December 13, 2011

"Israel Firster" charge crosses the line

One can argue, even persuasively, that the AIPAC model of pro-Israel advocacy provides a disincentive for the Jewish State and its leaders to act in their own national interest. While I welcome the advent of J Street and other full-blooded left-of-center approaches to U.S. Middle East policy, I am not ready to join their movement. But I reject the assumption that they must be anti-Israel if they oppose the current Israeli government and support more forceful efforts to re-engage Israeli and Palestinian leadership in direct and meaningful negotiations, as anyone generous enough to read my blog must have noticed.

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (THE pro-Israel lobby), like many major American Jewish organizations, is simultaneously a source of pride, regret and frustration for many activists in the American Jewish community. And I certainly have my own ideas about how they could do better. But AIPAC is successful in many ways, and it represents many thousands of mainstream American Jews. Like it or not, AIPAC matters.

I also have ideas about reforming the whole Washington system of influence-peddling, but not because it undermines progressive Zionism. It's not all about Israel, nor should it be.

The latest brainstorm by my friends in the progressive lobby (but NOT J Street) has been to label AIPAC and many prominent Jews of the center-right and neo-conservative wings as "Israel Firsters". This is both brilliant, as a way of reframing the parameters of debate, and absolutely deplorable. By "absolutely", I mean there's no way to justify it, no context to make it acceptable. M.J.'s most recent column, pointing out that the "Israel Firsters" are not really "Israel Firsters" (because they don't even care about Israel!!) begs the question: Why call them "Israel Firsters" in the first place, if not for the shock value?

There can be no excuse for anyone in America to call any American Jew an "Israel Firster". Dual loyalty is a canard and a pretext for anti-Semitism of the most vile kind, dating back to the days of Moses and Pharaoh and making regular appearances throughout ancient and recent history. The AIPAC team itself has suffered unevenly under such accusations, to the point of criminal prosecution for what turned out to be trumped up charges. No Jew should ever be in the position of accusing a fellow Jew of such treason, with all the perceived legitimacy and credibility that derives from turning on one's own. It is also a charge that spreads virally to implicate all Jews as well as the State of Israel, well beyond the control of any group or individual.

Second, it's ironic that left-wing bloggers -- including my first Washington boss and role model, the eloquent and incisive M.J. Rosenberg -- have chosen this epithet, since they themselves are putting the future of American Jewry on the line just to make a case about Israel. Many Republicans seek to "starve the beast" of Big Government in order to rebuild it leaner and meaner, but destroying government brings no guarantee of a viable replacement. The same goes for AIPAC: Tearing down AIPAC and throwing into question the motivations of other American Jews may or may not usher in a new post-modern era of enlightened advocacy, but it definitely adds fuel to the latent suspicions of those seeking to hurt Israel and the Jewish people rather than seize the moment for long-term Mideast stability and Jewish fulfillment.

I understand that M.J. and others are responding to Republicans who trade on hardline pro-Likud politics to demonize their opponents and win Jewish and Evangelical votes in U.S. elections. And I know it's hard and frustrating to have to deal with self-righteous, seemingly holier-than-thou attacks against devoted, lifelong Zionists. But no one said this would be easy.

When the right-wingers call someone a self-hating Jew or an anti-Zionist, that's pathetic. But when the left responds by denouncing right-wingers as American traitors, exposing all Jews to unwelcome scorn, that's equally pathetic, and worse - it's dangerous. 

Please: cease and desist.

1 comment:

  1. You tweeted that I misunderstood what you wrote, but you agree that this is an anti-Semitic term or one that promotes anti-Semitism I see no difference between your views and mine.