Those of you of a certain age will remember seeing old movie newsreels like the March of Time, in which narrators would intone solemnly: “The Allies are on the march!” That’s what today’s news from the world of liberal Zionism reminds me.
Later this month, J Street will hold its annual conference (“Making History”) at which it will feature the latest corrupt, irrelevant former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert. He will presumably regale the audience with tales of his almost Syrian peace treaty which he destroyed by going to war against Gaza, and his almost treaty with the PA which he messed up by promising almost nothing and getting almost everything from his Palestinian interlocutors. Maybe he’ll also ply them with tales of his pay-for-play real estate deals like Holyland and those empty Slimfast boxes from his pal, S. Daniel Abraham, filled with cash.
Ehud Olmert is about as relevant to Israeli politics today as Herbert Hoover is to U.S. politics. And J Street is about as relevant to real solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Joe Lieberman is to Democratic party politics. Readers here, when I first wrote glowingly of J Street, called it Aipac lite. I said then that they were overstating their case. But now I believe they’re wrong for a different reason. J Street isn’t Aipac lite, its “Jews for Obama.” Unlike Aipac, it doesn’t make a pretence of being bi-partisan. It is partisan. Nor does it seek to build a truly mass or grassroots movement. It’s not embracing the Occupy movement. It’s not seeking out disaffiliated or disaffected Jews. It’s seeking to revive a sense of liberalism that died somewhere around 1968 or 1972. It’s working the margins seeking incremental change, if that. Instead of “Making History,” the conference should be called “Left Behind by History.”
Yesterday, the J Street chapter at the University of Pennsylvania held an interesting meeting with Israeli journalist Ben Dror Yemini. He isn’t just any reporter. He’s in fact, one of Israel’s most right-wing mainstream journalists. Something akin to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. He doesn’t believe, for one thing, that there is such a thing as a Palestinian people. In that sense, he’d be right at home with Newt Gingrich and Sheldon Adelson. So why was he speaking at a J Street event? Not only that, students involved with PennBDS who tried to RSVP for what had originally been a public event, were told the event had become private and only J Street (read, Jewish) members were welcome.
Why would J Street invite such a figure to address its student members? And this is the American Jewish organization that is going to lead the way to a pro-Israel, pro-peace future for the homeland of the Jewish people.
The other major development in the annals of liberal Zionism was today’s launch of Peter Beinart’s paean to the creed, Zion Square. While I have liked what I’ve read of Beinart’s and thought he appeared more daring than the average lib Zionist (having turned left from his days at the New Republic), I have to say that this project leaves me ice-cold. The website’s tagline is:
A new conversation about Israel, Palestine and the Jewish Future.
Here is one portion of his manifesto:
Zion Square’s mission is to launch a conversation…about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…
How do you do that? By calling your blog project Zion Square? Naming it for an emblem of the Zionist movement? How will you speak to the Palestinian part of what you claim your mission to be? Speaking of Palestinian, who represents them in Zion Square? Precisely one blogger, Yousef Munayer, who will have an opportunity to represent a Palestinian perspective once every two weeks. Munayer, who believes in the Right of Return, a distinctly non-Zionist perspective, is balanced by Benny Morris, who has stated that Israel is likely to have to attack Iran with nuclear weapons; and who believes Israel didn’t do a good enough job of ethnic cleansing during the Nakba.
Add to that the participation of Gershom Gorenberg, who has the distinction of lying in the pages of American Prospect about my views, calling me an anti-Zionist. He will be joined by Emily Hauser, who called Israel “my country,” meaning she’s an Israeli citizen. They are joined by Hussein Ibish, every liberal Zionists favorite Arab because he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Fatahist. Though he’s not Palestinian (he’s Lebanese-American), all the best lib Zionists wish he were, because he flatters them so with his “moderate,” incrementalist, anti-one state, anti-Hamas views. Bernard Avishai, another hoary lib Zionist from the glory days of the movement.
There are a few writers who will post less frequently who I admire like Mikhael Manekin of Breaking the Silence, Trita Parsi, a leading Iranian-American leader, Maan’s George Hale, and Rabbi Aryeh Cohen.
But these two projects continue to prove the essential irrelevance of liberal Zionism to contemporary Israeli political discourse. Though J Street is more relevant in the American context than the Labor Party is in Israel’s (largely because there is a sitting liberal Democratic president), ultimately J Street can be no more effective than the Labor Party in advancing its political mission.
J Street and Zion Square are each designed to assuage the Jewish consciences of their participants, rather than engage fearlessly and provocatively with the hardest problems Israel and world Jewry face. One more disappointment, one more failure on the road to more radical solutions and analysis of the issues.