November 18, 2018

What the Israeli Left Can Teach the American Left

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

“The American left is quite different from the Israeli left,” said American-born Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi during a talk last week in New York City. “There is a sobriety, a maturity, to the mainstream Israeli left that you often don’t find here.”

Right on cue, a few days later, Women’s March organizers Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory were back in the news, this time over derogatory statements about the Anti-Defamation League’s involvement with anti-bias education at Starbucks; and Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman, the 2018 Genesis Prize winner, decided to boost her American-leftist status by announcing she would boycott the award ceremony in Israel.

All of which will no doubt give Halevi, who moved to Israel in 1982, more to talk about as he embarks on a tour for his new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” out in May.

While the American left celebrates victimhood, Halevi said, “Zionism is a profound rejection of victimhood.” Even the Israeli left finds victimhood “incomprehensible.”

“There’s no nobility to being a victim,” said Halevi, who as a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute has been active in coexistence efforts with American Muslims. Indeed, there isn’t. But somehow, following lockstep with Palestinian propaganda of the past 50 years, leftist (i.e., illiberal) propaganda has ennobled certain victims (notably not all victims) to the point of sainthood.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played.

As Portman, whose family moved to the U.S. when she was 3, essentially took the Hamas/BDS line in citing “recent events” when detailing her decision not to attend the prize ceremony, Halevi talked about how in Israel “the Jewish army is treated like a Jewish life force: our soldiers are our children and our security.” Meanwhile, members of the far-left group Breaking the Silence, which aims to monitor the Israel Defense Forces, are considered “pariahs in Israel — no one takes them seriously.” Perhaps most notably, “there’s never been a serious draft resistance in Israel. Our army is us.”

How does Halevi recommend maturing the diasporic left, especially young Americans? “We need to tell our truths, our story — who we are, what our experiences have been,” he said. And we need to do it in the “traditional form of one generation passing on our stories to another. We need to stop worrying about whether millennials will ‘get it.’ We need to stop indulging millennials.”

Indeed. What has this indulgence led to? Two-thirds of American millennials surveyed in a recent poll could not identify what Auschwitz was, and 22 percent said they had never heard of the Holocaust.

At the same time, millennials — and much of the left in general — believe that every aspect of our existence must be politicized. They have been taught that there is no separation between life and politics.

As Hen Mazzig, an Israeli writer and speaker, put it in an open letter to Portman in The Jerusalem Post: “It’s not about criticism, which we welcome here, it is about the way you do it, at this moment in time. I know you are used to a different type of political debate in the U.S., but we don’t need you to bring it here.”

The truth is, the American left — in its current descent into illiberalism — can learn a lot from the Israeli left.

“Palestinians threaten with their powerlessness,” Halevi said. It is the same powerlessness or victimhood that promotes anti-Semitic propagandists like Sarsour and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to positions of influence on the U.S. left. It is the same victimhood that enables Muslim migrants in Europe to kill or maim Jews on a routine basis.

The maturing of the American left would entail an understanding that it’s been played. That ideas like “intersectionality” and “identity politics” have been manipulated for nefarious propagandistic purposes by individuals and groups whose sole mission is to single out and malign the Jewish state.

Ironically, just as Israel and Arab countries are becoming allied in a fight against Iran, the American left puts Sarsour on a panel about anti-Semitism; and Palestinian professors and activists rewrite Jewish history on a daily basis at American universities.

Creating an atmosphere where Israeli-born Americans like Portman feel a need to regurgitate the Hamas/BDS line in order to retain status on the left is as evil as it is brilliant. Can real liberals like Halevi and Mazzig help put the American left on a corrective course? Let’s hope so.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic.

Incendiary?

After the recent disruption and cancellation of a Donald Trump campaign event in Chicago, the media — and Trump’s Republican opponents — blamed Trump for what had transpired. Specifically, he was blamed for the incendiary remarks he had made at previous events encouraging violence against some protestors. For example, he announced that he would pay the legal bills to defend a man who punched an anti-Trump protestor as he was being escorted out of a Trump event (while extending his middle finger to the crowd).

That those comments were incendiary is incontrovertible. In my last column, I listed many additional reasons for my opposition to Donald Trump.

However, when the left levels the charge of “incendiary,” it betrays a lack of self-awareness that is a marvel to behold. When it comes to incendiary statements in American life, the left has close to a monopoly. And these statements are not made by one individual whose affiliation with the left is new and tenuous — as Trump’s affiliation with Republicans and conservatives is — but by the most distinguished politicians, artists, writers, academics and journalists on the left.

Such comments are made so often that most folks on the left do not consider them incendiary — just everyday truths.

The president of the United States has contributed to a level of racial tension unlike any we have seen in a generation. Black anger at America has actually increased since Barack Obama was elected. Perhaps this was inevitable given how many hopes most Black Americans placed on having a Black president. But incendiary statements by the president have exacerbated this tension. 

The most egregious and damaging has been the president’s reiteration of the term “Ferguson,” as if the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer in that Missouri city was an act of wanton — and race-based — murder. That is incendiary, because it is a lie. Blacks who witnessed that incident and who have no love for the police testified to how legitimate the white officer’s actions were. 

Nearly every Democratic leader and liberal columnist has stated that much of the Republican criticism of Barack Obama is due to racism — as if Republicans were easier on Bill Clinton or will be on Hillary Clinton because they are white. 

Writing during the debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that Republicans are “probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.” It’s not Obamacare the Republicans opposed, he suggests, it’s largely Obama’s race. “The driving force,” he continued “is probably … cultural and racial anxiety.”

Is that incendiary?

Former President Jimmy Carter: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a Black man, that he’s African-American.” 

Is that incendiary?

New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal: “There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years.” 

Is that incendiary?

What about the “White Privilege” doctrine that the left uses in almost every college to indoctrinate students against whites? Or the notion close to universally held among left-wing academics that only whites can be racist?

Are those incendiary?

The left labels every white who opposes race-based affirmative action a racist, and labels every Black who opposes it an “Uncle Tom.”

Is that incendiary?

While Donald Trump’s provocative comment that he’d like to punch the nose of a protester who disrupted one of his rallies may have led to one man being punched at a different rally, the left’s drumbeat of incendiary anti-police rhetoric has led directly to police and innumerable others being killed. So many police have disengaged from proactive policing in Black neighborhoods because of the “Ferguson Effect,” that the number of murders in cities such as Chicago has increased dramatically. 

But the left’s incendiary comments are hardly confined to charges of racism.

Left-wing professors at virtually every American university regularly call Israel an “apartheid state.” In my debate at the venerable Oxford Union in 2014, one of my opponents, a left-wing Ph.D. from Berkeley, said that Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to the Jews. And during the last Israel-Hamas war, actors Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, and director Pedro Almodovar labeled Israel’s actions in Gaza “genocide” and a “war of extermination.”

Are these left-wing libels of Israel incendiary?

For that matter, recall the left-wing reactions to my completely respectful column in the Jewish Journal on the Torah teaching the importance of maintaining the male-female distinction. I was accused of cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, hate, publicly humiliating someone, being like a murderer, ignorance, and much more by left-wing rabbis and other left-wing Jews in leadership positions.

Is that incendiary?

The left labels every American who believes that marriage should remain defined as the union of a man and a woman a hater, a bigot, and, of course, a homophobe.

Is that incendiary?

The left labels Americans troubled by the influx of many millions of illegal immigrants “xenophobic,” “nativist” and “racist.”

Is that incendiary?

Here’s a difference between conservatives and liberals one might ponder. Virtually every major Republican and conservative, myself included, has called Donald Trump’s statements incendiary. Yet there isn’t a left-wing voice of which I am aware that has labeled any of the above incendiary.

Conservatives criticize their own. The left only criticizes the right. 

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles from 9 a.m. to noon on KRLA (AM 870). His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Increasing Political Isolation for Jews

If all those statistics are true about Jews still being one of the most liberal voting blocs in the nation, why are they increasingly estranged from the American left?

Easy: The left, ranging from the anti-globalism fringes to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to some segments of the mainstream liberal community, has adopted policies and perspectives that even many progressive Jews regard as offensive and dangerous.

Good causes have been rendered marginal by activists looking for easy-to-grasp heroes and villains; political correctness has turned Israel from a noble experiment into the ultimate example of vicious colonialism.

And a political culture that can’t say no to extremists has turned the concept of civil rights on its head. It’s no longer unusual to see activists peddling the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at anti-war and anti-globalism rallies — and for organizers, for all their talk of human rights, to remain silent in the face of this overt anti-Semitism.

That’s producing a kind of political disenfranchisement for Jewish voters who remain strongly liberal, but increasingly lack partners with whom to pursue those political interests.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is in sync with mainstream Jewish voters on a host of important domestic issues. But there is also no other group that is as tolerant of some of the most anti-Israel and

anti-Jewish voices.

Many have been highly critical of Israel in recent years. That’s no sin, since many American Jews and Israelis openly criticize Israeli policies.

But many of these lawmakers go further by giving legitimacy to those who criticize the very idea of Israel, and whose criticism veers off into outright anti-Semitism.

When a United Nations conference

on racism was hijacked by anti-Israel forces and turned into a lynch mob of open anti-Semitism, administration officials boycotted the conference — but leading CBC members, including Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) demanded full U.S. participation.

When McKinney and Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) lost their reelection bids, some CBC members complained about excessive Jewish influence in American democracy. McKinney’s father, a defeated state legislator, was blunter: when asked about why she lost, he angrily spelled out the reason: "J-E-W-S."

Overt expressions of racial intolerance are no longer acceptable in American life, but if the targets are Jews or Jewish influence, many who rally under the civil rights banner are surprisingly tolerant of intolerance.

Other CBC members have provided a Capitol Hill platform for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When Farrakhan returned from a recent Mideast "peace mission," it was CBC founder Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who provided him a forum, as if he was a legitimate statesman, not a garden-variety bigot.

It’s not just the CBC.

When anti-globalism, anti-International Monetary Fund forces come to Washington to demonstrate, a wide range of left-wing groups rally under a banner that also includes nutty anarchists and aggressive pro-Palestinian forces.

Collectively, they depict Israel as the last colonial power and the ultimate example of institutional human rights abuses, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein as misunderstood freedom fighters, Zionism as inherently racist.

That same process is at work in the nascent anti-war movement focused on the expected U.S. strike against Iraq.

Many Jews probably share the aversion to a unilateral, preemptive U.S. strike, but don’t expect to see lots of Jews joining anti-war demonstrations; the movement is already linked to the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli forces that produced so much overt anti-Semitism at the U.N. racism conference.

Even Tikkun Magazine Editor Michael Lerner, in a letter to supporters, expressed concern about "vulgarity and anti-Semitism" in the new anti-war movement. The left just can’t say no to groups, however extreme and however intolerant, as long as their intolerance is wrapped in the proper Third World, anti-colonialist argot.

Another example: the divestment campaign on American college campuses, which reached an absurdist crescendo with the recent divestment conference at the University of Michigan.

Many Israelis agree that their country has a human rights problem. But to say that Israel is in the same league as Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria or an endless list of others reflects a breathtaking lack of balance that looks more like political correctness run amok and a pathological hatred of Israel than compassion for victims.

Overwhelmingly, the left chooses to ignore genocide by Third World countries, while relentlessly criticizing Israel for an occupation most recent governments have tried to end.

The result: Jews who remain liberal, which means a majority are becoming politically isolated.

Their views on a host of domestic issues remain progressive and they continue to be turned off, not only by the Republican Party’s positions on those issues, but by the iron grip of the religious right on the GOP.

But increasingly, they feel uncomfortable in coalitions with groups that tolerate or even encourage the viscerally anti-Israel, Third World rhetoric and misguidedly accepts anti-Semitism in the name of human rights.