Wednesday, January 31, 2007

American Jewish Committee posts provocative essay on liberal criticisms of Israel

Patricia Cohen has a provocative story “Eassy Linking Liberal Jews and Anti-Semitism Sparks a Furor” in the Arts Section of The New York Times, Jan. 31, 2007. The link is this: (Visitors may need an online NYT subscription or an individual purchase from NYT to see all content.)

The 20-page essay was posted at the website of the American Jewish Committee, here. The title is “Progressive Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism.” It is authored by Alvin H. Rosenfeld, an English Professor at Indiana University, and has an Introduction by David A. Harris of the AJC. The site has a special internal link to download the essay (free right now) as a PDF file for private non-commercial use only. (You may need the latest Adobe reader version.)

The core controversy is that supposedly “liberal” Jewish thinkers are playing Uncle Tom and crossing the line by questioning the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. One can quibble about what this means. The essay criticizes some sources, such as the collections “Wrestling with Zionism: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and “Radicals, Rabbis, and Peacemakers: Conversations with Jewish Critics of Israel,” both edited by playwright Tony Kushiner. The essay does not mention Jimmy Carter, but verbally some people have criticized Carter’s latest book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (Simon & Schuster, 2006).

The problem that strikes me is something raised by Tammy Bruce in her book “The Thought Police: Inside the Left’s Assault on Free Speech and Free Minds” (2003, Three Rivers Press). (Review is here: ) . There seems to be an unwritten rule that some invisible lines should not be crossed in questioning the key values that identify various groups. In the gay community, for example, it is sometimes taboo to question the idea of homosexuality as immutable, or to criticize gender-identity situations. Although the core value set itself varies with the group, with anti-Semitism the notion is understandable given the history that led to the formation and growth of Israel. It should be possible to question the takings of property (from libertarian ideas about property rights) from Palestinians in the West Bank over the decades without questioning the right of Israel to exist. It should be possible to question the collectivism and group mentality, to the point of building “children’s houses” in kibbutzes, a mindset that market forces have started to disrupt in recent years, as seen in the recent Israeli TV independent films “Kibbutz” and “The Children’s House.” Here is a related entry by me.

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