Jewish graves daubed with anti-Semitic slogans in a German cemetery / Getty Images
Is anti-Semitism ever a response to things that Jews do?
Jeffrey Goldberg thinks saying “Jews… Jewish organizations, or the Jewish state” ever cause anti-Semitism amounts to blaming the victim. Thus he attacked Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, for tweeting, “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war.”
Goldberg is right to highlight and condemn anti-Semitic violence in Europe, which is horrible and scary. But he’s wrong about Roth, because he’s thinking fuzzily about anti-Semitism.
First off, denying that Israel’s behavior has any causal role in anti-Semitism is deeply counter-intuitive. This summer, Israel fought a war and anti-Semitism surged in Europe — are those two facts supposed to be a coincidence?
Social scientists like to say that you cannot explain a variable with a constant. That is, there’s plenty of “irrational hatred” of Jews in Europe, but there always is. To explain changes in anti-Semitism, we need to discuss things that change — current events. And that’s why, as Brooklyn College political scientist Corey Robin noted, in 2002, the esteemed Jewish sociologist Nathan Glazer not only attributed contemporary anti-Semitism to a reaction to Israel, but further claimed, “hostility can be reduced and moderated by [Israel’s] policies.” When you approach anti-Semitism as a detached observer, rather than a polemicist who has a beef with Human Rights Watch, this is obvious.
Goldberg gets mixed up because he conflates two very different questions. Glazer and Roth are just describing, totally without moral judgment, what causes what. Goldberg, who excoriates Roth for “accept[ing] these [anti-Semites’] pathetic excuses as legitimate,” confuses causality with moral responsibility. As an example: Surely when the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade ran over a black child, that was one of the causes of the Crown Heights riots, but that does not in the least justify the subsequent rioting. Israel bombing Gaza may cause upticks in anti-Semitism, without detracting one bit from the moral culpability of the anti-Semites in question. German neo-fascists and Jew-haters are contemptible. There should be no argument about that. But their strength and virulence vary over time, and Israel’s actions can help explain those changes. Explaining isn’t justifying.
So Jeffrey Goldberg thinks that publishing lists of Jews is a bad idea. The fiercely smart, often snarky and well-travelled columnist is with Bloomberg Views now, and wrote a provocative piece calling on the Jerusalem Post and the Forward to, in his words, stop with the ranking, already.
The occasion for his complaint was the publication of the Jerusalem Post’s annual ranking of the world’s 50 most influential Jews. (Alas, I am not on it. Neither is Goldberg. This year.) The Forward 50, our list of the Jews who we believe had the greatest impact on the American Jewish story in any given year, is generally published in early November.
“Why are these publications aping a practice of non-Jews — singling out Jews for their special prominence in society?” he asks.
Well, the short answer is: We are Jewish publications! As any Bubbe would ask: You want I should publish a list of non-Jews?
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s April 23 visit to Israel has yielded some interesting fallout. Not least is the apparent puncturing of the image his opponents tried to paint of a sworn enemy of Israel. Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev does a pretty nifty job of skewering the anti-Hagel crowd, suggesting satirically that the secretary’s effusive embrace of Israel and the huge new arms sale he announced (details of which are here and here) are meant to “lull Israel into a false sense of security,” which “will only make it easier” for Hagel, Obama & Co. “to fulfill their lifelong dream of ‘throwing Israel under a bus.’”
It’s a sinister plot, Shalev writes. Hagel couldn’t have changed his tune in response to the “intimidating” powers of the “Jewish lobby,” since we all know those powers are imaginary. The only other two possibilities are that he’s engaging in psychological warfare, to lower Israel’s guard—or that “Hagel’s critics were wrong.” But that last possibility, he concludes, “can’t possibly be true, because by now Hagel’s critics would have owned up to their mistake and profusely apologized, no?”
Also essential reading is this analysis of the Hagel visit by Bloomberg News columnist (and former Forward staffer) Jeffrey Goldberg (no, for the last time, he’s not me). The new weapons systems Israel is to receive, especially advanced long-distance radar systems, the KC-135 midair refueling tankers and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft (a combination helicopter and jet plane, never before sold to another country), all make it easier for Israel to attack Iran. But given Hagel’s longstanding opposition to attacking Iran, what does this sale mean? Goldberg makes two key points:
The increasingly progressive Atlantic Monthly correspondent and former Forward staffer Jeffrey Goldberg (for the last time, no, we’re not the same person) posted a link on his blog Tuesday to an online essay — which he called “hard to disagree with” — by senior research fellow Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine. Here’s the excerpt Goldberg posted on his blog:
The anti-boycott law isn’t about protecting Israel from boycotts that target the country in general, because basically these don’t exist in reality. It’s about protecting the settlers from boycotts of settlement goods, a movement that is very real and growing, especially in Europe. But the anti-boycott law is only the tip of the iceberg in a profoundly anti-democratic shift in Israeli political attitudes. This is partly a consequence of a siege mentality, but it also has a great deal to do with demographic shifts among the Jewish population.
The large Russian immigrant community is better organized than ever, and the extreme religious community is growing at a much faster pace than the rest of Israeli society. Both constituencies are pushing Israel toward a new form of authoritarianism, within Jewish society.
For the record, I’ve been writing about this Israeli demographic shift for a couple of years now: (Here and here with numbers on the overall demographic trend; here, here and here on the way it’s affecting the army and the alarm within the General Staff over the topic.) Up to now the issue hasn’t much entered the public discourse in this country, partly because it’s obscure and rarely hits the front pages in Israel; partly, too, because it touches on some pretty radioactive Jewish sensibilities. It seems like it’s taken the Boycott Law and the larger debate over anti-democratic legislation (here is a pretty sharply framed Haaretz piece on the trend) to put it on the agenda here.
What happens when you toss out a centuries-old culture for one that is newly invented and whose center is half a world away? What happens when that new culture is closely tied to a politics that may not be shared by all members of its supposed community? What happens when the culture then gets rejected along with the politics and there is nothing left to replace it with? What happens is “Life After Zionist Summer Camp,” a piece on The Awl by Village Voice film editor Allison Benedikt.
In her piece Benedikt describes her odyssey from flag-waving, summer camp-attending, Zionist youngster to disillusioned, intermarried, non-Zionist Jew. It’s an increasingly familiar narrative in which a young Jew, raised on one version or another of Zionist orthodoxy, discovers that Israel has significant flaws and jettisons most of what passed for her Jewish identity. It’s the phenomenon described by Peter Beinart in his much-discussed New York Review of Books essay from last year, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” In Beinart’s rendering, and seemingly in Benedikt’s, it is Israel’s sins that are at issue. If the country doesn’t shape up with respect to the Palestinians, it will eventually lose American Jews’ support.
But Benedikt’s piece isn’t really about Israel, or its policies, so much as it is about American Jewish community and culture. The key line in the piece is where she describes her sister as having “become Israeli, which is a lot different from being an American Jew.” As Jeffrey Goldberg noted in his response, Benedikt doesn’t really grapple with the issues she raises — why there is a bombed out disco in Tel Aviv, or soldiers guarding checkpoints, or why her husband is so hostile toward the country. But, as Gal points out in his earlier post, the piece isn’t really an argument, or even a provocation. It’s a symptom — what happens when the myths you were raised on turn out to be just myths.
An essay published by the web-zine, The Awl, has gotten a lot of attention in our little corner of the blogosphere. It’s called, “Life After Zionist Summer Camp,” and the author is Allison Benedikt, film editor at the Village Voice. I should say before I go any further that Allison is a friend and the purpose of this short post is to add perhaps some more context as to why she wrote the piece since she herself has come under attack.
About three-quarters of the essay is a description, written in an almost childlike voice, of Allison’s developing love for Israel, fostered mostly at what she calls Zionist summer camps. It’s a very effecting chronicle and tells a story that many, many American Jews will relate to — of David Broza and teenaged summers spent in an IDF T-shirt and flip-flops on the Tel Aviv beach. But then Allison grows up and eventually starts dating (and marrying) a man with fiercely critical views of Israel, and her love, her Zionism, dies.
There were those readers who immediately identified with this disillusionment and Allison’s articulation of it was described by them as another Peter Beinart moment. But some thought the transformation too dramatic and extreme, from unquestioning love to unquestioning hate. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, found it jarring, and unloaded on Allison in a post yesterday, describing her as incurious for not asking more questions during this switching of allegiances and essentially exchanging “one simplistic narrative for another.”