Friday, June 08, 2018

IfNotYes ...?

I have a relatively negative view of IfNotNow. It's certainly not from any pro-occupation place, but every time I see them in action they appear to have the political instincts of an arsonist. I once said of Simone Zimmerman "some people haven't met a forest fire they didn't ache to pour gasoline on," and I feel like that fits INN pretty well too. As someone who's never thought regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict "you know what this needs? More incendiary rhetoric and us-versus-them tribal organization!" IfNotNow was never going to be among my favorites.

In many ways, I view IfNotNow as the Jewish heirs to the "Occupy" movement -- both in their preference for disruptive politics (not my cup of tea, but not per se invalid) and their utter allergy to actually accomplishing anything concrete if it involves working through establishment channels (which drives me up the wall). Hence their signature move: hosting sit-ins with Jewish organizations they think are insufficiently anti-occupation, and then refuse to actually meet with said organizations when they agree to discuss their demands. The results are ... basically what we saw with Occupy: managing to harness a ton of progressive energy, and then have it completely dissipate with nothing to show for it save self-righteous declarations about how pure they are and how broken "the system is". They're all ethics of conviction, no ethics of responsibility.

Here's the latest: IfNotNow has been hosting training sessions for Jewish camp counselors (that is, counselors at Jewish camps, not counselors who happen to be Jewish) to help them teach about the Occupation. Cool, in concept. Following those reports, one of the camp bodies released a statement saying, in part:
We, the leadership of Ramah, are proud that Zionism is a central part of our core mission, as we nurture within our campers and staff members a deep and enduring love for Israel.
Unfortunately, some recent articles in the Jewish press have mischaracterized our educational mission, leading some to believe that our 70-year history of strong pro-Israel ideology has changed. It has not. 
Our older teens and staff members represent a range of opinions on many contemporary issues, and a wide variety of positions supporting Israel can be voiced and discussed. We do not, however, permit the sharing of anti-Israel educational messages at camp.
 Okay. Now, one could interpret this as a repudiation of IfNotNow, saying their training sessions are "anti-Israel" or do not come from a "deep and enduring love for Israel." But IfNotNow could also very easily nestle itself inside this message, affirming that its educational mission stems from a "deep and enduring love for Israel" and that its arguments exist with then the "wide variety of positions supporting Israel" that Ramah is open to facilitating.

Guess which side IfNotNow picked? Yep, the one that maximizes confrontation.

Now, part of this may be a matter of honesty, of a sort. INN is internally diverse on questions of Zionism, and it is possible that some members would blanch at the idea that their anti-occupation curriculum even comes from a place of "deep and enduring love for Israel." But that's their problem, and at most I think it's only part of the story. The bigger issue is that IfNotNow really loves its lone wolf fetish, which depends on constructing the Jewish center as irredeemable opponents who must be wholly thrown off (one advantage of this is that it conveniently takes compromise -- and the threat compromise poses to moral purity -- off the table).

And there are other approaches available. I wrote years ago about what I called "the Brandi Maxxxx strategy" for Jewish liberals, which basically is a form of killing-by-agreement. Keep on insisting that mainline Jewish organizations actually agree with you -- that only a two-state solution is acceptable, that the occupation exacts terrible costs on Palestinians, and so on -- and force them either to very explicitly disavow those positions or accede to the linkage of the Jewish left and center in the public imagination. Consider the following hypothetical response by IfNotNow to Ramah's statement:
IfNotNow is pleased that Jewish campers will have the opportunity to learn about the reality of occupation at Camp Ramah. 
Our discussions with Mitch Cohen confirmed that this is an important arena of learning for young Jews, and we fully agree that such discussions are an integral part of the "variety of positions" Jewish should be exposed to and entirely consonant with "deep and enduring love for Israel" that the camp tries to facilitate.
That is entirely consistent with the Ramah statement -- it just very publicly and agreeably posits a harmony between the two organizations. But lest you think it's a case of IfNotNow rolling over, notice the position it puts Ramah in. They can specifically agree with INN's statement, in which case -- IfNotNow wins. They can not respond to it at all, in which case -- IfNotNow wins. Or they can register a much more specific disavowal of IfNotNow and discussion of the occupation in its camps, in which case -- IfNotNow has a much stronger basis for critique against Ramah and Jewish camps going forward (which is to say: IfNotNow wins).

I suspect that Door #2 would be the most likely outcome, and the upshot of that is that they've got an open door towards bringing in the sort of learning that they want. But my sense is that IfNotNow cares a lot less about getting the occupation taught at Jewish summer camp than they care about being able to loudly declare how radical and disruptive it'd be if the occupation were taught at Jewish summer camp. If getting the former requires them to use conciliatory rhetoric or suggest that the distance between themselves and mainline Jewish organizations isn't the gaping chasm they like to portray it as -- well, they can always go back to the ethics of conviction, can't they?

It's not quite an inability to take "yes" for an answer. But it's something very close.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Did you see the Camp Ramah Wisconsin Facebook post that says "We have made no changes in our approaches to Israel education from previous summers..."? (

Why would they accept or see Ramah's refusal to change their Israel curriculum as a victory?

And, even if IfNotNow had come out in agreement with Ramah's weak statement (your door #2 scenario), I'm not sure how that could lead to a change in Ramah's approach to Israel education.