Jewish Debate Stifled?

Jewish Debate Stifled?

British activist-analyst Brian Klug has started a controversy by promoting in the British Guardian a group called “Independent Jewish Voices” (IJV) that is critical of the British Jewish establishment. His view and those of his critics are being argued both at the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” Weblog and at Engage Online. On our side of the pond, we are aware of similar controversies, such as the charge that critics of Israel, like Tony Judt, are being “stifled.”

With regard to Judt and similar voices speaking out against Israel, they are often vilified and misunderstood, but they are being heard. Jimmy Carter’s book, “Palestine Peace not Apartheid,” is a best seller. And Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have won a major book contract.

But the quality of the debate leaves much to be desired. One recent example was Alan Dershowitz’s all-too-brief encounter with Michael Lerner on CNN a couple of nights ago. Dershowitz filibustered Lerner for making this claim that dissident voices are not being heard; both are wrong. They are being heard and misheard widely. Voices on both sides are mostly shrill and unhelpful.

And both sides “stifle” each other. I know, for example, that my dovish Zionist views are mostly not welcome in New York’s Jewish Week; I’ve been told as much (although not in these words, of course). And I know that I am “too Zionist” for many other publications. For example, I’ve been shut out from places where I used to publish, such as In These Times and the New York Press. I know also that I’m probably not PC enough to be published in Tikkun, because I’ve harshly criticized Palestinians as well as Israel.

I too felt myself something of a dissident in my criticisms of last summer’s Hezbollah war. Therefore, these words by Klug resonate for me: “Jews were deeply divided over Israel’s campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon last year. Certainly, there were those who shared the sentiment of the chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who, addressing the rally, said: ‘Israel, you make us proud.’ Others felt roughly the opposite emotion.”

And no honest liberal can gainsay this British group’s stated principles:

[A] group of Jews in Britain has come together to launch Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). We come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life. Some of us are religious, some not. A number feel a strong attachment to Israel as Jews, others feel none. We do not all share the same vision for the Middle East…. But we are united by certain fundamental commitments…. They include: putting human rights first; giving equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis in their quest for a peaceful and secure future; and repudiating all forms of racism…. We believe that these commitments – not ethnic or group loyalties – define the limits of legitimate debate.

Well, actually, I don’t give “equal priority to Palestinians and Israelis.” I feel compassion for Palestinians and a concern that their grievances be allayed in the interest of peace, but my priority is for the well being of Israelis and my fellow Jews. One can’t exclude the former for the latter, but isn’t it only natural that I care more about my kin than for others? It’s this kind of sentiment that animates Alex Stein’s eloquent critique of Klug in his blog entry.

Bloggers Norman Geras, Shalom Lappin and Eve Garrard are harsher than Stein, perhaps too harsh, but also worth reading.

By | 2007-02-07T17:07:00-05:00 February 7th, 2007|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Yehuda Erdman February 8, 2007 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    I am Chair of Meretz UK and first of all would like to congratualate Meretz USA on your website and state that in the next few months we in Meretz UK would like to emulate you and have a similar website.
    As for this recent debate about stifled debate, this is true. You only have to look at the furore in the British Jewish press in the last month about Tony Lerman to appreciate that.
    For the record Meretz UK invited Tony Lerman to give the Barry Shenker memorial lecture a few months ago. We were honoured to have such a distinguished speaker and naturally not all of us agreed with all he said, but we defend his absolute right to express his views.
    Yet some of the great and the good in Anglo-Jewry do not see this in the same light. To them there is a whole herd of sacred cows grazing on the lawns, and you may only express an opinion if they say so. They expressly stated that because he was Director of an established Jewish organisation, namely the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, he had no right to hold unorthodox views critical of Israel.
    Is this why the allies in the second World War defeated fascism? Does not every human being have the absolute right to hold a personal opinion and state it within the law of theland? Are we in Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc?
    Generally speaking British Jews are right wing, in political as well as religious terms and if anything are moving further to the right. Not surprisingly when the Israeli political spectrum shifts to the left, miraculously so does British Jewry. This only a simple indication that these aforementioned people are unable to think for themselves.
    Yehuda Erdman

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