At that point, with Eisner trying to shush him – as Podhoretz experienced it – and the audience booing and hissing, the Commentary editor got up and walked out.
Whether Podhoretz’s behavior was out of line or understandable is probably impossible to judge, certainly not for anyone who wasn’t there, and maybe even for those who were. Given that Eisner herself wrote that members of the audience were “enraged” by Podhoretz’s defense of Israel from Ben-Ami’s criticism, perhaps that would have been the moment for her to “rein in” the crowd and lower the tension. Who knows?
But it is quite fascinating to learn that total bedlam broke out in the audience in response to Podhoretz’s defense of Israel from an attack blaming the Jewish State for the ASA’s boycott. That is the kind of thing one expects at a Students for Justice in Palestine event, not a talk held at what is ostensibly still a Jewish institution, one which began in 1874 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association.
So a second question arises: was the 92nd Street Y audience so primed to take a position critical of Israel because of the kind of programming, including the anti-Israel speakers it has invited recently, some of whom are the biggest proponents of economic and legal warfare against Israel, Roger Waters and Alice Walker? Or were those speakers invited because the 92nd Street Y audience is one that was already primed to be critical of the Jewish State?
ORIGINAL EVENT SCHEDULED TO INCLUDE ONLY J STREET VIEW
And a final note of interest. When doing research about this panel discussion, a notice about the event turned up on the Internet that reveals something worth noting: apparently the topic was originally going to be addressed by only one speaker. Originally, the only person who was going to talk at the 92nd Street Y about what it means to be pro-Israel in America today was J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami.
The original blurb announcing the event read this way:
What does it mean for the American Jewish community to be pro-Israel? Is it acceptable for American Jews to criticize Israeli politics, as Israelis do? J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami joins us for a discussion of what it means to be pro-Israel in America. Jeremy Ben-Ami is Executive Director of J Street and JStreetPac, the political voice of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. From 2003-4 he was Policy Director for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, and from 1992 through 1996, he worked for former President Bill Clinton, serving for two years as the President’s Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor.
That’s all the blurb said. No other panelists. One view, the J Street view. That’s what this event was supposed to be. One could be thankful someone had the wisdom to widen the panel to include a few more voices. And even so, both Podhoretz and Harris of the American Jewish Committee are much more domestic policy mavens than they are policy experts on Israel. But what does it say that an event at the 92nd Street Y about what constitutes pro-Israel in America was originally scheduled to include only one voice?
Sadly, it seems likely there would not have been any hissing or booing from the audience.