The American Jewish Left loves labeling AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, as doctrinaire, unrepresentative, and bullying – adjectives which often describe the Far Left itself. This “AIPACing” of AIPAC – caricaturing the broad bipartisan lobby as monolithic and intimidating -- reflects another, more insidious, scheme. Increasingly, the barrage of Israel criticism is escalating hopes of ending Israel’s West Bank presence into dreams of ending Israel.
Note what happened when New York’s new mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC,” echoing most liberal Democratic leaders who recognize that most American Jews – and thus most AIPACers – are liberal Democrats. This routine greeting drew a mass smackdown from Progressive Jews, who lectured: “your job is not to do AIPAC’s bidding…. AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us." Two protesters, Roly Matalon and Felicia Sol, are rabbis at New York’s B’nai Jeshrun congregation. Forty-three congregants then condemned their rabbis’ “factually incorrect,” “offensive,” and “divisive” words.
“[W]e object to the way you mischaracterize the work that AIPAC does and the diverse political affiliation of its many members,” the bothered BJers wrote. “By attempting to paint AIPAC into an ideological corner, you have injured AIPAC’s ability to continue its bipartisan efforts, and in so doing have hurt the State of Israel as well.” Particularly infuriating was their self-righteous rabbis’ cosigning with “a leader of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel.”
Somehow, these rabbis find de Blasio’s AIPAC nod more revolting than blithely joining a boycotter allied with the hard anti-Israel left. This transitive property of politics, whereby my allies implicate me, should work left and right. We need a big broad Zionist tent that includes critics, reserving the “anti-Israel” label for delegitimizers and demonizers who earn it. But just as I reject anti-Arab bigots, price-taggers, and settler hoodlums who share my support for Israel, principled progressives should reject those who slither from opposing occupation to repudiating Israel.
Unfortunately, intellectual trends in New York have started slipping from anti-occupation to anti-Zionism, lubricated by contempt for Binyamin Netanyahu. The totalitarian left’s anti-Zionist “dog whistles” -- subtle coded messages particular audiences are primed to hear -- demonize Israel and Zionism behind a mask of “only” condemning occupation. In September, the New York Timesspotlighted Ian Lustick’s lengthy, biased hatchet job rejecting the “Two-State Illusion” which contemplated the “disappearance of Israel as a Zionist project, through war, cultural exhaustion, or demographic momentum.” In October, the New Yorker published excerpts from Ari Shavit’s The Promised Land, which transformed the fog of 1948’s war into a clear program of ethnic cleansing. The essay culminated with the outrageous ahistorical statement, “Zionism instigated a human catastrophe in the Lydda Valley,” imputing evil intentionality to the chaos that ensued when the Arabs chose annihilationist war over peaceful partition.
The next month, New York’s chattering class toasted Shavit’s book, because it pries open the 1948 file, shifting from the post-1967 question about what safe, secure, legitimate borders Israel should have, to the 1948 question of whether Israel should exist at all. Now the dog-whistle comes wrapped in blue-and-white from a proud Zionist, thus legitimizing Israel’s delegitimization. In December, Progressives exaggerated the marginal American Studies Association’s importance, to exaggerate the anti-Israel academic boycott’s popularity.
This year has begun with John Judis’s tendentious book Genesis, which slinks from “AIPACing” AIPAC to rejecting Zionism. Judis, a senior editor of The New Republic, denounces America’s “pattern of surrender to Israel and its supporters,” laments how the “American people … must bow to the demands of the powerful pro-Israel lobby,” minimizes Muslim anti-Semitism, and accuses Zionists of “colonizing Palestine,” claiming Theodor Herzl “like other Europeans during this age of imperialism … viewed the natives as lesser beings.”
Judis is a secular Jew enamored of early Reform’s aversion to Jewish nationalism; just days ago, the New York Times celebrated religious Jews who “love being Jewish” but “don’t love the state of Israel.” The article is a characteristic postmodern con job, wherein media magnification tries mainstreaming marginal, fragmented voices. It is not a trend when five pious anti-Zionists proclaim “nationalism and religion together are toxic,” the “very concept of a state as being for one people” will “inevitably … lead to a moral and political disaster,” and “there are lots of ways to be Jewish” preferable to “worshiping a heavily militarized state.”
Even as more intellectuals envision Israel’s disappearance, they mock those who take the deadly delusions seriously as right wing demagogues. “Warning: imaginary existential danger ahead,” Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy scoffs. Palestinians and Iranians threaten annihilation so frequently they desensitize us, dulling our capacity for outrage. Yet Jews know that, in this world, the inconceivable can become possible.
An intellectual echo chamber now amplifies the anti-Zionist dog whistle. The books and periodicals many American Jews read assert that enlightened Jews are finally, justifiably, rejecting Israel as a racist, imperialist, colonialist imposition that oppresses Palestinians. The ground is shifting. The peer pressure is growing. The elites are wavering.
Yet, as the anti-boycott backlash led by 200 universities shows and as the BJ backlash against their rabbis’ shows, most American Jews resist this anti-Zionist Kool-Aid. Thousands of young Jews continue to delight in Israel on Birthright trips. Brandeis’s Cohen Center surveys find twenty-something Jews more engaged with Israel than their thirty-something elders. The Pew Study found 69 percent of American Jews attached to Israel, with forty percent believing God gave Israel to the Jewish people – in a community that is only ten percent Orthodox.
Even more important, most Americans join their Jewish fellow citizens in supporting Israel, condemning Palestinian exterminationism, and understanding that, whatever criticisms they may have of Israeli policies, dreaming of Israel’s destruction is irrational, bigoted, and an obstacle to peace.
Gil Troy is a Professor of History at McGill University and the author of eight books on American history, including, Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, recently published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!