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01 February 2007

"Progressive" Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, American Jewish Committee (PDF)

This will be a Rorshach test for most, I think. Can't see how it will convince anyone, but I'll say this: I'm progressive, I'm a Jew, I criticize Israel harshly, and I'm neither anti-Semitic nor self-hating.

I think the reason this paper exists is because if a majority of American Jews (especially elite ones) start critiquing Israel's government, policies in the Occupied Territories, foreign policy, etc., then Israel is in serious trouble. Elite American Jewish organizations -- like the AJC, AIPAC, the ADL, et al -- do form a very powerful set of lobbies that have browbeaten elected officials into supporting a frankly self-destructive path for Israel and for the US.

After Walt and Mearsheimer, Tony Judt, Finkelstein, years and years of Chomsky, and now a former President with impeccable moral credentials (or seen as such; certainly his lapses had nothing to do with Israel!) and relevant experience...well, the elites are getting nervous.



Having just finished working on an LSAT project, my logical reasoning skills are honed, so I think I'll take a stab at this. In addition to the pseudo-Soviet iconography on the cover, here are some other things I noted in the piece:

  1. The quotes in the preface are unattributed. That's not a good thing. Who said this? What was the full context? And so forth. I'm referring to the stuff on page vi -- which leftist critic "challenge[d] not just Israel's policies, but 'it's legitimacy and right to an ongoing future.'"? Maybe later on I'll find the answer. As for the three folks mentioned on that page, I for one would like a full context for the quotes.
  2. The conflation of Jews and Israel's government and the State of Israel and Israeli society and culture -- all very different things -- is typical of, frankly, a racist, totalitarian outlook. America isn't Bush or Clinton or the government or Christians. (see bottom vi)
  3. Page 1: Sources: in the first four notes, we get the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, the chief rabbi of the UK on the BBC, and a book and an article that clearly support the author's thesis. Hmmm...
  4. The whole "wipe off the map" thing is a controversy I'd like to solve, but I don't read Persian. I've seen people claim that the usual translation is wrong, such as Juan Cole. Anyway, what does Ahmadinejad have to do with the real target of this paper: leftwing Jews? I mean, aside from guilt-by-association?
  5. I own a copy of Mein Kampf. Read it in my Cornell political theory course junior year. The professor was Isaac Kramnick. Is he an anti-Semite/self-hater? Am I? One can't assume why one buys a book. Some figures for sales would be nice; perhaps the Review provides it. Doubt it. I mean, why bother to do a survey, anyway?
  6. Again, what do anti-Semitic TV programs have to do with American and European leftwing Jews? (I'm assuming this information is accurate.)
  7. Page 3: It's not outside the realm of possibility that a nation that openly practices extrajudicial assassination could have had Arafat poisoned. Doesn't mean it happened, but considering the possibility is not beyond the pale, I should think. Ditto killing Hariri. The rest of the stuff, if true -- and I'll grant it, is just wacky. What does that have to do with leftwing EuroAmerican Jews?
  8. Ah, page 4: "A Conflation of Interests." In your opinion, bub. Note the qualifier: "While formal alliances among these otherwise disparate groups ["far right," "segments of the intellectual left," and "radical Islam"] are not readily apparent, they share one thing in common: a suspicion of Jews and, especially, an emphatic dislike of the Jewish state." Well, the second is not the same as the first -- some Israeli Jews have an emphatic dislike of the Israeli state. I have an emphatic dislike of our current American state and government. But the author would probably find that unpatriotic. Love it or leave it. Anyway, the first is as yet unsupported. Note the care that went into that modifier that hangs in front of "they" -- no formal alliances (informal, though?); not readily apparent (but with a little digging or the right goggles?). Nice work.
  9. Page 5: How is "anti-Semitic incident" defined? Let's take the number of physical assaults as read: 83 in 2004. Since the April, 2001 decennial government census in the UK reported 267,000 Jews in the UK, that means that if the population held at that number, then 0.03% of the population was assaulted, and only for being Jewish. I wonder how many assaults on Jews for, say, car keys or ATM cards occurred in that time? That number was essentially the same the next year (82). According to the National Safety Council, the chance of dying in 2003 from any cause was 0.06%. Assuming the NSC isn't anti-Semitic, and that life in the UK is roughly as safe, well...you do the math. Context helps here.
  10. Note that this horrific statistic of a 0.03% chance of being physically assaulted solely for being Jewish (thought Jewish? -- forget it; we'll go with these numbers) leads to a massively disproportionate fear (no doubt related to massively disproportionate news reports -- much like the fear of violent crime in the US has risen with media coverage, while actual rates of violent crime have fallen): it's now apparently "uncomfortable" to be a Jew in Britain. At times.
  11. If you actually go into the stats on anti-Semitism and assaults, you find a different, less hysteria-inducing picture.
  12. Following hard on the heels of this faux epidemic of violence, on page 6, comes sins of word, such as the wholly reasonable labelling of Israel's actions in the OTs as ethnic cleansing. This is par for the course in Israeli historical work and current journalism, and the only word for it. Furthermore, Sharon actually is a war criminal, as anyone familiar with not only the '82/'83 Lebanon war but also his previous military career would know.
  13. What do boycotts have to do with animosity against Jews, even Israeli Jews? Did everyone who supported boycotts against South Africa do so out of animosity toward the white ruling minority? Or just the awful social system of apartheid?
More later...


Ya know what? Given that the IPCC report is out, I see little need for amusing myself further with this yahoo propaganda. I think I've made my point; the rest of the paper pretty much repeats these "errors" throughout.

1 comment:

  1. I'll let Tikkun's Rabbi Michael Lerner take it from here...

    What's "new" about the alleged New Anti-Semitism?

    There is no New Anti-Semitism
    by Rabbi Michael Lerner

    The N.Y. Times reported on January 31 about the most recent attempt by the American Jewish Community to conflate intense criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. In a neat little example of slippery slope, the report on "Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism" written by Alvin H. Rosenfeld moves from exposing the actual anti-Semitism of those who deny Israel's right to exist—and hence deny to the Jewish people the same right to national self-determination that they grant to every other people on the planet (the anti-war group International Answer is a good example of that, though Rosenfeld doesn't cite them)—to those who powerfully and consistently attack Israel's policies toward Palestinians, see Israel as racist the way that it treats Israeli-Arabs (or even Sephardic Jews), or who analogize Israel's policies to those of apartheid as instituted by South Africa.

    The Anti-Defamation League sponsored a conference on this same topic in San Francisco on Jan.28, conspicuously failing to invite Tikkun, Jewish Voices for Peace and Brit Tzedeck ve Shalom, the three major Jewish voices critiquing Israeli policy yet also strong supporters of Israel's security.

    Meanwhile, the media has been abuzz with stories of Jews denouncing former President Jimmy Carter for his book Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. The same charges of anti-Semitism that have consistently been launched against anyone who criticizes Israeli policy is now being launched against the one American leader who managed to create a lasting (albeit cold) peace between Israel and a major Arab state (Egypt). Instead of seriously engaging with the issues raised (e.g. to what extent are Israel's current policies similar to those of apartehid and to what extent are they not?) the Jewish establishment and media responds by attacking the people who raise these or any other critiques--shifting the discourse to the legitimacy of the messenger and thus avoiding the substance of the criticisms. Knowing this, many people become fearful that they too will be labeled "anti-Semitic" if they question the wisdom of Israeli policies or if they seek to organize politically to challenge those policies.

    Yet there is nothing "new" about this or about this alleged anti-Semitism that these mainstream Jewish voices seek to reveal. From the moment I started Tikkun Magazine twenty years ago as "the liberal alternative to Commentary and the voices of Jewish conservatism and spiritual deadness in the organized Jewish community" our magazine has been attacked in much of the organized Jewish community as "self-hating Jews" (though our editorial advisory board contains some of the most creative Jewish theologians, rabbis, Israeli peace activist and committed fighters for social justice). The reason? We believe that Israeli policy toward Palestinians, manifested most dramatically in the Occupation of the West Bank for what will soon be forty years and in the refusal of Israel to take any moral responsibility for its part in the creation of the Arab refugee problem, is immoral, irrational, self-destructive, a violation of the highest values of the Jewish people, and a serious impediment to world peace.

    What the Jewish establishment organizations have done is to make invisible the strong roots in Judaism for a different kind of policy. The most frequently repeated injunction in Torah are variations of the following command: "Do not oppress the stranger (the 'other'). Remember that you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Instead, the Jewish establishment has turned Judaism into a cheer-leading religion for a particular national state that has a lot of Jews, but has seriously lost site of the Jewish values which early Zionists hoped would find realization there.

    The impact of the silencing of debate about Israeli policy on Jewish life has been devastating. We at Tikkun are constantly encountering young Jews who say that they can no longer identify with their Jewishness, because they have been told that their own intuitive revulsion at watching the Israeli settlers with IDF support violate the human rights of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank or their own questioning of Israel's right to occupy the West Bank are proof that they are "self-hating Jews." The Jewish world is driving away its own young.

    But the most destructive impact of this new Jewish Political Correctness is on American foreign policy debates. We at Tikkun have been involved in trying to create a liberal alternative to AIPAC and the other Israel-can-do-no-wrong voices in American politics. When we talk to Congressional representatives who are liberal or even extremely progressive on every other issue, they tell us privately that they are afraid to speak out about the way Israeli policies are destructive to the best interests of the United States or the best interests of world peace—lest they too be labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. If it can happen to Jimmy Carter, some of them told me recently, a man with impeccable moral credentials, then no one is really politically safe.

    When this bubble of repression of dialogue explodes into open resentment at the way Jewish Political correctness has been imposed, it may really yield a "new" anti-Semitism. To prevent that, the voices of dissent on Israeli policy must be given the same national exposure in the media and American politics that the voices of the Jewish establishment have been given.
    We hope that the creation of our INTEFAITH Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP at www.spiritualprogressives.org) can provide a safe context for this kind of discussion among the many Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists and secular-but-not-religious people who share some of the criticisms of Israel and who will eventually try to challenge the kind of anti-Semitism that might be released against Jews once the resentment about Jewish Political Correctness on Israel does explode. Even better if we could succeed in creating a powerful alternative to AIPAC. Unfortunately, that path is not so easy. When we approached some of the Israel peace groups to form an alliance with us to build the alternative to AIPAC we found that the hold of the Jewish Establishment was so powerful that it had managed to seep into the brains of people in organizations like Americans for Peace Now (NOT the Israeli group Peace Now which has been very courageous), Brit Tzedeck ve'Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum or the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement--and as a result these peace voices are continually fearful that they will be "discredited" if they align with each other and with us to create this alternative to AIPAC. Meanwhile, while they look over their right shoulders fearfully, the very people that they fear will "discredit" them for aligning with each other and with us are ALREADY discrediting them as much as they possibly can.

    Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun (www.tikkun.org), author of the 2006 NY Times best-seller The Left Hand of God (Harper San Francisco), and national chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives (www.spiritualprogressives.org). RabbiLerner@tikkun.org