Phil Weiss writes on Nov. 15 in his Mondoweiss online publication, responding to the attacks on Paris, that “The way for Americans to take on the Islamic state is to end support for Jewish nationalism.” Weirdly, this Harvard-educated and seasoned journalist/polemicist interprets American-Jewish political theorist Michael Walzer (a supporter of the Zionist peace camp) as promoting a religious conviction, rather than making a reasonable analytical point on the evolution of Jewish political thought in the following passage:
Its point of departure is always the Hebrew bible…. [Its] big issues [are] election or ‘chosenness’, the holiness of the Land of Israel, the experience of exile, and the hope for redemption….That tradition begins with God’s authority, with divine rule and divine revelations. Exactly how much room there is for human authority and decision making is always a question.
Quips Weiss, revealing his ignorance along with his sarcasm: “And you’re worried about Christian evangelists? But Walzer is a leading authority on Israel in allegedly secular publications like the New York Review of Books!”
Yet of course Jewish political traditions (including Zionism) draw inspiration from the Hebrew Bible — not simply a religious tract, but a central artifact of traditional Jewish culture. Anyone who knows Prof. Walzer also knows that he’s very secular. Weiss then quotes without context a sentence attributed to Todd Gitlin, a new PPI board member, to employ the theological concept of “Chosenness” in Rabbinic Judaism in a further attack on Jews and Zionism.
The raison d’etre for the progressive pro-Israel peace camp is to support the possibility of a democratic Jewish state at peace with its neighbors. What we might call “Bibi-ism” is a greater problem in this regard than Phil Weiss; indeed, Netanyahu has put forward his own spin that the current spate of terror attacks in Israel and the territories is due to “radical Islam,” rather than the frustrations of Palestinians who see themselves ground down under foreign domination: “In Israel, as in France, terrorism is terrorism and standing behind it is radical Islam and its desire to destroy its victims.”
Yet we should view Weiss and his ilk, as well as the Zionist right, as problematic. I’ve never regarded him as personally antisemitic (until now), but his rants about Israel (and, in this case, about Judaism) clearly invite antisemitism, and some have clearly crossed the line.
I’ve met Weiss several times. First, at a joint Ameinu-Meretz USA event in which we attempted to dialogue with him, but made zero headway. Then, at a couple of J Street conferences that we both attended. He’s allowed me to dialogue with him more than once on Mondoweiss, but in the end, I’m always reduced to some war-mongering fatally-flawed “Zionist.”
A few years ago, Dan Fleshler wrote a very good book, responding indirectly to Mondoweiss-like tropes, and criticizing what Mearsheimer & Walt got wrong, without trashing them as antisemites. The role of neocons in shaping American foreign policy was not a good one (mind you, not all neocons are Jewish, and they only reflect a minority of pro-Israel opinion among American Jews), but the decision to invade Iraq was made by a cabinet virtually devoid of Jews, and basically due to the fixations of Dick Cheney and his boss, George W. The notion that invading Iraq was important to Israel was a selling point to American Jews and Christian Zionists, but not the real motivation (and not even factually true). Above all, it is a gross distortion to blame the 2003 invasion on Israel, Zionists, or American Jews.
And neither the emergence of al-Qaeda nor the transformation of the 2011 Arab Spring into a long winter nightmare were due to Israel. Most Arab countries (possibly all), and most of the Islamic world, are at war within themselves and embroiled in a violent confrontation with modernity.
P.S. Writing in The Nation, following the recent settlement of his law suit, Dr. Steven Salaita similarly chimed in with his dark conspiratorial view of “Zionism” as an omnipresent reactionary force:
Israel occupies imaginative in addition to physical geographies. Zionism therefore reproduces with great efficiency the cultures of recrimination in North America. It is necessary to connect this Zionist presence with the suppression of all radical ideas.
. . . An upper [university] administrator needn’t be amenable to West Bank settlement to understand the value of Zionism in his line of work.
. . . Zionism is part and parcel of unilateral administrative power. It lends itself to top-down decision-making, to suppression of anti-neoliberal activism, to restrictions on speech, to colonial governance, to corporatization and counterrevolution—in other words, Zionism behaves in universities precisely as it does in various geopolitical systems.