In the current issue of The Forward, columnist Jay Michaelson makes a valuable contribution to our pro-Israel/pro-peace discourse with “When the Right Is Right About the Left.” Michaelson is a left-liberal gay activist/writer who declared some disenchantment with Israel three years ago; but here he writes in detail on how anti-Israel gay activists and others on the anti-Israel left have gone over the top in their one-sided and constant attacks on Israel, as if it is the primary source of evil in the world and the Palestinians and other nations do no wrong.
He also challenges the anti-Israel left to be honest that they don’t just deplore Israeli policies–as he and we often do–but also oppose Israel’s existence as an expression of self-determination for the Jewish people. (Interestingly, this brings to mind a complaint registered by Norman Finkelstein—an Israel-basher if there ever was one, but who actually supports Israel’s existence in a two-state solution and criticized the BDS movement for being dishonest in this regard.)
Still, there’s one point at which Michaelson opens up a problem from our common progressive perspective. It’s in how we define our terms. The very fact that Michaelson and pro-Israel/pro-peace activists like myself–along with the left-wing Israel-bashers we deplore–all call ourselves “progressive” or “left” is a problem in itself.
We need to resuscitate the notion of the liberal-left, center-left or moderate left—or even the much-maligned and shunned label of “liberal.” This is a way out of the confusion expressed by Michaelson in the following:
… the radical-left shell game also causes conservatives to be rightly suspicious of anything the left says. J Street, for example, consistently and regularly repeats that it supports the existence and security of the State of Israel. Yet because its further-left allies do not make the same assurances, the whole progressive enterprise is viewed with suspicion by the right….
I wonder what “further-left allies” of J Street he’s referring to. Apart from our own Partners for Progressive Israel [I should have added, initially, the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now], there are no groups arguably to J Street’s left that could be fully considered an ally; we all support Israel’s existence and security. There should be no confusion on this point: J Street doesn’t proclaim its support and concern for Israel as a ploy; being “pro-Israel” (in the sense of supporting its security and well-being, not the policies of right-wing coalition governments) is its raison d’etre.