Are Jews not supposed to talk to other Jews about the Israel lobby?

Concerns have been raised on this blog and others –and in private communications to me– about the panel discussion I’m participating in: “How to Talk Candidly About Israel — A Conversation Among Progressive Jews.” As noted on the previous post, Philip Weiss, Anne Roiphe and JJ Goldberg will be joining me on June 21st at the Steven Wise Synagogue in NYC. We will discuss the obstacles to candid conversations in the public arena about the occupation and U.S.-Israel relations, and what can be done to overcome those obstacles.

So why are there only Jews on this panel, some people want to know? Isn’t this a conversation that all Americans should be participating in? Shouldn’t there be at least one Palestinian or Palestinian American on the panel?

Of course this can and must be a larger conversation. The organizers did not intend to indicate otherwise. But this is just one, public event. Much of it will focus on an internal, communal struggle among American Jews over the current limits and protocols of honest conversation about a topic that has global significance.

All of the people on that panel would like an environment in which it is possible to speak publicly about Israel and The Situation with the same candor that one finds in the Israeli media. Within the American Jewish community, there are people who cannot abide that kind of candor. So this is an issue our community should address.

We are always hearing from blogs on the left –including, sometimes, this one– about the “muzzling” of criticism of Israel by right wing American Jews. We are always hearing that liberal American Jews, as a whole, have been too timid about objecting to Israeli policies they abhor. I believe the far left is responsible for a different kind of muzzling, as I will discuss during the panel. If a few American Jews talk about their experiences within the community and outside of the community, and gauge the extent to which muzzling –or self-muzzling– is going on, and suggest ways to open up the conversation, surely that is relevant to anyone who wants to change the domestic political context of U.S. Middle East policy.

But some of the objections appear to be based not merely on the conviction that more viewpoints should be offered, which is a perfectly reasonable contention. Some of the objections appear to be based on a suspicion of any conversations between American Jews about, well, virtually anything.

I am baffled by this sentiment and by those who express it. Maybe others can help me deconstruct the alarming mind of a character whose tag name is “David.” He frequents MondoWeiss and other blogs. It is worth quoting some of his comments.

A few weeks ago, on MondoWeiss, he ventured his opinion about this blog (he refers to me as ‘Tough Dove,” the moniker I once used):

Best of luck to ToughDove’s blog. But it’s clearly just another J-blog — Jews talking to other Jews, endlessly debating how long our side curls should be this year.

He seems to have completely missed the glorious experiment being blazed by Weiss and a few others: Jews participating in an AMERICAN conversation. Not defending themselves, not marketing themselves, not educating the goyische kopf, not policing the subject matter, but talking and listening as members of a community.

The most earthshaking statement on this blog — and there’s been a few that have been pretty remarkable — was when Phil called for “privileged Jewish writers to write for American readers.” But I’m pretty certain Dan Fleshler doesn’t even know what that means.

…make sure you’re kosher before you head over.

Posted by: David | April 20, 2007 at 02:27 PM

Later, in another comment about the approach this blog is taking, he wrote:

It isn’t useful because sooner or later the analysis always comes down to justice vs. “is it good for the Jews,” and the framework ToughDove has adopted means there’s only one way that can ever be resolved. Why else would someone treat subjects which are affecting the entire country and the entire world as “Jewish subjects”…?

Posted by: David | April 21, 2007 at 10:16 AM

More recently, ‘David” commented on the June 21st panel discussion noted above:

Fight Night!

I see Phil will be participating in a discussion about the lobby on June 21. With him is Dan Fleshler, whom old-timers at this site will remember as ToughDove, that doughty man of the Left. (That is to say, the Tribalist Left.)

It appears to be one of these Jews-only klatches — I assume ToughDove only agreed to participate under the condition that he would not have to speak with Gentiles. But I personally find it disappointing that Phil is collaborating with this kind of thing. This is not a “Jewish” subject.

The title, “How to Talk Candidly About Israel,” reveals the problem. Because of course this is not really the subject at all: Jews know perfectly well how to talk about Israel and do it interminably. What they really meant to say, but don’t have the courage to admit, is “How to Talk About Israel in front of the Gentiles”.

When you start out on a false note like this, it doesn’t bode well for the endeavor.

Posted by: David | June 10, 2007 at 04:28 PM

David is one of those people who is obsessed with exposing the perfidy of American Jews and and the conventional Israel lobby in the U.S. Yet, when American Jews get together and try to change at least some of what David objects to, it is the act of getting together, or talking together, or thinking about something together, that is suspect.

You might ask, “Dan, why are you wasting digital space on this guy, this mentality?” One reason is that it is, sadly, not uncommon. It is one of the weapons used in the far left’s assault on any form of Jewish self-determination, of any identification with Israel. It is also characteristic of those who believe that Jews are ruining the world. It appears to be based on a conviction that there is something inherently wrong with Jewish bonding, Jews identifying themselves as Jews, Jewish community-building…and, therefore, Jews.

But, as I noted, I don’t get it. I don’t know exactly what we’re dealing with here.

13 thoughts on “Are Jews not supposed to talk to other Jews about the Israel lobby?

  1. You really don’t get it? What is so hard to understand? You see everything about this issue through the prism of your Jewish-ness. Your first priority is to protect the sensitive souls of your co-religionists in The Lobby from perceived anti-Semitic comments, not to denounce them for selling America down the river. You and your parochial Zionist “left” are afraid to do the kind of honest soul-searching that is required if you want to “change the domestic political context of U.S. Mideast policy.” If you did, you would see that American support for Israel has turned the entire world against us.

    And if you stopping seeing the world through the prism of your Jewish-ness, you would want that support to end as soon as possible.

    So talk amongst your friends in a synagogue. Go ahead. But don’t pretend that your tribe is less important to you than your country.

  2. No. Sorry to disappoint you. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I just think it’s obvious that a relatively small group of American Jewish activists have cowed and intimidated elected officials to support Israel blindly, in the same way that the NRA has cowed and intimidated politicians to not control guns. Neither result is good for America. And one thing that keeps the Israel lobby empowered is that Zionist “doves” like Dan F are afraid to let anyone criticize the lobby too bluntly. They talk a good game, these doves, but they are not willing to let anyone say, “AIPAC is bad for Anerica.”

  3. I’m a human being first, that is my citizenship. Second, I’m a Jew. That is my birth, culture and accepted calling (tikkun olam, holism itself).

    I’m an American by partially reluctant choice of political environment. The law and constitution of the US are very good models, but frankly now rationalized away.

    Aside from that, the US is just a jurisdiction. I feel as much affinity with many of the Canadians that I know, that share English as primary language.

    Phil has raised the silly issue of “dual loyalty”, which is itself THE fascist litmus test.

    Ironically, that is now one of the links between the “far left” and the “far right” and blurred distinction between them on issues relating to Israel.

    The far left does NOT renounce its invitation to the fascists that comprise part that coalition, even as it condemns its invitation to the liberal Jewish left for loving one’s own community and families of families, first as WELL as others communities.

    Political affiliation is NOT linear. It is at least circular, if not spherical or other metaphor.

    What are you committed to?

    I am committed to decency, kindness, self-affirmation, justice.

    ETHICS, the “physics” of the society worthy of the name.

  4. Ok. Forget the word or concept called “loyalty.” Are your family and friends safer because the U.S. props up Israel and its occupation? Are Jews who live in America and Canada safer?


  5. Safer?

    Considering that Israel is China’s second-largest arms supplier (the first being Russia), the US better keep kissing Israel’s ass…

    In fifty or less, China is going to be able to pop all of America’s communication satellites out of the sky and will be a Super Power. Israel is going who the US turns if things heat up. China probably start by retaking Taiwan- which is America’s secret ally (because of the hundreds of billions of US interests there). Israel is going to be the wedge.

    Israel provides the US with leading edge defense technology- in particular UAVs, avionics and missile defense technology.

    Safer, with Israel on your side? You bet. It’s a way better deal they get than from any other military ally.

  6. If Israel ever blows off America in favor of China (a very realistic possibility down the road), the US will regret the bad decisions that led to this.

    The China and Israel have mutual respect and very good relations.

    If you consider that almost of of the military aid the US give to Israel is spent in America and on joint defense technology products, the US-Israel relationship is a huge win for America as well as Israel.

    If it was not for the US-Israeli friendship the Israeli Lavi Fighter Jet would rule the skies and the F-16 would not be the king of the sky.

  7. You guys are dodging the issue. It might be possible to draw broad conclusions based on geopolitical speculations related to China, but that has nothing to do with the dangers faced by Americans right now.

    Those dangers clearly include terrorism, both abroad and at home. It is amazing that we have not had suicide bombers and many other attempts at terrorism since 9/11 in U.S. territory. It’s only a matter of time. One reason, although not the only reason, why it will happen is that U.S. support for Israel makes it much easier to recruit fanatics who are willing to blow themselves to smithereens if it will harm the Great Satan.

  8. Tom Boy,
    Failed Arab states–and Muslim states in general–is what makes it easy to recruit new terrorist fanatics. Israel is just an excuse. If people had more to lose they wouldn’t be so ready to sacrifice themselves.

    Actually, American and Israeli doves have been quite willing to criticize AIPAC. I was just reading last night a book by Yossi Beilin, written in 2000 when he was still in the Labor Party, on Israel-Diaspora relations in which he was quite critical of AIPAC. But when people make wild charges about AIPAC being responsible for the Iraq war, etc. then, naturally, many of these same people will refute the charges rather than criticize AIPAC.

  9. Some of these arguments/criticisms seem quaint compared to the ones my readers engage in in which they describe my alleged sex acts with Arab terrorists.

    But Dan, I wouldn’t trouble yrself too much about this sort of nipping at the heels. If you followed David’s prescriptions you’d have a Jewish audience of 5.

    I like Phil very much. But his pro-assimilation perspective is weird to say the least, at least to this Jew.

  10. Dan,
    As I have said on prievious occasions, I am not a Zionist, but most definitely am a Jew. On this issue I am in 100% agreement with you. In the days when I used to read (and sometimes comment) on Mondo Weiss, I too was amazed at David’s vitriolic reaction to anything that so much as suggested there was such a thing as a positive attribute in identifying oneself as a Jew. For example, I remember he went ballistic when I pointed out that American Jews have been consistently against the Iraq war in greater proportion than the national average. He interpreted this as my claiming that Jews are “morally superior” to others.
    What do you call this? I won’t put a label on it, but evidently such people are uncomfortable with the thought that that they have anything in common with other Jews, have not the slightest idea of a common history or culture, and so on. Nothing at all new about this.
    For the record, the fact that there are Jews that I know or that I meet who support people like Bush, Cheney, Lieberman, makes me EXTREMELY uncomfortable. Perhaps even worse, the fact that I meet these perfectly nice people who, through “mi yodea” what kind of mishigas, might FOR ALL I KNOW (and I’m not going to bring the topic with them) might believe attacking Iran is an idea whose time has come. This extreme discomfort is just another reason why I am angry against what right-wing ZIonism has done to Jewish public discourse — if you can call it that –in our time. Yes, it makes me extremely uncomfortable.
    I respect “progressive” ZIonism to the extent it can truly challenge all that, in the tradition of Judah Magnes, Yehoshua Leibowitz, and others. (I put the word “progressive” in quotes not because of anything to do with Zionism, but rather because it rests on Hegelian/Marxist assumoptions about the nature of history to which I do not subscribe.)
    Also, as a Jew, not a ZIonist, I agree with Richard in finding Phil Weiss’s perspective “weird to say the least,” even though I’m sure — since many who know him have said so — Weiss is a nice guy.

  11. Itzkl,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. When I started this blog, I was uncomfortable with calling myself a “progressive” Zionist or a “progressive” anything because it sounded self-congratulatory, like calling oneself a “good Samaritan.” But I decided to use the phrase because people like David and other Phil Weiss fans believe it is impossible to care about human rights and Palestinian suffering and still say anything positive about Israel or its American supporters. I also wanted to show the wide range of views that have always existed within the Zionist tent, including –as you put it– “the tradition of Judah Magnes, Yehoshua Leibowitz, and others.”

    Why does “progressive” rest on Hegelian or Marxist assumptions? We can strive to engender human progress and a better world without believing in an inevitable or even predictable dialectical process, can’t we?

  12. “Why does “progressive” rest on Hegelian or Marxist assumptions? We can strive to engender human progress and a better world without believing in an inevitable or even predictable dialectical process, can’t we?”

    Great question, Dan. There are a few answers to it. First of all, it is just a fact that the term “progressive’ in the political/social sense comes out of dialectical philosophy — Hegelian and Marxist. These philosophies together have exercised enormous influence in the creation of 20th and 21st-century thought. Most of the Left is (often rather vaguely) Marxist, and the neocons and Big-power Establishment thinkers are Hegelians of one kind or another, and often kind of “Marxists in reverse,” in the sense that they tacitly believe Marx was right but try to use his own theories against the Left.

    Of course this word “progressive” has become so widespread now that perhaps the majority of those who use it have no idea of its philosophical implications or hiostorical background.

    In calling oneself “progressive” one implies that one already knows which way history “must” progress. And if this claim is made, at least tacitly, it obviates the need to provide a rational defense of one’s positions. One is, after all, on the right side of history, and one’s opponents are not. Q.E.D.

    Don’t take this personally; I find you eminently articulate. It is simply the word “progressive,” with its unremarked implications, that I criticize. Actually, when I said above “nothing to do with Zionism,” I should have said “nothing SPECIFICALLY to do with ZIonism.

    In fact, Zionism has always understood itself to be “progressive” in a more or less, and often explicitly, Hegelian and/or Marxist sense. In fact, this alone is often enough to make an argument against Arabs, or Muslims, who are, as we all know, “medieval.”

    Maybe one can tell me what’s wrong with being “medieval,” but of course one doesn’t have to, because one is “progressive,” so it’s already understood.

    Now, the more progressive progressive will tell me, yes, but there are progressive Arabs and there are progressive Muslims. But to me, that evades the issue.

    And of course, “ultra-orthodox” Jews are bad because they are “medieval.”

    This is potentially a long and complex discussion, but my general point is that “progressive” is an overlay that limits and distorts our vision in all sorts of ways.

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