Apropos my earlier piece arguing that the ferocious backlash by the Zionist right against Jewish critics of Israel — also targeting as ‘anti-semitic’ those like Archbishop Desomand Tutu who seek to judge Israel by universal moral standards — is a sign of panic over losing their claim to a monopoly on representing Jews, evidence is growing that they are increasingly aware of their own predicament. One reader (thanks, Sasha!) pointed out this glum editorial by arch-Zionist and neocon Daniel Pipes, warning that even if it overcomes all the mortal threats that neocons like to see all around Israel, that won’t help it cope with what he calls Israel’s ultimate challenge — “a Jewish population increasingly disenchanted with, even embarrassed by, the country’s founding ideology, Zionism, the Jewish national movement.” (Actually, Daniel, I’d call it the Jewish nationalist movement, but let’s not quibble here.)
It’s worth quoting at lenght from Pipes’ piece:
“Worse for Israel, Jewish nationalism has lost the near-automatic support it once had among secular Jews, many of whom find this nineteenth-century ideology out of date. Some accept arguments that a Jewish state represents racism or ethnic supremacism, others find universalist and multi-cultural alternatives compelling. Consider some signs of the changes underway:Noting that these trends simply put young Israelis and American Jews in line with international trends, the only consolation he offers is that things will hopefully get better for the Zionists a quarter century from now.
Young Israelis are avoiding the military in record numbers, with 26 percent of enlistment-age Jewish males and 43 percent of females not drafted in 2006. An alarmed Israel Defense Forces has requested legislation to deny state-provided benefits to Jewish Israelis who do not serve. Israel’s Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has up-ended the work of the Jewish National Fund, one of the pioneer Zionist institutions (founded in 1901) by determining that its role of acquiring land specifically for Jews cannot continue in the future with state assistance. Prominent Israeli historians focus on showing how Israel was conceived in sin and has been a force for evil. Israel’s ministry of education has approved school books for third-grade Arab students that present the creation of Israel in 1948 as a ‘catastrophe’ (Arabic: nakba). Avraham Burg, scion of a leading Zionist household and himself a prominent Labor Party figure, has published a book comparing Israel with 1930s Germany. A 2004 poll found only 17 percent of American Jews call themselves ‘Zionist.’
Add to this the observations of Phil Weiss, whose blog is must-read for those seeking a smart and sober chronicling of the battle of ideas in today’s America, much of it focused on Jewish identity politics (although far from exclusively so).
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When he heard that the rightwing Zionist media watchdog organization CAMERA was organizing a summit on “Jewish Defamers of Israel,” he did what any good journalist should: He paid his $40 and attended the event. And what he found was a bunch of alte kakkers (he didn’t call them that, of course, simply noted that the average age appeared to be over 60) kvetching in communion with stalwarts of the Zionist right. He writes:
The CAMERA people are losing and they know it. Near the end Cynthia Ozick was asked how we should go about delegitimizing the delegitimizers of the Jewish state and she sighed and said, “It’s hopeless.” Alvin Rosenfeld, the author of the disgraceful report on Jewish anti-Semitism put out by the American Jewish Committee, was mildly more optimistic. He said exactly what I say: “We are in a furious intellectual struggle. There is a war of ideas going on… it won’t end quickly…. It is steady work.” And it is “serious and worrisome” inasmuch as these ideas may now “enter the mainstream.” Amen.And then, to cap it all, in the continuing tradition of Nixonesque paranoia that has everyone from Jimmy Carter to Bishop Tutu being closet Jew-haters, the CAMERA people identify a new target requiring urgent pressure: No, not Iran, Haaretz! Turns out the Israeli liberal daily (which, BTW, still pursues what it calls a Zionist editorial line, albeit from the left) is the latest “threat” to Israel, because it tends to report the truth about Israeli actions. And what they’re most worried about is Haaretz’s excellent English-language web site. As Weiss reports:
…The reason It’s hopeless for the other side is that there was, in the basement of the synagogue, little to zero acknowledgement of the three great realities that are feeding Jewish post-Zionism.
1. the end of anti-Semitism. My old friend and I talked about a Jewish Daily News columnist who refused to hire Jews. That was 50 years ago. The injury is fresh. As the memories of anti-Semitism are for my parents. And they are virtually meaningless to young Americans. A panelist very briefly acknowledged this at the end, saying that Jews are so comfortable in America, how do we stir them?
2. the Israeli occupation of Arab lands and Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians were at no time acknowledged, but endlessly rationalized. The separate roadway system for settlers and Palestinian Arabs–rationalized. The incursion into Jenin–whitewashed. And so on. This sort of denial went on in South Africa during the campaign against apartheid. Young people don’t feel quite so defiant.
3. Not a word about Iraq. I have this feeling often in conservative Jewish gatherings. Iraq doesn’t touch them. It’s not a big deal to them, they are removed from it, they are for a hawkish policy in the Mideast and so they talk about Darfur/Sudan more than Baghdad.
The heart of Levin’s concern was the American discourse. When Haaretz was just published in Israel, CAMERA didn’t care about its statements about the occupation and the destruction of Palestinian hopes and dreams and olive trees. “This all happened in Hebrew… causing little outward impact..”When the Zionist right in America “defends Israel” by going after one of Israel’s most respected newspapers which happens to tell the truth about the occupation and related matters, it’s not hard to see why Pipes & co. have little cause for optimism. The Zionist moment is over, because most Jews around the world (and even many in Israel) are not inclined to a nationalist view of their Jewishness. And remember, Zionism is not much more than 100 years old, arising along with the nationalist currents of late 19th century Europe that accompanied the breakup of the Hapsburg empire. It’s hardly surprising that in a 21st century where we have had a free choice, almost two thirds of us have chosen to live not in a “Jewish State” but wherever in the world we choose to. Many Israelis today are excercising the same choice. And Jews who are not prone to nationalism have no need to rationalize Israel’s abuses against others.
Outward impact. She means: now Haaretz is affecting U.S. opinion and foreign policy. The most important statement Levin made was that she gets the brushoff from Amos Schocken, the Haaretz publisher, but with the American media, “there is an unwritten contract between them and us.” (Verbatim transcript to come later, when I have a little time…) An unwritten contract: to be fair to Israel, to print CAMERA members’ letters, to pick up the phone.
Isn’t that amazing and scandalous? Levin is explaining why there is a free debate in Israel and not here. Because of the lobby and its “unwritten contract.” Because U.S. support is crucial to Israel’s existence. And so Americans, who supposedly so love the Middle East democracy that they support it out of the goodness of their hearts, must not read the news from Israel.
Tony Karon is a journalist from Cape Town, South Africa and resident of New York since 1993. He is currently a senior editor at TIME.com (although his writings at Atlantic Free Press and personal blog he does on his own time and is personally entirely responsible for its content, which in no way reflects the views or outlook of anyone else).
Karon has worked for Time since 1997, covering the Middle East, the “war on terror” and international issues ranging from China’s emergence to the Balkans. He also does occasional op-eds for Haaretz and other publications, as well as bits of TV and radio punditry for CNN, MSNBC, and various NPR shows. Karon did an ever-so-brief stint at Fox News (measured in months!) and worked at George magazine in its startup year. Having majored in economic history, he cut his analytical teeth in South Africa in the struggle years, where he worked both as an editor in the “alternative” press and as an activist of the banned ANC. And in that context, his obsession with understanding global events took root, as a means of contextualizing the choices and obstacles faced in the struggle against apartheid.
In 1990/1, he gave up his activist career almost as soon as Nelson Mandela was released, the ANC was unbanned and the regime conceded to a transition to democracy — and a “normality” was achieved in South Africa politics. Karon then went to work in the mainstream media at the Cape Times and the Mail & Guardian Weekly, before leaving for New York in 1993 on what he imagined would be an extended holiday.
A brief research gig at Time Out opened his eyes to the possibilities of working in the U.S. — as well as hooking up to the first connections of the sort of ever-expanding networks that make life in the city possible. What followed was a mad array of freelance gigs ranging from the sublime (television work for Britain’s Channel 4 that involved escapades such as spending three days with the rapper Notorious B.I.G.) to the ridiculous — writing the script for a Geffen Records “rockumentary” on Manowar, an upstate New York heavy metal band, really big in Spain and Greece, whose brief spell in the Guiness Book of records as the world’s loudest band underscored their image of themselves as Norse warriors and Wagner’s true inheritors.
While he relished the professional holiday from the serious themes that had preoccupied his life during the 80s, and the opportunity to explore other interests and passions, he gravitated back to writing about geopolitics. The optimism surrounding the new paradigms of post-Cold War politics suddenly began to recede, and familiar patterns began to repeat themselves. Reading the New York Times on the subway en route to various day jobs, Karon found himself drawn back to the big themes. There were things that needed saying, and he had more to offer than commentaries on the marketing strategies of the Wu Tang Clan.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he found many friends and acquaintances asking me to share private observations about the “war on terror” and related subjects and started mailing those out to a list of friends and colleagues, that just kept growing as they forwarded them to others. And finally, after a substantial hiatus, they’ve evolved into Rootless Cosmopolitian - where he blogs regularly.
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