Culture, Israel, Politics

How The Jewish Left Gets Left Behind

Former 20/20 producer Danny Shechter, “Are the Words ‘Israel’ and ‘Jews’ Synonymous?”

Somehow many in our media have turned the words Israel and Jews into synonyms, as if all Jews are hard-line Zionists who automatically back the policies and practices of the Israeli government, every Israeli government. Ironically, there is more debate among Jews in Israel on these issues than is reported, or somehow allowed in the United States where Jewish critics of Israel policies are often ignored or labeled “self-hating” Jews.
Many organizations, especially in Democratic Party circles (and even the blogosphere) would prefer to ignore the issue for fear of being divisive or attacked. Notice how many in the Congress rallied to Israel’s side before the facts were even in. Notice how few, even in the anti-war contingent, had the courage to speak out. (Read Tom Hayden’s recent piece apologizing for how skillfully he was co-opted by the Israeli Lobby when he ran for office in California.)
Some organizations are just shilling for the Israeli government–no matter what it does—out of both tribal loyalty and political fealty to neo-con/Likudnik politics, a perspective which enjoys unrivalled and disproportionate access to the media and its think-alike punditocracy. Some are just money generating mechanisms sending money to Israel, a developed county that gets $3 billion dollars annually in US aid intended for developing nations. The Federation which supports many social services just sent millions. One wonders how much of this will go to Israeli Arabs who have also had homes bombed?

Full story.

8 thoughts on “How The Jewish Left Gets Left Behind

  1. “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.” Martin Luther King Jr
    (From a piece by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, who represents the 5th Congressional District of Georgia and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. )
    In MLK’s mind the two are indeed synonymous. This can be troubling for folks on the left and on the right.
    The Right is appalled by Israel’s insistence on working with the U.N. under fire, while the Left are concerened about “abuse” of innocent Palestinians.
    Your theory that the Left doesn’t support Israel but lacks the courage to stand for what they believe is very telling. If they could muster up enough cajonas and condemn Israel, what would their logic be? “Israel must not react to the illegal entry of terrorists, the murder of 8 of her soldiers and kidnapp of two.” ?!?!
    I am optomistic in believing that the Left actually believes in Israel’s cause.
    (Spielberg dished a mil to help Israel’s relief . . . )

  2. Mobius,
    What would you have us do? Any time we even raise a peep, we are attack by Jews on the right for being anti-semitic and we are attacked by Jews on the left for being anti-semitic. I can’t even read Jewlicious anymore without seeing some hateful comment lobbed at the left for some perceived transgression (their rabbi is particularly egregious). There is an intentional campaign afoot to convince the Jews to abandon their deeply rooted passion for social justice and join the unquestioning “supporters” of Israel on the Christian right. So what do we do? Do we speak out and risk alienating our allies in the Jewish community? The poor and suffering of our country are crying out for justice and there will be none while Republicans remain in control. Everyday someone is going hungry because those bastards cut food stamps or welfare. Every day some child dies because their parents couldn’t afford insurance. Everyday some child is sleeping on the streets because they’ve cut public housing funds. Everyday someone has to work three jobs just to make ends meet. They are destroying our social safety net in order to give tax cuts and thousands of people are being hurt. I weep for the carnage on both sides in the middle east, but I also weep for the suffering here at home. What would you have us do?!?!

  3. Nicholas,
    I feel for you. Your life is going to become real challenging when you cant blame all of the worlds problems on the Bush administration.
    Your mindless comments need no reponse

  4. Merliner,
    You are one pathetic specimen of humanity, and I feel nothing but pity for you. Life is going to become real tough when you can no longer blame every one of Israel’s problems on the Arabs. There’s nothing I could possibly say to counteract your mind-numbing ignorance and appalling stupidity.
    THAT is what the Soloveitchik quote is talking about, not calling Ben Stein an asshole. Though it’s hardly the most elevated form of rhetoric, there’s not a damn thing wrong with calling Stein or anyone else an asshole, as long as I’m willing to set forth the reasons for saying so.
    “. . .I will never attack a person who preaches it” isn’t about avoiding offense to your delicate moral sensibilities by adopting some prissy finishing school prohibition against naughty words. It’s about responding to someone’s opinion with a personal smear, rather than with an actual argument subject to factual refutation. In other words, something exactly like, “Your mindless comments need no response.” Here’s a suggestion; if Nicholas’s comments are so mindless as to need no response, then maybe it’d be best if you just shut up.

  5. “There is a well-financed Israeli lobby that funds politicians and dominates the op-ed pages. What else explains the dramatic difference in public opinion in this country and overseas”
    Wow. Has this man ever read the op-ed columns “overseas” (by which I presume he means Europe)? They are dominated by explicit anti-Zionists who never fail to decry Israel as a colonialist European settler-state that is constantly the aggressor against innocent Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbors. If he is talking about op-eds outside of Europe, in the Middle East or parts of Latin America for example, not only are anti-Zionist sentiments routinely expressed, but anti-Semitic sentiments as well.
    Every Jew should have a look at Joel and Dan Kotek’s book, Au nom de l’antisionisme: L’image des Juifs et d’Israël dans la caricature depuis la seconde Intifada (Brussels: Éditions Complexe, 2003). (tr. In the name of anti-Semitism: The image of the Jews and Israel in the caricature since the second Intifada.) You will definitely be disgusted.
    Nicholas writes:
    “There is an intentional campaign afoot to convince the Jews to abandon their deeply rooted passion for social justice and join the unquestioning “supporters” of Israel on the Christian right.”
    To think that conservative Christians are somehow convincing Jews of something that is not in their best interest or otherwise manipulating Jews is a similar form of thinking to that which blames “the Jews” or “the neocons” for manipulating duped gentiles into starting the war in Iraq. In both cases personal agency and individual choices are subsumed under a conspiratorial view of politics.
    Plus shouldn’t we be aware of how dangerous it is to generalize about any group of people. I mean, how is anyone going to convince “the Jews”. WTF does that really mean, dude? Are we some undifferentiated mass of people lacking the political, class, and other divisions of any ethnic, religious or national group? I think not. We are a diverse group of people and I think we are all capable of making our own individual political decisions.
    I also don’t think your assessment is accurate. Most Jews continue to vote Democratic for a variety of reasons including our support for “social justice” issues like raising the minimum wage, labor and environmental protection, support for immigrants’ rights, etc.
    But there is no doubt that the Republican Party is courting Jewish votes by taking a strong stand on an issue that many Jews care about–steadfast support for Israel.
    The Republicans know that the vast majority of Jews–80-90%–will continue to vote Democratic. But, if they convince enough of our fellow Jews that the Democratic Party is more fickle in their support for Israel than the Republicans are, some Jews are going to vote Republican. People vote for politicians who they feel will represent their interests and for some Jews, at this time in particular, support for Israel is extremely important. I don’t think there is anything nefarious about the people who realize this in the Republican Party, nor is there anything wrong with our fellow Jews who vote Republican.
    I don’t vote Republican but I try to understand why others do. I think if we can understand what issues resonate with voters–Jewish or otherwise–we’ll win elections. That’s simply how politics is done in this country.

  6. New? Left behind? This is Danny Schechter grinding out the same damn article that everyone and their sister has panted to Counterpunch et al in an effort to assure their fellow travellers that, no really, they’re good Jews. Next week’s exciting follow up: Danny tells the tale of his youthful indoctrination into a caricatured Zionism, only to see the light of his straw man youth and discover that Zionism wasn’t the caricature he’d described it as, it was the caricature anti-Zionists had been selling all along!
    And then the next installment, where he eagerly refers to himself as a self-hating Jew — not his term, everyone else’s, you understood — to be followed by the happy arrival of e-mails which he doesn’t agree with, to be brandished as proof positive about how Jews – don’t – let – other – Jews -speak!
    Feh. Enough with the going through the motions, already. This article is just more copy-paste ignorance.

  7. A few more comments on the “Jewish Left”
    When Jews came to the United States from Central and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century they brought with them what labor historian Herbert Gutman called “cultural baggage” including membership in socialist and anarchist organizations. The Jewish immigrant left was a diverse political milieu and the various competing ideological groups did a lot of political and other forms of organizing including forming unions, mutual benefit assocations, radical newspapers, etc.
    The late, great, historian of the anarchist movement, Paul Avrich(R.I.P.), noted that the decline of immigrant radicalism was not only the result of harsh government action against the anarchists but the success of the American Dream. Simply stated, as Jews became successful in the U.S. and were able to provide better lives for their children, including a college education, the base of the movement failed to attract new members. College educated Jews became members of the middle-class and had little interest in engaging in revolutionary activities.
    While radical leftists mourn Jewish success (and consciously and unconsciously wish we would remain perpetual victims) this success is something most Jews celebrate. And rightfully so. The radical left, by contrast, celebrates victimhood. So, in the present political context with Islamist totalitarians claiming the West is engaged in a “war Against Islam”, the radical left flocks to support them. Never mind that these are reactionary political forces. That doesn’t matter. What matters is for leftists to feel good about themselves by taking the side of who they perceive to be the underdog.
    Another factor in the Jewish shift away from the radical left was the New Left’s embrace of a Third Worldist worldview with an emphasis on anti-colonial movements. What most had in common was an uncritical and congratulatory stance, “guerilla romanticism,” towards the national liberation struggles occurring in the Third World. Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, were all viewed as interconnected struggles against imperialism. Concurrently, New Left propagandists were linking supposed Zionist exploitation of Third World peoples to perceived Jewish exploitation of African Americans in the inner cities of the United States. George Novack, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party wrote an article that expressed that, “the upper and middle ranges of American Jewry, comfortably ensconced in bourgeois America, some of them bankers, landlords, big and little businessmen, participate in the system of oppressing and exploiting the black masses, just as the Zionists have become oppressors of the Palestinians Arabs.”
    The contemporary radical left—what Ronald Radosh terms the leftover left—is the inheritor of this cultural baggage. Fairly recently my alma matter, San Francisco State University, had a particularly bad episode of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism. At a pro-Israel rally held on May 2002 the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) and Muslim Student Association (MSA) distributed fliers with a lurid image of a baby with a hole (presumably a bullet fired by IDF soldiers) with the caption, “Palestinian Children Meat. Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” At the rally Jewish students were told, “Get out or we will kill you” and “Hitler did not finish the job.” When campus and community-based Jewish groups expressed their outrage, far left organizations rallied behind the MSA and GUPS claiming the flyers were an acceptable form of free speech.
    The rhetoric, if alarming, is familiar. Jews have long been depicted as both the organizers of global communism and architects of international capitalism as the managers of mass media and controllers of the international banking system. What has changed, at least in my lifetime, is the conflation of ideas and ideologues between the extreme left and the extreme right. What both extremes share is a common penchant for paranoia and anti-Jewish sentiment. This is an alarming trend.
    There was a lot of explicit anti-Semitism articulated by the leaders of the New Left, in particular the African American nationalist and pan-Africanist leadership who the New Left viewed as the “vanguard” in a an anticipated revolutionary struggle in the U.S.
    What Danny boy and the rest of the Israel-obsessed left seem so completely ignorant of is that the vast majority of Jews, especially progressive ones, have absolutely no issue with legitimate criticism of Israeli government actions—such as IDF activities in the Occupied Territories—or of Israeli government officials like Prime Minister Sharon. For most Jews—left, right and center—our concern is with the especially venomous nature of the criticisms against Israel. Lastly, the author is so completely blinded by his ideological prerogatives that he fails to notice that the far left’s flirting with outright anti-Semitism has not led Jews towards socialist notions of universal solidarity but to the Republican right.
    All these factors contributed to the decline of the radical left’s popularity among most Jews. Some remained loyalists (Chomsky being the most well-known) but quite a few shifted to the right. Some of them became the dreaded neocons we hear so much about here at Jewschool as well as Democracy Now and Counterpunch. Some of us just moved from the far left to the center.
    In conclusion, I don’t blame the right for this. I place blame squarely where it lies, with the radical leftists who promoted these crackpot theories and anti-Semitic tropes. In other words, if far leftists want to know why the far left is so weak in this country, take a look in the mirror.

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