Friday, March 12, 2010

Jewish Community Has Harsh Words for Israeli Settlement Announcement

The announcement by the Israeli Interior Ministry that it was planning new settlements in East Jerusalem, during Vice President Biden's trip to Israel to promote the restart of talks between Israel and Palestine, was a disaster all around. The government is apologizing for embarrassing the United States, and trying to claim the move won't stop the reemergence of peace talks. I'm somewhat skeptical -- this was such a blatantly stupid and offensive blunder that I predict it will set back talks for the indefinite future.

But nobody cares about my thoughts. More interesting has been the reaction of the broader American Jewish community, which by and large has been openly critical of the Israeli government as well. Obviously, groups like J Street joined Biden's denunciation. But more centrist and cautious organizations joined the chorus as well. Kenneth Bandler of the American Jewish Committee wrote a post entitled "Taking the US for Granted" that flamed Israel for its decision, warning that "Israel’s leaders will need to decide which is more important," continued settlement construction, or its relationship with the United States. Abe Foxman also had harsh words, though he urged that this setback not be used to drive a permanent rift between Israel and the United States.

Foxman's post, unsurprisingly, drew another Jews and their spurious anti-Semitism talk remark from Matt Yglesias. Astute observers might note that the word "anti-Semitism" doesn't appear anywhere in Foxman's article, but that is rapidly ceasing to be a relevant data point for the truism that anti-Semitism allegations run wild and unchecked. In any event, Yglesias' effort to paint it otherwise notwithstanding, these are welcome indications that the American Jewish community does not, in fact, simply rubberstamp the Israeli policy d'jour, but instead thinks critically and speaks openly about what it takes to be the best practices for securing the future of Israel and the peace process.

4 comments:

Barry Deutsch said...

....these are welcome indications that the American Jewish community does not, in fact, simply rubberstamp the Israeli policy d'jour, but instead thinks critically and speaks openly about what it takes to be the best practices for securing the future of Israel and the peace process.

I'd agree about the AJC post, but not the Foxman post. Foxman's words weren't particularly harsh -- the strongest he got was "the government had an obligation to anticipate what might go wrong during the vice president's visit and to give firm instruction to all cabinet members about avoiding such pitfalls."

Actually, I'm wrong -- Foxman did have harsh words. For the Palestinians. "Ultimately, Palestinian unwillingness to compromise for peace and to stop the hate are the real obstacles to peace." So when Israel clearly acts (either through carelessness or design) to make a negotiated settlement less likely, Palestinians are to blame.

Yeah, that's certainly some hard-hitting criticism of Israel there.

There are plenty of Israelis -- and Jews worldwide -- who genuinely care about justice for all, including Palestinians. Foxman is not one of them.

David Schraub said...

Obviously, Bandler was considerably harsher than Foxman (though I would note that one's assessment of who is ultimately at fault for the failure of peace talks to progress -- regardless of whether we agree with the assessment -- is not a per se indicator of whether one cares about peace and justice between Israel and Palestine).

But more importantly, what is the key thesis I'm battling here? That Jewish leaders are endemically incapable of even tolerating criticism of Israel, which they invariably meet with wild-eyed and fictive allegations of anti-Semitism. But clearly this scenario belies that -- even under the least charitable reading of Foxman's article, he still thought that Biden's remarks were by and large appropriate, and there have been no claims of "anti-Semitism" whatsoever -- indeed, most Jewish organizations have openly agreed with the critique (even if some, like Foxman, are urging that its effects be cabined). This passage:

the American Jewish community does not, in fact, simply rubberstamp the Israeli policy d'jour, but instead thinks critically and speaks openly about what it takes to be the best practices for securing the future of Israel and the peace process.

Is perfectly warranted given the pieces I linked to.

Barry Deutsch said...

Oh, granted, granted. If the insult to the U.S. is blatant and clear enough, then Foxman, Bandler and the organizations they represent issue rebukes. This clearly shows that any claims that these folks are loyal only to Israel, and not to the US, are groundless.

But Foxman et al really don't give a crap -- not in any persistent, meaningful fashion -- about the civil rights, or lives, of Palestinians.

However, just to be clear, I don't believe that people like them represent "the broader American Jewish community." They are a large portion of the community, and they are certainly the portion with the best-funded organizations; but they sure aren't the whole thing, and dissident Jews are not negligible in number.

David Schraub said...

Could you clarify that dangling "et al"? Who is incorporated in it? Is the AJCommittee? You indicate that whoever it is doesn't represent a majority, but I strongly suspect that the percentage of Jews who feel at least comfortable under the broad umbrella of the AJCommittee is probably a majority, as its a pretty well-established mainstream organization without a reputation as polarizing in the community.

There's a troubling vagueness that seems to always seep into these sort of claims. Some (indefinite and indeterminate, but not representing the majority) Jewish organizations only criticize Israel when the issue is "blatant and clear enough" but otherwise have no "persistent, meaningful" concern for Palestinian rights. There is simply no way to analyze this. I don't know which organizations are covered, I don't know what constitutes a "blatant and clear" issue, and I don't know what a "persistent and meaningful" concern for Palestinian rights is. There's a lot of opportunity for arbitrariness here. Given the potential of the core thesis (that some large portion of American Jewish institutions are effectively hostile to any efforts to push Israel towards peace with Palestine) to effectively stymie debate and preemptively dismiss a huge swath of the Jewish community as bad faith actors, I think it's particularly important to at least make the hypothesis a falsifiable one.

My own take on the bulk of the mainstream Jewish organizations (such as the two AJCs) are that they are pretty decisively and uniformly in favor of a two-state solution and resumption of talks towards a negotiated settlement (which they see as essential towards safeguarding the ultimate rights of both the Israelis and Palestinians), while primarily blaming the Palestinian side for its failures. This is roughly equivalent to the positions of officials like Abbas and Fayyad, who also are dedicated to a two-state solution, but primarily blame Israel for the failure to progress (and distinguished from folks which reject the idea of a two-state solution altogether, such as Hamas or the ZOA). The degree to which each side is right about fault is up to debate, but I don't see any evidence at this time that they are speaking in bad faith regarding their goals.