Monday, June 15, 2009

On Self-Loathing: TCN Succumbs to Partisan Hackery for a Night

As Netanyahu's speech continues to have a fairly predictable effect, conservative writers on the conflict have been predictable as well. In response to what is ultimately a fairly small policy change in Washington, these writers have flung allegations of all sorts at the administration and those who support its policies. Liberal writers too have come down harshly on Netanyahu as colonialist and backwards-thinking, but from the right, the administration has been accused of being out of touch with reality, equating Israel with terrorist groups, acceding to Palestinian demands, abandoning a strategic partnership, and being naive in the face of Middle East politics. Its supporters have been accused of flip-flopping, naivete, being anti-Zionist, and being out of touch with traditional ties to Judaism. Writing responses to these articles would only legitimize their audacious arguments and draw the debate into partisan hackery. But one analysis of those who support settlement freezing is consistent among most of the writers and is a dangerously false way to analyze public sentiment.

In an editorial that speaks for itself, Dutch writer Leon De Winter writes:


"American Jews, at cocktail parties in the Village or the Upper West Side, prefer Israel to act proportionately and to behave as decent, civilized, upper-class Jews, not as Middle Eastern warriors. Since the 1982 massacres in Sabra and Shatila, committed by Lebanese Maronites but attributed to Israel and Ariel Sharon, liberal American Jewry went on a long journey and arrived at a historic point: just like Obama, it gave up on Israel."

The accusation of American Jewry abandoning Israel is pervasive in conservative editorials and the criticism is only more pointed when talking about the progressive pro-Israel lobby. A Jerusalem Post editorial from April 12, 2009 by James Kirchick is entitled simply, "Self-Loathing on J Street." The basic argument is that as a result of naivete and assimilation, American Jews have grown distant from Israel and criticize it based on a lack of respect for their heritage. In extreme cases, this is described as self-loathing, a shock value term which equates moderate liberal Jews with radical left-wing extreme ideologues like Noam Chompsky and Norm Finklestein.

However, to say that those who support Obama's demand for settlement freeze are self-loathing or out of touch ignores a few points of consideration. Firstly, the vast majority of Obama supporters are in favor of a freeze because they perceive it to be in Israel's interest. The issue is not prioritizing US interest at Israel's expense. Rather, it is agreeing with the US strategy to attain peace over the current Israeli government's strategy. In either case, the end goal is support for Israeli interests.

Secondly, to say that all supporters of Obama's policy are naive and assimilated is a totally baseless and unsubstantiated claim. Nowhere have any of the writers offered a shred of evidence to support their claims that liberal Jews somehow "get it less" from a policy perspective. And as Max Blumenthal's video so painfully illustrated, not all supporters of Netanyahu's policies are exactly worldly and informed. This argument is an attempt to shift the debate away from the actual argument, and is a poor defense of Netanyahu's policies.

Finally, both of the above are wedge issues only on the pages of the right-wing writers. The vast majority of supporters of Obama's policy see it as a way to mature the US-Israel relationship, not destroy it. Conservative writers have done far more damage to Jewish and pro-Israel unity by defaulting to knee-jerk accusations than liberals have by questioning Israeli policy. For years, the pro-Israel community has denied accusations that it forces its constituents to be in lockstep. The kind of pressure, based not at all on factual and reasonable discourse, that liberal Americans are under from this segment of the right only serves to legitimize that accusation.

If this segment of the pro-Israel community continues these ineffective tactics of bitter criticism and baseless discourses on American Jewry and its flaws, it is likely to have the effect of presenting both legitimate and illegitimate conservative thought on the US-Israel relationship as petty, out of touch, and irrelevant.


Sources:

1) Leon De Winter, "Time for a New Ally?" Jerusalem Post, June 16, 2009.

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