Disagreeing (somewhat) on Nation article

Disagreeing (somewhat) on Nation article

My difference of opinion with Ron Skolnik’s view of a recent Nation article is more about nuance and emphasis than the facts.  Ron sums up this article as follows:

In “The Romance of Birthright Israel”, Kiera Feldman synthesizes her 2010 Birthright experience with a series of interviews with past participants, as well as Birthright funders and staff.  She comes away seeing the Birthright excursion as a shallow, feel-good but purposely-mind-numbing exercise, whose ulterior motive is no longer Jewish heritage or continuity, but pro-Israel advocacy of the right-wing kind.

I’m disturbed by this Nation article, not because there isn’t some truth in it, but because it’s written with the same mostly one-sided anti-Israel slant that The Nation and the Nation Institute has taken for years.  The most egregious of their actions was the Institute’s decision a couple of years ago to actually sponsor Philip Weiss’s Mondoweiss online publication, which is relentless in its hostility toward Israel. (It’s not clear to me that this sponsorship has continued, but Weiss and his co-editor, Adam Horowitz, still frequently write for the magazine.)

This piece would have had more credibility if written as straight fact, without the obvious anti-Zionist innuendos.  (If Birthright has largely become a right-wing and anti-Palestinian, pro-occupation enterprise, we need to know this.)  But Ms. Felman even implies that it’s wrong for American Jews, part of a historically persecuted people, to support a sense of connection with Israel and their fellow Jews. 

In her zeal for the Palestinian cause, she neglects to mention that some major Birthright funders are liberals.  This includes Charles Bronfman and S. Daniel Abraham. Abraham is a major contributor to the Democratic Party and a dove who founded the Center for Middle East Peace.

If the writer had done more of her homework, she’d know that Yossi Beilin, an originator of the idea of Birthright whom she cites as a Labor Party “stalwart,” left the Labor Party and headed the very dovish and left-wing Meretz Party for most of the past decade.  He was and remains a stalwart for peace and a Palestinian state: a prime-mover of the Oslo Peace Process and of the Geneva Accord/Initiative, a detailed informal peace agreement hammered out between prominent Israelis and Palestinians dedicated to a two-state solution. 

Feldman does report that J Street’s effort to organize a Birthright trip was rejected, but she does not say that it was meant as a continuation of the kind of progressive trip that had been permitted under Birthright to a campus-based youth group called the Union of Progressive Zionists.  The UPZ became a part of J Street two years ago, and was renamed J Street U, J Street’s campus affiliate.  It has just conducted an independent tour, fully in line with its progressive pro-Israel agenda.

With the assistance of Eric Alterman, the one regular staff writer for The Nation with a progressive pro-Israel viewpoint, I was able to reach out directly to The Nation’s editor and publisher, Katrina vanden Heuvel.  She in turn cordially encouraged me to distill my concerns into a 300-word letter to the editor, which I hope to see printed in the magazine shortly.

By | 2011-06-28T14:33:00-04:00 June 28th, 2011|Blog|6 Comments


  1. Benjamin June 28, 2011 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    I’m not surprised by any anti-Israel drek from alleged ‘progressive’ sites, especially from The Nation; Cockburn, who publishes antisemites, conspiracy theorists, and all sorts of literary garbage in his ‘radical’ newsletter Counterpunch has a column for them, after all.

  2. Anonymous June 28, 2011 at 9:23 pm - Reply

    Yes, Meretz-USA once gain focuses like a laserbeam on the true enemies blocking peace for Israelis and Palestinians, Yale University and The Nation.


  3. Benjamin June 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    Where does the post say that The Nation and Yale University are blocking peace? I couldn’t find it; all I saw was a critique of article. I mean, I suppose they -could- criticize obstacles to peace like fanatical settlers, Hamas – oh, wait, they already do that.

    Personally, I think Mr. Selinger is too kind to The Nation; as I said in my first post, they employ someone who publishes racist bigots and fascist sympathizers in his little ‘radical’ newsletter.

    PS If you’re the same Ted, I’d like to ask you the question I asked you a few weeks ago: What would have happened to the Jews if the Arab armies had won in 1948? I’m sure you can offer an intelligent, reasoned debate on the matter.

  4. Benjamin June 30, 2011 at 12:25 am - Reply

    And to cement my point about Cockburn being a disgusting enabler of antisemites, here he is proudly proclaiming that Israel Shamir writes for Counterpunch:


    (The fact that he writes for Chronicles should also tell someone something).

    The Nation has always been leftist, but they’ve hired someone so far to the left he’s curved around to the right. I’d love to hear their excuse for still having him on as a writer.

  5. Ken Brociner July 3, 2011 at 3:31 am - Reply

    I found Jeffrey Goldberg’s outraged reaction to The Nation piece on Birthright to be right on target.

    At the same time,I found Ron Skolnick’s discussion of The Nation article to be outrageously “understanding” and tolerant. How Ron doesn’t get the fact that the article is a one-sided, hate filled hit job is beyond me.

    As a former Board member of Meretz USA,I am very sad to say that Ron’s reaction fits into what has become a clear pattern of Meretz USA now providing sympathetic platforms for voices and perspectives that we once energetically struggled against.

  6. Ron Skolnik July 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Ken,
    I’ll try to relate to the ‘meat’ of your argument, rather than the extraneous rhetorical flourishes. (We both know, after all, that “it’s beyond me” does not an argument make.)

    First, you seem to have mixed up two related, but very different, pieces. Unless I missed something, Jeffrey Goldberg did not comment on Kiera Feldman’s piece on Birthright in The Nation, but on Allison Benedikt’s “Life after Zionist Summer Camp”, which appeared online at theawl.com.

    As for your comment itself: You suggest that, ever since you left its board 2 years ago, Meretz USA (soon to be “Partners for Progressive Israel”) has ‘gone over to the dark side’, as it were, by “providing sympathetic platforms for voices and perspectives” that are “one-sided, hate-filled” towards Israel.

    I think much of our disagreement historically, Ken, is the question of what is truly endangering Israel. After all, we are both concerned for Israel’s future, and neither of us is pro-occupation or pro-settlement.

    But while you insist that Israel’s most significant geo-political threat lies in an American left that’s grown increasingly impatient with and hostile to Israel, I tend to believe – like Prof. Shlomo Avineri, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/no-one-is-questioning-israel-s-legitimacy-1.370169 – that while the true delegitimizers exist on the margins, they are not the major strategic threat to Israel’s existence you make them out to be. I’m much more concerned, therefore, by the way in which Israel’s occupation policies are cementing the reality of one-statism, and increasing the ‘Israel drop-out rate’ of young American Jews.

    As a result, you felt that my most pressing responsibility was to point out that Feldman has no love-lost for Israel. (As for it being a “hit-job”: Are you really making the conspiratorial argument that anti-Israel forces paid Feldman to write this piece?)

    I respectfully disagree. Not that I think that Feldman’s piece was journalistically objective or beyond reproach. It wasn’t, and I agree with Ralph Seliger that a fuller expose of the politicization of Birthright should include less sarcastic ‘zingers’ and more facts and figures so that we can better understand who is determining its political/educational policy and by what means.

    Interestingly, my piece was also criticized by some for being ‘too Zionist’ – for suggesting (like Jeffrey Goldberg, by the way) that young Jews should get involved with Israel and the American Jewish conversation on Israel, rather than lashing out and walking way.

    But what I can’t accept is an expectation that I cry ‘Gevalt’ when the tone towards Israel becomes harsh, which is simply not a way to approach the complex socio-political challenges that Israel and its supporters face.

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