God's Politics

From Matthew Yglesias:

The New York Times reports “Essay Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor”. The essay is by David Harris. The publisher is the American Jewish Committee. To be flip about it, the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism seems to be that it isn’t anti-semitism. Certainly, to qualify as a “new anti-semite” it doesn’t seem to be necessary to have a bigoted view of the Jewish religion or of Jewish people as an ethnic or cultural group. The author pretends to argue that hostility to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism, which is fairly ridiculous on its own terms, but as you read through the examples that’s clearly not what he’s saying. Rather, his view is that some people make what he regards as extreme or over-the-top criticisms of Israel, and that anti-semites would also make such criticisms, so therefore anyone who criticizes Israel too stridently is either practicing anti-semitism or else creating it. …

The idea, basically, is to scare the goyim who figure that while liberal Jews can take the heat, they probably can’t, and had best just avoid talking about the whole thing. And based on my observations of the blogosphere, it works pretty well as a tactic.

Hence, we thought Jeff Halper, an Israeli Jewish activist and outspoken critic of his government’s policies, might take this idea of “new anti-semitism” personally – and be able to “take the heat.” He responds:

A “cult” can be defined as a closed system of belief in which all contradictory information is excluded. In terms of the obsessive vehemence with which the so-called leaders of the “organized” Jewish community attempt to stifle any and all critical views on Israel and its policies towards the Palestinians, I would argue that American Judaism is in danger of being turned into a cult. One exclusive idea – Israel as a Jewish state – has superseded all other Jewish values and views. Opinion on Israel must conform to an “official” position enforced by self-appointed gatekeepers, none of whom have been elected as official representatives of the politically diverse Jewish community, as far as I know.

Anyone who diverges from the party line is derided, ostracized, and even threatened by the gatekeepers. Listen to one Shulamit Reinharz, director of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis, who said in the wake of Jimmy Carter’s visit to campus to discuss Israeli apartheid:

Let all Jews who are truly progressive, liberal, not self-hating and not anti-Zionist develop a clear set of ideas to address these individuals specifically. Let organizations that fight anti-Semitism have special divisions to combat Jewish anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Ironically, the gatekeepers often see their role as preventing such head-on encounters. In years of speaking in the U.S., I have been excluded from speaking to Jewish audiences. Alan Dershowitz made good press by deriding President Carter’s unwillingness to debate him. I have challenged Dershowitz repeatedly and have been turned down repeatedly. As far as I know he has never exposed himself to a “head-on” debate with an Israeli who knows a little more about Israel and its policies than he does.

Remember when ten Jews had eleven different opinions? Well, we’ve reached a state where ten Jews are only allowed one official opinion.

Jeff Halper is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), based in Jerusalem.

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