A reader writes:
I’m a long-time Dishhead and a subscriber, but I am frequently exasperated by your coverage of Israeli and American Jews.
Jews are not a monolith, and I worry when you appear to paint them with a broad brush (right-wing, hard-line, hawkish). I know you’re not an anti-Semite, but your one-sided coverage gives fuel to people who are. In fact, there is a huge contingent of Jews, both in America and in Israel, that is both pro-Israel and pro-peace – not that you get that impression from reading the Dish. There’s more to the pro-Israel lobby than AIPAC, just as there’s more to the Knesset than Netanyahu. I would appreciate more coverage on the Dish of the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbies that most of the American public hasn’t heard about.
That said, I was very happy to see J Street merit a mention on the Dish. Unfortunately, the context you provided for that story was abysmal.
The vote of the Presidents’ Conference (CPOMJAO) excluding J Street does not mean that American Jews are more hawkish than Israelis. However, that’s the frame you put around the story by giving Michel Scherer the first and Jonathan Tobin the last word. In that context, your own commentary appears to accuse American Jews – as a class – of resisting a “re-think with respect to blind support of anything Israel does.”
The idea that the CPOMJAO presents the “unified Jewish voice” is laughable. The phrase is absurd on its face: you’ve heard the old expression, “two Jews, three opinions.” The problem is, the Presidents’ Conference voting structure is not at all reflective of Jewish community demographics – it’s worse than the US Senate in terms of proportional representation – which has led to calls for reform.
In fact, the largest Jewish groups with the most members – the Reform movement and Conservative movement – overwhelmingly supported J Street’s inclusion. US Jews overwhelmingly support an active US role in resolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US Jews even oppose the expansion of settlements.
Finding these links took less than 10 minutes of Google searching. The Dish often reports on American Jews’ opinions on Israel, but rarely presents articles from the Jewish press to show what Jews themselves actually have to say. It’s like conducting extensive reporting on immigration (with a strong anti-reform stance) without ever turning on Univision or reading a Spanish-language newspaper. It’s irresponsible, especially when staking out such a strong position on the issue.
So what does J Street itself have to say about their exclusion? They posted this thank-you note to CPOMJAO for shattering the myth of the monolithic Jewish voice.
I think they were talking to you, too.
One thing I’ve learned after many years in the law and on the peripheries of politics and government is that there is never one reason that a decision is made. Like you, I’m no fan of Mr. Netanyahu. To my mind, he has an overblown sense of self-import aided and abetted by a lack of imagination a sense of entitlement. But that doesn’t mean that Israeli policy was designed to preoccupy the US with Iranian nukes while Israel integrates the West Bank into the state. Of course there are those who seek that outcome. You and I know exactly who they are, and Bibi may be one of them.
But to assert that Israeli security issues with Iran are a “useful distraction” while Israel “finishes off” the Palestinians is really too much. And that is exactly what you are saying when you warn of a “second 1948.” There is just so much there to unpack. As I recall, 1948 was when the Arab states invaded Israel and tried to drive the Jews into the sea. And I also have read my Benny Morris. No one’s hands are clean – including the Palmachs and the young IDFs. But please. You use terms that overtly and covertly put the moral onus squarely on the Israelis for the Palestinian’s current predicament and you seem to assert that the only reason for Israel’s alarm about Iranian nukes is to veil an annexation plot.
You are smart enough to know that every decision ultimately stems from myriad choices by many actors. If you really believe that Israel’s alarm over Iran is simply a bait-and-switch, please point to the evidence. You can’t. There is no question Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons and that it has used chemical weapons. It had a president who was a Holocaust denier who spoke about wiping Israel off the map. Understandably, these facts alarmed Israelis of all stripes, including my lefty friends who live there – the same ones who do NOT want to annex the West Bank.
That is not to deny that it’s a useful crisis for those who do. But your writing lacks the nuance and understanding of human decision-making and frailty that I know you possess. You have written eloquently about the very human nature of a variety of decisions, including the (lack) of moral justification for outing gays and on gay marriage as a civil rights issue. Please think about applying the same nuance to the Israeli predicament.
Another also calls for more nuance:
What’s so maddening and fascinating about me reading you on Israel and Palestine is that I suspect if we boiled down the issues to their core, we would be in total agreement. We agree what a deal should look like, we think Palestine is inevitable and a just solution to the status quo, we hope for Israel’s future prosperity and security, we wish neither side ill will, etc., etc.
And yet something is missing in your analyses. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but my best guess is that I am viscerally turned off by your sheer lack of empathy for the Israeli context. Settlements are terrible, but they are reversible; a rocket falling on a kindergarten is not. The paranoia that mainstream, non-extremist Israelis live with on a daily basis is beyond understandable. But it never seems to register to you that the “peace process” effectively puts Israeli lives in the hands of Palestinians. That has not worked out so well in the past.
Your refusal to acknowledge the complete failure of the Gaza experiment (withdrawal of settlements yields a fanatical terror state, hellbent on its own destruction for the sake of killing a few Jews here and there) undermines so much of what you write. Not because you (or Kerry) are wrong to predict an apartheid-ish situation down the line, but because you don’t even acknowledge that creating an autonomous Palestinian entity raises serious security concerns and requires serious trust from the Israeli public.
I would argue that what is being asked of Israel, in fact, is something no other Western country has been asked to even contemplate: help us create a state that has a good chance of at least occasionally attacking you across its new borders, run by people who celebrate jihadists and refuse to acknowledge your existence. Would the US ever agree to such a situation? Would Canada or England or France?
They would not, and Israel must. That is simply the world we live in – but let’s acknowledge that world, maybe? When you pontificate as if Palestinian movement is restricted in a vacuum, you lose credibility and make many wonder why your anger is so one-sided. I lived in the West Bank for a year. Security checkpoints are terrible. But I saw, with my own eyes, that they would be loosened – because the army hates having to staff them – and then, within days, a bomb would go off and they would be tightened again. There is a vicious cycle here – with blame to go around – that you seem to ignore in favor of a Greater-Israel-colonialism narrative which is part, but not all, of the picture.
More nuance, not less, on this issue please.
Update from a reader:
I am a dual citizen of Israel and the U.S. I have lived there, and to this day all my relatives still reside in Israel. My time in Israel dates back to my bar mitzvah in Haifa in 1956. My own grandfather was Irgun. As a longtime Dish reader and subscriber I have to respond to those who are critical of you for lacking nuance on the subject.
What you have been writing about is Israeli policy. It matters not what liberal Zionists might think and feel about the current Netanyahu government policy. The liberals have NO POWER, either here in the U.S. or in Israel. The same could be said about the controversy surrounding the Council of Presidents rejecting JStreet. Sure many American Jews recoil at that rejection but so what. The hard-line Jewish groups are the ones the media respond to. I am a member of JStreet, but let’s face it; we have no power when compared with AIPAC. When the media asks for Jewish input regarding Israel, Ben Ami’s voice is either never heard or buried.
The lack of a peace agreement will be a disaster for Israel. Yet the forces in Israel are dead set against a Palestinian state. Even Israelis who favor a peace agreement are unwilling to make Palestine a viable state. Just ask the average Israeli which West Bank town or settlement they are willing to give up. Give them a list and it’s always – not that one, or that one, on and on through the list. The average Israeli is thinking more like autonomous Palestinian zones rather than a real state. The political party HaBayit HaYehudi and the bulk of Likud are part of the government and they are as dead set against a two state agreement as is Hamas.
The reader who complains about Palestinians just wanting to get rid of the Jews is regurgitating an old myth. Sure there are Palestinians who feel that way, but most West Bank Palestinians just want to lead an honorable and dignified existence. Your readers should visit the Israeli West Bank towns of Bat Ayin, Kiryat Arba, Itamar etc. and they can hear the ugliest Jewish hate imaginable, even at shul.
Andrew, your voice on this subject is clear and definitely needed. Codling Israel does them no favors. In fact, the lack of pressure from the U.S. and its Jews means there will never be a solution. Keep the pressure on – many of us support you.