Einat Wilf glumly contemplates the fate of the Jewish state. (Israel National TV)
The Pacific NW chapter of StandWithUs will hold its annual fundraising event this month here in Seattle. It will feature ex-Labor MK Einat Wilf and will honor recently retired local Reform Rabbi Jim Mirel. Both choices are interesting for different reasons. Wilf spent a few terms in the Knesset, first with the Labor Party and then with Ehud Barak’s ill-fated split-off, the Independence Party. When the latter lapsed into oblivion, Wilf lost her job.
She always seemed an ill-fit for a center-left party since her views are far to the right of any other Party MK. Wilf sits on the board of Gerald Steinberg’s NGO Monitor hasbara outfit (along with another former liberal humanist, Elie Wiesel). She writes a regular column for Fathom, the glossy publication of UK’s Israel Lobby, Bicom. She’s managed to carve out a lucrative niche as the token “leftist” Israeli willing to say the hard truths about Palestinians. Diaspora audiences love to have their moral consciences assuaged by Israelis who tell them it’s OK to hate Arabs. If Einat Wilf, a liberal Israeli does, then so can I, so the reasoning goes. She does this around the world with invitations like the one offered to her by StandWithUs. It’s a lucrative job in which speaking fees can range from $10,000-50,000 per appearance. She’s represented by the Harry Walker Agency, whose clientele include many of the old warhorses of the pro-Israel lecture circuit.
Last year, British pro-Israel pols invited her to speak at the House of Commons about BDS and other demonic anti-Israel phenomena and she managed to smear former Labor Foreign Minister Jack Straw by accusing him of mouthing anti-Israel “prejudice of the worst sort.” What did he really say? That Bibi Netanyahu exploits U.S. political divisions by sidling up the Republicans and that the Israel Lobby plays a damaging role in determining U.S. Mideast policy. She accused him specifically of saying Jews provided the Lobby “unlimited funding.” Except that even the Jerusalem Post was forced to admit he didn’t even say that! Nonetheless, that’s way too independent a line for the UK Israel Lobby’s taste, which was why the pro-Israel media crucified (pardon the expression) him.
The UK Lobby has done a similar job on Labor Party chair, Ed Milliband, trying to divert Jewish support from his run for prime minister in the next elections because he denounced the summer’s Gaza War.
Wilf has a special distaste for UNWRA, which she believes should be eliminated since it perpetuates the status of Palestinians as refugees:
UNWRA should not be spoken of as a humanitarian organization, but rather as a Palestinian organization and enemy [of Israel] which perpetuates the dream of [Palestinian] Return.
The former MK also railed against the “ungrateful” Negev Bedouin who refused the “generous deal” proffered to them by the Israeli government in the form of the Prawer Plan. It would’ve displaced 40,000 Bedouin from their ancestral lands and concentrated them in centralized slum cities in which crime, drugs and unemployment are rampant. This displacement would’ve enabled the Judaization of the Negev through the introduction of new settlements and infrastructure projects like roads and farms.
When Wilf served in the Knesset, she proposed her own version of what I call Israel’s Race laws (the ones being debated now in the Knesset). She is the individual who first coined the opening line that has been retained in the current legislation:
The State of Israel is “the nation state of the Jewish people.”
At one time, this definition might’ve been acceptable to the majority of world Jewry. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that by hitching our wagon to this “Jewish nation state,” we’re giving over our right to be independent Jews with a voice in our own destiny and that of Israel. This ‘bargain’ offered us allows Israel’s leaders to pursue their own political interests and to do so in our names. For example, when Netanyahu attempts to spook the world into hating Iran he falsely states that the latter wants to destroy, not just Israel, but the Jewish people.
Further, it’s becoming ever clearer that the notion of Israel as a Jewish state jettisons democracy as a core value. Democracy is replaced, just as Meir Kahane advocated, by notions of religious triumphalism, racial purity, and territorial expansion (lebensraum, anyone?). Hate of The Other is at the core of this new concept of Jewish nationhood. More and more Jews aren’t buying into this. Which is what makes Wilf’s formulation so problematic.
In this portrait of her legislation, she describes her discomfort with linking the term “Jewish state” with “democracy:”
Through the years, we’ve become accustomed to the construction “a Jewish and democratic state” as a definition of the State of Israel. I’ve never liked this definition.
She hasn’t ditched democracy entirely. In fact, she even reaches out her hand (fraudulently) to the Palestinian minority and offers them equal rights to the Jewish majority. But she does so with a catch:
…The full, equal citizenship of Israel’s Arab [sic] citizens and the possibility of their full integration into in Israeli society is dependent on this process happening through the Zionist idea and on the basis of Jewish heritage.
These words might not be as objectionable as they are if there was any evidence that the State embraced the concept she’s enunciating. But it never has and never will. In other words, these are empty words. They sound good, look good on the page. There’s even a hint of poetry in them. But it’s all a sham. Palestinian citizens do not, and have never had equal rights in her Jewish nation.
Another principle in her nationalist “theology” is that Israel’s existence offers the Jewish people the right to realize their ethical potential as a people. At one time, visionaries like Ahad HaAm were willing to speak of the Jewish experiment in Palestine in ethical terms. But far too much water has flowed under that bridge. Any talk of Israel being an ethical expression of Jewish peoplehood is at best a cruel joke, at worst a cynical delusion.
An American Jewish Committee PR photo featuring Rabbi Mirel with Imam Jobani of the Redmond MAPS mosque
Rabbi Jim Mirel is the SWU guest of honor at its fundraising event. Mirel has served for decades as senior rabbi at one of the Eastside’s major Reform congregations. He has a liberal reputation in the community. This has included his participation in some events that no other local rabbis would join. A few years ago, Brenda Bentz organized a major conference on Islamophobia. Mirel spoke at the conference and participated in its planning. He has joined in other efforts to promote tolerance between the Jewish and Muslim communities locally.
But Mirel’s luster began to fade over the past year when the Washington State Holocaust Center invited a speaker from the Wiesenthal Center. Local Muslim community members protested the Islamophobia represented by Wiesenthal and asked the Museum to cancel its invitation. Instead of engaging with the critics, Mirel shouted at them and refused to concede there was a problem. The event went ahead.
I wrote Mirel an e mail message a few days ago expressing my concerns about his participation in an event sponsored by one of the Jewish community’s most notoriously Islamophobic organizations. He has not responded. Mirel certainly knows what SWU represents. He’d have to be blind and naive not to. But too many Jews like him believe they can have their cake and eat it: they can be pro-Israel and associate with the brutalists in SWU while maintaining their liberal Jewish values. You can’t have it both ways. Rabbi Mirel should know this. I say that by throwing in his lot with SWU he’s made his choice. The local progressive community of Jewish, Christian and Arab activists should not pretend Rabbi Mirel is one of them. You simply cannot play both sides of the street. When you break bread with SWU, you embrace the enemies of tolerance, justice and democracy.
Rabbis and other community leaders like Mirel who straddle the fence ideologically are useful to the Israel Lobby. I have little doubt that NW consul general Akiva Tor meets or speaks regularly with Mirel when he’s engaged with the Palestinian or Christian activist community. He would be able to give them an inside view of what Israel’s critics are doing and saying. What they plan. It allows Israeli diplomats and their affiliates like SWU to anticipate what opponents will do in the community.
I’ve always believed something similar regarding another well-known “liberal” local Jewish activist, attorney Phil Ginsberg. He’s a member of Mirel’s synagogue and often acts as the intermediary between the rabbi and the local activist community. At the Islamophobia conference I mentioned above, I spoke and offered serious criticism of the Jewish community’s response to the Naveed Haq attack on the Jewish federation staff. In an incident I’ve never seen happen before, Ginsberg, who’d introduced me but had no further role in my remarks or presentation, stood up after I’d finished and disputed what I’d said. I’d never been so disrespected before in a public gathering by someone ostensibly participating as an event organizer (as I was too). After I expressed my views to him directly, he dismissed them intolerantly. Ever since, I’ve deeply suspected his motives and principles. Now I’ve seen some of these same suspicions confirmed by Rabbi Mirel’s participation with SWU.
Robert Wilkes, SWU board member and anti-Palestinian, anti-Black racist
One of the items I warned Mirel about in my message was this racist screed published by local SWU board member, Robert Wilkes, in the Times of Israel. In his blog post, he likened the failures, violence and perfidy of Palestinians to the protesters of Ferguson. I’ve excerpted most of it here:
The rioters in Ferguson, Missouri, have much in common with the Palestinians…
Both have permanent, deep-set anger and rage and are looking for anything to set it off. Anger defines them, and anger keeps both mired in failure. Rather than make better choices they prefer to ride the “victim” train to nowhere. Both must have an “oppressor” to rage against; a white cop defending himself or an Israeli Jew wanting to pray on the Temple Mount serves their purposes. Rage is the only path they know to gain honor and prestige among their peers.
…Palestinians learn hate in their society, which idolizes murderers, and in their schools…American students, even those in prestigious universities…are taught that they live in a racist society under an oppressive, imperialist US government that has committed innumerable sins at home and abroad. They become enlightenment-besotted idealists that believe Rousseau’s nonsense that civilization is a corrupting evil and virtue belongs to the noble savage. The result of all this expensive education is the nihilistic anarchy we see in the streets of Ferguson.
Both wish to undermine the state’s moral authority by provoking violent reactions, then portraying themselves as victims of oppression. Destroy the state’s moral authority—then destroy the state. In the Gaza War civilians died as human shields or because Hamas did not allow them to have shelters…The rioters in Ferguson destroy as Utopian revolutionaries, hoping to build some vague notion of a classless society. They believe they first have to burn down what is already there.
Emotion is the be all and end all; practical solutions are not sought or desired. Prior to the announcement of the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer, many good people in Ferguson reached out to the protest groups to let them know they were welcome to exercise their First Amendment rights. They pleaded with the protest leaders for peace and calm. It had no effect and the city burned anyway. Similarly, everyone knows that if the Palestinians cared about improving their lives they need only to make peace. A practical solution is of no interest to them.
Both have perfectly wretched leaders. Black leaders in America are con artists and a disgrace. They are a race-hustlers in a “business” fueled by anger. As long as blacks remain angry their “leaders” will continue to have a lucrative career. Similarly, the corrupt, undemocratic Palestinian leadership is equally unconcerned about the human aspirations of their own people.
Both have an abundance of people who will make excuses for them no matter what they do. Black problems in America have nothing to do with the conduct of the police…Their problems derive from…unhealthy aspects of black culture. Addressing those issues is a discussion that is not taking place in “politically correct” America. Try it, and the cultural elite in America will brand you a racist in a New York Times minute. The Palestinians too have an amazing array of feel-good apologists who are ready at all times to make excuses for murder…
Both adhere to causes that are quixotic and hopeless. Do the 1% protesters really believe they can steal wealth rather than earn it, and that the country be better off?…Do Palestinians really believe that the Israelis will just hand over the keys to the high-rise office complexes, universities, research laboratories, farms and factories of Israel and leave? Actually, they do…
Authorities in both places have their hands tied by their high standards of human rights and reverence for the rule of law. In an overabundance of caution, the governor of Missouri was reluctant to use force to stop the rioters. He asserted that they have a right to be there and make their voices heard. His high ideals were answered with Molotov Cocktails. Similarly, Israel’s IDF is the most careful, caring war fighting force the world has ever seen, even to the detriment of its own soldiers.
In both places, the innocent pay the price. The businesses destroyed in Ferguson belong to hard-working citizens who had nothing to do with the incident in which a policeman shot a robbery suspect in self-defense. The Palestinians are, tragically, far more bloodthirsty. They intentionally target civilians, even children…
I’ve quoted a significant portion of the post because, after Max Blumenthal tweeted about it and Wilkes’ affiliation with StandWithUs as a board member, it disappeared from the Times of Israel site. But before that happened, SWU staff member, Hen Mazzig tweeted support of Wilkes. Then the former backpedaled, tweeting that the views didn’t represent those of SWU. Then the post simply disappeared. Knowing TOI, I strongly doubt it was the cause of the removal. I’m virtually certain that SWU demanded it be withdrawn. It was too incendiary coming two weeks before the fundraising event. They didn’t need any distractions that diverted from raising money.
It’s ironic that SWU muzzled Wilkes, since he publishes prolifically in local Jewish media in SWU’s name and says virtually the same things there (in fact, he smeared me once claiming I “depict Israel as a Nazi state inflicting a Shoah on the Palestinians”). The only difference in this case is that Wilkes chose an international venue to spew his hate and someone like Max Blumenthal, who himself has an international audience, caught him.
There’s another odd facet to this story. Alternet published a generally good story on the Wilkes post. But a reader of this blog informed me that I’d been called a ‘booster of Israel’ by the author and that he claimed Wilkes “admired” me and Alan Dershowitz:
Wilkes says he is an admirer of Israel boosters Alan Dershowitz and Richard Silverstein.
This isn’t at all what Wilkes wrote or even meant. Here is what he wrote:
To prepare myself for this task I have read everything from the scholarly arguments of Alan Dershowitz to the blogs of Richard Silverstein, and much in between.
The writer is an intern at Alternet. He clearly doesn’t know anything about me or my views, nor has he done any serious research before making such blatantly false claims. But it clearly hurts to be described this way even by someone who’s merely being incompetent. I can’t say I’m surprised by this lapse. Alternet editor, Alex Kane and his colleagues at Mondoweiss, where he also publishes, joined in calling me “racist” for my satiric references to Black pro-Israel advocate, Chloe Valdary, as an ‘Uncle Tom’ and “Negro.” It appears sloppy thinking and research continues at Alternet.