Brad Burston: Jews of the Gate (JVP) vs. Jews of the Wall (Stand With Us)
Recently, I wrote a post about a talk Brad Burston, the Haaretz columnist, gave in Seattle that was hosted by J Street. I said some tough things about Brad’s remarks that night and he was open-handed and gracious enough not to take personal offense, as so many large-egoed journalists tend to do. He actually responded to my criticism and while I think we still have differences it was clear that he retained respect for my views. That doesn’t often happen.
Brad’s been writing a series for Haaretz about his U.S. visit and the latest column is a good one. In it, he posits a bifurcation in the U.S. between what he calls Jews of the Wall and Jews of the Gate:
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.
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.
Nothing terribly earth-shattering in this. But what follows is, at least for a liberal Zionist publication like Haaretz. Burston talks about attacks against J Street, like the cancellation of a talk by the group’s Jeremy Ben Ami at a Newton, MA synagogue after members went on the warpath about J Street’s alleged ‘original’ anti-Israel ‘sins.’
But then Burston did something really interesting. He wrote this:
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. 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.
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.
…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.”
…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.
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.
The attack followed the May vandalism of the Berkeley home of Rabbi Michael Lerner, whose Tikkun Magazine had awarded its annual human rights prize to Judge Richard Goldstone. Among the vandals’ messages was one reading “Leftists and Islamofascists are Terrorists.”
To my knowledge, Haaretz has until never published a favorable account of the work of Jewish Voice for Peace with the exception of a surprisingly positive article last week reporting on the group’s Bibi protest at the GA. Nor have I ever seen anything remotely favorable written about the BDS movement.
Unlike Brad, who is an inveterate optimist (when it comes to Israel and other matters too, I presume), I’m hesitant to read a precedent into these editorial decisions. But it could be, it just could be that something is driving Haaretz to expand its Israel narrative. It’s embracing voices hitherto unheard or very rarely heard. And Brad is one who is helping break these barriers.
Of course, the irony is that J Street itself wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room with JVP and here Brad has put them into the same column! But that’s J Street’s problem, not Brad’s or ours. Another example, J Street demonstrated at the Hebron Fund dinner in New York last week and wouldn’t even join a group of fellow protestors that included JVP members and (God forbid) Palestinians! They had to have a mechitzah so none of J Street’s haters would be able to lump them together as they’re creamin’ to do.
Here is more of Brad’s column worth reading:
The Jews of the Gate drive them [Jews of the Wall] bats. Because the Jews of the Gate face the world. The Jews of the Gate face one another. The Jews of the Gate believe in the possibility of a future. 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.
The Jews of the Wall, in their drive for uniformity, rabbinical authority, spiritual and genetic cohesion, stand for exclusion. They face the Wall.
They live the past. They translate compromise as surrender. They believe that God’s Arabic vocabulary consists of the word No. 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. 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.
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.
They cannot accept that the Jews of the Gate care about Israel no less than they. 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 [ed., a reference to the closing scene of Thelma and Louise] , are a great deal more reasonable and a great deal more realistic than ‘Shut Up and Gun It.’
Brad seems to believe that America’s Jewish federations are more Jews of the Gate than Jews of the Wall. I think it’s more of his optimistic side coming out. Personally, I think this is a bit too much Pollyanna for my taste. He even thinks there might be hope for the next GA to invite anti-Occupation groups like JVP to come sit under the big tent. It ain’t gonna happen. At least not next year or even any year in the near future. It may eventually happen. And if and when it does it will be because of courageous Israeli journalists like Brad. So like Orwell said about democracy: two and half cheers (well, maybe even two and three-quarters) for Brad Burston!
- Bibi, Tom Friedman, and U.S. Jews divesting from Israel (warincontext.org)
12 thoughts on “Brad Burston: Jews of the Gate (JVP) vs. Jews of the Wall (Stand With Us) – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I don’t know if Bradley supports disruption as optimal form of dissent.
I’m glad that you appreciated his reluctance to relate to you defensively.
You are right for now about J Street, but I think that organization’s focus will have to change. Until now its star has been hitched to the Obama administration’s luke-warm, neoliberal Israel-Palestine peace policy efforts (as in “we’ve got your back, Mr. President”). Many who are natural allies of J Street have been disappointed by some of its stances (Goldstone, Iron Dome, etc.). Recently the Magnes Zionist ran an interesting piece about its student wing, J Street U. Hopefully in the next year we will see J Street kissing and making up with the rest of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” movement and accepting the reality that it cannot succeed as AIPAC-Lite.
In what important or effective or substantial ways is J-Street different from AIPAC and the old guard? I have always assumed that J-Street is a new wrapper for the old toothpaste, put in place (apart from vanity of its founder) to create a feel-good place for Jews who cannot abide AIPAC but don’t really have any different opinions; in short more or less a fraud (in saying it is different).
Will someone enlighten me?
You have to understand that the politics in the Jewish community is just like the politics in any ethnic or religious community. THere are nuances among groups. Aipac is NOT J St. The latter may not satisfy my own progressive values, but it ain’t Aipac & it ain’t even Aipac lite & many lefties like to claim. I find J St. deeply disappointing in many ways. But it just ain’t Aipac.
The best way I can describe J St. is an Barack Obama’s Middle East cheering section. Aipac is outright hostile to Obama’s Middle East policy. So that is a major diff. right there. NOw, you & I may not like Obama’s policy, but I for one see a major diff. bet. Aipac’s Likudist approach & Obama’s.
J-Street exists so BArak O Bama can claim to have Jewish “buy in” to his policies.
Came across this the other day and wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I think it fits with this discussion.
FWIW, I’ve seen at least a couple of articles in Ha’aretz in the past few months that could at least be described as sympathetic, if not outright favorable, toward the JVP (coverage of JVP’s organization of American entertainer support of the Ariel actors’ boycott, and the inclusion of JVP in the Anti-Defamation League’s list of anti-Israel groups).
I thought this was a good article by Bradley. It made me immediately think of the Peter Beinart article this spring on the failure of the American Jewish establishment, and thought Burston gave voice to a counterweight to the earlier article’s pessimism.
Two years ago there was one protester; this year there 5 or 6 and they were met with real anger and at least some violence. Two years from now if (when) nothing changes there will be 15 or 20 protesters and the true believers at the GA will do them real bodily harm.
interestingly, when UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine tried to pass a pretty mild divestment bill earlier this year, against two American arms manufacturers, Burston came out strongly against us. He claimed that “From Britain to Berkeley to Toronto, the only actual consequence of the BDS movement has been to dramatically inflate the importance of its proponents in their own eyes,” and advised us instead to ” organize and hold a demonstration,” “contact public officials directly,” or “take your case to the media.”
I was quite surprised at the time at the naivety of these suggestions, as if no one had ever taken such actions before. And now, several months later, he seems to be changing his tune.
A local JVP member who heard him speak when he addressed the Bay Area said he even called the Berkeley BDS movement “Stalinist,” which is rich if he did indeed say that. It’s actually the anti divestment forces who usually engage in Stalinist tactics of the sort Burston himself notes in his column.
Personally, I think J Street’s anti BDS position made it difficult for Brad to do anything but speak against BDS. He couldn’t exactly bite the hand, you know. I would like to have a really freewheeling discussion some time w him in public or private on these & other subjects (& wrote him to that effect).
I think the commenter who wrote earlier that this column reminded him of Peter Beinart is right. Both Beinart & Burston are on the cusp of transition or change among the liberal Zionist movement. Either they will help set in motion the change that needs to happen or else they will be too late. I know which option I prefer.
I’m not sure if Burston is trying to use reverse psychology or if he really believes what he’s saying. If it’s the latter then he’s delusional, as are most Jews who believe that good will enventually triumph because really the majority wants it to. If it’s the former; then he’s using the wrong strategy. At the end of this I have a suggestion for the strategy he should be using. The problem is that it’s NOT the majority.
No, the majority doesn’t want a Palestinian state, a 2-state solution and especially equal rights or any kind of rights for Palestinians because if this were the case it would already be a FAIT ACCOMPLI! The majority in Israel votes centre all the way to radical right, and centre in Israel is right everywhere else.
If the MAJORITY in Israel and the MAJORITY of Jews in America wanted the above, they’d be marching in Manhattan, New Jersey, L.A. and Tel Aviv. in the thousands to demand an end to the occupation like Americans marched in the Civil Rights Movement and to end the Vietnam War. Instead 5 brave souls are subjected to ridicule by hundreds. A a group of 50 or 70 confront the Hebron Fund.
So let’s be realistic, he has it in reverse. The majority are the Jews of the Wall and the minority are the Jews of the Gate.
And you know, I’m not buying all that mushy stuff about the majority which he defines as Jews of the Gate. Maybe he’s trying to pull at the heartstrings of the majority which he clearly knows to be the Jews of the Wall, trying to make them feel guilty for not living up to this image he creates of them, so pure, so moral and good. Puh-leeez.
Anyway, when Israelis stop lolling around on the beach, sipping their lattes in Tel Aviv cafés, and carrying on in a bubble like nothing’s happening next door; and start marching with Palestinians in droves and breaking down the door of the Knesset to demand an end to the occupation and VOTING left (not that there is a real Left choice) and voting Arab if they have to, to get the message across, then I’ll start hoping again.
But unlike Burston, I’m not naive. I look at reality head on. I doubt he’ll make much headway with this “mollycoddling”; the U.S. certainly hasn’t and its been mollycoddling Israel for decades now.
In his place, I would do and say this (it’s a movie scene I love):
RE: “So like Orwell said about democracy: two and half cheers (well, maybe even two and three-quarters) for Brad Burston!” – R.S.
FROM BRADLEY BURSTON, 02/03/10: