Anti-Zionist charades from the far-left-wing American Jewish community are now a daily occurrence. We witness the manipulations of the reprehensible BDS movement, J Street’s efforts to encourage the US Administration to pressure Israel, and the frequent hosting by universities of radical, anti-Israel speakers. As disturbing as these developments have been, we have tended to discount them as the workings of the radical left.
But now, American Jewish anti-Zionists are engaged in an aggressive campaign to gain acceptance by the mainstream Jewish community. In the name of freedom of expression and open dialogue, radical Jewish liberals and well-heeled Jewish armchair progressives are pressuring Jewish organizations to provide platforms for those engaged in vicious efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.
Their efforts are being enthusiastically promoted by the increasingly anti-Israeli liberal media especially the New York Times.
There is an Alice in Wonderland element to this situation. It ignores the fact that the Jewish people and Israel are confronted with genocidal adversaries whose barbaric behavior towards their own people leave no illusions as to what they would do to us in the absence of the IDF. It overlooks the reality that anti-Semitism (primarily promoted under the cloak of anti-Israelism) is the greatest political growth industry, and now even reminiscent of the medieval anti-Semitism which blamed the Jews for all the natural disasters of mankind.
Until recently the United States was one of the few countries where this did not apply, aside from the far left and on campus.
However, there is now an effort to legitimize attitudes which, in the past, would never have been countenanced in reputable Jewish quarters. This campaign is not about legitimate criticism of Israeli policies in which we all indulge. It relates to liberal Jewish intellectuals, literati and even rabbis providing legitimacy to those demonizing the country, and even justifying BDS.
This manifested itself last year when the venerable 92nd St. Y, the Jewish nonprofit community and cultural center, invited author Alice Walker and musician Roger Waters. Both are outspoken BDS supporters. Walker has refused to authorize the translation of her works into Hebrew and Waters has performed openly anti-Semitic programs, including releasing a pig shaped balloon painted with a Star of David in a 2013 concert. Following mass protests, the Y withdrew both invitations but its initial offer signaled a new initiative to open doors to anti-Zionists and even anti-Semites in conventional Jewish venues.
Last month, the New York Jewish Museum invited the prominent anti-Zionist and BDS supporter, Judith Butler to speak. While the topic was Frank Kafka – not an Israel related subject – this invitation provided a major Jewish platform to an anti-Israeli fanatic. One wonders whether Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic literary editor, who sanctimoniously proclaimed that “Judith Butler’s misguided views should not disqualify her from speaking on Kafka”, would also have endorsed a Jewish organization inviting Hitler’s chief architect, Albert Speer, to address its audience, if his subject had been limited to architecture.
Around the same time, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a New York Holocaust museum invited, disinvited and re-invited author and editor John Judis to lecture on his recent book, Genesis: Truman, American Jews and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. The book is an anti-Zionist diatribe promoting the Palestinian narrative and condemning Truman for having endorsed the Zionist enterprise and establishing a Jewish “settler colonial” state.
Now Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, is undergoing an upheaval over who can be invited to speak to its audiences. A number of branches declared themselves “Open Hillels” in protest to the guidelines laid down by the President, Eric Fingerhut, who issued a prohibition against collaboration with speakers or groups that demonize or support the delegitimization or boycott of the Jewish state.
But the most bizarre example of communal nihilism was the recent crisis at Ramaz, the prestigious Orthodox Jewish high school on the Manhattan Upper East Side, where tuition fees can reach close to $40,000 per annum.
“Pro-peace pro-Israel” activist, Peter Beinart, had the gall to boast that he had personally persuaded the Ramaz student body to invite Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi to address them. Khalidi is a former PLO spokesman and probably the most influential voice within American academia savaging Israel. The purported objectives of the invitation were “to promote open dialogue” and “give the student body the opportunity to hear an outside perspective”. Not surprisingly, the principal Paul Shaviv intervened and rescinded the invitation but 250 students subsequently signed petitions demanding that the invitation be reinstated.
One must ask whether, in their desperation to demonstrate their “open-mindedness” and “fairness” to the non-Jewish liberal establishment, students and parents supporting this petition have lost their minds. How else can one explain parents of an Orthodox Jewish school plunging to the depths of demanding that the school provide a platform for a PLO spokesman promoting boycott, delegitimization and accusing Israel of war crimes and practicing apartheid?
Would these parents and students of Ramaz have supported the invitation of a diplomatic representative of the Soviet Union in the 1970s to promote the case for Zionism equals racism? Would they tolerate the presence of anti-Semites such as David Duke or others who endorse white supremacy, racism or fascism? If not, why object to excluding an academic notorious for demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state? Do they consider demonizers of Israel and supporters of BDS more kosher than other racists?
The media had a field day. The New York Times provided extensive exposure to the “rifts” within the Jewish community and the efforts by the Jewish establishment to deny freedom of expression to dissidents and nonconformists.
Haaretz published an article by Peter Beinart who stooped to the level of invoking the revered name of Rabbi Joseph B Soloveitchik and accusing Ramaz of failing to maintain the Rav’s Torah U’Madda (Torah and Worldly Knowledge) philosophy, preposterously implying that by seeking dialogue with someone promoting the demonization of Israel, the Ramaz students were fulfilling the Rav’s mission.
These misguided initiatives by museums, universities and religious schools have met with a chorus of support by Jewish liberals. Jewish sociologist Stephen M Cohen said “I think it’s good for Zionism to have the full range of Jewish opinion and those of our adversaries represented.” Former director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, Rabbi Sid Schwartz, lambasted Hillel for its pro-Israel stand, stating “we have become a community that is scared of the truth, and we have allowed intimidation and censorship to take the place of civility and respect for divergent views.”
The reality is that this has nothing to with freedom of expression. It is about the relentless surge of anti-Semitism which has assumed the form of anti-Zionism. Ramaz students, like all Diaspora Jews, are bombarded by hostile anti-Israeli onslaughts. Khalidi’s works are part of an enormous body of anti-Israeli literature which everyone can easily access without providing such an inveterate enemy of Israel with a Jewish platform.
A recent Gallup poll disclosed that, notwithstanding the fact that the current US Administration has often been at loggerheads with Israel and despite emerging strains at the far left fringes of the Democratic Party, support for Israel is at an all-time high – with 72% of Americans expressing a favorable view of the Jewish state. This is reflected in bipartisan congressional support which restrains the Administration.
But if the Jewish community is to bring Jewish renegades into the Jewish tent and invite those committed to promoting BDS and delegitimizing Israel to share its platforms, it will be sending ominous signals and paving the way for the erosion of the American public’s current positive attitude towards Israel.
The campaign to bring these renegade elements into the Jewish mainstream is being orchestrated by a small, determined and well-organized noisy minority.
The leadership of the major Jewish organizations must not remain silent. They must stand up and be counted on this issue. Otherwise, they will fail in their leadership responsibilities and resurrect the image of the “trembling Israelite” leaders of the Roosevelt era. The vast majority of committed Jews remains strongly supportive of Israel and will back its leadership if it stands up and firmly rejects the legitimization of Jewish renegades.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom