Identity, Israel, Politics

AJC Paper Marks Propitious Moment for Jewish Left

Let me mangle metaphors: This paper was like the spark that lit the fire under the ass of the camel, the kindling being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Somewhat related:

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a war on. The Jewish Left and the Jewish Right are currently splitting rather visibly, going so far as to drag their brawl into the mainstream press. Right now is a crucial moment in Jewish history and it will determine the future of world Jewry. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little coordination between the various factions on the Left, despite our momentum.
As I wrote to Phil Weiss @ The NY Observer last night:
I question as to whether recent events indicate the presence of a movement so much as what I regard as fractious groups with overlapping areas of interest and little coordination.
Some folks are focused on liberal domestic political issues such as labor practices, women’s rights, gay rights, etc., others are focused on shifting the priorities of the Jewish funding establishment away from intermarriage and Israel advocacy towards Jewish education and cultural initiatives; while others yet still are focused on finding a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
That last group is broken into left-leaning Zionists (of the Meretz/Labor cadre), post-Zionists (who believe either in two states or a binational solution, yet overall, a solution which respects both Jewish and Palestinian rights), and anti-Zionists who are more often than not anti-Israel reactionaries.
The one thing these three groups can agree on is that things are headed in the wrong direction and that the mainstream Jewish leadership is steering us down a dark road.
However, it is practically impossible for these groups to collaborate because of:
A) Ideological differences. Group one believes in Israel’s right to exist securely within its established borders. Group two believes Israel’s existence is an interim step on the road to binationalism. And group three believes Israel ought to cease existing immediately and that its leaders should all be sent to the Hague. These positions cannot be reconciled with one another. However, if they can find areas of overlap on which to focus, such as ending the occupation, stopping the settlement enterprise, giving Palestinians sovereign statehood, and elevating the rights of Arab citizens of Israel, then a coordinated effort may be possible. But because of our propensity for infighting (two Jews, three opinions) chances are rather slim.
B) Competition. Every group wants to be THE group responsible for doing the moving and shaking, and thus be recognized as a potential funding candidate by wealthy donors. Michael Lerner, for example, doesn’t know the meaning of collaboration. He simply wants Tikkun to have the spotlight. I wanted to come to his Spiritual Progressives conference in DC this summer in order to cover it for Jewschool. He told me I could only come if I bought his book and reviewed it on my site first. I had a similar encounter with Arthur Waskow and the Shalom Center when I approached him with the idea of creating a Jewish issues focused MoveOn. He has his own action center through the Shalom Center and wants IT to be the centerpoint, under his own stewardship. Time and time again, this ownership issue rears its head. This group won’t work with that one, this one sees working with the other as counterproductive to its own interests, this one has too many levels of bureaucracy to get the go ahead, etc. The only group seemingly bringing folks together these days is Jewish Funds For Justice, which has gobbled up several organizations in the last couple of years, consolidating various efforts from around the US into a strong base of operations for progressive Jewish action. However, it’s focused solely on domestic issues, like minimum wage, and does not comment on Israel.
C) Fear of career suicide. Groups like Jewish Funds for Justice do not comment on Israel, because while its donors can all agree on the progressive domestic agenda, they cannot agree on Israel. Some people may be pro-choice, pro-gay, etc., etc., but when it comes to Israel, they can turn into Meir Kahane. For that reason, first and foremost, individuals working in the progressive Jewish community are afraid to speak up about the American Jewish community’s stance towards Israel because they fear that it will harm their reputations as well as the funding potential of their organizations.
The groups trying to put together the counter-AIPAC lobby are currently still in negotiation and they haven’t yet secured a drop of funding. Regardless of whether it comes to fruition, it’s got a long way to go before it will have any impact at all.
What we really need is, as I suggested earlier, a MoveOn exclusively for Jews and Jewish issues, and to begin having a communal conversation among the Jewish Left to find out what we can all agree on and commit ourselves to pursuing.
The problem, ultimately, is money. The reason why the Jewish right is dominant is because they’re the dominant segment of the Jewish funding world. Left-wing Jews give their money to liberal arts colleges and museums. They do not invest in Jewish causes. The wealthiest liberal/left-wing members of the Jewish community are alienated from the Jewish community and therefore do not invest in the Jewish community. The only people with enough pride or ethnocentricity to invest in the Jewish establishment are the right-wingers. Under these circumstances, we’re fucked. That’s why simply hearing of Soros’ potential interest in this alternative left-wing pro-Israel lobby was exciting… because a rich lefty Jew is actually considering giving money to a Jewish cause.
We need more Jews who earn $50,000+ to stick loot in the reserves behind an organization that strives to find commonality between all the various factions of the Jewish left, and lobbies and organizes on our behalf.
To that I say good friggin’ luck.

14 thoughts on “AJC Paper Marks Propitious Moment for Jewish Left

  1. Well said. As one of the Meretz types I know exactly what you mean.
    That being said, cooperation and integration is possible. Currently the headquarters of Hashomer Hatzair North America, Habonim Dror North America, Ameinu (Labour USA), Meretz USA, the Union of Progressive Zionists, and a few other organizations (possibly Americans for Peace Now) share one large office space and work in colaberation on many activities. If we can replicate that on a broader scale via the internet then we could do some great things.
    How difficult from a technology point of view would it be to set up something like the web infrastructure of MoveOn?
    The idea the the projects that have the significant support and funding of the membership could be a way to leave the organizational squabling to the side. Organizations seeing projects they like could become sponsors of programs by donating time or resources to it. Simmilarly, organizations could post their unique projects to the site and if there is enough support or interest their program would move forward based with that support.
    If we could establish that kind of loose democratic framework then we might be able to actually get some collective work done. Furthermore, if we can integrate wiki (and simmilar) technologies to enhance the cooperation of people and organizations then we are on our way.
    My two cents.

  2. To quote myself: “we aren’t getting the same press as the rabid Bush-Olmert fanclub. Dare I say it? We aren’t the money people.”
    (How do y’all link in a comment? Anyway, I posted on JVoices yesterday.)
    I don’t know where the split is taking us, partly because it isn’t happening along denominational lines; it’s a separate split which is threatening to divide every shul down the middle, and there’s more of an economic divide between sides than anything else, as far as I can tell.

  3. I’m excited about this. I hope the furore will continue, and that there really has been a fire lit under the Jewish left. Because without strong, public Jewish voices against what appears to be a monolithic US support for the most right-wing elements in the Israeli government, the eventual reaction against US support for Israel may well, as Lerner put it, result in a REAL “new antisemitism.”

  4. A little note about the AJC article. Rosenfeld lists one Ora Wise as a contributor to the “Wrestling with Zion” book.
    She never contributed a thing.
    All’s I’m saying is, if this guy is gonna lump all of these people together, he needs to do some better fact-checking and close reading.

  5. Actually, at the Jewish Social Justice conference hosted by Jewish Council on Urban Affairs in Chicago in 2005, one of the keynote speakers talked about starting a Jewish MoveOn, and we all laughed because, well, a lot of the folks that work at MoveOn are Jewish. It’s true organizations have a hard time building collaborative lists because they need to continue to survive through building donor bases and demonstrating to donors that they are growing. This is the reality of nonprofit structures, and it’s not something that is easily solvable with the way in which funding streams and so forth are allocated. It requires a real shift in the nonprofit industry, from the top down.
    I think it’s true there is a vast funding rift, but I wouldn’t say that liberal Jews don’t give. To the contrary, they do give, but as you said in regards to JFSJ’s positioning, they don’t give as widely to varied perspectives on Israel.

  6. Thank you for including my piece in the estimable list there. And thanks for tracking the response to the AJC pamphlet.
    You raise a really interesting and apt challenge for the Jewish left.
    I agree that the issue isn’t really progressive politics per se – no Jewish organizations are trying to excommunicate other Jews because they are pro-labor or are gay rights activists. The flash point is Israel.
    Avoiding it because it’s a flash point is a cop out because Israel may be the one issue on which progressive Jews hold a crucial lever. By mobilizing on this issue, we might actually make a change for the better in U.S. Israel policy.
    That’s exactly what the right fears.
    I don’t think the differences in opinion preclude collaboration. Different groups can hold different views on the ultimate moral correctness of Zionism, but they can still sit together in a room and come up with some policy points on which they all agree.
    What room? is a good question.
    You didn’t mention the two groups I see mobilizing most effectively on this issue – Brit Tzedek and Jewish Voice for Peace. Both are forming chapters nationwide. My own sense is that if you could get these two groups together, along with the Tikkun community and Arthur Waskow, you’d have a pretty good nidus for an organized nationwide movement.
    As far as I know, right now, Brit Tzedek refuses to talk to JVP – for the reasons you outline, fear of alienating funders/supporters because JVP is “too left” on Israel.
    The right has identified support for the continued existence of the Jewish state as a wedge issue and is using it very consciously to split the left (among other things, exaggerating and distorting the progressive viewpoint on it).
    My own opinion is that groups like Brit Tzedek and Peace Now should not let themselves be intimidated by this, and should sit down with JVP etc. and find common ground.
    This might happen, if the right continues to be so strident and clumsy in its attacks.
    Funny how all this splintering mirrors the history of what is now the Jewish establishment.
    Maybe the left should form a Conference of Presidents of Minor Jewish Organizations?

  7. “without strong, public Jewish voices against what appears to be a monolithic US support for the most right-wing elements in the Israeli government, the eventual reaction against US support for Israel may well, as Lerner put it, result in a REAL “new antisemitism.””
    First of all, there won’t be a reaction against US support of Israel as long as there are Palestinian terrorists who are clearly linked to Iranian- and Saudi-funded terrorists, and as long as the Palestinian behavior is so much more egregiously bad than Israeli behavior. Your average non-Leftist American can connect the dots.
    Second, liberal-leftist Jews can gain more credibility by using the AJC paper as a golden opportunity to distance themselves from the more extreme sentiments the paper examines, and reassert their positions in a way which doesn’t demonize Israel. Then your average American might listen to them.
    Of course, I can understand why people like Lerner and JVP can’t do this. Because they ARE that extreme. But the rest of you don’t have to be.

  8. I really don’t see why progressive Zionists have anything to gain by a “grand coalition” of the Left. Progressive Zionists can’t possibly acquire a critical mass without attracting the large group of left-of-center American Jews who support the essential goals of the Meretznikim (two state solution, improved conditions for Israeli Arabs, removal of most of the settlements), but after Oslo are skeptical about the prospects for creating a stable, peaceful Palestinian state any time in the near future. These people, however are repelled by anti-Zionism (even in its cuddlier form of “aspirational” post-Zionism). The choice would therefore appear to be obvous. Yet for some reason, progressive Zionists like Michael Lerner and MJ Rosenberg are determined to stick it to the Jewish establishment that they issue blanket amnesties for anyone to their left, while treating those just to their right with utter disdain. It shouldn’t be so surprising, therefore, that the doves are so ineffective.

  9. Thanks POLJ!
    As for why it’s difficult to get the leftie Jews together… it seems to me that the multitude of opinions, as valuable as it is, has become the stumbling block. The GOP is united in their unequivocal support for Israel, and we’re afraid to speak to each other because of our different views and varied levels of support. We can’t be united because we’re not Stepford Zionists, like the GOP. We see the complexities of the situation, and acknowledge that they exist, and decide which solution we think is best.
    They see one answer, we see many.
    I wish I had a solution to propose for this issue.

  10. This makes me think of an email I received from a friend. I hope she won’t mind if I quote her:

    A former friend of mine – after some 30 years of being politically inactive – has started going to demonstrations against the Iraq war. She is very progressive about everything but Israel. I applaud and honor anyone who becomes active in something they believe in. Yet, when I suggested she read a book, in order to perhaps understand, not necessarily agree with, my views – Wrestling with Zion, Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, my friend’s answer was, “I wouldn’t touch that book with a 10-foot pole.”

    That, I think, is exactly how the right would like mainstream American Jews to feel. It’s the whole point of Rosenfeld’s tract: to split progressives into moderates and extremists.
    The right plays the same hand in American politics. Women are supposed to be pro-family soccer moms, or else they’re radical feminist abortion supporters. Early critics of the Iraq war were tarred as extremists, while good liberals were supposed to join hands with conservatives to support our country at a time of crisis. And you can see where that’s gotten us.
    The dilemma for progressive Zionists is that when they ally themselves with the right, they are a minority voice. They’ve been singularly ineffective at influencing American Israel policy as a part of the center-right coalition that has prevailed for the past decade.
    In fact, their failure is one of the reasons that progressive Jews are losing interest in Zionism altogether. Support for and connection with Israel keeps dropping every year in major surveys.
    In view of this, progressive Zionists like Michael might reconsider their rejection of more radical thinkers and activists.
    In other words: put away the ten foot pole.
    The essays in Wrestling with Zion are powerful, rational, and morally strong. They are, of course, grossly misrepresented by Dr. Rosenfeld’s pamphlet, which reads more like a Pajamas Media hatchet job than an academic study. You will not (surprise!) find belligerent radicals calling for the annihilation of Israel and its immediate replacement by a terrorist state. Instead you’ll read earnest attempts to reconcile Zionism as a philosophy, and Israel’s history and actions, with the writers’ own Jewish values.
    For all the philosophical questioning that anti-Zionists and post-Zionists do, I suspect that if we were all to get in a room together, most of us could agree on an advocacy platform directed toward getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table with the goal of a mutually acceptable division of territory, with adequate security for Israel, a viable Palestinian state, etc.
    A multitude of opinions isn’t an insurmountable obstacle. It’s just a beginning point for discussion.

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