The mainstream machers of American Jewry correctly assert that some of the rhetorical excesses of Israel's critics, particularly on the far left, can foster outright antisemitism. But when these organizational leaders and academics recently claimed that provocative denunciations of Israel's occupation or calls for a binational state were beyond the pale, all they succeeded in doing was bolstering the widespread conviction that powerful Jewish groups want to stifle all public criticism of Israel.
Indeed, if you search on the Internet for "Israel lobby" and "thought police," more than 30,000 entries show up, many of them quite recent. Next to some of the people who post these entries, including radical lefties, Henry Ford seems like a UJA supporter.
Rather than adding more fuel to this fire, the usual Jewish organizational suspects should step back and take note of a more promising way to lower the flames. Outside of the media glare, in isolated and uncoordinated efforts, American Jews who support Israel's peace and human rights camp are reaching out to progressive counterparts. They are criticizing the tone and substance of left-wing discourse on the Middle East, but they are also trying to find common ground.
This has been happening in dialogues between Jewish peace activists and divest-from-Israel groups in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere. It is happening on scores of college campuses under the umbrella of the Union of Progressive Zionists, which gives a home to Jewish students who are equally alienated by the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd and by those who equate Ehud Olmert with Darth Vader. It is also happening in leftist neighborhoods in the blogosphere, where I and other Jews who are often critical of Israel, but care deeply about it, have begun to venture.
From conversations with people engaged in these efforts, it becomes clear that Jews who agree with many of the left's objections to Israeli policies can have more of an impact than those who don't.
The ideal candidates for addressing the claims of the far left aren't afraid to say publicly that the occupation is morally repugnant. They want to be able to talk about Israel in the public arena with the same candor that can be found in the Israeli media....
At the same time, they proudly say they are pro-Israel. They want to change the atmosphere on campuses and on the Internet, where so-called "progressives" often see nothing wrong with comparing Israeli Jews to Nazis, praising suicide bombers as freedom fighters or proclaiming that the very idea of the Jewish people is an illusion what is known in leftist parlance as "Jewish particularism." And these moderate leftists insist that Palestinians and other Arabs not be absolved of responsibility for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
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