Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cast into the Streets

Open Zion has an piece up about some lonely far-right protestors complaining 92nd Street Y (a venerable New York Jewish organization) is hosting anti-Israel speakers. The article, with barely contained glee, notes the protest consists of around 15 mostly older people, standing in the rain, fruitlessly attempting to engage passerbys and complaining about how mainstream Jewish groups won't return their calls.

Now, I'm generally quite pleased by this, because these folks sound like loons. While some of their complaints have merit (Alice Walker and Roger Waters have no place speaking at Jewish institutions), they go way beyond folks like that in fulminating about Peter Beinart, J Street, and the NIF. The fact that the protest leader founded a "Greater Israel" organization promoting settlement of the entire West Bank and Gaza isn't doing it any favors either. I'm happy to see these protesters relegated to the sideline fringe because that's where I think fringe players belong. And that analysis applies equally to their leftward counterparts, like the BDS movement.

But note that in this story we don't see the BDS folk being so marginalized. The classic trope -- Jewish organizations utterly beholden to the farthest of right-wing zealots, while anyone who so much as raises an eyebrow at the most vicious price tag militant is dragged away to a Mossad-sponsored interrogation -- is flipped on its head. Here, the far-right zealots are furiously impotent (good!) while anti-Israel groups which should be well beyond the pale of acceptable discourse are welcomed with open arms (not so good).

"Hypocrisy" is the lazy angle to take on this, so instead I'll just observe that stories like this should encourage us to problematize our reflexive instinct that Jewish institutions, always and in all places, are both "beholden to the Greater Israel movement" and "intolerant of any criticism of Israel." That belief is simplistic in its best moments and more often than not a complete distortion. Jewish institutions are a they and not an it, but even at the general level the fact is that most American Jewish institutions roughly reflect the consensus of most American Jews -- pro-Israel but also left-of-center, disapproving of Greater Israel expansionism but skeptical of Palestinian intransigence. That's position is a perfectly reasonable one and a perfectly valid starting point for beginning a discussion

1 comment:

PG said...

"most American Jewish institutions"

The 92nd Street Y is a venerable Jewish institution, but I doubt it's typical of Jewish institutions, if there were a way to sort of average them out. Surely Upper East Side New Yorkers aren't actually a majority of American Jews, no matter what Woody Allen movies might lead one to believe.