culture and religion, she should strive to retain some semblance of group identity and belonging.
Hey Sam, ever wonder why Jewish anti-Zionists feel disconnected? It’s because of people like you. People who hold standards for what counts as an “acceptable” Jewish opinion. People willing to marginalize, condescend, and ignore those who they disagree with (incidentally, the exact same tactics I decry when used by some anti-Zionists). Maybe if the Jewish community were willing to perceive a vigorous, respectful, and honest debate about the nature of Israel as something other than a threat to the community’s existence and identity, Jewish anti-Zionists would feel a bit more connected.
Israel needs the Diaspora, and the Diaspora needs Israel.
Again Sam, maybe you need Israel, and I’m not trying to minimize that. I have absolutely no problem with Diaspora Jews who feel a strong connection to Israel, but you have no right to apply that connection to others and claim that if they don’t have it, they should.
Maybe the whole “I’m a Jew and I oppose Israel” thing is just a phase.
It isn’t. But next time, could you be a little more condescending?
Hopefully such folks are a small enough minority to pose little threat to solid American Jewish support of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Read: hopefully the mainstream Jewish community will be effective enough in shutting down debate so that the other side never gets heard.
All the same, the Jews who advocate Israel’s end are on a slippery slope toward a break with their Jewish identity and Jewish civilization.
Wrong again. The real break with Jewish identity is in the stifling of discourse, the marginalizing of those with whom you disagree. Sam is almost threatening Jewish anti-Zionists with intellectual exile, saying “if you don’t watch out, you’ll be so far gone that we won’t consider you Jews any more.” This shows Jewish anti-Zionists how disinterested in their opinions the Jewish community is, driving them further away. If Sam really wants to prevent Jewish anti-Zionists from being totally separated from the rest of the Jewish community, he should welcome their opinions, and look for ways to engage them, instead of deriding their motivations, ignoring their arguments, and marginalizing their existence.
I’m disappointed in the lack of depth Sam’s article shows, especially for someone who is clearly so committed to peace. The challenge ahead for the Jewish community is to recognize that divergent and oppositional opinions on Israel are vital to furthering the debate and advancing understanding. If we can learn to accept them, we can move forward. If not, we’re dead in the water. Let’s get this one right.