Israel, Politics

Free Speech, Israel, and Jewish Illiberalism

Alan Wolfe writes in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Give Tony Judt credit: He certainly knows how to start an argument. Actually, he has started two. One, concerning the future of a Jewish state in the Middle East, is, like the Middle East itself, combustible, and it is by no means clear that intellectuals in this country will have much influence on how it is ultimately resolved. That is a shame, for we need in the United States a debate about the future of Israel as robust as the one that routinely takes place within Israel itself. In “Israel: The Alternative,” Judt paid particular attention to right-wing Israelis whose views, in his opinion, come quite close to fascism. But even though there is no denying that Israel, like the United States, has turned sharply to the right, must we conclude, as Judt seemed to suggest, that any state based on religion or ethnicity will ultimately be illiberal? And does it follow that if Israel is illiberal, its aggressive foreign policy will create a “disaster,” as Judt put it, for a United States that allies itself with the country?
Those are questions that Americans need to ask themselves — however they answer them. But it is hard to raise them, at least in any probing way, when prominent Hollywood celebrities like Mel Gibson flirt with anti-Semitism, and when newspapers like The New York Sun, a staunch defender of Israel, routinely accuse those who criticize Zionism of being little different from Gibson. It is difficult to know why honest discussions about Israel have become so difficult to conduct.

Read on…

8 thoughts on “Free Speech, Israel, and Jewish Illiberalism

  1. Mobius – thank you for bringing attention to this truly excellent article. Unfortunately it is an excellent article for the very reason why it’s irrelevant — it won’t convince those who need convincing.
    The best way to fight “bad speech” is with “good speech” and blind loyalty to a specific party line in the name of being pro-Israel (which many right-wing/centrist Israelis themselves oppose –> I love how the Israel lobby debate at Cooper Union asked the question ‘Is the Israel lobby good for Israel?’) isn’t good for the Jews or Israel.

  2. As long as international wire services, and tv continue to censor such works as “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land,” and the chilling videos of Bil’in, from, ‘dialogue’ will continue to remain ‘them against us.’
    As for the ‘religious right,’ they of course are no where in the real world, which makes them quite dangerous. They purport to study Torah, yet they seem to have missed the historical and philosophical importance of Judaism. That ours was the first story of the cosmos which began in harmony; ours is a religion of social justice; ours was the first to destroy paganism, to offer sanctuary, to free slaves, to give debt relief, to have “one standard for stranger and citizen alike.”
    Great philosophers, such as Plato, understand Torah better than they do. “The Parmenides” (cohering elohim and adonai), “The Symposium” (God made adam, male and female), and “The Republic” (no monarchies, ie Moses didn’t give his leadership to his biological kids) were the result of his study of Torah.
    As for speaking out, we must all speak out, no matter how many yahoos continue to bray their dissonant chords.

  3. “As long as international wire services, and tv continue to censor such works as “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land,”…”
    The film was hardly “censored”. You can read a synopsis of the film at the NYTimes website:
    Also at Yahoo movies, etc. etc. etc.
    I was not surprised to read that this film repeats the lie that there was a massacre in Jenin despite copious evidence to the contrary, including information provided by left-leaning human rights organizations.

  4. WEVS1, how dare you criticize that film! By doing so you are exercising censorship. Only say nice things. Or else you will be guilty of stifling correct — I mean, free — thought, too.

  5. Later in the same article”…discussions of Israel in the United States resemble a shouting match filled with insult and invective more than a reasoned debate over the proper relationship between that country and this one.
    For precisely that reason, the other argument Judt has started, which is whether people should be open to those whose views they find at best distasteful and at worst hateful is not, or at least ought not to be, controversial at all. Surely intellectuals, who commit themselves to arguments based on reason, should be enthusiastic in their support of open debate.”
    There is a tone and feeling when I talk to folks on both sides of the conflict that is disturbing to me. It is the tone of defensiveness, of positioning, of certitude. It is a need to be right and demand to be heard. It is not debate, discussion nor dialogue, but demagoguery. This is the key to resolving the conflict and bringing peace and prosperity to the whole of Israel-Palestine whether it is one state, two states or 15 states.
    When I hear the tone of demagoguery it indicates a closing down and a dishonoring, a dishonoring of oneself and the one one is talking to. Respect for the individual and what is his experience is gone.
    If I hear someone speak and I do not agree with what he is saying or what he is saying is wrong, I do not attack him, I do not see him as a threat to me, but I search to see more of the picture. I ask more questions, I look for the kernel of truth that is in everything even that which is most horrific. This type of looking and listening and faith in humanity is lost when one is in defense of ones position. When one is so sure that the other is wrong and that they are right.
    Why do people feel attraction to fascist and fundamentalist views? Why do people feel so strongly about the conflict between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East? Why is AIPAC considered to control US foreign policy?
    The answers to these questions are not so important but the nature of the question. The interest is not whether AIPAC does or does not impact US foreign policy, but why is that such an appealing statement. Why does AIPAC deny it? Why do others assert it?

  6. It happened that when I started studying Torah intensively (or, as intensively as possible without being fluent in Hebrew), I was also studying Plato intensively.
    It was almost obvious that some of his greatest dialogues were inspired by the books of Moshe. At some point, while traveling with friends to DC, I was practically foaming at the mouth while explaining the relationship of The Symposium to adam initiallly being one, and made into two, The Parmenides explaining the paradox of Elohim and Adonai, and, of course, the concept of a Republic first arising with the relationship between Moses and Joshua.
    One of my friends abruptly said, now that you mention it, Augustine wrote that Plato studied Torah, in his ‘City of God.’

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