Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Richard Landes Takes Down Bradley Burston

[This is a crosspost of Richard Landes "Does Burston really think it's legitimate to view BDS as Tikkun Olam?" from the Augean Stables. Bradley Burston recent wrote another blog post on Ha'aretz and the Huffington Post that slipped under our radar but Professor Landes didn't miss it. Be warned, it's super long.]


A good friend sent me the following piece by Bradley Burston with the comment: “It expresses how I feel.” I find it so pervasively flawed that I have difficulty taking it seriously. But if my friend can (and he’s one of the smartest people I know), then I have to, and it does raise, however poorly, a whole range of key issues. So, with great reluctance (because there are more interesting texts to sink one’s teeth into), I fisk below.

First, a brief introductory note: One of the key contentions of Burston and the people he likes (J-Street, Jewish Voices for Peace, Young Jews for Peace, etc.) is that a) they love Israel and b) they know the best way to peace which, since Israel won’t take that path, they must force upon her. Now all these groups locate along the “left” political spectrum differently. NIF disapproves of BDS but funds groups who do; J-Street disapproves of  BDS even if they associate with people who do; Jewish Voices for Peace and Emily Schaeffer (below) support BDS in many forms.

Whatever the details, each of these groups believes that they must pressure Israel to leave the occupied territories out of a combination of moral passion – the Israel they love should set a moral example to the world – and peaceful intentions – they know their formula for peace will work.
Now some people, myself included, see the situation very differently. On moral matters, howevermuch we may share concerns about the occupation and dominion over another people harms both Palestinians and Israelis, we have difficulty with a moral equivalence, that ends up as a moral inversion, with the profound condescension and bigotry it involves in its abysmally low standards for the Palestinians, and the inversely exacting standards to which it holds Israel. The result – people, Jews! – for whom Israel is the new Nazi. And even as such people are morally reckless in their accusations of Israel, they echo and reinforce genocidal hatreds among the most base of the enemies of the Jews.

On the practical level, many of us feel that while making concessions and apologizing is a splendid way to begin a process of reconciliation, that only works in cases where the other side also seeks resolution, and responds in kind. In some cases, conflicts are not only unresponsive to such an approach, but literally allergic: rather than a peace process it produces a war process. Indeed, given how often and consistently Palestinian (and more broadly Arab) leaders have seized upon Israeli concessions to press for more and on Israeli confessions to reaffirm a demonizing narrative, it’s dubious that under the best of circumstances, Palestinian political players would respond to an Israeli withdrawal to the ’67 borders with a shift to peace.

On the contrary, any such move most likely will strengthen those in the Palestinian camp who argue that any withdrawal should be part of a “Phased plan” to destroy Israel and use any and every pretext to keep the war alive. Any observer who dismisses even this possibility – the favorite line is either, “you’re paranoid,” or “oh, you think they only understand violence.” – is either in ignorance or denial of the discourse that prevails in Palestinian political culture today.


And so, if under the best of conditions withdrawing to the ’67 lines could backfire, how much the more likely that the voices of attack will grow louder if Israel finds itself compelled as a result of becoming the object of universal execration (BDS) and pressure from its only powerful ally, the United States, to withdraw. The naïveté of such a formula is only matched by the aggressiveness with which it gets implemented. A formula for war: si vis bellum para pacem.
The fact that groups can argue that the US should force Israel to make these concessions without any serious discussion of the necessary massive reciprocity from Palestinians (especially when it comes to incitement to hatred and violence), raises serious doubts among many about their realism, and given their recklessness in insisting that virtually any means to get there are legitimate, it raises for us serious doubts about their responsibility.
As far as I can make out, Burston has no idea what I’m talking about. He’s like the New Yorker cartoon of a Manhattanite’s view of the USA. When he looks at the landscape of this debate, all he sees are him and his like-minded friends “doing the right thing,” while the opposition is at the other end of the spectrum – messianic rabbis and their neo-con partners who will not part with an inch of the land, even if God himself told them to do so. And nothing in between.
He encases his simplistic dualism in the antimony “Jews of the Gate” vs. “Jews of the Wall.” This fisking comes from someone who thinks that both of his categories are poorly conceived; and that the real issues are entirely different from the ones upon which he focuses.
Thanksgiving, Tikkun Olam, and U.S. Jews breaking the Israel barrier By Bradley Burston
[Part 2 of a series on U.S. Jews emotionally divesting from Israel. In part, a journal of a recent West Coast speaking tour hosted by J Street]
Norah: It reminds me of this part of Judaism that I really like. It’s called Tikkun Olam. It says that the world is broken into pieces, and that it’s everybody’s job to find them and put them back together again.
Nick: Well, maybe we’re the pieces. And maybe we’re not supposed to find the pieces. Maybe we are the pieces. “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Columbia Pictures, 2008)
It’s hard not to read this as a spoof of the trivial use to which a mystical concept like tikkun olam has been put in new “new-age” spirituality. Not having seen the movie, I don’t know if this is an homage to “Deep Thoughts,” but Burston seems to offer them up as his credo. Indeed, Nick’s version – people! – stands behind the full line-up of comments he makes throughout this piece. So it’s probably worth a short comment on this deep and now deeply problematic notion that has set our moral compasses awry in the 21st century. Briefly, tikkun olam represents a mystical-messianic principle, first elaborated in Lurianic Kabbalah, that seeks to reunite the divine sparks and souls imprisoned in the shells (qlipot) created by the breaking of the vessels early in the process of creation. In Lurianic kabbalah, this takes the form of liturgical and other contemplative activity, with a heavy emphasis on the intention of the one performing these acts. Perhaps most significantly, Lurianic teaching endowed every act of tikkun, no matter how seemingly insignificant, with cosmic significance and impact. It nurtures both enthusiastic and quietistic forms of millennialism through which humans (help to) bring about the perfection of the world. In the 60s, tikkun olam got reoriented, like so much of modern Judaism, away from such particularistic (and superstitious) notions as prayer and mitzvot (commandments) towards “social justice.” In millennial terms, this modernized principle of tikkun olam is a active transformative apocalyptic approach to the goal of bringing on a “perfect” (redeemed) world. Like so many demotic millennial movements, it seeks redemption in the egalitarian approach it takes toward “others.” It’s a matter of debate whether this shift to social justice pre-eminently represents an improvement, universalizing earlier notions, or has just offered a Jewish covering term for the kind of messianic impulses of the 60s, open to any rereading no matter how superficial or distant from the original, mystical principles and Jewish values.  Perhaps the key issue, discussed at length below, concerns the nature of the dark side, the sitra achra, the texture of the klipot, and whether they are nogah (that can be illuminated, redeemed) and those that are tmayot (impure, irredeemable). My sense is that, deeply underestimating the dark side of Israel’s enemies, Burston and his “Jews of the Gate” think they can “repair” the dark side of Hamas, or of Fatah just by being nice.
On this, the eve of Thanksgiving, I find myself been thinking a great deal about Tikkun Olam, human acts which repair the world, words and deeds and decisions which mend and put together what has gone broken, twisted, missing.
For me, the term “decisions” rings strange here, since tikkun olam is above all about deeds (including words as deeds). Does “decisions” have the connotation of “policy decisions”? – a shift that suggests a kind of institutional political messianism that has a long history of dangerous “decision-making.”
At root, Thanksgiving is itself an act of Tikkun Olam. It celebrates the bridging of fierce differences, the coming together of seeming opposites, the idea that helping people in dire need takes precedence over barriers of creed and color.
This seems like a good example of the banalization of tikkun olam. Acts of gratitude are obviously good things, and on a intercultural level can have huge consequences for the state of the world. Perhaps if the French were not so ungrateful – as in “The French can forgive the Germans for conquering them, but not the Americans for saving them.” – then both France and Europe might be in much better condition to confront its challenges than it now appears to be. But identifying gratitude, even on a grand scale, with tikkun olam, turns the concept into an occasion for homiletics. And Burston’s homily is a pluralistic interpretation of Thanksgiving: “fierce differences” and “seeming opposites” come together when someone has the courage to put “my side” aside and reach out across the cultural divide of “us-them” and help an “other” in dire need. Especially nice, in this case, the “people of color” reached out to needy “white” pilgrims.
Thanksgiving can also make it all too clear how broken the world has become.
There’s no further sentence to explicate this statement. Were I to fill in the blanks, I might add that it all ended rather badly for the natives who reached out, since the white man’s gratitude did not survive his greed both material (land and minerals) and spiritual (new souls for Christ). But I suspect that’s not Burston’s point. Rather, it seems like a foreboding look at the present.
A few weeks ago, I went to America in search of the fault lines of the Jews. As different as American Jews are from Israelis, and the differences are in many ways core-deep, the fault lines are strikingly similar. Here as there, the cracks which keep the Jewish people broken, keep us in pieces, extend to radically differing concepts of the forms Tikkun Olam should take, and radically differing reasons for giving thanks.
So Burston will now analyze the culture wars going on within the Jewish people in terms of a foreboding “broken world” in which two different tendencies divide us from each other. Burston apparently wants to fix (letaken) this rift, to heal the riven world. Let’s see what form that takes.
This is because the fault lines dividing Jew from Jew extend directly from the Green Line, the pre-1967 war border that divided Israel from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Now that strikes me as a remarkably contemporary political faultline along which to draw a fundamental division within a people over three millennia old. I can think of many other faultlines that might cut considerably deeper and include many more issues of import, but what’s noticeable about this one is that it’s not so much about Jews, as about Israel’s relationship with her Palestinian neighbors, not an internal issue in which two groups of Jews have been alienated, but in which two groups of Jews differ on how to treat the non-Jewish “other.”
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s give these pieces a name. On one side are the Jews of the Wall. On the other, the Jews of the Gate.
It’s not explicit yet, but this has all the hallmarks of an invidious comparison, one in which one establishes one’s own identity by denigrating the “other side.” Virtue with us (it’s not hard to see it coming, “the Jews of the Gate”), and everything wrong, on the other side (“the Jews of the Wall”). Is this another version of the the “New Afrikaner Jews” (as in “Apartheid Wall”) vs. the “Righteous Jews” that John Mearsheimer identified recently as holding the key to Palestinian future. Note that in Lurianic terms, the dark forces are called, the sitra achra – the “other side.” The dichotomy recalls the famous Frank Zappa line: “The mind is like a parachute; it only works if it’s open.” Of course, a parachute then only works once if you can’t close it up as well. No integrated person would be entirely in either camp – always closed, always open; and no observer of the Arab-Israeli conflict can hope to offer serious thought if they aspire to belong only to one camp.
The Jews of the Wall are that minority of Israeli and American Jews who sincerely and unshakably believe in permanent settlement in all of the West Bank. Over time, they have become the vanguard both of Orthodox Judaism and the secular neo-conservative Jewish right, whose power and influence, much of it monetary, has American Jewish institutions terrified of their own shadows.
Now this is a pretty amazing combination of groups here, only a very few of whom hold the “sincere and unshakeable belief in permanent settlement in all of the West Bank.” But, in a move that, were it targeting the “Jews of the Gate” would immediately get labeled smearing, and efforts to silence legitimate criticism, Burston presents this irredentist, messianic, dogmatic (unshakeable) belief as the driving force behind the “bad Jews.” Mearsheimer’s “New Afrikaners” and Burston’s “Jews of the Wall” are synonymous. And it doesn’t seem to me that he’s working on reuniting these pieces.
The Jews of the Gate, meanwhile, comprise the majority of Jews in both America and Israel. They want to see a future partition of the Holy Land into two independent states, a democratic and internationally recognized state of Israel next to a sovereign and independent state of Palestine.
As simplistic with the one side, so now with the other. This is a stunning oversimplification of the lines of disagreement. The vast majority of Jews (and non-Jews) may accept the notion of two states, but wonder if now is the right time to implement it. If the Palestinian state, far from being an even remotely “democratic” state, turns into a theocratic enemy, what is that likelihood that such a development would produce peace? In this sense, J-Street’s pious hopes for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation in the framework of a two-state solution, strike some in the middle ground as silly.
Ultimately, a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be advanced by Palestinian political reconciliation, and we support efforts by third parties to achieve reconciliation and a unity government, whose officials will work within a diplomatic process to achieve an acceptable two-state solution.
It applies to a critical faultline within Palestinian society (on which side Fatah falls is still unclear) a lack of serious thought, and comes up with formulas issue of fantasies about the power of good will. To lump everyone on the spectrum of Jews (and non-Jews) thinking about these problems into these two camps misses literally every significant development since Oslo blew up in everyone’s faces in 2000. It carries over the same militant Manicheanism (dualism) that the pro-Oslo forces used to silence all criticism of the proponents of the “peace process” from 1993-2000. “Hush! Don’t offend the Palestinians. You’ll queer the peace process.” Burston’s dichotomy, in addition to its invidious identity formation, literally sweeps away all the cognitive dissonance that has descended on “Jews of the Gate” after the Oslo Terror war hit, when, in the words of one Israeli, “I realized, it’s not in our hands.” If Burston doesn’t recognize the deeply troubled, reluctantly realistic Israelis and Jews who agonize over what went wrong? what’s wrong? and what can we do when it’s not in our hands to make the decisive moves? – then I’d say he’s the unshakably dogmatic believer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Jewish Federations General Assembly as he gets heckled by young U.S. Jews in New Orleans, November 8, 2010. Photo by: AP Before coming to America recently, I’d heard warnings from friends in the U.S. Jewish community that the very mention of J Street would spark nasty arguments, attempts to silence dissenting opinions regarding Israeli policies, behind-the-scenes sabotage by powerful pro-settlement donors and organizational professionals, perhaps cancellations of events. I had been warned, as well, that it was already too late. That young Jews of the Gate, liberal in outlook, open in faith, passionate about Israel but conflicted over its policies and disaffected by its explanations, had simply given up and gone, essentially leaving the field to the outnumbered but dogged Jews of the Wall.
Well, we know who the good guys here are. Indeed, Burston has to fudge the data to make his case look as good as it does. One of the salient points about the “liberal Jews” (the ones Peter Beinart identifies with) is that they are specifically not “passionate about Israel.” (Beinart begins by discussing how “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.”) On the contrary, as critics point out, they are often far more concerned about their own embarrassment before their liberal friends than they are in any way identified or committed to Israel. Among the worst of these “passionately moral” folks ready to throw Israel to the BDS wolves so that they can feel morally pure, I’d go so far as to venture that we have a Jewish-style honor-killing: “Israel has so shamed my Jewish identity that I will contribute to its demise for the sake of my moral honor.”
In fact, when you consider it, it’s in the direct interest of pro-settlement and right-leaning forces in the U.S. Jewish community to have an Israeli government which alienates and repels as many young, energetic, moderate American Jews as possible. It’s in the direct interest of the powerful minority of pro-occupation, pro-settlement (let’s call them POPS) activists and communal officials, along with a Sharansky-driven Jewish Agency and a Lieberman-driven Foreign Ministry, to have these voices of conscience out of the way. For the pro-occupation, pro-settlement American Jewish right, it’s not a problem that most Jews find the settlement enterprise repellent – it’s a godsend.
I confess to a certain confusion. Why is it in the interest of the POPS to “alienate and repel as many young, energetic, moderate American Jews as possible”? To eliminate criticism? To clear the field for their own strident voices? Is this crude sarcasm? Or does he seriously think that’s how opponents of a Palestinian-state-now-at-any-price think? No wonder he thinks that the “Jews of the Wall” are a tiny minority. In his mind, they’re Neanderthal. What about all those people – not Zvi Kook “Whole land of Israel” messianists – who find themselves (ourselves) utterly baffled by the craziness of Israel’s “leftist” detractors, and deeply troubled by the bizarre strength of a post-modern meme that assumes “my enemy’s side, right or wrong.” What about those who wonder how much of what outrages/ embarrasses us about what Israel does, reflects not the actual situation, but rather a serious distortion in our perception created by a PC discourse manipulated by people whose transgressions of their own people’s human rights o’ershadow even Israel’s sins against the Palestinians? (In my earlier conversation with the friend who sent me this note, I asked if he thought the settlements were the core of the problem.
“Yes.” “And how do we know that?” “That’s what the Palestinians say.” “Are we required to believe what they say, even if the settlements is a smoke screen.” “Yes.”
I don’t think he means this. He just doesn’t want to know what it would mean to say, “no.” The policy implications are, apparently, unthinkable. Who knows? We might have to call their bluff. So, like Robin Williams in Hook, we should pull out our checkbook and see who wins that competition.
Following this visit, however, I find myself with renewed reason to be hopeful. More, this Thanksgiving season, to be thankful for. Because the voices of young American Jews of the Gate have never been stronger.
This month, when Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Jewish Federations of North America in what amounts to its annual State of the Jewish Community speech, a group of young Jews issued a remarkable, stunningly poetic counter-declaration to the general message of “Everyone But Israel’s At Fault.”
“Stunning” is a bizarre word for poetry like this:
We embrace diaspora, even when it causes us a great deal of pain. We are the rubble of tangled fear, the deliverance of values. We are human.
Alright, each to his own taste. This is not, however, a counter-declaration to the “general message of ‘Everyone But Israel’s At Fault.’” On the contrary, this is a manifesto celebrating ‘Everyone But Israel’s Right.’ They refuse “to have our histories distorted or erased, or appropriated by a corporate war machine…” (that’s the Israeli corporate war machine, not the Arab one); they refuse to be “whitewashed…” (I remember that when I first told a good friend of mine, who sat on the board of B’Tselem, that I thought al Durah was staged, he yelled at me “You’re whitewashing the occupation!”); they refuse to carry on “the legacy of terror…” (that’s the Israeli one, not the Arab one); to buying “the logic that slaughter means safety… (presumably a reference to what they believe was a slaughter of the innocents during Cast Lead) to witnessing “the violation of human rights in Palestine” in silence… All these remarks suggest that these passionate young Jews even as they reject the Israeli narrative and they emphatically adopt – i.e., give epistemological priority to – the Palestinian narrative of suffering.  These folks sound a great deal like they’re part of the “Israel’s entirely at fault” camp, adherents of the post-modern credo – “the ‘other,’ right or wrong.” There’s more to this point than meets the eye here. It is a constant trope of the hyper-critics of Israel that their critics are the “Israel right or wrong crowd” who want to silence any criticism of Israel. This was on display throughout the controversy about Alvin Rosenfeld’s essay on the way that Jews who compare Israel to Nazis (and other rhetorical excesses) contribute to the anti-Semitism we see flourishing since October 2000. Letty Pogrebin
put it:
If you’re a Jew who has ever said or written anything critical of Israel, then you may be contributing to an “intellectual and political climate that helps to foster” hostility toward the Jewish state and exacerbates hatred against Jews…
The problem here is that there’s an enormous, fundamental, crucial difference between people like Alvin Rosenfeld and myself and so many others, who object to morally depraved comparisons of Israel to the Nazis and to racist Apartheid South Africa, and accept, indeed engage with those who have “legitimate” criticisms of Israel. To claim that we lump self-degrading Jews like Norman Finkelstein (who has an elaborate page at his site suggesting that Israel and the Nazis are essentially identical), together with people who “question Israeli policies” about the West Bank and Gaza, is either clueless or dishonest.
While Netanyahu, the conference organizers and many of its speakers focused ire on foreign critics of Israel and – in an especially unfortunate McCarthyite phrase, “fellow travelers,” apparently a reference to Jews who question Israeli policy – for de-legitimizing the Jewish state, the message of the counter-declaration was that Israel’s Jewish critics see themselves and should be seen as part and parcel of the Jewish community.
Again, the phrase “apparently a reference to Jews who question Israeli policy” as the category of those who “delegitimize” Israel, reveals a level of misunderstanding that, at this point, ten years into the campaign of demonization, is inexcusably wrong. Can Burston not tell the difference between “questioning Israeli policy,” and comparing her to genocidal racists? As for the designation “McCarthyite” for the phrase “fellow-traveler,” it illustrates (again) the level of dishonest rhetoric involved here. It’s not like there were not really fellow-travelers who betrayed the USA (and the world community) to the Soviets; it’s not like there weren’t really people, journalists, intellectuals, ideologues, who served, wittingly or not, as agents of misinformation in critical matters. To suggest that a reference to fellow-travelers is automatically “McCarthyite” seems like about the same level of bundling involved in identifying the Zionazi-niks with “any one” who criticizes Israel “any time” about “anything.” You can’t use such crude (lack of) distinctions and think clearly.
Concurrently, Emily Schaeffer, a Boston-born American-Israeli human rights lawyer and activist, published an essay which clearly signaled to the wider Jewish community that the Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment movement – singled out by a senior Federation official as an existential danger to Israel – had a much more nuanced and complex side than the cartoon villains portrayed by invited experts to the New Orleans gathering.
Now the article turns dark and dangerous. The BDS movement is run by the worst delegitimizers of Israel, people who consider it a irredeemably racist state: Israel delendum est. The movement, which began its career at the notorious Durban I conference, embodies all the most vicious dimensions of the Palestinian victim narrative: no designation for Israel is too low, to vicious, too hate-mongering. This is the cognitive component of the genocidal war that the worst of the Palestinians pursue with such passion. It takes aggressive naïveté to think that this campaign is a “short-term” strategy for resolving Israel’s violations of international standards of justice and human rights, that it is merely the first of a long line of such “corrective” measures designed to make the world a better place, that once Israel is (ideally) brought to its knees by the campaign of vilification that lies at the heart and soul of BDS’s allegedly “non-violent” strategy, the result will be a “just” and therefore “legitimate” Israel in the eyes of its enemies. Schaeffer, if she believes what she writes (probably the case), offers a paradigmatic case of folly or dishonesty. For example, to the major criticism leveled at BDS – it’s bizarre standards in attacking Israel for transgressions that pale in comparison with those of other countries, especially its neighbors – she responds:
There are many countries that violate the same or similar norms, and should the oppressed populations in those countries call for the international community to impose BDS on the governments controlling them, then much of the same Israeli and international community that has decided to heed the Palestinian call for BDS against Israel would follow their lead as well.
This is an amazingly foolish remark. It’s almost as if she has taken Moynihan’s law in reverse, and made it her principle of action:
The amount of oppression in a land is directly related to the amount of complaint one hears arise. We, the tikkun olam BDS movement will attend to every and all complaints on a loudest-served-first basis.
Finally, Israel gets to the head of the diplomatic line. The rest of the cultures can wait till later for their judgment on how they defended human rights and allowed the oppressed to voice their pain. Right now, we’re going after the worst, whom we identify because they are the most loudly denounced. Like Goldstone in Gaza, they listen overwhelmingly to complaints about Israelis. The muffled complaints about a Hamas’ sacrifice of Gazan life remains unvoiced. As a result, post-modern masochism and pre-modern sadism hook up, and the Western left becomes a megaphone for the third-world right. And to support such a catastrophic failure in moral judgment, Schaeffer offers the vague promise that others will get the same treatment? If she really believes this, she lives in a fantasy world. The pro-Palestinian camp keeps silent on the sins of those with whom they show solidarity, even when they themselves are the target. The idea that BDS participates in an impartial justice-oriented discourse that will target any civil rights violators, and that the “Human Rights” community will listen to any voice that calls out, boggles the mind. It suggests that Schaeffer literally does not know with whom she allies herself. It resembles the mind-set of fellow travelers like George Bernard Shaw, who ignored the evidence before their very eyes. This is the fantasy world that so concerns those of us who distinguish between fair and unfair criticism, who believe in “whoever’s right, my side or not,” rather than either “my side right or wrong” (Jews of the Wall) or “their side right or wrong” (“Jews of the Gate”). The latter fantasy empowers, lionizes haters whose beliefs are shaped by a genocidal media, presenting them as heroes of “human rights” and “justice.” Just as no event better illustrated demopathy than a Durban conference against racism that became a platform for hatred, so one cannot find a better example of dupes and demopaths working together than tikkun olam Jews and Palestinian proponents of BDS. According to the proverb Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, so, when people fall dupe to hypocrisy, the results harm the very values to which the hypocrite paid tribute. Human rights and justice are the losers in this game. It’s not just time and energy lost, it’s working for the forces one thinks one opposes. It’s strengthening the klippah. BDS rides a wave of hatred, and those who partner with it, join forces with the darkest forces at work in the public sphere today. They make themselves the legitimate target of criticism from those who retain some sense of moral proportion.
As the Federation’s General Assembly heard plans for a new multi-million dollar Israel Action Network the Tel Aviv-based Schaeffer wrote than “just because a person supports BDS and aspires for major change in Israel does not mean that said person cannot love a million and a half aspects about the life, culture, landscape and even politics of Israel today and historically. Nor does it mean that Israelis need to boycott themselves (something that is neither possible nor part of the Palestinian call). The only thing that is black and white in the BDS movement is that the call will remain in effect until Israel — with a lot of help from its friends — ceases to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.”
More of same. Actually, the facetious apologies aside (Palestinians don’t call for Israelis to boycott themselves), this paragraph gives a good insight into the mindset of the BDS naifs. They think they’ve found a policy technique for tikkun olam.  If we just sternly denounce human rights violations and call for shutting out a given country until they submit to our demands, we can make the world a place where human rights will flourish. Israel just happens to be the first, perhaps because she has true friends who intervene to stop her from so terrible a path of action. And once we develop and perfect this technique, we can turn it on the rest of the world’s human rights violators. The problems here are obviously too great to deal with in this fisking. Suffice to say that in granting epistemological priority to the Palestinian narrative, and ignoring Moynihan’s law, such people are contributing to the destruction of the very culture of human rights for which they think they are the most passionate and honest advocates. As Joseph Conrad said of “visionaries”:
Visionaries work everlasting evil on earth. Their utopias inspire in the mass of mediocre minds a disgust of reality and a contempt for the secular logic of human development.
For Jews, this hyper-compassion for the Palestinians combines with the challenge of self-abnegation. Their tikkun of the Nakba is to feel the terrible pain of those their own people harmed. But in their act of atonement, they feel bound to read the images and testimony of that pain, according to the discourse born of hatred and revenge, of humiliation and rage. They embrace not the pain but the hatred. This brings up the question raised by some adepts of tikkun olam, about the nature of the klipa. It’s not even a question of whether the klipa we are dealing with – the Palestinian grievance against Israel – is nogah or tmaya. The problem here is how radically they under- and mis-estimate the nature of the problem, and how recklessly they over-estimate the power of their tikkun to transform it. The real kicker in this paragraph is the protestation of true love:
just because a person supports BDS and aspires for major change in Israel
which means, just because a person (Jew) supports a campaign that vilifies Israel out of all proportion, and aspires for changes in Israel that others see as possibly irredeemably damaging…
does not mean that said person cannot love a million and a half aspects about the life, culture, landscape and even politics of Israel today and historically.
Well, I suspect that anyone who loved a million and a half aspects about the life… and even politics of Israel” would not be anywhere near so cavalier in their treatment of her. If they feel they act out of love, that they’re doing tikkun olam by internalizing and instrumentalizing a Palestinian scape-goating narrative that seeks Israel’s destruction, then they illustrate the tragic observation that “We all kill the things we love.” As Ben Cohen noted recently, referring to piece by Jeffrey Goldberg:
…supporting BDS under any circumstances is incompatible with defining oneself as pro-Israel. After all, can you imagine a foundation dedicated to civil rights supporting grantees whose advocacy of separate lunch counters was deemed “incidental?”
I believe they may think they love Israel; I believe they may think they’re doing the right thing (God’s work, tikkun). But I can also think they delude themselves, and that they need to ask themselves what they love more: their own moral purity or an Israel which, for all its imperfections, towers over the depraved cultures that surround it and that loathe its very presence. This raises the key issue about people who think that BDS is tikkun olam. A real tikkun engages the entire person, it permeates and elevates with its heroic compassion and self-transcendence. This is policy tikkun of the basest sort: it embraces a weaponized narrative aimed at destroying Israel, and implements it in the belief that somehow that destruction will lead to a much better world.
Last week, after the Boston Globe reported that a Newton, Massachusetts synagogue had abruptly canceled an appearance by J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, “because of vociferous objections from some members of the congregation about J Street’s politics,” the event attracted national attention, and an overflow crowd to the nearby elementary school to which the evening was hastily relocated.
“I deeply regret the inconvenience to J Street, and the difficulty that created for them,” said Rabbi Keith Stern, the congregation’s spiritual leader, who said a “small, influential group’’ within the congregation had strongly opposed holding the event. Stern, who attended the school appearance, said “I feel badly that people got so exercised here, through a gesture I really believed was about bringing an opportunity to the congregation.’’ These voices, and many others, have broken the Israel Barrier, the unspoken compact that states that acquiescence to occupation and settlements – without, G-d forbid, using the O word, or the S designation – is the U.S. Jewish community’s definition of apolitical, its gold standard for unity.
I would not have counseled canceling a Jeremy Ben-Ami appearance in a synagogue, but given the widespread use of shunning in the progressive camp, any objection by people sympathetic to BDS is nothing short of the pot calling the kettle black.  And given the people that J-Street associates with, it’s hard not to understand how some people might find them less of a friend than Job’s. On the contrary, the synagogue should have welcomed Jeremy on condition that he debate with people who disagree with him, something he does only rarely. In any case, Jeremy’s reaction replicates the “dialectical scam” described by Alvin Rosenfeld – turn a small incident into one of martyrdom at the hands of the enemies of free speech. Apparently, Burston finds the dialectical scam difficult to resist. It fits nicely into his effort to present the “Israel Barrier” as “the unspoken compact” that demands “acquiescence to occupation and settlements,” and identify that as the reason the “Jews of the Wall” might mobilize against Jeremy Ben-Ami’s J-Street… even if such a take misreads every aspect of the problem. (Perhaps surprisingly for people who consider themselves highly self-critical, the misreading is entirely in favor of the house.) The problem is not opposition to the settlements and the occupation, it’s how far in opposing them will you go? It’s not criticism, even loud and pointed criticism, that’s the problem. It’s demonizing, and it’s the Jews who have convinced themselves that they are contributing to tikkun olam by passionately opposing the O and the S by any means, including joining hands with forces of hatred
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What I’ve seen in the past few weeks are unprecedented clashes between the two groups, a new desperation on the part of activists and string-pullers of the Jews of the Wall, and the nascent strength of the Jews of the Gate. In New Orleans, when members of the Young Leadership Institute of Jewish Voice for Peace heckled Netanyahu and held up signs reading that occupation, loyalty oaths and settlements were delegitimizing Israel, they were manhandled, placed in headlocks, and their signs literally chewed to pieces.
This is choice. The protesters were classic 60s knock-offs; their slogans mechanical (remember these are the folks with the “stunningly poetic” manifesto); their logic, a bulldozer. And unless they were forced from the room they would, indeed, have silenced Netanyahu. But of course, showing public contempt for the democratically elected Prime Minister of Israel makes perfect sense. They’re a rogue state (in the bad way), and deserve that contempt.
A few days later in the Bay Area, an Israeli flag-draped member of a rightist advocacy group, San Francisco Voice for Israel/StandWithUs, disrupting a Jewish Voice of Peace meeting, pepper-sprayed two JVP members in the face and eyes.
Note how this version suppresses the voice of the “other” (in this case, StandWithUs activist Robin Dubner). Here the pepper-spray is a tactic of disruption; in Dubner’s account the disruption was modeled on the earlier disruption of Netanyahu (applauded above), and the pepper spray was a defensive response to the hostile treatment at the hands of the organizers (excoriated above).
It makes perfect sense. Just when the Jews of the Gate are engaging the wider Jewish community in fresh ways, the Jews of the Wall are ratcheting up their attacks on them. They thought they had them where they wanted them. Because they want them gone.
This is mirror-talk. The BDS movement has precisely this profile. And yet, those opposing BDS-talk, who recoil in sane horror at people morally reckless enough to engage in tikkun olam with some of the darkest forces on the planet, get boxed and recycled as dogmatic racists.
The Jews of the Gate drive them bats. Because the Jews of the Gate face the world.
The “Jews of the Gate” drive the “Jews of the Wall” bats because the Jews of the Gate ignore the feedback from the real world to pursue a messianic dream down the most perilous and self-destructive of paths. They drive crazy anyone who realistically cares about values because, in their moral ferocity, they undermine the very values they claim to champion.
The Jews of the Gate face one another. The Jews of the Gate believe in the possibility of a future.
I’m not sure if this is a typo or not. Shouldn’t it read “The Jews of the Wall face one another. The Jews of the Gate believe in the possibility of a future.”? In any case, it’s actually true that the Jews of the Gate face only one another and refuse to listen to Jews who find their behavior morally problematic. (How can anyone of good will not see what a wonderful person I am?) The proof of this self-absorption is in the very pudding whereby they dismiss any objections to demonizing Israel as objections to “any” criticism. They’re like Miracle Max, “I’m not listening!”
For someone who believes in tikkun olam, Burston and his friends clearly don’t think “the Jews of the Wall” deserve any respect. The only “other” they seem to respect are those who abuse their people.
They have broken the Israel Barrier. They are being true to what they believe. They are being true to their Judaism and their love of Israel. They are using the tools God gave human beings to repair the world. Their voices and their hands.
Wow. He really means it. The BDS folks think a) they love Israel, and b) they’re doing tikkun olam. And God help anyone with the effrontery to question their good will or the beneficial results of their efforts.
The Jews of the Wall, in their drive for uniformity, rabbinical authority, spiritual and genetic cohesion, stand for exclusion. They face the Wall.
This is a nasty piece of rhetoric. It’s the classic: my (Jewish) enemies are of the tribal “my side right or wrong” school – racial and ideological solidarities that do not permit them to acknowledge the “other.” The fact that this description suits Muslims and Palestinians to a degree unmatched by the most extremist “rabbinical” zealot, plays no role in Burston’s calculus. Like so many in the BDS movement, the standards applied to Israel with severity are waved when dealing with witnesses and allies among the “other.” Tikkun olam here only involves mending the broken where suffering, innocent Palestinians are concerned. Fellow Jews whose concerns get in the way deserve nothing but denunciation and dismissal.
They live the past. They translate compromise as surrender.
Please, Bradley, listen closely. (I know, it’s hard.) Compromise, like self-criticism, does not mean surrender; it can, under conditions of civil society, play the key role in achieving a positive-sum solution, one that benefits both sides and therefore can work voluntarily rather than through imposition. But compromise with people who have no intention of compromising, and who consider the “other’s” compromise as a sign of weakness and a prompt for more demands and more violence, is in fact counter-indicated. This is a basic fact of life, and if you can’t see the problem, or discuss which situation Israel faces in the current situation, then you do not belong in a serious discussion.
They believe that God’s Arabic vocabulary consists of the word No.
I presume he means here that the Jews of the Wall think that Arabs always say no in Arabic. Given howmuchdatasupports this expectation (evidence that directly contradicts what some of them say in English), it seems a bit off to ridicule the sentiment. How many sincere “yes”s can Burston point to spoken in Arabic?
They will tell you that they believe in negotiations, but ceding any of the homeland would rend Israeli society to the point of the destruction of the Jewish state.
Well some, but few, of them will argue this case (especially in its “any of the homeland” version), and they are probably right that it would cause enormous suffering and mutual hostility between Jews. (Not that rending Israeli society bothers the “Jews of the Gate”.) But the mainstream argument in opposition to the “get back to the green line and we’ll have peace now” crowd is that ceding on settlements without reciprocity, in the “hopes” that a) that’s what the Palestinians really want, and b) that doing it will change them from relentless foes to civil neighbors, is not particularly shrewd, and promises, like Oslo, to blow up in everyone’s face. You may not agree with this argument, but it’s inappropriate to deal with it by reducing the argument to the absurd and then mock the straw man you’ve created.
They will tell you that the Arabs hate us, Iranians, the Turks, Barack Obama, that they will always hate us. Therefore we cannot withdraw. If God Himself tells us to, we cannot withdraw.
There is no lack of Jews who, looking at the madness of anti-Semitic orgy that has gone on in the Arab, Muslim, and especially Palestinian world, echoed by the Western “Left,” sigh and say, “Esau hates Jacob” as if anti-Semitism were genetically programmed in human nature. (It is in the way that envy is.) But pointing to them as a kind of “off the charts” appraisal of a situation in which Burston and the people he admires (BDS, JVP, J-Street) play a role of enabling the very discourse these folks despair about, seems, again, misdirected at the least. And it has nothing directly to do with the settlements. People who do not support the “Settlements” or the “Occupation” in any way, can look at the global public sphere and conclude that lots of people have an astounding appetite for nasty narratives about Jews. As one academic in Budapest interrupted my presentation on Al Durah to say, “Everyone knows that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinian children every day
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The Jews of the Wall believe that the entire outside world is hostile to them. The truth, one suspects, is the exact opposite. They can’t bring themselves to say what they really mean: The Occupation must persist in order that the settlements grow, and the settlements must grow in order that the Occupation become permanent.
Given the line-up of UN, UNHRC, EU, NGOs, Solidarity Organizations, journalists, Nobel Prize winners, etc., the perception that “the whole world” is hostile to Israel hardly seems incomprehensible, even if one does not concur in the assessment (as I do not). After all, after Jenin, Kofi Annan remarked, “Is is possible that the whole world is wrong [about the "massacre"] and Israel is right [that it was a highly disciplined maneuver that minimized civilian casualties]?” Unconsciously, he echoed a remark by Ehad Ha’am in 1892 about the blood libel. And both cases indicate not a permanent condition of mankind, but moments when madness prevails. Alas, one of the components of that madness, this time around, as in the Holocaust, involves Jews in denial about what transpires.
They cannot accept that the Jews of the Gate care about Israel no less than they.
It seems like a legitimate suspicion that Jews who are ready to ally with people dedicated to the destruction of Israel and who apologize for people who rant on about killing Jews everywhere, don’t really care about Israel. In the same way that one can question whether a father who kills his daughter on suspicion that she’s shamed the family loves his daughter (who may be innocent) as much as he loves his honor, so we who love Israel despite her faults can legitimately wonder about those who claim they love Israel even as they consort with those who defame her.
And that Israel belongs to the Jews of the Gate every bit as much as it belongs to them. The Jews of the Gate want to see a different Israel, a better Israel. There are many more of them than there are of the Jews of the Wall. And their answers to Israel’s problems, to the cliff up ahead are a great deal more reasonable and a great deal more realistic than Shut Up and Gun It.
Here we reach the height of smug folly. I understand that Burston and his tiny minority (tiny now at least in Israel where they see things up close) think that forcing Israel to make the “painful concessions” that will change the Palestinians from belligerents to peaceful neighbors. I even understand that he thinks they reasonable and realistic. But therein lies the problem. He never pauses to consider the disastrous consequences if he is wrong.
It’s time for the Federations to come clean – they are, to a great degree, Jews of the Gate as well. Next year, at the GA, it will be time to invite anti-occupation people into the tent. Until now, they’ve never been able to bring themselves to say the word. They can’t bring themselves to name the disease. But BDS is a symptom. Flotillas are a symptom. Emotional divestment from Israel is a symptom. Occupation is the disease.
Occupation is one of the symptoms of a problem that existed long before the occupation (presuming that Burston’s speaking about over the Green Line). Indeed the occupation is a result of the problem of Arab irredentism; and what Burston hears when Palestinians speak of the “Occupation” (Green Line) is probably not what they mean (Shoreline). So it is with demopaths and their dupes: they use the same language and mean radically different things. And the dupes just think that if they believe their meaning enough, make the painful sacrifices, the demopaths will prove to be men and women of integrity and compassion. Good luck with that. One of the many diseases we need to treat is masochistic omnipotence syndrome, in which the only problems we can acknowledge are the ones “we” cause (and can therefore, presumably, fix). And, alas, the less one allows oneself to find any fault with one’s foes, the more hysterical one must get about one’s own faults. One ends up, as Nick Cohen laid out so devastatingly, begging a ruthless foe to “Kill us, we deserve it!” (What’s Left, chapter 9).
In the final analysis, I’d argue that the behavior of the folks who claim to do tikkun olam in the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict have actually done the opposite. They’ve demonized Israelis and fed the desire for revenge among Arabs by systematically affirming and inflating their grievances. If there is a job for the tikkun olamniks in the Middle East, it’s to teach self-criticism and forgiveness to a remorselessly vengeful culture. But that’s much harder than parading in the invisible garb of moral rectitude on the stage of history, claiming to do good, even as one brings on ever-greater hatred and violence.


1 comment:

  1. The point is the Israeli Left refuses to recognize the reason why a two-state solution is not attainable in the foreseeable future is not because Israel is standing in the way of it but because the Palestinians themselves reject two states for two peoples. They reject the formula the conventional wisdom thinks will bring about peace. And the conventional wisdom is wrong and Bradley Burston and his ilk in Israel and abroad are out of touch with reality. What they propose Israel adopt in the absence of any concrete evidence the Arabs want peace, is to impose a Second Holocaust upon Israel's Jews. These people must be stopped if Israel is to survive.

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