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Liberalism’s Treatment of Israel

Leon Wieseltier absolutely eviscerates Patricia Storace’s dreadful essay in the New York Review of Books on David Grossman’s most recent novel. Storace gets the translations wrong, the history wrong, the facts wrong. Wieseltier was hoping for the usual NYRB essay: just plain bad. What he found was astounding ignorance as well. (He is also incredulous that the NYRB would deem David Grossman of all people a racist attempting to whitewash Israeli history.)

But Wieseltier gets to the crux of the tension for the remaining pro-Israel leftists, and how the conversation has turned against Israel in a much sharper and more personal manner among the liberal cultural elite:

What really bothers Storace about Grossman’s novel is that it is so damned Israeli, and that its attention wanders from the Palestinians, who are of course all you need to know about Israel. Her intolerant piece is yet another example of the new heartlessness toward Israel. A whole country and a whole people have been expelled from the realm of imaginative sympathy. I have long believed that the settlements are madness, and the notion of Benjamin Netanyahu as a thwarted peacemaker strikes me as risible—but no more risible than the notion of Mahmoud Abbas as a thwarted peacemaker. There are no heroes in this absent peace. But there is a poison in the air.

One of the defenses of the anti-Semitism that has appeared throughout the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it is fringe and certainly not endorsed by the “mainstream,” whichever part of the protest movement that is. That’s fine as far as it goes, but what people should pay more attention to is not the political opposition to Israel on the left that is so fashionable these days, but rather the cultural opposition to Israel. For example, one of the many leaked email exchanges among Occupy Wall Street organizers and participants that mentioned Israel had a peculiar exclusivity to it that is still somewhat under the radar.

The conversation was about how a representative of Israel’s recent protest movement, the “J14” tent protesters, came to speak to a gathering at Occupy Wall Street. This should have been a shidduch made in heaven, but instead it actually upset the Occupiers greatly. Here is how one of them named Andy Pollack put it in an e-mail that was published by Andrew Breitbart:

I was shocked to hear that the first speaker after the introduction would be an activist from the Israeli “tent protests,” the racist movement which was fighting for cheaper rents and mortgages for stolen homes on stolen land. OWS has responded to criticisms of inadequate leadership and participation and addressing of issues by and regarding people of color by fostering discussion and restructuring. The racist “tent protest” movement responded to equivalent challenges from Palestinians by telling them, “shut up, leave us alone, don’t divide the movement.”

I waited to hear what the speaker (Ezra something) had to say, and it was as bad as I feared. It was all about the technical issues of outreach and democracy, and not one word about outreach to Palestinians or inclusion of their issues.

When he finished I got the floor (even though there hadn’t been discussion time planned for that agenda point) and made some of the above points. Almost as soon as I began speaking murmurs of disagreement and calls of “this isn’t the time” and downward “twinkling” hand motions began. One of the facilitators asked the speaker to respond, and he said, “It’s a question of outreach. I did outreach to Palestinians in Israel who were leery of joining the movement. You’ll have to do the same in The Bronx. The issue of Palestinians in the movement won’t be settled here.”

Well, yes, Mr. Zionist, it will be settled here. There is a huge Palestinian exile community in the U.S., with that in NY being one of the biggest components. They want their land back, they want their homes back, and they want the right to return. They have no interest in a movement which haggles over the rent paid by Jews to Jews for stolen property. They can’t even return to visit because of exclusionary laws passed by your racist state.

This is what has become of the left’s opposition to Israel: you cannot even mention Israel–even Israeli leftists like David Grossman or the J14 protesters–unless you begin by admitting the entire state of Israel is occupied territory and that Israel has no right to exist as it does or as a Jewish state.

There is something quaint and almost admirable (almost!) about Jewish pro-Israel leftists. It’s not that there is an inherent contradiction; you can be both liberal and pro-Israel, certainly. It’s that they are so viscerally unwanted by their peers, who are desperately and depravedly stripping people like Wieseltier and Grossman of their identities because Wieseltier and Grossman stubbornly refuse to renounce it themselves.

Of course it troubles me to see protesters rant about “Jewish bankers.” But it is no less troublesome to see the so-called reasonable and mainstream protesters insist Jews check their support not just for Israel, but for Israel’s existence, at the door in order to be part of their “99%” club. This extravagant cultural falsification is the real scandal of today’s liberalism. And yet it goes mostly unchallenged from within.


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