Why Are (Mostly Liberal) American Jews Silent as Right-Wing Extremists in Israel Threaten the Country's Democracy?
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It seems to me, regardless of your connection to religious observance and regardless to your connection of the idea of a Jewish state, the question of what Jews do with power should be something of great concern to you because ultimately I think what Jews do with power is the great test of the Jewish tradition itself.
JH: That’s a fairly satisfying answer. I appreciate that.
Finally, you’re part of the mainstream Jewish community. You’re fighting to change the conversation in the hope that US policies toward Israel might reflect a wider diversity of viewpoints. In their book, The Israel Lobby , which was greeted with the same sort of mudslinging as your book, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer go out of their way to point out that the Israel lobby they describe is not a Jewish lobby. There are organizations like Christians United for Israel, which is a very right-wing group. All these conservative evangelicals have an almost obsessive attachment to Israel.
I wonder: what’s your view on this phenomenon, and specifically the way the institutional Jewish community -- I could point to AIPAC for example -- in the US has embraced the Christian right, people with whom they don’t necessarily agree with ideologically on anything else?
PB: I think what you’ve seen is the weakening of the institutional Jewish community’s historic commitment to issues of equity. There was a time, believe it or not, where the major instruments of American Jewish life would have been deeply invested in the Supreme Court’s decision on healthcare. In the middle of the 20th century, civil rights and questions of economic justice were very much at the fore in the institutional American Jewish community in a way that they’re not today. Obviously, lots of American Jews are very involved in the issues, but institutionally the community has moved toward a much stronger focus on defense of Israeli policies and defense against anti-Semitism -- I would say that sometimes it’s perceived anti-Semitism, or anti-Semitism defined in a way that makes the term meaningless.
That was partly a response to the rise in Republican power in Washington and the need for the American Jewish community to do business with Republicans. It has fed into this alliance with the Christian right.
I think what’s so disturbing about this is that I think you have in Christian Zionism essentially a belief in Israel that has no concern for Israel’s democratic traditions and no affinity whatsoever for the idea in Israel’s Declaration of Independence that this must be a state where enlightenment principles live. It’s a tradition which existed for many early Zionists -- for Herzl in particular. Essentially Christian Zionists tend to, in their current configuration, see “the West” as basically Jews and Christians in opposition to Islam. If you’re someone who believes you can be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian -- pro-Jewish without being anti-Muslim -- then this is an alliance that’s really a disaster for the very basis on which you want to make the case for the idea of Israel. That’s what disturbs me.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.