Friday, April 30, 2010

Mearsheimer Lists His Good Jews

The Jerusalem Fund recently invited University of Chicago Professor and Israel Lobby author John Mearsheimer to lecture on the subject of "Righteous Jews vs. New Afrikaners". In other words, good Jews versus bad Jews -- a subject I've already given my thoughts on (Hussein Ibish has a more broad-scale dissection of the talk). So dispense with what's been said. More evocative to me is who Mearsheimer groups into each camp:
American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values…..To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state…..I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic. It would be easy to add more names to this list.

These lists are ... well, they're bizarre. I think grouping Abe Foxman with Mort Klein is a little difficult to swing; and grouping David Harris with either is also hard to swallow as representing anything real.

On the side of the "righteous Jews", things get even hairier. Norman Finkelstein and Phillip Weiss "care deeply about Israel"? In what respect? Have they ever said anything to that effect? My understanding is that both Finkelstein and Weiss are quite vocal in wishing for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. It seems baffling also to group committed boycott supporters like Klein, with avid and outspoken opponents like the folks at J Street (who have correctly noted the BDS movement's fundamental incompatibility with the pursuit of peace and justice). Indeed, this conflation seems to be part of the broader attempt to sabotage J Street by associating it with names, ideas, and ideologies it has quite clearly repudiated and finds abhorrent.

Beyond picking at who is grouped with who, there are some deeper problems. As might be apparent, these broad lumpings really don't get at the heterogeneity of views in the Jewish community; they serve less to demarcate good and bad actors as they serve as proxies for Mearsheimer's political priors. I should be clear that there are bad people who are Jews -- Mort Klein being an obvious example -- but I don't see it as emblematic of some broader Jewish pathology the way that Mearsheimer does. The move here is to flatten distinctions amongst the Jewish community, then label huge swaths of it as either infected or moral cowards. Sweeping generalizations are not becoming.

Finally, of course, I recoil at the notion that Norman Finkelstein be considered a righteous anything, let alone a righteous Jew who is somehow a deep friend of Israel. For the most part, Mearsheimer's good Jews are a rather horrible bunch, whose commitment not just to Israel, but to basic norms of democratic equality and peaceful co-existence is questionable to say the least. It is notably that the one group he is ambivalent about (J Street) is also the one most firmly committed to an actual, concrete peace policy aimed at securing justice for both Jews and Palestinians. The list, in other words, reveals more about what Mearsheimer's moral ideals are than they do about whose policies we should seek to emulate.


Barry Deutsch said...

I think it's fair enough to talk about divisions within the US Jewish community, but using terminology like "righteous" and "Afrikaners" strikes me as a very bad idea, because it makes dialog much less likely. My guess is that Mearshimer believes that dialog is impossible?

The part of his essay I found the most interesting was something that preys on my mind a lot: What if a two-state solution is no longer a realistic possibility?

The best solution is a two-state solution. But if the best solution isn't realistically possible, what is the second-best solution we should advocate?

David Schraub said...

Barry -- I encourage you to read the Hussein Ibish piece I linked to at the top, which takes on that point, albeit somewhat obliquely, in the sense that he examines what will likely result if a two-state solution doesn't emerge through negotiations (his prediction is that Israel unilaterally withdraws from all territories beyond the fence, withdraws all claims to said territory, and recognizes a Palestinian state on it, while annexing territory between the fence and the Green Line as well as most of Jerusalem).

Barry Deutsch said...

Thanks for pointing out the Ibish piece, that was interesting. I agree with Ibish that unilateral two-statism by Israel is another, more likely possibility than the scenarios Mearshimer describes.

Another possibility which I think is fairly plausible is that the status quo continues, with minor variations, for a long, long time.

Unfortunately, I find it difficult to believe that any positive outcome is possible. A fair two-state solution in which both states are more-or-less at peace and economically viable seems extremely implausible. A peaceful shared democracy, the one-state solution, seems even less likely. And both Israel and Palestine seem poised to be taken over by their respective right-wing fundamentalist elements in our lifetimes.

On the other hand, extremely unexpected and unlikely things do sometimes happen. So there's that hope.

yzernik said...

The idea you describe from Ibish's article was a popular one in Israel circa 2006. Olmert called it "hitkansut". The idea was scrapped following the war in Lebanon.