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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Progressive Zionists should be doing Zionist advocacy

Dan Fleshler wrote:
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.
I have seen it in action and it can work. This is an idea whose time has come. Only progressive Zionists can talk to leftists and only progressive Zionists have a chance of convincing people committed to human rights of the fundamental justice of Israel's cause. Of course, nobody is going to convince hard-core ISM activists that Israel has a right to exist, or get Norman Finkelstein to stop minimizing the Holocaust and calling Holocaust survivors liars. But somebody has to be able to speak to the audience that these people are addressing.
The plain truth is that right-wing Zionist Israel advocates are very convincing to themselves. They are often admirable people in many ways. They are earnest, convinced of the truth of their mission, and armed with arguments that work just fine in their synagogue or church or in the Conservative club.
Unfortunately, when they confront leftist extremists and even neutral folks, right wing Zionist adocates can't speak a language their audience can understand. They can't empathize with legitimate grievances of the other side, they can't frame their arguments in terms of human rights. They can't ask for support for self-determination for two peoples, because they do not support it. All bright eyed and bushy tailed, they trot out their arguments from Prof Pipes and Mr. Emerson, only to find that their audience doesn't respect those people, and doesn't believe Joan Peters' quaint notion that there were no Arabs in Palestine, and won't accept that "there are no Palestinians.
This is the role that progressive Zionists have to play if we are to win back the support of fair minded people for Zionism. But they can only play that role if they are proud Zionists, and fit Zionism into the framework of their progressive ideas as a logical outcome of them, not as appendage that is attached because they are sentimental about being Jewish. They can only be convincing if they  clearly understand the basis of their arguments for Zionism, if, for example,  they can articulate why Israel is NOT like apartheid South Africa and should not be treated like apartheid South Africa, and if they are brave enough to draw the line at "off the wall" comments of anti-Zionists. No progressive Zionist would say, or would be allowed to say in a dialogue that there are no Palestinians, or that the Palestinians are like Nazis, and we must equally insist that those kinds of accusations about Zionism are off limits.  
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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