Thursday, October 2, 2014

Jews and the Left, the Left and Israel

Sar Shalom

A common theme on this blog is about why, when the Left is so hostile to Israel, Jews continue to support the Left and its causes. While there are Jews who support the anti-Israel agenda of the Left, the more pressing question is why the Left takes a strong position on Israel. That is, why is that those who favor gay rights are antagonistic to Israel? Why are those favoring firearm public-safety (aka gun-control), progressive taxation, public support for health insurance, or any other liberal domestic agenda-item, so antagonistic to Israel? If the link between all those items and Israel-antagonism were severed, interest in Jews' support for the Lefts' agenda would wane. So what follow are my thoughts on what connects the Left to antagonism towards Israel.

While the Left likes for foreign entities to enact policies consistent with its domestic policies, its top foreign concern is countering western imperialism. In and of itself, a focus on western imperialism is not problematic. There are legitimate grievances against the history of Boer rule in subsaharan Africa, the British Raj, and other manifestations of European empire. However, the Left has largely bought the Arab propaganda that Israel was founded as a colonial project and remains the last outpost of European colonialism. In the absence of any other extant imperial holdings, the Left has no place else to demonstrate its opposition to western imperialism, with the possible exception of American influence on governments around the world, which is also a target of the western Left. Further, a faction of the Left has elevated anti-imperialism to a trump issue, meaning that if one side of a conflict represents what they call western imperialism while operating according to their priorities in everything else and the other side is what they consider imperial subjects flagrantly violating every other priority they have, the fact that they see an outpost of western imperialism in conflict with an imperial subject would trump all.

While one faction of the Left prioritizes anti-imperialism over its domestic concerns, there is another more virulent faction associated with the Left. This faction could not care two figs about any of the items on the Left's domestic agenda, but is solely interested in appropriating the language of the Left for the purposes of waging political war against Israel. This group has two objectives in its association with the Left. One is to promote the notion that Israel is a western colonial outpost, the second to be to convince the genuine followers of the Left that they should elevate anti-imperialism to a trump issue. If they can achieve those two goals, they can assure the Left's support for their hirabah (Arabic for "unlawful warfare" - editor's note) against Israel.

While substantial portions of the Left subscribe to the international agenda I described, there is a different group with a different worldview on international affairs. I am not familiar with activist groups, but it includes commentators like Alan Dershowitz, Richard Cohen, and Bill Maher and elected officials like Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer. For the most part, this group is more moderate in its support of the Left's domestic agenda than the anti-Israel wing as is the case with the DLC, but this is not a strict rule. Motivating factors can include emphasizing liberal values abroad such that claims of being under the heel of imperialism would not constitute an excuse for illiberal behavior and philosemitism.

A separate issue from the rank-and-file of the Left and liberal elected officials is the perspective of the media. Outside of Jewish or Israel-centric and right-wing media, most of the media subscribe to a specific worldview about how the Middle East works and frame their coverage in order to conform their presentation to that worldview. Without speculating on the details of their worldview, the result is that domestic-liberals who do not seek out Israel-centric sources and who do not trust conservative media will get only one perspective on the war against Israel. Even domestic-liberals who monitor conservative media, such as Jonathan Chait, to keep abreast of what the Right is saying might come to view coverage of Israel in the right-wing media the same way they view the Right's coverage of Obamacare.

As to what to do about the divide in opinion on the Left, it would help to take the perspective of Jews who support the Left's domestic agenda, something which is not objectionable from an Israel-perspective, while holding pro-Israel views on foreign affairs. The first item on the agenda should be to stop forcing pro-Israel domestic-liberals to choose between their domestic principles and their support for Israel. This means remaining engaged in intra-Democratic Party politics, supporting pro-Israel candidates in the primaries. While netroots groups are an issue, it is not necessary to win every group. What is necessary is to develop domestic-liberal groups with a clear pro-Israel stand. Otherwise, pro-Israel domestic-liberals going to the polls will have a choice of holding their nose as they vote for someone whose stances on Israel are completely anathema or hold their nose as they vote for someone whose domestic agenda is anathema across the board and those citizens will be bombarded with challenges to their support for Israel while they remain blissfully unaware of the compelling case in Israel's defense as it would only be carried in the right-wing media that they don't consume.


  1. It's not the Left per se. It's the Far Left or as I prefer to call them "The Loony Left"

    1. However, the shadow of the loony left emanates among far too many who do not follow matters closely, and are largely misinformed because of their leftist sources of information.

      Not to mention that many of the loony left help pull the the strings at international organizations and NGOs.

      The disconnect is important to recognize, to ask why, among all the horror on the planet needing attention, is Israel the object of such disproportionate negative treatment, bordering on obsession, especially by groups that have dirtier hands, yet lecture.

      It's interesting to ask a liberal or a progressive what they like about Israel and experience silence.

  2. I've also often wondered why my fellow liberals who are (quite rightly) wary of the mainstream American media when it comes to how they cover certain issues, are yet so quick to cling to the way they cover other issues.

    The same media that portrays supporters of, say, single-payer healthcare as filthy commies (if they even acknowledge such a system at all), and which carried out an epic, disgraceful smear campaign on Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign; is all of a sudden The One and Only Truth when it comes to how they (generally) portray the Arab-Israel conflict.

    It really is baffling when you first run into it, but after a while you begin to grasp why.

    I'm not abandoning my Left to these hypocrites. I'm supporting people like Democratic Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, and fighting the Jew-haters from inside, myself.

    If some have left the Democratic fold, I can't blame them, however.

    I do agree that turning support for Israel into a partisan issue is a serious mistake, and I think, at least speaking as an American, which is of course all I know, that Americans as a whole need to calm down on the partisan demonization by a whole shitload, on all issues, and from all ends, and talk to each other about things in a much more civilized way.

    1. You raised a key issue in how certain liberals get all bent out of shape over how the media cover some issues but are perfectly fine in how they cover others. The example you raise, their coverage of Campaign 2000, has a common thread with their distortion of Middle East reporting. Both involve locking in on a narrative and filtering all facts through the narrative while not allowing any questioning of the narrative. In the case of Campaign 2000, the narrative was that the contest was one of Pinocchio vs. Dumbo while in the Middle East the narrative is of a truly wronged party receiving recompense and then turning around and meting the same treatment they had received on others. I have long thought of posting about parallels between media malfeasance on Israel and media malfeasance on other issues but haven't put it together yet, though I have touched on that connection in a post on economics several months ago.

      Good for you in supporting Leach. Is there anyone in Pennsylvania who could reasonably challenge Bud Shuster in the 2015 primary? I recall a friend of mine, who happens to be a lifelong Republican, talking about a friend of his who is a diehard liberal but donated to Pat Toomey's reelection campaign because he is determined to keep Shuster out of the Senate.

    2. I don't know what to make of a liberal who would donate to Senator Toomey. I'll be working against him in 2016, that's for sure.

      Pennsylvania used to be a pretty funny creature in American politics, and even though an incumbent Senator Toomey can possibly win reelection with the advantages of incumbency, I think it'll be a little while again until another Republican competes statewide.

      If anyone knocks off Toomey in a Republican primary (which I can't imagine), they'd likely be someone who would lose to somebody like Kathleen Kane by twenty points in a general election.

      We have an incumbent Republican governor in Tom Corbett who is going to lose reelection by fourteen points (my call) in four weeks to somebody (Tom Wolf) who has never run for public office before, after all.

      I still don't believe Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in the 2016 general election, but if she is, Pennsylvania will likely be one of her best states in a general election against anyone.

      And then there's the whole partisan demonization thing, from which I view it all from my home here in inner city North Philadelphia.

      "I have long thought of posting about parallels between media malfeasance on Israel and media malfeasance on other issues but haven't put it together yet, though I have touched on that connection in a post on economics several months ago."

      I think you should definitely post about these things here. I will certainly look forward to those posts...

    3. "I don't know what to make of a liberal who would donate to Senator Toomey."

      My source is a fairly partisan Republican, but I would trust him to identify someone as being liberal. Assuming that the description is accurate, my final paragraph explains it. He must consider the stench of Shuster's support for the Arabs to be so great that as bad Toomey's is, Shuster's is worse.

    4. Bud Shuster, who was one of the last moderate Republicans and was a giant in terms of transportation policy, retired from Congress in 2001. His son, Bill, inherited his Southwestern PA congressional seat (PA-09) in the following election.

      Honestly, if that is who we're talking about, I'd be surprised if a suburban Pittsburgh-area Republican was a supporter of Pal-Arabs, but I wouldn't be critically shocked. Stranger things have happened.

      I can certainly say that if this is so, he is nonetheless a complete non-entity statewide, at least as of this moment.

      And he certainly does not indicate any sort of prominent anti-Israel threat emanating from Pennsylvania, so don't worry too much about him.

      If he is planning to run in a primary, he'd get crushed by Toomey on the order of 90-6, or thereabouts....

    5. I apparently got the wrong person. The reference must be to Joe Sestak who defeated Spector in the Democratic primary and lost to Toomey in 2010 general election.

    6. Ah, Sestak, yeah. That makes more sense. He's running again this year, for sure. Too early to tell how it looks yet, but I can say he would not be one of my top choices.

  3. Sar Shalom,

    "The first item on the agenda should be to stop forcing pro-Israel domestic-liberals to choose between their domestic principles and their support for Israel. This means remaining engaged in intra-Democratic Party politics, supporting pro-Israel candidates in the primaries."

    As you know, I am someone who bagged the Democratic Party and the progressive-movement because I absolutley refuse to accept anti-Semitic anti-Zionism as part of the larger coalition.

    With progressives you have feminists around the table and environmentalists and various ethnic constitutencies and the anti-war people and the anti-Semitic anti-Zionists and the economic justice people and the GBLT people, and so forth.

    Now, which of these things is not like the others?

    The problem is that while I agree with you that we need pro-Israel people in the Democratic Party, we've had pro-Israel people in the Democratic Party since before 1948, but the situation is not improving. It is deteriorating and that's largely due to the fact that while Jewish people may punch well above our weight-class, our numbers are still far too small to have a significant impact against the rising tide of progressive-left anti-Semitism.

    At the end of the day - while I wish my pro-Israel progressive friends "good luck" - they are not moving the party or the movement in a helpful direction, but being chased out of the movement, entirely.

    They are trying. They are fighting the good fight, but they are losing because they are seriously outnumbered and no appeals to historical justice will sway anti-Semitic anti-Zionists, nor their friends in the larger movement.