[SPME Faculty Forum Editor’s Note. Professor Rosenfeld is an SPME member and Professor Ilan Benjamin is co-coordinator of the SPME UCSC Chapter.]
One of the most difficult things in life is to draw the line between
friend and foe. Take the Palestinian terror groups.
Last week in Mecca, the Fatah terror group, which mixes the murder of
Israelis with negotiations with Israelis, officially joined forces with
the Hamas terror group, which murders Israelis while refusing to
negotiate with us.
Although the agreement makes it clear that both are at war with Israel,
on Sunday the Olmert government decided to reserve judgment on the
terror unity deal. And Monday morning Vice Premier Shimon Peres warned
that saying bad things about the Mecca deal would only weaken Fatah
terror boss Mahmoud Abbas, whom we should strengthen because he likes
to negotiate while killing.
Given how hard it is for Israel to identify its Arab foes, it is little
wonder that identifying Jewish foes is a near-Herculean task.
Last month the American Jewish Committee took an important first step
in this direction by publishing a paper by Prof. Alvin Rosenfeld from
the University of Indiana entitled, “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and
the New Anti-Semitism.” Explaining the difference between criticism of
Israel and demonization of the Jewish state, Rosenfeld wrote, “To call
Israel a Nazi state… as is commonly done today, or to accuse it of
fostering South African-style apartheid or engaging in ethnic cleansing
or wholesale genocide goes well beyond legitimate criticism.” Rosenfeld
noted that these descriptors of Israel, which aim to single out Israel
“as a political entity unworthy of secure and sovereign existence” are
today “part of a standard discourse among ‘progressive’ American Jews,
who seem to take for granted that the historical record shows Israel to
be an aggressor state guilty of sins comparable to Hendrik Verwoerd’s
South Africa and Hitler’s Germany.”
HAVING described the phenomenon, Rosenfeld proceeded to identify
prominent American Jews, including New York University Prof. Tony Judt,
playwright Tony Kushner, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, Noam
Chomsky, and Adrienne Rich as leading Jewish lights in the leftist
assault on the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in our
Rosenfeld’s paper evoked strong reactions in the American Jewish
community. A New York Times write-up of the controversy entitled,
“Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor,”
described how the same “progressive” Jews and their supporters are up
in arms over being painted as anti-Semites. Judt opined that the point
of the article was to silence them.
This of course, is pure nonsense. All the Jews in America couldn’t
silence Judt and his colleagues even if they wished to. As anti-Israel
Jews, they will never lack prestigious forums from which to propagate
their hatred for Israel.
Far from seeking to silence these hostile Jewish voices, Rosenfeld’s
essay simply serves to draw lines between friend and foe where such
lines are important. The views of Kushner, Judt and Cohen are no less
anti-Jewish than similar statements by non-Jews.
Rosenfeld’s efforts, while important, are insufficient. The likes of
Judt and Kushner use their professed Jewishness as a tool to advance
the cause of Israel’s denunciation. Others hide behind protestations of
Zionism to undermine Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies
actively working toward its destruction.
CASE IN point is the Union of Progressive Zionists. The UPZ is the US
campus representative of the Labor and Meretz parties as well as of
Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim Dror. In its mission statement, the UPZ
claims to be “a network of student activists organizing on campuses
across North America for social justice and peace in Israel/Palestine.
The UPZ was created to provide guidance, education and resources to
students who seek to impart a progressive voice into the campus debate
Mission statement in hand, the UPZ joined the Israel on Campus
Coalition (ICC) – a pro-Israel umbrella group established to build
support for Israel and fight the rise in anti-Israel incitement on
college campuses. Yet, while operating under the ICC umbrella, UPZ is
actually promoting hostility toward Israel and so advancing the cause
of those who maintain that Israel has no right to exist.
In recent months, under the aegis of the ICC, the UPZ has hosted
members of the radical leftist Israeli organization “Breaking the
Silence” on a number of college campuses. “Breaking the Silence” was
established by former IDF soldiers for the declared purpose of
“exposing” the “irreversible corruption” of Israeli society by the
IDF’s counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria.
Armed with photographs which purposely present a distorted image of IDF
operations, soldiers and Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria, the
group works to demonize and criminalize the IDF and so undermine
Israel’s right to defend itself against the Palestinian jihad. That is,
it seeks to advance an aim which is diametrically opposed to the goals
of the ICC.
Ilan Benjamin, an Israeli chemistry professor at University of
California at Santa Cruz, attended the UPZ-sponsored “Breaking the
Silence” event on his campus. In a letter to the ICC Benjamin wrote,
“the presentation was neither fair nor balanced, but was rather
unabashedly anti-Israel.” He continued, “There was almost no mention of
why the Israeli army is inside Arab towns. [The program’s speaker]
dismissed the notion that security checkpoints prevent a large
percentage of the suicide bombers… [S]tudents who attended the event
did not get a crucial point of information necessary for a critical
understanding of the conflict, namely, that Israel is in a state of war
with a terrorist organization imbedded in civilian neighborhoods.”
THE CONTRADICTION between the UPZ and “Breaking the Silence’s”
protestations of Zionism and the aim of their programming is so blatant
that even the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles weighed in on the issue.
In a report to the Foreign Ministry published in Yediot Aharonot, Ehud
Danoch, the consul-general warned: “The willingness of Jewish
communities to host these organizations and even sponsor them is
unfortunate. This is a phenomenon that must not be ignored.”
But the ICC has decided to ignore the phenomenon. Last month, the
Zionist Organization of America, which is also an ICC member, requested
that the ICC’s Steering Committee expel the UPZ on the grounds that
through its sponsorship of “Breaking the Silence” it contravened the
ICC’s explicit mission of defending Israel.
The Steering Committee, which includes representatives of the American
Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, Aish HaTorah, the
Jewish National Fund, Hillel, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs,
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,
and the Shusterman Foundation, voted unanimously to reject ZOA’s
request. (Aish HaTorah later renounced its vote and joined ZOA in
calling for UPZ’s eviction from the Coalition.) In their decision, the
member organizations argued that there is no “cause under the ICC’s
membership criteria to remove UPZ from the Coalition.”
Although unjustifiable, the ICC’s refusal to expel the UPZ is
understandable. Obviously, it is hard to get beyond labels. The UPZ’s
self-definition as a Zionist group makes it even harder to attack than
self-professed Jews who declare their anti-Zionism. This is the case
despite the fact that the damage the actions of both groups cause to
Israel’s position in the world is more or less the same.
There is also UPZ’s “progressiveness” to consider. Given that for four
generations, American Jews tied their fortunes almost solely to the
Left, expelling leftist groups from Jewish umbrella groups involves
openly recognizing the painful fact that today the Left makes little
place for the pro-Israel community in its ranks.
As Rosenfeld put it, “Because… the ideological package that informs
progressive politics today links anti-Zionism to anti-capitalism,
anti-imperialism, anti-globalization, anti-racism, etc., one is
expected as a matter of course to be against Zionism.” Or as he quotes
political scientist Andrei Markovits, “If one is not at least a serious
doubter of the legitimacy of the State of Israel… one runs the risk of
being excluded from the entity called ‘the left.'”
THE LEFT’S abandonment of Israel is compounded by the fact that the
Palestinian jihad, which is rooted in a Palestinian rejection of the
notion of coexisting with Israel, has rendered irrelevant the
“progressive Zionist” goal of forcing Israel to withdraw its forces and
citizens from Judea and Samaria in order to establish a Palestinian
state in the areas, as well as in Gaza and eastern Jerusalem. Instead
of accepting this paradigm-shattering truth, “progressive Zionists”
have chosen the path of radicalization. Rather than calling on the
Arabs to abandon jihad and accept Israel, they have turned to
criminalizing Israel for defending itself from the jihadist forces bent
on the wholesale slaughter of its citizens.
Like Israel, if American Jews are to have any chance of properly
defending themselves, they must first openly identify the trends. As
political loyalties and alliances shift, a small people like the Jews
must be willing to distinguish friend from foe. This is true whether
the friend or foe in question is an Arab or a Jew; a self-proclaimed
progressive or a self-proclaimed conservative.