J.J. Goldberg

Disaffection Row: Pro-Israel Journalists Giving Up on Defending Israel

By J.J. Goldberg

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Now that we’ve all had a couple of days to enjoy the prospect of a sunny 2011, it’s time to get back to the worrying. In that spirit, here’s a thought to start us off: Some of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the American media are beginning to wonder openly how much longer they’ll be able to support the Jewish state.

Shmuel Rosner, the Jerusalem Post blogger and former Haaretz Washington correspondent, offered some startling names, referring readers for more details to a thought-provoking rundown of critics and defenders posted on TheAtlanticWire.com by Max Fisher (no, not that Max Fisher). Included on Fisher’s list were some eye-catching names. One was Jeffrey Goldberg, whose December 27 post on TheAtlantic.com was titled “What If Israel Ceases To Be a Democracy?” Another was Thomas Friedman, whose December 12 New York Times column, “Reality Check,” included the warning to Israelis and Palestinians alike that America needs to “stop being their crack dealers.”

The big fish, though, was New Yorker editor David Remnick, who complained in an interview published in Hebrew in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement of December 24 (the juicy portion was translated back into English by Didi Remez at Coteret.com) that he and others like him look at the unending occupation and “can’t take anymore.”

In part Remnick is echoing Peter Beinart’s now-famous jeremiad in the New York Review of Books last June, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” about younger Jews’ disenchantment with Israel. Remnick tells Yediot: “A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic.”

As he continues, it starts to get personal:

You have the status of an occupier since 1967. It’s been happening for so long that even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.

…and finally, emotional:

You think it’s bad that a US President is trying to make an effort to promote peace? That’s what’s hurting your feelings? Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems. A shopping list in exchange for a two month moratorium on settlement construction? Jesus.

Judging by the responses Fisher presented, it looks like Remnick is on his way to becoming the new Peter Beinart — loyal friend of Israel, editor of an influential ad staunchly pro-Israel journal, who announces that he can’t support Israel’s policies anymore, that the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Eli Yishai government in Jerusalem has gone beyond the pale and that there’s a whole new generation of young American Jews coming up who feel the same way. And those who disagree with Remnick’s conclusions are reacting the way we’ve come to expect: attacking him as a hate-driven enemy of Israel.

To dispute Remnick, Fisher presents two writers. One is Commentary editor Jonathan Tobin, who complains in a December 27 blog post titled “New Yorker Editor Just Can’t Take Israel Anymore” that “liberals like Remnick are simply tired of standing up for a cause that has become unpopular on the left.” …

Since being pro-Israel these days requires a degree of moral courage, they simply stamp their feet with childish impatience at the willingness of Israelis to stand up for themselves. While Israel will continue to struggle with a difficult security situation and a flawed political system, the unwillingness of liberals like Remnick to stick with it says far more about them than it does about the Jewish state.

Also arguing for the defense: neoconservative writer and scholar Ron Radosh, who posted a piece December 28 on PajamasMedia.com titled “David Remnick Joins the Israel Haters and the Leftist British Intellectuals.” It’s a slashing attack that takes us back to the old New York Intellectuals, the former Trotskyites who gathered around Partisan Review and the early Commentary, and compares Remnick to them unfavorably. “All of them were giants,” he writes. “Today, when one speaks of New York intellectuals, they are talking primarily about a group of high priced and fairly well to do writers” who write for The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker and “get high salaries, many perks and have great influence on the culture at large.” Remnick even has “a daily limo service” to and from work. (Q: When do you know a neoconservative has come unglued? A: When he starts attacking executives over inflated compensation packages.) By the way, the Yediot interviewer reports specifically that Remnick commutes to work by subway.

Remnick used to be good writer, Radosh says, back when he was “a top rated Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, and author of an excellent book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.” But then he went bad. First he wrote a biography of Obama that didn’t trash him. Radosh wrote several columns pointing out the errors, but Remnick wouldn’t listen. “And finally, last March, I chastised Remnick for joining in the MSM’s new round of attacks on Israel.” Still, Radosh writes, “nothing prepared me for what is perhaps Remnick’s most hostile and vicious attack on Israel.” That would be the Yediot interview.

“Remnick’s arrogance and hostility to Israel has never been made more apparent,” Radosh writes, speaking with some authority as someone who knows a thing or two about arrogance. But why should Israel’s leaders listen to him? (To Remnick, that is, though it could be said at least as easily about Radosh.)

What chutzpah! Does Remnick really think they care one bit? Does he really think its leaders will start putting defense of their nation against Arab aggression on the back-burner, just to placate Remnick by coming up with another meaningless start-up of the so-called Oslo “peace process”?

For the record, there’s a similar debate going on in Israel. A growing number of high-profile intellectuals are openly fretting that Israel is turning its back on democracy, pointing to the rabbis’ letter on selling homes to Arabs, the legislation permitting housing discrimination by local authorities, the protests against African refugees and more. But that deserves a blog post of its own. Coming soon.


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