Israelis choose life, and that drives some progressive Jews mad.
“As a Jew” is a phrase that starts the conversation for some left-wing Jews when it comes to Israel, and particularly “the occupation.”
The establishment of Jewish identity at the start serves as the shield for what is to follow: A completely one-sided, factually inaccurate, historically-skewed bashing of Israel.
Such an Op-Ed was published in The Washington Post on October 23, 2015, by Professors Steven Levitsky (Harvard) and Glen Weyl (U. Chicago)[note: Weyl just joined Microsoft], We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel. The opening reads as many “as a Jew” openings read: “We are lifelong Zionists. Like other progressive Jews ….”
The Op-Ed is a caricature of the self-absorbed, selfish, ahistorical “as a Jew” argument which is at the heart of progressive Jewish opposition to Israel, often expressed through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It’s mostly, if not all, about making the “as a Jews” feel good about themselves, justifying their own existences by putting the existences of Israelis at risk.
I’ll go over the Op-Ed later in this post.
But first, it’s helpful to consider this description of the “as a Jew” phenomenon as it relates to progressive anti-Zionist Jews:
Jewish anti-Zionists give their identity politics a strange twist. Instead of claiming to represent the opinion of most of their fellow Jews, they mobilize their identity “asaJew” [sic] in order to give their oppositional view more legitimacy. They are saying to non-Jews that this or that might seem to them as though it was Antisemitic, but I, the Jew, am happy to reassure you that it isn’t.
But if the thing which the anti-Zionist asa Jew is trying to inoculate against is a thing which most Jews do find troublesome, then they employ another little twist. They claim that their Jewish identity is authentic in some way that most Jews’ identities are inauthentic. So the anti-Zionist “asaJew” may be in a tiny minority but she is claiming that she, nevertheless, is the real Jew. The ethical Jew. The critical Jew. The anti-nationalist Jew. The courageous Jew. The far-sighted Jew. And the other Jews, the herd, are actually not such real Jews; their Jewishness has been subverted by Zionism and Islamophobia and a secular unconcern with Jewish ethics.
The description, though, doesn’t only apply to anti-Zionist Jews.
The “as a Jew” phenomenon is just as strong as it applies to “progressive” Jews who say they are Zionist and support Israel’s right to exist, but consider Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) an afront to their progressive Jewish values. To preserve their progressive Jewish values, Israel must “end the occupation” with minimal regard to security concerns. Those security concerns are entirely or almost entirely, in their progressive view, the result of the “occupation” itself; remove the occupation, and all will be good.
In that view, Israel deserves most if not all of the blame for the failure of negotiations to achieve the exit from the West Bank.
All of this is ahistorical, invented to fill an emotional need.
We know that violence against Jews for being Jews dates back in the British Mandate of Palestine to decades before Israeli achieved independence. There were Arab pogroms against Jews in the early 1920s. In 1929, one of the oldest continuous Jewish communities in the world, in Hebron, was destroyed and 67 Jews murdered in riots inspired by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and claims that Jews threatened the al-Aqsa mosque.
Due to the recent controversy over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks, the public has become aware that the Grand Mufti — a relative of Yasser Arafat and revered by Palestinians to this day — was a Nazi-supporter. The Grand Mufti may not have given Hitler the idea to exterminate the Jews, but he gave all the support he could. The Grand Mufti’s anti-Semitism infuses the hate of the current “Knife Intifada,” fed once again by anti-Jewish incitement and claims of intent to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque.
The conflict also is fed by religious rhetoric portraying Jews as subhuman, and worthy of death by any means possible.This message is given not just to adults, but to children as well: There is nothing to suggest that if Israel were to exit most of Judea and Samaria without serious security arrangements, that it would have any more luck than when it exited Gaza. The West Bank turning into an Iranian missile base and Hezbollah ground base is the most likely outcome of an exit without security.
Moreover, the notion that Israel is the impediment to an agreement ignores decades of history.
Fatah was founded in 1959, and the PLO formed in 1964, both prior to the Israeli capture of the West Bank in 1967. That capture itself was the result of Jordan, which illegally occupied the West Bank and half of Jerusalem since the 1949 armistice, launching a military attack on Israel. When then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir offered negotiations to exit the West Bank in return for peace, she was met with The Three No’s of the Khartoum conference: No peace, no recognition, no negotiation.
We all know that Israel offered at Camp David and the Taba Conference, to exit virtually all of the West Bank, but that was rejected by Yasser Arafat, who instead launched the Second Intifada, in which thousands died.
Now on to the Op-Ed by Profs. Levitsky and Weyl.
Here are excerpts from We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel (indented), with my commentary:
We are lifelong Zionists. Like other progressive Jews, our support for Israel has been founded on two convictions: first, that a state was necessary to protect our people from future disaster; and second, that any Jewish state would be democratic, embracing the values of universal human rights that many took as a lesson of the Holocaust. Undemocratic measures undertaken in pursuit of Israel’s survival, such as the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the denial of basic rights to Palestinians living there, were understood to be temporary….
This “basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective: Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.
This is, of course, a completely imbalanced view of the current situation. Arabs in Israel have full rights; even if minority rights are not perfectly protected in practice (as is the case in just about every country that purports to protect minority rights). Israel left Gaza in 2005, and the people electing Hamas, which then threw out the Palestinian Authority in a short, but bloody, civil war. Most Palestinians in the West Bank live in areas controlled by the PA.
No one suggests that the current situation is good, but if it were not for the Palestinians’ campaign of terror, the situation would be quite different than it is. The security barrier (a wall in some places, a fence in most places), Israeli checkpoints and strong military presence all were a reaction to the Second Intifada and the suicide bombing campaign.
The choice is not between some happy-place and the current situation, it is between the current situation and something potentially much worse.
As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies. Not only is European support for Israel waning, but also U.S. public opinion — once seemingly rock solid — has begun to shift as well, especially among millennials. International pariah status is hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival.
The comparison to Rhodesia and South Africa is trendy among some progressives, but again false. Israel is a majority-ruled country, and the divisions are along religious and ethnic, not racial, lines. Israeli Jews are multi-racial, with about half of them refugees or the descendants of refugees from Arab countries. No one claims that majority Muslim countries that impose Sharia law in some form on the country are “apartheid” states; that only happens to the one majority-Jewish country in the world.
Moreover, the notion that Israel is less popular than before is not supported by Gallup and other polling. So too, the claim of a drop among millenials is speculative, though on some college campuses there are anecdotal indications it’s real, as among progressive Democrats. In the world of progressive Jews, Israel popularity may be declining, but progressive Jews are not the universe, except to progressive Jews.
Finally, occupation threatens the security it was meant to ensure. Israel’s security situation has changed dramatically since the 1967 and 1973 wars. Peace with Egypt and Jordan, the weakening of Iraq and Syria, and Israel’s now-overwhelming military superiority — including its (undeclared) nuclear deterrent — have ended any existential threat posed by its Arab neighbors. Even a Hamas-led Palestinian state could not destroy Israel….
This security assessment is delusional.
Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets and missiles, many of them large and sophisticated, and vows to destroy Israel. Its sponsor, Iran, is active in Syria, declares its desire to destroy Israel almost daily, and also arms Hamas in Gaza.
Jordan is one life (King Abdullah) away from becoming an Islamic State. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates are active in the Sinai, and may end up in control of Syria. And of course, the West Bank itself is teeming with armed factions who do not accept any form of Jewish national entity.
For supporters of Israel like us, all viable forms of pressure are painful. The only tools that could plausibly shape Israeli strategic calculations are a withdrawal of U.S. aid and diplomatic support, and boycotts of and divestitures from the Israeli economy. Boycotting only goods produced in settlements would not have sufficient impact to induce Israelis to rethink the status quo.
It is thus, reluctantly but resolutely, that we are refusing to travel to Israel, boycotting products produced there and calling on our universities to divest and our elected representatives to withdraw aid to Israel. Until Israel seriously engages with a peace process that either establishes a sovereign Palestinian state or grants full democratic citizenship to Palestinians living in a single state, we cannot continue to subsidize governments whose actions threaten Israel’s long-term survival.
In other words, try to pressure Israel into taking actions it doesn’t consider in its own security interests. And despite the fact that voters repeatedly have voted for parties which do not accept such risk.
This argument is fundamentally anti-democratic — that American progressive Jews and not Israeli voters should determine Israel’s future.
Israel, of course, is hardly the world’s worst human rights violator. Doesn’t boycotting Israel but not other rights-violating states constitute a double standard? It does. We love Israel, and we are deeply concerned for its survival. We do not feel equally invested in the fate of other states….
We recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it.
This is the true “as a Jew” vision — a claim of such moral superiority that Israelis have no say in the matter, and Palestinians are treated as mere children who bear no responsibility for their own actions and failings. It’s quite a bigoted view in which more responsibility is place on Israeli Jews because they are Jews, and less responsibility is placed on Palestinians because they are not Jews.
What is missing from the Op-Ed is any serious consideration or concern for the safety of Israelis, substituting the supposed wisdom of the Ivy Tower for the reality on the ground of an Israel surrounded by fanatical enemies determined to destroy it.
I can’t blame Israelis for choosing to live, rather than to be loved in the opinion columns of The Washington Post.
How many Israelis must die so that Profs. Levitsky and Weyl, and other “as a Jew” progressives, can feel good about themselves?
UPDATE 10-27-2015: So it turns out one of the authors of the WaPo Op-Ed does not self-identify as Jewish religiously, and also has been an open BDS supporter at least since the March 2015 elections. Not the impression created by the Op-Ed, which appeared to be a coming out: