The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
What happens when the far Right collides with the hard Left? Will the universe explode? Will the laws of physics be distorted by some anti-Newtonian implosion of logic? No, they won’t. Not as long as the two ends of the spectrum are uniting to slam the Jews, that is.
Such a moment arrived when the preeminent journal of the far Right, Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative, opened its pages to Phillip Weiss, a stalwart of the Left. Why would Buchanan lend his bully pulpit to Weiss? Simple: so he could promote him as yet another Jew who opposes Zionism.
Weiss, a liberal New York author and magazine writer who’s been flailing against a variety of Jewish targets for years, has lately found himself in the unlikely position of becoming an honorary member in good standing of the troglodyte Right.
He is also the latest of a growing group of Israel-haters claiming to be victims of the Zionist conspiracy. In Weiss’s case, he ceased writing a blog on the website of the New York Observer because his editor and publishers were no longer willing to support his “right” to use their publication for attacking Israel and its supporters for being disloyal to America and for being, at least indirectly, to blame for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In his piece in the American Conservative, he related that his editor at the Observer, Peter Kaplan, urged him to can the paranoia about the Zionists. “As your friend,” he says that Kaplan advised him, “Don’t become a nut.” He thought that Weiss “shouldn’t allow the political crank to crowd out the storyteller and humorist” in him because he had become “unhinged by politics.”
But being a “nut” on the issue of Jews backing Israel is too important to Weiss because, as he wrote in the same piece, “The towers fell [on 9/11] in part because of our support for Israel’s occupation of Arab lands. … Now Israel’s policies toward the Arabs were ours. On my blog, I raised the issue of dual loyalty.”
So now Weiss is finding a new literary home with, as he has put it, his “new friends” – the followers of Patrick Buchanan.
Weiss’s tale of woe is one more example of an Israel-hater, even one with a Jewish background, who finds himself drawn to rhetorical violence against Israel and the Jews.
Norman Finkelstein, who was recently denied tenure at DePaul University after his pseudo-scholarly smearing of Israel as a Nazi, apartheid state brought him some rather strange allies among Holocaust deniers, is another. Finkelstein’s supporters have branded Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz a “bully” and a “McCarthyite” for pointing out Finkelstein’s lies and his unsuitability for tenure.
The irony is that for all of their wailing about the ruthlessness of the “Israel Lobby” in attempting to destroy them, they are far from alone in putting forward the notion that the vast majority of Americans who ardently support the State of Israel are somehow the victims of a nefarious campaign of manipulation by disloyal Zionists.
This theme was championed by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who co-authored a now famous essay in which they took the sort of conspiracy-theory bigotry long put forward by former presidential candidate and pundit Buchanan and brought it into the mainstream.
The willingness of others on the Left – including prominent Jewish “progressives” like playwright Tony Kushner and New York University professor Tony Judt – to denounce Zionism was the subject of a pamphlet published by the American Jewish Committee last winter.
In it, Indiana University Professor Alvin Rosenfeld wrote of the dangers of allowing such ideas to leach into the political mainstream at a time when such Israel-bashing was fueling a frightening revival of anti-Semitism in Europe, and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
But the response to Rosenfeld has not been encouraging. He was roundly denounced by many in the secular and Jewish media for unfairly tarring liberals with the brush of anti-Semitism, even though he did no such thing.
Even worse is the notion held by many in positions of influence that somehow the Jewish community’s angry response to Walt, Mearsheimer and even Finkelstein has been over the top.
At a panel sponsored by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs to discuss Rosenfeld’s thesis, in which I participated, Leonard Fein, the venerable lion of American Jewish liberalism, mooted the notion that what was at play here was the fact that Jews were very good at “playing the victim.”
Fein, whose long record of support for Israel is not in question, believes that by seeking to hound foes of Zion from the public stage, we are not only flailing at an insignificant target but also turning off young Jews who want no part of the knee-jerk, pro-Israel spin of the organized Jewish world.
Fein is correct that the right of dissent against specific Israeli policies – or support for the Israeli Left’s stand on borders or settlements – ought not to be questioned. But it is support for Israel that’s more likely to be unpopular in the secular media and on college campuses these days than opposition to it.
What Weiss, Buchanan, and those of like mind have put forward are not legitimate differences with Israeli government policies, but a dismissal of the state’s right to exist and the legitimacy of its right of self-defense.
It is not “playing the victim” to point out that the treatment of Israel and its supporters in Europe is provoking haunting memories of the 1930’s. How can we sit back and allow these ideas and their supporters to expand their beachheads on American soil? Failing to respond ultimately plays into the hands of marginal figures like Buchanan and others who hope to turn American foreign policy against Israel.
The Weiss-Buchanan alliance is an overt acknowledgement of what many on the Jewish Left know is true, but won’t face up to: The connection between this brand of Jewish anti-Zionism and traditional anti-Semitism is now in the open. Ignoring it is no longer an option.
About the Author: Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of Commentary magazine and chief political blogger at www.commentarymagazine.com, where this first appeared. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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On his shloshim, I want to discuss a term I’ve heard countless times about Rav Aharon: Gedol HaDor
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