Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jewish Voices for Peace

Israel’s Critics Shouldn’t Count on Hillary or the Palestinians

In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

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In today’s New York Times Magazine, we are invited to pity “liberal Zionists.” These Jews claim to love Israel but hate its government and the conflict with the Palestinians. They long for an American president to save the Jewish state from itself but are always disappointed because those pesky pro-Israel Jews who aren’t as pure of heart as the critics but seem to be better connected with Israel’s voters and American politicians. Which means as they look ahead to 2016, these hard-core Democrats who are often identified with the J Street lobby are hoping a President Hillary Clinton will do what they want and finally hammer the recalcitrant Israelis into shape. But there are two problems with this scenario. The first is that they have no idea what Hillary will do in office. The second is much more serious. It’s that the Palestinians have no intention of making peace no matter what concessions “liberal Zionists,” Washington or the Israeli government offer them.

The Hillary problem is one that every liberal interest group shares with the Jewish critics of Israel. The former secretary of state is a political chameleon who assumes whatever political positions are necessary to advance her agenda. Though a favorite of Wall Street types and someone who is believed to have more moderate and realistic views on foreign policy than President Obama, there are clear signs she will run to the left in the next year in order to steal some of Elizabeth Warren’s thunder and to forestall the liberal favorite from thinking about an insurgent run for the presidency. Though big money contributors will hope that her fake populism (“corporations don’t create jobs”) is just an act, and a poor one at that, they don’t know for sure what will happen if she ever wins the White House. The same is true of the J Street crowd.

As the Times Magazine article notes, Clinton has given them some reason for hope in the past. There was her famous embrace of Suha Arafat after the terrorist’s wife had just accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian children. Hillary also played a key role in some of the nastiest fights with Israel that Obama picked during his first term over issues like settlements and Jerusalem. But they also remember that Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000 as if she was a member of one of Likud’s right wing factions and stuck to that line throughout her time in Congress. And, as the Times points out, Clinton understands that there are a lot more votes to be won and cash to be raised by supporting the Jewish state than by bashing it with the J Streeters even in a Democratic Party with a growing anti-Israel faction.

Which is the true Hillary? Their guess is as good as yours. Privately, Hillary may be a J Street fan at heart. But it’s hard to imagine her or her husband/consigliere going to war with AIPAC, which despite the misleading slanders about it is peopled with a huge contingent of ardent pro-Israel Democrats as well as Republicans,

A more astute observation would be to point out that there is no real Hillary position on any issue, only momentary political advantages to be won so context-free predictions about her behavior if she is elected president are a waste of time.

But the real dilemma facing these “liberal Zionists” has nothing to do with American political calculations.

The reason why their views are so out of touch with most Israeli voters in the past few elections is that the latter have been paying attention to the decisions and actions of the Palestinians during the last 20 years of the peace process while the “liberal Zionists” have been studiously ignoring them. Israelis know they have repeatedly offered the Palestinians peace and have been turned down every time. They may not like the settlements or even Prime Minister Netanyahu but outside of the far-left, few think the Palestinians will make peace in the foreseeable future because they haven’t given up their anti-Zionist ideology in which their national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Israel’s existence.

That’s why most American politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are sympathetic to Israel and want no part of J Street plots to pressure it into making concessions that would endanger the Jewish state’s security while not bringing peace any closer.

Though they lament Israel’s turn to the right, their real problem is with a Palestinian political culture and a Palestinian people that won’t play the role assigned them in the liberal morality play in which the Jewish state can make peace happen by themselves. In other words, their focus on getting Obama or Clinton or somebody else to hammer Israel is pointless since even if the ticket of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni defeat Netanyahu in March, there’s no reason to think the Palestinians will be any more likely to make peace than with the current government.

Just as discouraging for J Street supporters is the fact that they are losing ground among Jewish leftists to less agonized critics of Israel such as Jewish Voices for Peace. JVP has little sympathy for Zionism and enamored the BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — movement that seeks to promote economic warfare against Israel. JVP scorns Israel as a colonial apartheid state. That position has more appeal to some segments of the left where Jewish identity and particularism is also viewed with hostility. Instead of supplanting AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community as they hoped when Obama was elected president, J Street finds itself lacking the clout and support of the mainstream group while being squeezed from the left by open Israel-haters.

In other words, Hillary would be a fool to throw in with a group that is divorced from the political realities of the United States, Israel or the American Jewish community. Though the group and its “liberal Zionist” backers grow more out of touch with the facts on the ground in the Middle East as well as within the Democratic Party they will have to comfort themselves with sympathetic coverage in the Times.

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Gaza Fighting Proves J Street’s Irrelevance

Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

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Pity poor J Street. As Israelis seek to defend themselves against Hamas rockets and terrorist tunnels, the left-wing lobby finds itself in a tough spot. Its flagging bid for mainstream support has caused it to try and craft a low-key position of support for Israeli self-defense. But that nuanced stance is causing many of J Street’s supporters to abandon the organization for those groups that take sides against Israel.

As the Forward noted today, J Street has tried not to repeat the mistake it made in 2008 when the group publicly opposed Israel’s efforts to suppress Hamas rocket fire during Operation Cast Lead. The position was very much in character with J Street’s ideology that sees Israel as the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. But the group that at that time harbored an ambition to replace AIPAC as the voice of the pro-Israel community learned its lesson after it was condemned for this outrageous decision by a wide spectrum of American Jews, including many liberal leaders. During subsequent crises J Street has avoided open condemnations of Israeli actions while still failing to play the sort of role in mobilizing support for an embattled Jewish state that other more mainstream groups take as a matter of course.

As Alan Dershowitz wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week, J Street refused to take part in a communal pro-Israel rally organized by the Boston Jewish federation. Nor did J Street chose to co-sponsor a similar rally in New York. He said these actions sounded the “death knell for J Street” as a group that sought to be considered as part of the pro-Israel community. But the irony is that sort of moral cowardice isn’t enough for many, if not most J Street supporters who are uncomfortable with the way the group has sought to neither condemn nor fully support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

As the Forward reported, even as J Street avoided being seen at pro-Israel rallies, their members are playing a prominent role in organizing protests against the Jewish state. Many have joined #ifnotnow, a new ad hoc group dedicated to opposing Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Even worse for J Street is the trend that was also discussed in a separate Forward article which reported that many of the group’s adherents are leaving it to join the openly anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace. That group, which serves as the Jewish front for BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—campaigns against Israel is profiting from the situation since many on the left prefer its unadulterated venom directed against the Jewish state to J Street’s more equivocal positions.

While no one should be shedding any tears about J Street’s dilemma, their troubles do illustrate a key point about the ongoing battle to defend Israel.

J Street came into existence in part as a cheering section for Obama administration pressure against Israel. But it was also a manifestation of the old left-right debate in Israel and the United States between those who supported “land for peace” as the solution to the conflict with the Palestinians and those who opposed the idea. J Street’s belief that Israel needed to take risks for peace might have made sense in 1992 before Oslo, the second intifada, and three Palestinian refusals of Israeli offers of statehood. But after 20 years during which Israel has traded land not for peace but for terror, J Street’s positions aren’t so much wrong as they are irrelevant. That’s why Israel’s political left that once dominated the country’s politics is now marginalized and rejected by an electorate that backs the Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza by a 9-1 margin.

The real battle for Israel now isn’t the old one about where its borders should be placed or whether settlements are good or bad but whether there should be a Jewish state or if it has a right to defend itself. In that struggle, J Street’s tepid Zionism doesn’t resonate with the mainstream community and is of little interest to leftists who prefer open-Israel bashers like JVP.

J Street once thought it would become the main address for Jewish activism. But recent events have shown that J Street’s moment has passed. Those who wish to support Israel in its life and death struggle against Hamas terrorists who seek its destruction will always gravitate toward groups that don’t pull their punches when it comes to defending the Jewish state. At the same time, J Street’s base on the left is following celebrity Israel-bashers and abandoning it to join with those who are playing into Hamas’s hands by claiming it is wrong to shoot back at the terrorists. In this environment, organizations that won’t take a clear side in this fight will soon find themselves historical relics of a bygone era that will never return.

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Jews Who Aid the War on Israel

Both Jonathan Marks and Pete Wehner admirably summarized some of the main issues surrounding last Friday’s vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself from companies that do business with Israel. But in assessing this distressing development it’s important for the Jewish community to focus on those elements from within its ranks who played a crucial role in this result.

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Both Jonathan Marks and Pete Wehner admirably summarized some of the main issues surrounding last Friday’s vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself from companies that do business with Israel. But in assessing this distressing development it’s important for the Jewish community to focus on those elements from within its ranks who played a crucial role in this result.

As both Jonathan and Pete wrote, in voting for what is, in effect, a declaration of economic war on the Jewish state, the largest Presbyterian denomination has not only allied itself with haters like David Duke. In acting in this manner it has also alerted its shrinking membership to the fact that radicals tainted by anti-Semitism have hijacked its leadership.

Presbyterians claimed that their vote was one signifying criticism of Israel’s policies rather than an attack on the Jewish people. But as I wrote earlier this year, the Presbyterians’ publication of a new book Zionism Unsettled that criticized Jewish faith and attacked Israel’s existence, as well as much of the rhetoric surrounding the vote, made it clear that this move was motivated by intolerance and hate. In acting in this manner, the PCUSA has shown that dialogue with such groups or even cooperation on unrelated issues isn’t just pointless. To carry on business as usual with a group that has declared war on the Jewish state and the Jewish people in this manner would be to tolerate that which is intolerable.

But how then should Jewish communities regard those Jews—specifically the group calling itself Jewish Voices for Peace—who actively aided and abetted this effort?

The answer is clear. They deserve to be cut off from the organized Jewish world and treated like the pariahs they have chosen to be.

The role of JVP in the Presbyterian vote was amply illustrated in this sympathetic piece published last weekend in the New York Times. This anti-Zionist group served as the perfect foil for the radical Israel haters inside the PCUSA. Instead of being forced to own up to the fundamentally anti-Semitic spirit of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement targeting Israel, the Presbyterians were able to produce left-wing Jews who shared their views as cover for this campaign of hate that masquerades as “socially responsible” investing.

JVP assists those groups, like the Presbyterians who think it is moral to single out the one Jewish and democratic state in the world for discrimination while ignoring genuine human-rights violations going on elsewhere. But even while assisting anti-Zionist campaigns that are thinly veiled anti-Semitism, the organization claims to represent Jewish values.

As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former leader of the Reform movement aptly stated this week in Haaretz, JVP cloaks their own extremist principles in ambiguous language in order to try and represent themselves as just one more liberal Jewish group. Indeed, its position is even more radical than the final resolutions passed by the Presbyterians since it wholeheartedly backs BDS on all of Israel, not just a few American companies and neither supports a two-state solution nor the Jewish state’s right to exist.

By assisting the BDS movement in this manner, JVP gains press attention from papers like the New York Times and faux respectability from left-wing Christians who embrace it as a “partner” that somehow represents Jews. But the point about the farce that played out at the Presbyterian GA in Detroit is, as Yoffie rightly points out, that this group represents very few Jews and takes positions that are anathema to the entire spectrum of the organized Jewish world.

Just as Presbyterians should know they are making a crucial mistake in embracing JVP, so, too, do Jewish communities and Hillel groups on campuses err in allowing this group to join community relations councils or to be represented in campus councils.

While there are strong disagreements between mainstream Jewish groups and left-wing groups like J Street who often play a destructive role in many communities and undermine support for Israel, there is a clear difference between those that are critical of Israel, like J Street, and those that are at war with it and Zionism, as is the case with Jewish Voices for Peace. One may be tolerated, albeit reluctantly, within the community because of its support for Zionism; the other puts itself on the other side of a line that should never be crossed.

Jewish Voices for Peace has every right to do or say as they like even if their policies are deceptive and aimed at aiding those attacking Jews. But they should never be allowed to do so under the banner of the Jewish community. Like ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists or Jews for Jesus, JVP is an unfortunate yet noxious fact of life that cannot be denied but must also never be treated as a legitimate partner in any Jewish community or on any college campus.

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Obama Rabbis Must Disavow Anti-Zionist

Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

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Given that the majority of American Jews are loyal Democrats, it is neither surprising nor unusual that the Obama campaign would be able to assemble a large list of rabbis who endorsed the president’s re-election. But the Obama campaign, which has been falling over itself in the last several months to try and prove the dubious assertion that the incumbent is Israel’s best friend ever to sit in the White House, now finds itself in an embarrassing position as it turns out that a prominent member of the “Rabbis for Obama” who are being heralded by Democrats as truly representing Jewish opinion is an advocate for a well-known anti-Israel group.

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is a member of the advisory board and rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace, a nice-sounding title for a far-left radical group that opposes Israeli self-defense, supports the boycott of Israel (and by this, they mean all of Israel, not just the settlements) and promotes an idea of peace in which Arab refugees may swamp Israel consistent with its indifference to the survival of it as a Jewish state. Obama’s partisan opponents at the Republican Jewish Coalition are making a meal of Gottlieb’s inclusion in the Obama list. But that leaves the rest of the rabbis for Obama with a tough question. Do they really want to include among their number someone who is opposed to Zionism and outside even the parameters of what the left-wing lobby J Street would consider “pro-Israel?”

Gottlieb, who can be viewed endorsing the boycott of Israel here, previously earned the opprobrium of the Jewish community by speaking at a 2007 dinner in New York for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Anti-Defamation League lists Jewish Voices for Peace as one of the “top ten anti-Israel groups” in the nation.

Of course, Rabbis for Obama is free to offer membership to anyone it wants. But if it is going to be used by the president and his party as a prop in their effort to persuade wavering Jewish voters that they can rely on Obama to stick by Israel, then its roster ought to consist of rabbis who actually do support the Jewish state. If a notorious anti-Zionist like Gottlieb is a member in good standing of Rabbis for Obama, it raises the question of what exactly the group stands for? How can it put itself forward as proof of the American Jewish community’s trust in President Obama as a faithful friend of the Jewish state when it is willing to embrace a leader of the movement to vilify Israel?

The point here is that even those who call for inclusion of left-wing groups that often protest Israeli policies like J Street in community councils, understand that Jewish Voices for Peace is beyond the pale. Any group that includes it or its leaders can’t be considered pro-Israel. Is that the message Democrats want to be putting out about its rabbinical front group?

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“Peace” Group Promotes Anti-Semitic Passover Seder

As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.

This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.

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As I wrote earlier, there is a disreputable modern American Jewish tradition of attempting to use Jewish liturgy and especially the Passover seder as an excuse to promote non-Jewish political issues. When Arthur Waskow created his “Freedom Seder” to make the holiday about American civil rights rather than the Exodus one could at least say it was an attempt to use Judaism to promote a good cause rather than a bad one. Other such attempts to make Haggadahs about immigration, the Labor movement or any other left-wing cause are less defensible. And using Passover to play partisan politics is simply pathetic. But the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has now gone completely beyond the pale with a new version of Passover in which Israel is transformed into Egypt and the Palestinians have become the Jews.

This Haggadah, which was brought to our attention by the Anti-Defamation League, isn’t merely an expression of dissent against the policies of the Israeli government about which Israelis and Americans may differ. By appropriating the symbolism of the Festival of Freedom to promote a cause whose purpose is to deny the Jewish people their rights and liberty, the group is committing an act of spiritual vandalism. Identifying Israel with Pharaoh and Egyptians is an effort at delegitimization that crosses the boundary from bad taste to anti-Semitic invective.

The point of this seder is to demonize Israel and Zionism. Though Passover is fundamentally a celebration of the national liberation of the Jewish people, the JVP seder is one in which only the Palestinians have rights and seeks to brand the return of the Jews to their homeland and the creation of their state into an act comparable to the enslavement of the Jews. It even urges Jews to add an olive to their Passover plates along with the traditional symbols as an expression of solidarity with the Palestinians and “an invitation for Jewish communities to become allies to Palestinian liberation struggles.” The authors are apparently so imbued with hatred for Israel that they ignore the fact that those “struggles” have mainly consisted of violent attempts to eradicate the national existence of the Jews.

In this parody of a Haggadah, the ten plagues are represented as Israeli actions and the bitter herbs that Jews eat to remember slavery are used instead to speak of the bitterness of Palestinian existence. Even more egregious is the l’chayim(toast) over the traditional cups of wine to BDS — the economic war on Israel which seeks to boycott, isolate and sanction the Jewish state — and the traditional breaking of the middle matzah which to the JVP symbolizes the destructive impact of Israel’s creation.

To single out the Jewish state for denial of rights in a way that no other country would be treated is an expression of prejudice. One of the standard tropes of anti-Semites is to try and paint Jews as the mirror image of their oppressors. Calling Israelis Nazis is a commonplace slur, but for Passover, the JVP has made them Egyptians and attempted to transform one of the sacred rites of Judaism into a vicious exercise in Israel-bashing.

In doing so, JVP has demonstrated that it has no place within the organized Jewish community or among the society of decent Americans. Their desire to wage economic war on Israel already places them outside the boundaries of normal political dissent. But their compendium of Passover-themed slurs is an act so despicable that it merits their being shunned the same way we would any other hate group.

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