Identity, Israel, Politics

Bibi's hecklers

Five young Jews interrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly (GA) of Jewish federations yesterday. You can read the first-hand accounts by lead protestor and Jewlicious and ROI alum Rae Abileah, LA Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman, and JTA’s Fundermentalist Jacob Berkman, among many others.
I will echo the comments by LA’s Eshman when I note that these protestors spoke in a language of Israel’s self-interest, setting them apart from the Muslim protestors at UC-Irvine earlier this year. The media statements by the protestors demonstrate — despite their chosen allegiances or tactics — thoughtfulness and rootedness in Jewish ethical culture. As Eshman reported, ‘ “What were they against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath? The occupation? Gaza? Most Jews would agree with them.” ‘ I and many others on Jewschool have made the occupation and many Israeli policies the topic of our consistent, vocal and stringent calls for reform.
I admire dedicated, assertive, moral student activists. The 1969 student sit-in of the GA resulted in reform of Jewish student program funding. Ultimately, it led to the expansion of Hillel. Many of those young leaders now head Jewish organizations and I’m honored to have some of them as mentors. But New Voices’ editor Ben Sales compares that event with today’s stunt, saying, “Far from articulating a positive and productive vision for the Jewish community, all they did was yell vapid sound bytes during a public event.”
I may have little taste for these theatrics. But for every five protestors who resort to dramatic headline seeking, there are dozens more like me.
There are better ways to instigate the conversation (and with more respect of a head of state, however odiously right-wing). But out here in the Jewish community, we’re starving for meaningful conversation. The atmosphere of hostility against those who feel the issues of settlement freezes and loyalty oaths are at least slightly important silences and alienates us.
The Israel Action Network just launched prior to the GA is a prime example of pouring fuel, not sanity, on the fire. San Diego Hillel director Lisa Goldstein just opined in Haaretz against the “fight fire with fire” approach:

A polarized campus quickly turns into small groups of activists screaming at each other while the vast majority of students, who are uninformed, uncertain or simply turned off by the rhetoric, flee to the perceived safety of apathy. “Safety” is the operative word. […] As a consequence, we have found that in this environment of heightened conflict, it is more difficult to engage uninvolved students around Israel issues. Even worse, it becomes more difficult to engage Jewish students around any aspect of Jewish life, not just Israel-related issues. They just don’t want to be associated with the hostility.

The same is true for those of us young Jews off campuses and now finding our way through communal life. The Israel offerings outside the social justice, peace or art crowds is decidedly propagandistic, infantalizing and apologetic. It speaks poorly of program directors at every major Jewish institution to not integrate the lessons of those copious studies of our age demographic.A dearth of realistic relationship-building with Israel’s full picture — “hugging and wrestling” — results in boredom and distrust. The trope emerges that we are closed-minded, which is disingenuous to the grassroots: “reasonable people,” to quote Jon Stewart.
Case in point, the GA footage of a bearded, kipah-wearing Jew tearing up a confiscated protest sign with his teeth in theatrical abandon made me queasy. What young observer wants to attend a conference with that guy? Or the smug, quippy retorts by Netanyahu as he announces new illegal settlement construction that threatens the peace process. Sounds like a real genuine partner for peace. And worst, that Jeff Shapiro, purportedly a federation representative from San Antonio, deemed it necessary to put a protestor in a choke hold. (As a martial arts practitioner, I found that potentially deadly technique beyond grossly disproportionate — no one was physically endangered by slogan-chanting from the back of the room. Metaphorically, just because Jewish Voice for Peace sent you a flotilla didn’t mean it was smart of you to board it.) Is this the reception I would get for voicing ethical concerns, albeit less rudely?
And I’m similarly disenchanted with the predictable “responses” to the activists from the right-wing, which amount to the usual “It’s all the Palestinians fault” masturbatory diatribes beloved by the anti-peace choir. The loyalty oath, Israel’s Foreign Minister’s proposals to expel Arabs, the illegal settlement project, and other thorny truths deserve communal discussion, not obfuscation. The Palestinians didn’t propose those things; the Israeli Knesset under Netanyahu’s leadership is. These “responses” don’t reach beyond the dwindling audience of self-certain elders — they certainly don’t answer young Jews’ legitimate questions.
As a side note, I happened to read the book of Ezekiel this weekend and was amazed at how full it is of stinging, bitter condemnations by God of the Jewish people. (It wouldn’t survive Abe Foxman’s editing pen for a minute.) It reminded me that the Jewish people are supposed to have a higher tolerance for calls for reform from within. Instead I fear that I see a prophecy from Ezekiel: we are cannibalizing our children.
Luckily, the Jewish left is growing, both the left and the far-left, and young Jews feature prominently in the leadership of both. It is growing because so many of us — young and old — feel a doomsday contradiction between the conflict and Jewish values. The more this drags on, the more we will grow. The meteoric rise of new Jewish left groups show that disenchanted Jews are seeking outlets for their frustration. And attempts to tarnish these groups don’t remove the demand for their existance. Communal research confirms the rift between young Jews and the establishment grows. And young Jews are doing what the Jewish community taught them to do: take action on their values.
In the words of Peter Beinart’s single tweet, “Expect more of this.”

27 thoughts on “Bibi's hecklers

  1. “Luckily, the Jewish left is growing, both the left and the far-left”
    Is the growth of the far left really a good thing? IME, they’re just as helpful as the far right when it come to contributing meaningfully to positive change.

  2. What’s really puzzling is why this story run everywhere in the Jewish press before it came to Jewschool–the supposed site for progressive Jews? Is there no one from the Jewschool world in attendance at the GA? If not, you can argue far, farther degree points all you want, the “left”is still just a footnote, and this stunt is just as significant as a streaker at an awards ceremony, a colorful little diversion, nothing more. It certainly will not be plied for its deep significance as it was here. It will be guffawed and dismissed as selfhating Jews gullibly espousing the enemy’s propaganda and the rigid, ridiculous Israel stance of the most powerful Jewish diaspora infrastructure will remain unchanged in any significant way. Unless you’re at the table, you’re on the menu, m’friends.

  3. KFJ wrote: “masturbatory diatribes beloved by the anti-peace choir”
    Uhm, your own post notes that Rae Abilea’s statement was first published by Jewlicious. Perhaps what we’re trying to do is bit more subtle than how you describe us. Perhaps some of us are not the unidimensional cartoonish figures you make us out to be. We’re about unity and dialog. There’s a reason why Rae and other code pink activists always felt comfortable at Jewlicious Festivals.
    What would be nice is if you engaged the middle in conversation rather than just effectively call him a wanker.
    Sof Maarav: I saw at least 4 former jewschoolers at the GA. Awesome nickname btw 😉 Halevi would be proud.

  4. @BZ:
    If the far left didn’t exist, the left would be the far left.
    Your comments are always so clever. Is it an invasion of privacy to ask what you do in the real world?

  5. I saw at least 4 former jewschoolers at the GA. Awesome nickname btw Halevi would be proud.
    As delegates or presenters? We need infiltration, which requires the former. Rav todot.

  6. Is the growth of the far left really a good thing?
    Fair point, although I appreciate BZ’s response too.
    Uhm, your own post notes that Rae Abilea’s statement was first published by Jewlicious.
    And I offered a full kol hakavod on Rae’s post to you, CK, for giving this conversation added depth and a place on Jewlicious. My respect for your big tent grows.
    I don’t think that means I can’t be irritated by certain contributors’ inability to speak past their own choirs. Although I gave all commentors props for their civil and mature responses.
    What’s really puzzling is why this story run everywhere in the Jewish press before it came to Jewschool–the supposed site for progressive Jews?
    Good question. It’s possible they were busy or that this wasn’t something they wanted to write about. I’ll ask.
    It certainly will not be plied for its deep significance as it was here.
    I linked to a number of interesting plyings of deep significance, one in particular that I liked by the Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Week.
    It will be guffawed and dismissed as selfhating Jews…
    By the majority, perhaps. But for those who stop by Jewschool, I hope they find deeper meaning.
    Unless you’re at the table, you’re on the menu, m’friends.
    Unless we’re eating at our own table, in which case we’re totally doing this high school passive aggressive style. Who’s eating who? Unless the terms of debate change, the establishment might find itself eating alone.
    So we can agree to disagree, although I take your point and would expect to see our Jewschool leaders who are in those positions of influence to speak up. Which may have, perhaps just in less publicity-laden style.

  7. One more plying of deeper significance on JTA’s blog by Ron Kampeas, against the term he used “fellow traveler” to serendipitous relevance due to the events of the day:

    But consider: Would not the loose robes of “fellow traveler” have hung as handsomely upon Bibi as they do upon those he now casts them? Yigal Amir believed Oslo was deadly for Israel; so did Bibi. Yigal Amir participated in protests where Rabin was likened to a Nazi; so did Bibi.
    And so on.
    These conflations are calumnies, of course, but it works both ways.
    If Netanyahu resents being cast together with a traitor who murdered an Israeli hero, so should he consider what the effects are of casting together loyal dissenters with those who would destroy Israel.

  8. KFJ,
    What should be the proper response by those of us who disagree with the views of the hecklers? Should we infiltrate JStreet functions and harass Jeremy Ben Ami? I think the actions of the protesters speaks more broadly to a kind of anti-intellectualism, a refusal to engage in substantive discussion, rather a desire for imposition of their ideas through disruption.
    I’ve recognized long ago that you and I – we’re around the same age, I believe – live in two very different Jewish worlds. In your world, the Jewish youth are rebelling against the reflexive pro-Israel zionism of their elders. In my world, the vast majority of Jewish youth are adopting quite hardened stances in support of Israel and against the peace industry in general. You are on the coast and I am in the midwest, and you may be right about young Jews, although I don’t see this trend that you and Beinart speak of.
    I see young Jews thinking less ideologically, or rather, more rigidly ideologically without recognizing the ideology, depending on how you view it. The range of ideologies has contracted sharply when compared to previous decades, and the center has exploded in size. More and more young Jews take their cue on how to view the situation from existing Jewish institutions, which I think is a problem for American Jews in general, not having to do with positions on Israel in particular.
    The quality of education has decreased dramatically, despite the proliferation of poli-sci diplomas. Whereas in the 30s and 40s every Jew was an intellectual, regardless of profession, who today discusses political poetry or the social condition of human beings, the finer points of socialist theory or the rightful role of government in public life? The range of thought has contracted. We’re just groups now, filled with dogma and self-righteous certitude, quick to denounce, unwilling to really engage one another without demagoguery.
    Haaretz published a series of articles recently about the settlers, perhaps you read them. One of them was titled something like: the settlers are human beings. What a thing to have to write about. And was there any reflection on the part of the paper or its readership of how this came about, that a group of people was so thoroughly demagogued and villified that it was necessary to remind us that they’re still human beings?!
    Leftist Jews are speaking out in greater numbers, leveraging new communication technologies to amass attention all out of proportion to their size within the community. They do this not to widen the terms of debate, but to narrow them, to dogmatize themselves into an unyielding mass. It’s all about victory, the bareknuckled brawl, a type of counter-intellectualism that I rebel against on the right, and sure as hell won’t put up with on the left.

  9. Yea, tactics, tactics, tactics… But JVP are the only folks telling it like it is, focusing on ending the occupation, on fundamental justice, not some hazy or curse-on-both-your-houses rhetoric of peace.
    I’m sick of choosing between tactics and truth. JStreet may get things done, but I don’t want to continue to prove my Zionist credentials (’cause I gave those up long ago). JVP is not taken seriously, even though they are the ones being honest.

  10. What, I want to ask, is your suggestion for a “better way to start the conversation?” Though issues of dialogue and inclusion are deeply important to me so I can carve out a place for myself in Jewish community, the goal here is bringing focus to Israeli injustices within a Jewish forum, not getting a seat at the table (where you are told to be grateful they saved you a place setting, now shut up and eat your matzo ball soup).

  11. With regards to
    ” Even worse, it becomes more difficult to engage Jewish students around any aspect of Jewish life, not just Israel-related issues. They just don’t want to be associated with the hostility.”
    As someone who was not involved with hillel or organized jewish campus life, a HUGE reason for that was because I didn’t want to be involved with anything that had no space for contention, disagreement, activism, or anything of any interest.

  12. 1/ ‘For every 5 protestors… there are dozens more like me’
    5 x 12 x 2 = 120
    Still not a lot
    2/ ‘In the words of Peter Beinart’s single tweet…’
    In the words of Peter Beinart’s single birth certificate, he’s forty (that’s your voice of Jewish youth)
    3/ ‘Luckily the Jewish left is growing’
    Luckily the Jewish left is dying out
    And is being replaced by:

    1. 1/ ‘For every 5 protestors… there are dozens more like me’
      5 x 12 x 2 = 120
      Still not a lot

      Try the math again. (Don’t worry, this is a common error in interpreting word problems.)

  13. I’m up for planning a more meaningful presence of our young, left cohort at the next GA. It would involve:
    – looking for students ready to jump on the GA pipeline for discounted and group tix
    – scouting the host city for fellow travelers willing to serve as volunteers, and to host out of towners
    – saving up for an exhibit booth or two
    – concerted effort to show up at every ‘social justice’ event and politely ask about Israel/Palestine
    – give participants stickers/buttons to identify themselves
    and so on. Anyone want to join me?

  14. For every 5
    there are dozens (plural of dozen)
    12 x 2
    for every 5 there are dozens means
    5 x 12 x 2
    So I’m right

    1. Nope. If there are dozens (12 x 2 = 24) for every 5, that means that there are 24/5 = 4.8 for every one.
      5x12x2 doesn’t mean anything except the number of people like KFJ for every 25 protestors.

  15. Right, except KFJ was clearly using metaphorical math. The language game we was playing doesn’t admit dave’s initial response.

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