One has the feeling that the pro-Israel community in the U.S. is increasingly on the defensive. Jonathan Tobin’s “Anti-Zionists Must Not Be Allowed to Hijack the Jewish Community” is Abe Foxmanesque in its tone of embattled righteousness — and for two (two!) uses of the canard strategy (i.e., the strategy that if a belief related to Jews is common, it must be false and so obviously false that there is no need to come up with rational arguments).
This week the Jewish world is discussing two incidents in which large community institutions were forced to account for invitations to prominent writers who are virulent foes of Israel. In one case New York’s Jewish Museum was under fire for inviting academic Judith Butler. In another, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, also in New York, canceled an appearance by New Republic editor John Judis. What both these figures had in common was their bitter opposition to Israel. In Butler’s case, she is a prominent supporter of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that seeks to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Judis is the author of a book that questions the legitimacy of Israel’s creation in a revisionist history of President Harry Truman’s role in the creation of the Jewish state, as historian Ron Radosh pointed out in the Jerusalem Post.
Taken together, along with other incidents in the last year involving other BDS supporters being invited to Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y, the decision by the two museums to let outraged members and donors derail the events is seen as a sign of a wave of repression in the American Jewish community. Sounding a theme that has become a constant refrain on the left, supporters of Israel are being accused of cracking down on dissent. But the issue here isn’t free speech or even whether Israel’s policies should be debated. It’s whether an extremist anti-Zionist minority will be able to hijack Jewish institutions.
The accusation about free speech is a canard.
Why is it a canard? Because both Butler and Judis can find other venues to spew their venom outside of venues within the Jewish community. The Jewish community itself should be spared having to listen to “the voices seeking Israel’s destruction.” (Judis has since been reinvited, doubtless infuriating Tobin.)
But of course, neither of these voices seek the destruction of Israel. Tobin quotes Ronald Radosh’s review of Judis’ book approvingly, but, according to Radosh, Judis’s “purpose in writing it is to help create a new American foreign policy, one that will not be beholden to that supposedly all-powerful Zionist lobby in the United States, AIPAC. ‘If America has tilted in the past toward Zionism and Israel, it is now time to redress that moral balance.’” Alleviating the treatment of the Palestinians is also the goal of Butler’s BDS movement—not the destruction of Israel.
But Judis’s main point, that Truman succumbed to pressure from Zionists rather than did what he thought was in America’s best interests, should certainly not be surprising to anyone. Philip Weiss comments:
what if thoughtful people conclude that the Zionist lobby compelled Truman to go against his own convictions and that it has had a pernicious influence on American policy since? These are actually very important issues. People have been trying to suppress discussion of them since Walt and Mearsheimer’s bombshell was censored inside the Jewish establishment on similarly captious grounds — the tone is wrong, it’s a clipjob, they didn’t do any reporting, they capitalized L in Lobby and spoke about Jewish blood — and still the ideas won’t go away.
Tobin’s use of the canard strategy, then, functions to keep Jewish voices critical of Israel outside of the Jewish community. And yes, Jewish communities have a long history of preventing free speech, from sanctions against dissenting Jews (like Spinoza) throughout the history of the Diaspora and still obvious in Orthodox/Hasidic communities where the slightest deviation from conformity is punished), to promoting a long list of laws against “hate speech” throughout the contemporary West.
The BDS cause is one based in a prejudiced view that holds that the Jews are the one people on the planet that are neither entitled to their own homeland or to defend it. Such bias if applied to other groups would be seen as racist. In the case of Jews, the term for such behavior is called anti-Semitism. When combined, as it is by anti-Zionists, with conspiratorial theories about Jewish manipulation of the media or Congress (the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” canard), there is little doubt about the prejudicial nature of the effort.
Actually, the only people who are neither entitled to their own homeland or to defend it are people of European descent, and Tobin is quite on board with that particular dispossession. Just watch Tobin fly into a rage at the idea that America or even a European country should have an identity based on the ethnicity or even the culture of its founding peoples.
On the other hand, there would be scarcely any anti-Israel movement except for the ethnic cleansing and apartheid going on with Israel’s expansion into the West Bank. Defending Israel is one thing. Expanding it at the expense of the Palestinians and enlisting my tax money to support this project is quite another.
Tobin’s use the “‘Israel Lobby’ canard” represents a new low. Putting “Israel Lobby” in quotes, as if it’s a figment of the imagination of people who hate Jews.
Abe Foxman would be proud. Perhaps Tobin is angling for a new job as successor to Foxman by showing how adept he is at using the canard strategy.
On the basis of this effort, he has sterling credentials.