Totalitarian tendencies in Jewish thought

by Yaniv Reich on October 29, 2009

If you want to understand better the more paranoid and totalitarian aspects of Israeli and Jewish thinking, the Jerusalem Post contains a shining example today, written by Harvey Schwartz, chairman of the American Israeli Action Coalition (AIAC), “an organization that seeks to represent the 250,000 Americans living in Israel”.

Most American-Israelis I have spoken to recognize J Street for what it really is – a radical, far left organization funded and supported by radical forces. A true wolf in sheep’s clothing. Indeed, J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, just confirmed that truth by declaring at the J Street conference, “[w]e are here to redefine and expand the very concept of being pro-Israel.” Israel’s greatest enemies could not have articulated it any better.

Expand the definition of being “pro-Israel”? What subversive and wicked revolutionaries! He goes on to salivate himself up into a frothy mess when reviewing the “highly questionable” arguments made by J Street’s founder, Ben-Ami such as the following:

  1. The best way to secure Israel’s long-term future is to give Palestinians their own state.
  2. The continuous threat of military action against Iran might actually create incentives for Iran to want a nuclear capability.
  3. A state of Israel that is “accepted both internationally and in the Middle East” does not exist.

On such grounds, Schwartz concludes that J Street is advocating Israel “surrender to terrorists.” If J Street was “truly pro-Israel”, he adds, then it would support unconditionally the policies of the elected Israeli government (as if, in their infinite wisdom arising purely from winning an election, they are immune to criticism), call on the international community to recognize Jerusalem as the “undivided” and “eternal” capital of Israel (a statement that immediately and inherently confirms the basic point Ben-Ami was making), and force the Arab countries to deal with the “Palestinian problem” (which the author seems to think deserves quotation marks).

Now, certainly there are many Israelis who do not share the extremism of these sentiments. But what’s important is the significant degree to which they overlap with mainstream Jewish ideology on Israel/Palestine. So much of my family believes, for example, that Israel has an important role to play in securing Palestinian rights to national self-determination and that Jerusalem should and will be shared one day (which they view, incidentally, as the most difficult concession of all time). Obviously, these positions are not held by Schwartz. But the family members I have in mind simultaneously hold a number of Schwartz’s other ideological assertions, including on anti-Iranian militarism and the inexcusable tendency to deflect attention away from Israel’s problems by focusing on problems in Arab countries.

It is perfectly reasonable for there to be overlapping sets of perspectives on important issues, with more or less agreement depending on the specific issue. But my point is more fundamental. These overlapping perspectives are not accidents, but rather manufactured opinions, products of “pro-Israel” nationalist propaganda in the Israeli school system, in Jewish day and evening schools all over the US, in the statements and lobbying efforts of AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, and in the IDF’s universal system of indoctrination (for nearly all 18-21 year olds).

Schwartz’s statements, then, are symptomatic of a deeper and more serious trend in the Jewish world that consciously rejects dissent and devotes substantial resources into creating a totalitarianism of sanctioned thinking on Israel. Then, of course, after trying so hard to stamp out dissent, the apologists for whatever is the latest atrocity committed in Jews’ name chant ad nauseum about Israel being the only “outpost of democracy in the Middle East.”

Its possible for reasonable people to hold a wide range of beliefs about Israel/Palestine. These perspectives can and should be debated. In this context, J Street is a healthy development in Jewish life and US-Israel relations.

But J Street is just the very first step. Now I look forward to the day when a US lobby group, unlike J Street’s “pro-Israel” messaging, actually adopts the perspective of full and equal rights for both Jews and Palestinians.

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1 judithweingarten October 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

The government was elected in some sense but Livni, I suppose, actually ‘won’. This coalition of cockamamie political grouplets has no right to criticize other Jews in or out of Israel. As for wisdom, don’t get me started….

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