Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Left and Israel: A Conversation with Jon Haber

Michael L.

Divest This Logo New 300x80Jon Haber, of the Divestthis! blog, and I are beginning a discussion of the western left and its relationship to the Jewish state of Israel that I very much hope that you guys will join in... either here or there or even at the Elder of Ziyon if Ian and the gang decide to promote this conversation.

Or even at Jews Down Under if Shirlee and those folk decide to do so.

You should also know that Jon is part of a panel discussion next week on the subject of Defamation of Israel on College Campuses sponsored by CAMERA in Newton, Mass.  Other speakers include Richard Cravatts, President of Scholars for Middle East Peace and Gilad Skolnick, CAMERA’s Director of Campus Programming.  I am very much hoping that an audio file will be created and uploaded so that others can chew on it.

The question that I have proposed, in terms of our current conversation, is this:
Has the western left, in its general approach to the Arab-Israel conflict in comparison to other conflicts around the world, remained true to its fundamental values of ‘social justice’ and ‘universal human rights’?
Jon's response is here and I recommend that you guys give it a read.

What he essentially argues is that there is no clear "yes" or "no" answer to the question because the western left is, itself, an exceedingly large and diverse international category and represents a neutral terrain upon which Jews and anti-Zionists (and others concerned with the Middle East) conflict.

He writes:
Now if the western left was an undivided entity that embraced this position, then the answer to your question would be a simple “No” (and we could draw this debate to a close in one exchange). But given that what we are calling the western left includes everyone from the Democratic Party in the US (which still supports Israel 2:1 over her enemies) to the Communist parties of Europe, I think we are seeing a battle for the heart of leftism (if not broader liberalism) in which a group of single-issue partisans (Israel haters) are trying to convince anyone with left-of-center leanings that they must embrace an anti-Israel position or live in betrayal of progressive values.

...the left is neither friend nor foe, but the ground on which an important battle over Israel (and the entire Middle East) is being fought.
I agree with what Jon writes above, but I have two questions:

1)  In what direction are things trending?


2)  If the left represents a battleground, just who is engaged in the fight?

The Trend

The trends seem fairly obvious, although we would need to confirm through comparing polling data over time.

Nonetheless, the progressive-left and the Democratic Party in the United States are considerably more open to anti-Semitic anti-Zionists than are their conservative or Republican counterparts.

All the polling clearly shows that conservatives and Republicans are far-and-away more supportive of the Jewish State of Israel than are progressives and Democrats and have been for many years.  That is a simple statement of fact.

If we agree that anti-Zionism - and its little ideological homunculus, the BDS movement - are illiberal movements embedded within the western-left and if the western-left, as a whole, is more open to their influence, this clearly suggests that the western left is reclining in an illiberal direction in direct violation of their own stated principles of social justice and universal human rights.

As I am certain that most would agree, they cannot single out the Jews for admonition, while virtually ignoring horrendous atrocities ongoing throughout the world, and still be taken seriously as fair interlocutors or analysts.

The Players

Most progressives are not anti-Semitic.

Unless we wish to allow our most paranoid fantasies to run away with us, this should certainly be acknowledged.

However, the progressive-left as a whole, as an international movement, has opened its venues to anti-Semitic anti-Zionists who spread hatred not only to Israel, but inevitably toward Jews.  I have no doubt that most think that the Palestinian cause is essentially just and that Israel is the aggressor.  That is, I have no doubt that in their own minds they believe themselves to be entirely righteous and just in their stance on this issue.

Thus most of the left just sits back and watch as a core member of its constituency - the Jewish people - get kicked around in left-leaning venues for daring to stand up for Jewish self-determination and self-defense.  Most left-leaning political people are not engaged in any fight around anti-Zionism or the country of Israel, but they did put milk and cookies on the table in front of the anti-Zionist chair and pulled that chair out in a most courteous manner.

The battle, therefore, with the left as a backdrop, is a political fight between supporters of Israel (mainly Jews) and hard-left anti-Semitic anti-Zionists who claim to stand for social justice, even as they promote violence toward Jewish students on campuses throughout Europe, Australia, and North America.

Just think of the waste of Jewish progressive resources, intelligence, and man-power.  Instead of fighting for economic fair play or a cleaner environment or the rights of other minorities, Jews who care about their besieged brothers and sisters in Israel have to fight it out within our own ideological arenas as the great majority on the left sit back and eat popcorn.

I paint this picture - and mix those metaphors - because the progressive-left Jewish dilemma is starting to come to a head.

It is as if the western-left is forcing its Jewish constituency to choose between our own families and communities or our traditional left political alliances.

For me this choice could not be easier.


  1. Though directed at the UN, this short speech by Anne Bayefsky could easily be given to the anti-Israel left in terms of defining what constitutes antisemitism.

  2. It's self serving to assert that the 'left' naturally is a proponent of the abstraction of doing nice things for miserable people out of a hardwired sense of altruism, and that anyone else is the opposite of that. How do you explain Chabad? How do you explain the vast charity system of the Mormon church? How do you explain the notion of social justice in the context of the ANC in South Africa pre 1980 where executions and lynchings of fellow revolutionaries was practiced openly and freely under the rubric of Marxist 'social justice'? How do you explain Zimbabwe's Mugabe a hero to some on the left?

    1. Trudy, I am not entirely certain if your comment above is directed toward me, but if it is I have never asserted that the left "naturally is a proponent of the abstraction of doing nice things for miserable people out of a hardwired sense of altruism..."

      I do not know who you are thinking about but it cannot be me, because I never said any such thing.

      Do you think that I have implied so?

    2. I think the foundation of this argument is flawed. There is nothing in the western leftist tradition in the last one hundred years that has the least thing to do with or has anything vaguely related to "remained true to its fundamental values of ‘social justice’ and ‘universal human rights’? except in the merest shallowest sense that making claims of such is good populist rabble rousing and stump speech agitation.

      I do not believe that any dedicated leftist has ever actually made the claim that social justice is their concern. The notion of a 'greater good' more than implies an ocean of blood to wade through first, no matter how deep and how wide and how long it takes. The dictatorship of the proletariat means exactly what it says. The Khmer Rouge's "Year Zero" means exactly what it says. Mugabe's ZANU battle cry of "Kill the White Devil" means what you think it means. Cuba isn't interested in social justice, it never has been. That's painfully obvious on its face. Venezuela is an economic and social fun-house that is an honest to god dictatorship. The 'social-justice' preening governments in the EU are the ones kicking out the Jews and erecting hundreds and hundreds of no-go-zones where municipal services are suspended and everyone's told to fend for themselves (55 of them announced in Sweden this week).

      And so on. So the question you have to ask yourself is which justice and who's social are we talking about? If leftward leaning though leans toward remediating ills in places like Ferguson then why adopt an approach that ignores the militarization of the police and focuses instead on vaprous claims of racism everywhere by everyone? If if the government is the problem in this instance then why is the fix to ignore what the government is and demand more government to fix it? How is that social justice and not more of the same old bare knuckle mob politics?

      The claim that somehow the 'fundamental values of ‘social justice’ and ‘universal human rights’?' is I think nonsense, in at least the sense that it's the sole purview of the left or that the left owns that issue.