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)