Posted by: Lister | September 14, 2007

Jewish Glasnost

From an article by Tony Karon:

First, a confession: It may tell me that I hate myself, but I can’t help loving Masada2000, the website maintained by militant right-wing Zionist followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane. The reason I love it is its D.I.R.T. list – that’s “Dense anti-Israel Repugnant Traitors” (also published as the S.H.!.T. list of “Self-Hating and Israel-Threatening” Jews). […] The Kahanists are a pretty flaky lot, counting everyone from Woody Allen to present Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on their list of Jewish traitors. But the habit of branding Jewish dissidents – those of us who reject the nationalist notion that as Jews, our fate is tied to that of Israel, or the idea that our people’s historic suffering somehow exempts Israel from moral reproach for its abuses against others – as “self-haters” is not unfamiliar to me.

In 1981, my father went, as a delegate of the B’nai B’rith Jewish service organization, to a meeting of the Cape Town chapter of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the governing body of South Africa’s Jewish communal institutions. The topic of the meeting was “Anti-Semitism on Campus.” My father was pretty shocked and deeply embarrassed when Exhibit A of this phenomenon turned out to be something I’d published in a student newspaper condemning an Israeli raid on Lebanon.

By then, I was an activist in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, which was consuming most of my energies. Having been an active left-Zionist in my teenage years, I had, however, retained an interest in the Middle East – and, of course, we all knew that Israel was the South African white apartheid regime’s most important ally, arming its security forces in defiance of a UN arms embargo. Even back then, the connection between the circumstances of black people under apartheid, and those of Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, seemed obvious enough to me and to many other Jews in the South African liberation movement: Both were peoples harshly ruled over by a state that denied them the rights of citizenship.

[…] Cohen’s and Kelman’s startling figures alone underscore the absurdity of Shepherd’s suggestion that to challenge Israel is to “defame an entire people.” They also help frame the context for what I would call an emerging Jewish glasnost in which Jewish critics of Israel are increasingly willing to make themselves known. When I arrived in the United States 13 years ago, I was often surprised to find that people with whom I seemed to share a progressive, cosmopolitan worldview would suddenly morph into raging ultranationalists when the conversation turned to Israel. Back then, it would have seemed unthinkable for historian Tony Judt to advocate a binational state for Israelis and Palestinians or for Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen to write that “[The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that] Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now.” Unthinkable, too, was the angry renunciation of Zionism by Avrum Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset.

[…] Thirteen years ago, there certainly was no organization around like “Birthright Unplugged,” which aims to subvert the “Taglit-Birthright Program,” funded by Zionist groups and the government of Israel, that provides free trips to Israel for young Jewish Americans in order to encourage them to identify with the State. (The “Unplugged” version encourages young Jews from the U.S. to take the Birthright tour and its free air travel, and then stay on for a two-week program of visits to the West Bank, to Israeli human rights organizations, and to peace groups. The goal is to see another side of Israel, the side experienced by its victims – and by Israelis who oppose the occupation of the West Bank.)

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