Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Are you a "righteous Jew" or a "New Afrikaner"?

John Mearsheimer's talk yesterday at the Jerusalem Fund, The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners does make one good point: that if a Palestinian state is not created alongside Israel, increasingly the "one-state" solution will occur of its own accord, leaving Palestinians in the West Bank totally disenfranchised. This is why I support two states, and oppose the current right-wing Israeli government, which seems to be totally unwilling to recognize reality and work towards the creation of the Palestinian state. As Mearsheimer says, if a Palestinian state is not created, then the Zionist dream of a Jewish state is dead as well. These are harsh words but I do not object to this part of his talk.

I do object, however, to the antisemitic part of his talk, the part where he has decided to take the gloves off and put the Jews of America on trial.
American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. They also understand that the Palestinians paid an enormous price to make it possible to create Israel in 1948. Moreover, they recognize the pain and suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967. Finally, most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state. In essence, they believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end. Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
I guess by Mearsheimer's reasoning I might qualify as a "righteous Jew," since I support a two-state solution. But who is it that Mearsheimer qualifies as "righteous Jews"? Almost all of the individuals he names are anti-Zionists (e.g., Chomsky, Falk, Finkelstein, Judt, Klein, Roy, and Weiss). Some of them (like Finkelstein and Weiss) traffic in anti-Jewish stereotypes (when William Safire, the New York Times columnist, died, Weiss engaged in the most bizarre attacks on the press, saying that not mentioning Safire's Zionist convictions in his obituaries was as a result of "Jewish power" over the press). Chomsky has defended Holocaust deniers like Robert Faurisson, and has a disgraceful record of whitewashing the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Why would I regard these people as "righteous"? I certainly don't want to be in their company. I do not think that other American Jews should follow them.
On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state. These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state. This is not to say that the new Afrikaners think that apartheid is an attractive or desirable political system, because I am sure that many of them do not. Surely some of them favor a two-state solution and some of them probably have a serious commitment to liberal values. The key point, however, is that they have an even deeper commitment to supporting Israel unreservedly. The new Afrikaners will of course try to come up with clever arguments to convince themselves and others that Israel is really not an apartheid state, and that those who say it is are anti-Semites. We are all familiar with this strategy.

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.
So even someone who supports a two-state solution can be called a "New Afrikaner" because he or she does not meet Mearsheimer's qualifications for being a good Jew? I do not like some of the people he names - Morton Klein in particular, who is extremely right-wing, or Hoenlein, who does his level best to pull the Conference of Presidents to the right as much as he can. But Foxman? Harris? Peretz? And how does he know what would they would think or do if Israel did "cross the line" into apartheid? He doesn't know. But because these people do not agree with him on Israel, he is willing to smear them as "New Afrikaners."
The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews. The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.

There is no question that the present balance of power favors the new Afrikaners. When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them. The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time. This situation is due in good part to the fact that most American Jews – especially the elders in the community – have little understanding of how far down the apartheid road Israel has travelled and where it is ultimately headed. They think that the two-state solution is still a viable option and that Israel remains committed to allowing the Palestinians to have their own state. These false beliefs allow them to act as if there is little danger of Israel becoming South Africa, which makes it easy for them to side with the new Afrikaners.

This situation, however, is unsustainable over time. Once it is widely recognized that the two-state solution is dead and Greater Israel is a reality, the righteous Jews will have two choices: support apartheid or work to help create a democratic bi-national state. I believe that almost all of them will opt for the latter option, in large part because of their deep-seated commitment to liberal values, which renders any apartheid state abhorrent to them. Of course, the new Afrikaners will fiercely defend apartheid Israel, because their commitment to Israel is so unconditional that it overrides any commitment they might have to liberal values.
Mearsheimer's "righteous Jews," have in part, already made the choice he taxes them with - some of them already support the one-state solution (Chomsky, Finkelstein, Roy, and Weiss). All of the ones he names (not J-Street) already fiercely oppose Israel and its right to exist. What Mearsheimer labels "righteous" in a Jew is the willingness to see the state of Israel dismantled. He is living in a dream world if he thinks that a democratic bi-national state can be created under these conditions. And of course, missing entirely from Mearsheimer's supposedly "realist" viewpoint is any reference to the violence that Palestinians have inflicted upon Israelis. Hamas has disappeared from his world. The Palestinian-nationalist fantasy that a Jewish Temple never stood in Jerusalem doesn't exist.
The critical question, however, is: what will happen to those Jews who comprise the great ambivalent middle once it is clear to them that Israel is a full-fledged apartheid state and that facts on the ground have made a two state solution impossible? Will they side with the new Afrikaners and defend apartheid Israel, or will they ally with the righteous Jews and call for making Greater Israel a true democracy? Or will they sit silently on the sidelines?

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel but will either keep quiet or side with the righteous Jews against the new Afrikaners, who will become increasingly marginalized over time. And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.
Again, if the "righteous Jews" are represented by the figures he names (again, not J-Street, which is "pro-peace" and "pro-Israel"), I cannot imagine that the bulk of American Jewry will follow them. Most American Jews have enough decent self-respect not to follow the twisted ways of the so-called righteous Jews whom he names.

What Mearsheimer has done in this speech is to create a standard by which American Jews will be judged to be "good" Jews or "bad" Jews. In this, he follows in the dishonorable steps of Charles Lindbergh in September, 1941, when he made an antisemitic speech for America First which ruined his reputation. See this contemporaneous report by Time Magazine:
Hitler showed how attacks on the Jews can be used as a prime device for promoting discord, inciting bitterness, destroying tolerance and ultimately overthrowing the basic principles of civil liberties and personal freedom. Last week, continuing to divide the nation, Hero Lindbergh attacked the Jews as being one of the "three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war.'' The other two groups: the British and the Roosevelt Administration.
It is no news that Jews heartily dislike Hitler and would gladly see him frazzled. They would be less than human if they did not. Hero Lindbergh, piously declaring that "no person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany," offered U.S. Jews advice: they should suppress their natural opinion. He added: "The Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it [war] ... for they will be among the first to feel its consequences." The plain implication was that the Jews will be blamed for war if it comes and will be persecuted because of it when opportunity arises. If this was not a threat it was the next thing to it.
Next to blaming the Jews for a war (especially if lost), the most effective anti-Jew talk is to accuse Jews of having more than their share of wealth and influence. Hero Lindbergh did not accuse the Jews of financial and industrial dominance. That charge, as he may have learned from his late father-in-law, Morgan Partner Dwight Morrow, is too easily disproved. But Lindbergh did accuse the Jews of undue success in other fields: "Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our Government."


  1. This is a minor nit-pick, but you're mistaken to say Chomsky supports a one-state solution. At least as of five years ago, Chomsky was saying that the one-state idea is hopelessly unrealistic, and he thinks the best hope is a two-state solution.

  2. Really? I didn't realize that. Do you have a citation? I'd like to read what he said.

  3. There's an interview with Chomsky here in which he says that one-state is impossible and that two-state is the best possibility.

  4. Thank you for the reference. I'll take a look at it.

  5. Wonderful post. I think the major point (although it is psychologizing) is that Mearsheimer's analysis flows from denying the right of Jews to participate in American democracy unless first meeting his approval. Strangely backwards, his views on Israel are second to his views on American Jews.

    Btw, have you read Michael Berube's "The Left at War." About a third of it is the best takedown of Chomsky I've seen.

  6. Thank you, Matt. I haven't read Berube's book - it looks like I should.

    I think you're right about Mearsheimer. His biggest beef is not with Israel, but with American Jews. We can only really participate in American democracy on sufferance - if we meet his standards. He seems to have forgotten that we're citizens too, and our participation doesn't depend on whether members of the majority like what we say and do.

  7. Exactly. From the LRB article: "a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress." I am a citizen as much as anyone else! And if someone agrees with me, it is not some nefarious "stranglehold." Part of the problem is the view of the "American interest" as a fixed and tangible thing (which is probably consistent with his Realism), rather than as something socially constructed.

    What truly shocks me is how few people called Mearsheimer a racist when the article first came out.

  8. Rebecca,

    A number of years ago, I corresponded at length with Professor Chomsky. I think, based on that series of correspondence, that he supports a two state solution but has the view that the Arab side has offered peace repeated while the Israelis do not. At least, that is how I understand what he told me. He has no intelligible answer for the point that the Arab side may, in fact, not always speak its true mind when it speaks.

    As for your post, I think that the view that one state is coming if there is no two state solution begs the question. The assumption you make is that there is, in fact, a basis for a two state solution that can resolve the dispute. The evidence for that proposition seems less than weak, in my view. It is non-existent.

    And, I should add, I see no one state solution either, unless the goal is to be cruel to both sides. Which is to say, those who favor a one state solution want Jews and Arabs to reenact the debacle that is Lebanon.

    I think there is no solution to the dispute. Which is to say, I agree with Benny Morris' argument that, in the end, this dispute will continue until there is a mostly all Jewish state or an entirely Arab state.

    So, I think you are defending something that is a delusion.

    As for Mr. Mearsheimer, his book (with Mr. Walt, with whom I have also corresponded back and forth - but not as extensively as with Chomsky - by email) made his views rather obvious. Why should anyone be surprised when he restates his Judeo-centric theories - theories that are not very friendly to Jews?

  9. I'm not surprised about Mearsheimer's views, but I do think it's necessary to oppose them vocally, rather than passing over them in silence.

  10. "I do think it's necessary to oppose them vocally, rather than passing over them in silence."

    I agree entirely.