A Joel Kovel Reader

I had the -ahem- “privilege” of meeting Joel Kovel when he came to speak at a Green Party function at SUNY New Paltz in 1998. Kovel was, at the time, a Green candidate for Senate (who later rivaled Ralph Nader for the 2000 Green Presidential nomination), and I was young and torn between the campus Greens and campus Libertarians (both groups which were trying to win me over ideologically, long before I discovered the happy medium of libertarian socialism).

Being exceptionally wary of Communism, due to my work with Students for A Free Tibet, I asked Kovel, “Aren’t you guys called the Watermelon Party? Green on the outside and Red on the inside?”

To say that Kovel threw a fit would perhaps be a just understatement. The man went bonkers on me, berating an inquisitive, albeit perhaps misguided, 18 year-old student for “Red-baiting” him. Needless to say Kovel did not win me over with his performance, though I am now, some years later, a registered Green (and, in fact, my sister works for New Paltz’s Green mayor Jason West—yes, the one handing out gay marriage licenses).

I was forwarded this interview with Kovel today, in the New Agey-monthly Chronogram (incidentally, also published out of New Paltz), entitled “The Trouble With Zionism,” which was inspired by Kovel’s essay in the Sep/Oct 2002 issue of Tikkun entitled “Zionism’s Bad Conscience”, an abrasive piece which damns Israel as a racist state incapable of change, and which questions the nation’s very right to exist. The essay was contested by Milton Viorst and Susannah Heschel in a subsequent issue this past Summer (alongside another abrasive article by Kovel, “Anti-Semitism on the Left and the Special Status of Israel”), as well as by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, who responds in the following issue, and whose remarks appear beneath Kovel’s response to Heschel and Viorst.

It’s an interesting debate, and one worth brushing up on. I feel Kovel raises some interesting points, regardless of the absence of tact in his doing so, but the more Jewishly-educated scholars demonstrate quite succinctly that while Kovel makes some fair statements, he still comes off like an angry loudmouth without a clear view of history, as I fear so many on the Left (who to take cues from this joker) appear to be, which does more damage to their arguments than any factual inaccuracy may (which is precisely what sunk Howard Dean). As a registered Green, it’s disturbing to me that a man this angrily and vehemently anti-Zionist (even himself a Jew) could excel so far in a party I believe to be heavily populated by liberal Jews. But it shouldn’t be all that suprising, I guess, whereas the Green Party finds its roots in Nazism. Kovel walks the fine line of ecofascism—a tendency all too popular amongst radicals and environmentalists, and I fear if he found himself in power, he would likely cross that line and give way to the same sort of moralistic degeneracy he criticizes Israel for. More ideologically-based repression is the last thing we need.

Man, you know…I’m re-registering as an independent.

3 thoughts on “A Joel Kovel Reader

  1. We also has to ask why anti-Zionists have no problems with other forms of nationalism, just Jewish nationalism. There are two UK MPs who are members of Scottish and Welsh Nationalist parties who are anti-Zionism. Anyone who thinks nationalism is on its way out is, Tony Judt, is fooling themselves.

  2. I’m the jerk that was trying to pull Mobius into the Libertarian camp. My catholicsim has pullled me more in the “economic justice” direction than I would have thought possible at the time that Mobius is discussing… but still not sociialist by a long shot.
    More generally, I have a deep distrust of the Left. I thought I was a leftist when I first came to New Paltz, but my mind was changed by the hypocrisy that I saw around me. A bumper with a sticker that stated “MEAT IS MURDER” right next to one claiming “KEEP ABORTION LEGAL.” I wasn’t sure on the aborition issue at that time, but the inconsistency struck me.
    The Greens are mad. I have to remind myself of that when I think of the Left. I shouldn’t paint the entire Left Green. But sometimes it’s diffficult, especially as the last year’s embracing of Michael Moore by the Left.
    For now, I reccomend “Bullet’s Song: Romantic Violence and Utopia” for reading.

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