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J Street—Progressives or Propagandists?
by Stephen Sniegoski
08 Dec 2009
Follow up article to previous piece on J-street
Here is a little follow-up to my article on J Street with my summary of this revealing video from the J Street conference, which was called to my attention by the indefatigable James Morris.
“The False Hope of J Street,” http://home.comcast.net/~transparentcabal/article8.html
The video is of a J Street panel, "American Progressives and Israel: Friends, Enemies, or 'It's Complicated'?," comprised of Michelle Goldberg, J.J. Goldberg and Ezra Klein, with Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of “The Nation,” serving as the moderator. The fundamental goal of the panelists was to try to reconcile the Jewish exclusivism of Zionism with the universalism of the Left. It should be emphasized that they find it much more important to make this ideological reconciliation than to reconcile loyalty to Israel with loyalty to the United States. Quite obviously, in progressive circles, being attacked for being “right-wing” carries an infinitely greater sting than being called disloyal to the United States (and besides, no respectable mainstream figure would dare to call a partisan of Israel disloyal to the United States). Moreover, those progressive intellectuals not immune to critical self-reflection do have to overcome the obvious contradictions between Zionism and the Left in their own minds.
The reconciliation of Zionism and the Left is more than “complicated,” requiring the panelists to engage in various mental gymnastics and contortions transcending straightforward logic. Why should liberal and leftist Jews support Israel? The progressive panelists understandably did not express the religious view that God had given Jews the land or the tribalist, historical argument that modern Jews had rightful ownership of the land because their co-ethnics had controlled it over 2000 years ago. Moreover, they did not take the victimologist position that Jews deserved the land because in the Holocaust they had suffered more than any other people in world history. In fact, the panelists did not provide any rational reason to support Israel beyond saying that they supported and even loved the Jewish state because they themselves were Jewish. It is hard to see how this explanation could mesh with the universalism of the Left, since if all ethnic groups took a comparable position there could be no universalism, or at least a very different type of universalism from that advocated by Leftist Jews for countries other than Israel, namely, a world consisting of a congeries of ethno-states.
This issue of group loyalty, of course, becomes most salient in regard to the Israel-Palestine issue. It is not apparent how people who are loyal to their own ethnic group could possibly be unbiased in disputes where their beloved ethno-state is involved. Yet this seems to be exactly what many pro-peace gentiles seem to expect as they look to J Street to endorse a fair resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict.
While these J Streeters identify with Israel, they do differ with the hard-line Zionists in their willingness to acknowledge Israel’s flaws. They admit that the conventional Jewish presentation of Israel as a completely benign state is false and that effective efforts have been made by pro-Zionists to distort and suppress the truth. They go much further than mainstream media figures in acknowledging the existence of taboo truths regarding Israel. Undoubtedly, any mainstream gentile writer who dared to say anything comparable would be inundated by attacks of anti-Semitism.
However, the J Streeters only provide a partial truth. They never explain what allows these taboos to exist. In essence, a discussion of the inordinate power of Jews in America is off limits (despite J.J. Goldberg’s book “Jewish Power.”) Moreover, they exonerate Jews of culpability for suppressing truth by saying that this censorship of negative facts about Israel is understandable because Jews, at least older Jews, have memories of the Jewish persecution, which they fear could return if these inconvenient facts were aired in the mainstream. Placation of Jewish emotions is thus considered at least as important as truth. Such concern for people’s feelings, however, does not seem to apply to gentiles. What about the feelings of the oppressed Palestinians? What about the feelings of those people who are punished for expressing the truth regarding Israel? What about the feelings of Americans who must support Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and consequently engender the hatred of most of the world?
Most detrimental to the expression of truth, the panelists imply that the public airing of truths can lead to trouble if these truths are used improperly by “anti-Semites” to make Israel and Jews in general look bad. Michelle Goldberg refers to the disturbing phenomenon whereby various truths cross the line to become “anti-Semitic.” Since her review of my book, “The Transparent Cabal,” had placed my book in this lethal category, it would seem that even a candid presentation of the facts is unacceptable if it puts Israel or its supporters in too negative a light, as perceived by liberal supporters of Israel.
An overall assessment of their view of criticism of Israel leads to the conclusion that their concern about the suppression of truth reflects not a concern about truth per se or about freedom of expression, but rather a concern that suppression of truths about Israel is counterproductive. Promiscuous use of the anti-Semitism charge has become so debased that it alienates potential supporters of Israel and provides a favorable environment for anti-Zionists and anti-Semites to effectively sell their version of the truth as a believable alternative. Michelle Goldberg opined that these extreme Zionist falsehoods and taboos created a “Petri dish” for anti-Semitism.
But while the panelists were opposed to the existing Zionist censorship, they did not seek an environment of unhindered expression. Rather, they sought the replacement of outright censorship by what might be called managed truth. There was a need to air unflattering truths about Israel and Israel’s supporters, but the airing should be done by people who have the interests of Jews and Israel at heart. Factual truths would be revealed but only in a benign context in regard to Israel and its supporters. Doing otherwise would be seen as tabooed anti-Semitism. Progressive Zionists, rather than hard-line right-wing Zionists, would presumably serve as the gatekeepers. Obviously, the anti-Semitic charge coming from liberal J Streeters carries far more weight than the same charge coming from neocons and hard core Zionists such as Norman Podhoretz
Now what type of concrete policy toward the Palestinians do the panelists really want? Once again, their concern is not so much about providing justice to the Palestinians as about protecting the Jewish nature of Israel. They fear that the failure to provide a two-state solution would ultimately lead to demands for a one-state solution, which Israel would be unable to resist. And in the unified state, Jews, no longer representing a substantial majority of the population, would be unable to maintain a Jewish-dominated state. This would spell “finis” for Zionism.
Although the J Streeters’ fundamental objective is to protect Israel, they also profess to believe that justice for the Palestinians is essential to achieve that goal. So, if true, justice for the Palestinians would result from the rational self-interest of Zionist Jews—it would be the only way to preserve the Jewish state. But do the J Streeters really offer a solution that would provide the Palestinians with true justice?
While the panelists are vocal about the fact that a majority of Israeli Jews and most Israeli political leaders have, in recent years, supported a two-state solution, they fail to point out the salient fact that no Israeli government in the various “peace” processes has ever offered the Palestinians a viable state. There are always Jewish settlements remaining in key areas, Israeli military roads criss-crossing the territory, Israeli control of the West Bank aquifers (the Palestinians’ principal supply of water), Israeli control of the boundary along the Jordan River, etc. In short, no Israeli government, Left or Right, has been willing to offer the Palestinians anything more than a series of non-contiguous, waterless Bantustans, existing on only a portion of the West Bank. However, it seems that the panelists believe that Israel has offered fair deals to the Palestinians, which, recently, have been undermined by the Israeli Right and Hamas.
Looking at all this, it becomes apparent that the actual effect of J Street will be not to change Israel’s actual policies, but instead simply to change the perception of Israel by liberal opinion in the United States and the West. J Street’s achievement will be to provide a “moderate” and “fair” image to Israeli plans for a Palestinian “state.” The fact that the Zionist Right would likely be yelling appeasement and condemning J Street as a bunch of “self-haters” would do even more to bolster the “fairness” image of any Israeli peace proposal endorsed by J Street. Conversely, any Palestinian rejection of such “liberal” peace terms supported by J Street would provide greater justification for their demonization and harsh treatment by the Israeli government. But all of this should be understandable given the fact that J Streeters explicitly identify with Israel. When lobbies dominate the policy-making process, it is conventionally assumed that such policies do not advance the general good. There is no reason to think otherwise in the case of an Israel lobby—even a lobby that comes cloaked in the veneer of justice and moderation.
This is not to imply the J Streeters have ulterior motives. With their ideological blinders and ethnic loyalty, the J Streeters probably are sufficiently self-deceived to believe that Israel will treat the Palestinians justly. But all the evidence shows that, to the contrary, the Israeli government is unwilling to provide the Palestinians with a viable state. Quite likely, the Israeli governing elite believes that the security of the state of Israel precludes making the requisite concessions to the Palestinians to actually allow for a viable state. Thus, despite any intentions to the contrary, J Streeters simply serve as public-relations propagandists for perpetuating the policy of subordinating the Palestinians to Israel.
Transparent Cabal Website: http://home.comcast.net/~transparentcabal/
This work is in the public domain