The Left and Israel: Irreconcilable Differences?

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[Emad Hajjaj, Alquds Alarabi, 5 17 04]

I intended on writing a longer response to The Nation columnist Eric Alterman’s hit-piece on Martin Peretz and The New Republic when it appeared in The American Prospect last month (“My Marty Peretz Problem and Ours”). But teaching and other responsibilities have allowed less time for this blog, which is not necessarily a bad thing. A friend forwarded me an article by Jonathan Mark from The Jewish Week that addresses some of my issues with Alterman’s piece. Reading the comments that follow “My Marty Problem,” many readers agree with Alterman’s assessment that Peretz is a liability for American liberalism in allowing TNR to become a neoconservative mouthpiece.

[D]uring his reign, Peretz has also done lasting damage to the cause of American liberalism. By turning TNR into a kind of ideological police dog, Peretz enjoyed the ability — at least for a while — to play a key role in defining the borders of “responsible” liberal discourse, thereby tarring anyone who disagreed as irresponsible or untrustworthy. But he did so on the basis of a politics simultaneously so narrow and idiosyncratic — in thrall almost entirely to an Israel-centric neoconservatism — that it’s difficult to understand how the magazine’s politics might be considered liberal anymore.

You can hear the indignation, “Ask yourself: Have you ever — ever — read an editorial in The New Republic that does not take the Israeli government’s side in a dispute?” For some liberals and especially centrists like myself, the editorials in TNR were simply an antidote to the never ending tirade of anti-Israel editorials coming from the anti-Zionist left. Unfortunately Alterman, like so many on the left, has equated strong support for Israel with neoconservatism. A visit to liberal-left blogs like DailyKos or Moveon.org, to say nothing of more radical websites like Indymedia, reveals a similar Manichean mindset.

This was made clear to me when I voiced support for Israel to my radical friends. They subsequently identified me as a Zionist and a neoconservative. I wasn’t sure which diagnosis was worse but they apparently were both bad, very bad. One individual refuses to discuss these or any matters with me while others just think I’ve gone over to the “other side.” Has support for Israel become, in Mark’s words, “a litmus test for the left”? In many quarters, it has. This has been the case for the radical left for decades.

Why this is the case is up for debate. Some blame the situation on Israel. If Israel only offered more land and territory for peace, if Israel were more “proportional” in its response to terrorists, if Israel stopped the occupation, then leftists would support Israel. I suspect Alterman would place himself in this camp. However, the anti-Zionist element, the segment of the left that not only wants Israel to retreat to the pre-1967 borders but wants Israel to be eliminated as a political entity, is the predominant perspective on the radical left. This radical anti-Zionist left, while weak in the United States, is more prominent in Europe. This is especially the case on the continent, but is also true of the U.K., as evidenced by the recent boycott motions passed by British trade unions.

Thankfully, these boycott motions have been condemned by American trade unions. Their resolutions have no purpose other than demonizing Israel ,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Jewish Labor Committee, an alliance of Jewish union leaders and supporters which is soliciting support for a statement opposing these boycotts.

The JLC’s effort has been endorsed by the president of the AFL-CIO; the chair of Change to Win; presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; United Food and Commercial Workers; Communications Workers of America; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Masters, Mates and Pilots / ILA; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union / UFCW; American Postal Workers Union; International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; UAW; American Federation of School Administrators; Office and Professional Employees International Union; American Federation of Government Employees; UNITE-HERE; United Mine Workers of America; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; Transportation Communications Union; American Federation Musicians; Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union; the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers, and the Transport Workers Union of America.

But among the younger left–especially on college campuses–anti-Zionism and anti-Israel activism is, if not fashionable, at least tolerated as part of the broader movement for “social justice.” This is the case with the “anti-War movement” as well. Some of the most vocal activists have claimed that the War in Iraq–and the GWOT generally–is a Zionist plot hatched by neconservative “Likudniks” in Washington. It is among these “progressive” (actually reactionary) leftists that support for Israel is a litmus test.

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2 responses »

  1. Israel has made many, many, offers for peace. Israel withdrew all IDF forces and settlers from Gaza. Shortly thereafter, Hamas proceeded to launch rockets into Israel. Until Palestinian political forces renounce “armed struggle,” there will be no peace. Thankfully, there seems to be some movement in that direction:

    Palestinian govt platform drops “armed resistance”
    By Mohammed Assadi

    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas has dropped the phrase “armed resistance” from its platform, a minister said on Friday, in a further break from Hamas Islamists in control of Gaza.

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