Some Questions, Some Answers
What do anti-Zionists propose to do about Israelis? Does a cease-fire make sense? What gives me hope, and how will you get through Thanksgiving?
A good friend of mine texted me a question the other day: “I’m just trying to figure out if anti-Zionists support the ethnic cleansing of millions of Jews from Israel? Putting aside what was or should have been done in 1948, what is their actual plan for the humans who are there?”
Good question, I thought. All the people holding “Free Palestine” signs and chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” what do they envision for the nearly seven million Jews loyal to the state of Israel if their vision of Palestinian liberation comes to pass? And how do they see us getting from here to there?
Jewish Voice for Peace, the leading anti-Zionist organization among Jews, offers a “vision” where all people, “from the U.S. to Palestine — live in freedom, justice, equality, and dignity.” In their vision, Israel’s jails have been emptied, Palestinian refugees have returned and they are living, “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” with “their inalienable rights respected.” As for Jewish Israelis, JVP sees them “released from conscripted violence against Palestinians” and joining Palestinians to build a just society.
How? JVP gives no answers, just tactics: End US military aid to Israel until it ends the occupation. Boycott and divest from Israel until it abides by international law. Forgive me for the analogy, but this is exactly like the South Park Gnomes plan for making money.
Pressure campaigns to raise awareness or create discomfort are not the same thing as a plan for converting Israel into something else. Is the UN going to send troops to disarm the Israelis and dismantle their government? Is there some other nonviolent alternative that JVP is hiding under a rock?
If Not Now, the other big activist organization on the anti-Zionist left, also offers no answers to this question. Its website offers a lot of alluring language about how the Jewish legacy as a long-oppressed people compels us to oppose oppression everywhere. And it calls for American Jews to break with their support, tacit or explicit, for the displacement of the Palestinian people: “We must reject the tools maintaining this larger system of oppression: the ongoing military occupation in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, as well as the hierarchy of race, class, and ethnicity in Israeli civil society.”
These are all lovely sentiments. But how exactly is If Not Now suggesting we will go from collecting underpants to profiting, from the status quo in Israel/Palestine to the shared future “where everyone from the river to the sea has individual and collective rights to safety, the resources they need to live, freedom of movement, and political representation”? Crickets.
You’ll find even less information if you go looking at the website of the National Students for Justice in Palestine, the main group behind hundreds of SJP campus organizations across the US. There’s a brief and vague reference to the 1990s wave “of corrupt politicians and faulty deals [that] changed the liberation movement as we knew it”—meaning, the Oslo Accords and the PLO’s rapprochement with Israel. OK, that’s a tell. But literally nothing specific about what would happen to the seven million Jews who now identify with Israel and carry Israeli passports, let alone how SJP thinks they will be convinced to give up power to pave the way for liberation.
I realize that if you are a supporter of any of these groups, and you’re still reading, you probably want to yell at me that I am changing the subject and deflecting attention away from the only issue that should matter: Israel’s “genocide” of Palestinians (a word, that I noted in a recent edition of The Connector, is being used far too loosely and inconsistently). It is true that many on the pro-Israel side of the current chasm do not want to talk about anything but the hostages Hamas is holding and the horrors of October 7. But if I haven’t made it clear already with my last six posts on this topic, this is a place where we try to wrestle with complexity and contradictory ideas.
Here's what is missing from the public positioning of Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now and Students for Justice in Palestine: Any explicit recognition that the nearly seven million Israelis living between the river and the sea, like the nearly seven million Palestinians living between the river and the sea, are not going anywhere. If you want them to give up power and share the land equitably, you need a strategy that will bring them along, not push them into an ever-greater defensive crouch. (This is why I wrote about Standing Together two weeks ago, because they actually do have a strategy.) If pro-Palestine activists have no answer for Israelis other than slogans about liberation, they will not succeed. Magical thinking is not a plan. Nor is performative protest.
Another question: Do you support a cease-fire?
Yes, I’m with the 62% of Israelis who, according to this November 10th poll in Ma’ariv, a top Israeli newspaper, support a ceasefire if it is combined with a release of at least some of the hostages held in Gaza. If they are traded with Palestinian prisoners unjustly held by Israel, all the better, but to be clear, the taking of these civilians on October 7 was itself a war crime and they should be released whether or not there is a trade.
Do you see any signs of hope?
Yes, it appears Israel and Hamas are on the verge of a deal involving a hostage exchange and a pause in the war. Democrats in Congress are starting to get serious about conditioning future aid to Israel and President Biden has told his staff to prepare visa bans and sanctions on extremist Jewish settlers attacking and displacing Palestinians in the West Bank. The politics of the Israel/Palestine debate are shifting.
On a different but related topic, why are serious people still on Twitter/X?
In case you haven’t noticed, Elon Musk explicitly endorsed the antisemitic “replacement theory” last week. That is, he went out of his way to praise a tweet responding to a dare to say that “Hitler was right” that attacked Jews for their efforts to help non-whites emigrate to America. Many top corporations are now pulling their advertising off of X, though not the Anti-Defamation League, whose leader Jonathan Greenblatt instead has kept his organization advertising on the <strike>platform</strike> cesspool, because he approves of Musk’s decision to ban users who use the phrase “from the river to the sea” or the word “decolonization.”
Greenblatt has received a lot of criticism for this move, most notably (gift link) from Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times. But I’d rather congratulate him for how consistent he is being with past choices by the ADL. The organization has a long tradition of "koshering,” as Goldberg put it, antisemites who are pro-Israel. It goes back to President Richard Nixon and Fred Malek (who gave Nixon a list of Jews in the Labor Department, and then later ran President George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign) through Ronald Reagan and Patrick Buchanan (who paid no real price for laying a wreath at the grave of SS soldiers in Bitburg), as well as the differential way they treated the Republican for how they handled David Duke compared to the Democrats for how they handled Jesse Jackson. This also isn’t the first time that Greenblatt has undermined efforts to marginalize Musk by coddling up to him; recall last year when the mega-billionaire bought Twitter and Greenblatt compared him glowingly to Henry Ford the carmaker (unaware somehow of Ford’s notorious antisemitism).
The question though is why other serious people are still actively using Twitter. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (13.2 million followers) is still on there. Senator Cory Booker (4.7 million followers), who was one of the first politicians to embrace the platform, is still there. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, whose official charge is to combat antisemitism, is still on there with both her official account and her personal account. Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish “Second Gentleman” spouse of VP Kamala Harris, is still on there. None have tweeted a word about Musk’s latest outrage. Singer Neil Young has announced he’s boycotting Twitter/X. Why aren’t they?
Do we really need help navigating difficult conversations on Thanksgiving?
According to a Harvard/Harris poll, 32% of young adults ages 18-24 don’t believe Hamas committed the atrocities of October 7. So Jeff Gottesfeld and Beth Leedham, two leading psychologists, have written an oped for Newsweek titled, “When Your Anti-Israel Kid Comes Home for Thanksgiving.” They write, “How do you ask, "How 'bout those Lions?" or, "Have you seen the Scorsese movie?" while your brothers and sisters are hostages in Gaza?” Meanwhile, during the introduction to this week’s edition of “On the Nose”, the lively and provocative podcast of the radical magazine Jewish Currents, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel put out a call for messages from its mostly youthful Jewish anti-Zionist readership, asking them how they are dealing with intergenerational conversations during the holidays with parents or relatives who are “supportive of and complicit in pogroms and genocide” against Palestinians.
Since I am by nature a snarky person, it is tempting to suggest that if you are having one of these family conversations in the United States, you are talking about the wrong topic. You should immediately leave the Thanksgiving dinner table, pack up your meal, and drive to the nearest Native American reservation, donate all your food, and for good measure leave your car there and walk home. (That is, unless you are a Native American.) Then you can try talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on your walk home. Indeed, if you are not spending 100% of your time working for justice, you are a bad person, complicit in the world’s injustices.
This approach, I’m sure, will make you very popular.
More seriously, I offer this story from my own extended family. Years ago, not long after I married into my wife’s extended clan, we discovered that our sympathies for the Peace Now movement and opposition to the Jewish settler movement were a source of friction with a particular very respected elder in the family. That indeed made for some uncomfortable moments. But then he did a very wise thing. He said, why don’t we have a family get-together where, instead of avoiding the topic, we agree in advance that we will only talk about politics. Everyone will get a chance to speak, and all we promise is to listen to each other. Maybe someone will convince someone else, or maybe not. But we’ve have it out, and we won’t have to dance around the topic. On the appointed day, we went to this relative’s home for dinner. Over the next few hours we argued about everything. But because we had agreed from the start that this was actually the purpose of the evening, there was none of the tension that otherwise threatened to ruin regular family gatherings. When the evening wound down, we hugged. He didn’t convince me; I didn’t convince him. But we found a way to still respect and love each other.
And that, I hope, is how your Thanksgiving holiday gatherings go. We are lucky to live in a country where we can break bread together and argue with each other freely. Let’s remember that we’re all human, we all feel things strongly, we all make mistakes and that in order to get along, we still have to figure out how to live together.
—Susie Linfield in Quillette, “The Return of the Progressive Atrocity.”
—Simon Schama in the Financial Times, “The left’s problem with Jews has a long and miserable history.”
—Ryu Spaeth in New York magazine, “Israel, Gaza, and the Fracturing of the Intellectual Left.”
—Ariel Beery on Israel’s civic movement since October 7, “Our Volunteers Deserve a Government.”