The New Yorker’s recent articles on Israel make sense as the effort of liberal diaspora Jews to cleanse their conscience at Israeli expense.
The New Yorker recently published an article portraying Israel as a hate-filled chauvinistic society on the brink of disaster · The article and its predecessors make sense when you understand that liberal Jews see Israel as a drug addicted child who needs to be forced into rehab ‘for their own good’ · A look into the worldview of an alienated and patronizing elite
Recently, the prestigious New Yorker published an article entitled ‘Israel’s One-State Reality‘. Much of the article feels like it came straight out of Haaretz, strewn largely with interviews from the left’s usual suspects and with a clear message: Israel is sliding into an anti-democratic and one-state reality, largely due to increased Jewish intransigence and extremism. Standard left-wing boilerplate, you might say.
Except the ‘star’ of this article wasn’t a left-winger, but Israel’s new right-wing president, Reuven ‘Rubi’ Rivlin. People who read the interview with Israel’s First citizen will get the impression that Israel is not only a sick society, but one with levels of hatred among all groups – Jew and Arabs, rich and poor, religious and secular – which are at all-time highs. Here’s a snippet of a speech Rivlin gave at the Knesset and which is quoted by the New Yorker:
“I’ve been called a ‘lying little Jew’ by my critics,” Rivlin told the Knesset recently. “ ‘Damn your name, Arab agent,’ ‘Go be President in Gaza,’ ‘disgusting sycophant,’ ‘rotten filth,’ ‘lowest of the low,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘President of Hezbollah.’ These are just a few of the things that have been said to me in the wake of events I’ve attended and speeches I’ve made. I must say that I’ve been horrified by this thuggishness that has permeated the national dialogue.”
Wow. People are nasty on the internet and facebook (the source of the comments). Whoulda thunk it. I’ve seen American Youtube and Twitter debates that would make most of these fellas blush and tell the cussers to calm down. But Rivlin presses on in his interview, leaving the unmistakable impression that Israeli democracy is facing just the kind of crisis left-wingers keep warning about. Indeed, the purpose of the whole article, like a similar one attacking AIPAC’s disconnect from progressive forces, is to warn about how Israel and its supporters are heading in the “wrong” direction.
Both articles are written in a style I would recommend in courses on “How to Hide Biased Opinion as Objective Fact: The Master Class”. There are no outright lies in the articles – just a lot of categorical half-truths. Anything that’s conservative or right-wing is marked as such, anything that’s liberal or progressive is described in positive or at least neutral terms – even the BDS campaign. Those who read the one-state article will learn about the detestable murder of Muhammad Abu-Khdeir in detail. They will learn nothing of the wall-to-wall condemnation of the event, including by many people on the hard right not known for their bleeding hearts. Nor indeed will issues like the radicalization of the Israeli Arab leadership come up; they are after all merely passive victims being attacked or at least suspected by many Israelis for no good reason.
Nostalgia for me, not thee
So what’s going on? Why is a serious journal like the ‘New Yorker’ letting itself be the mouthpiece of Meretz?
To truly understand what’s happening, we need to enter the strange and oddly detached world occupied by liberal Jews belonging to the elites – people like David Remnick, author of the one-state piece and editor of the New Yorker as a whole. For Jews like them, Israel before 1967 was a socialist paradise, a veritable beacon of progress and equality. Your average liberal Jew, when pontificating on their now “complicated” approach to Israel today, will often start their lecture or article with the refrain “I fondly remember my time on kibbutz in 1967.” Or 1969. Or 1978. Take your pick. Another favorite cliché involves Zionist socialist youth groups or summer camp. Even Barack Obama has said that his admiration for Israel is based largely on its “socialist past.”
Of course, kibbutzim, those small islands of social equality, were supported at the expense of the non-kibbutznik taxpaying majority with the help of generous land and water grants, tax breaks, loans and loan guarantees. It’s also true that the kibbutzim were also propped up by government monopolies, price-fixing cartels and an aggressive policy of protectionism that hit the poor hardest. But at least idealistic Jews could live the dream and illusion of socialism.
Unlike the liberal Jews who so fondly remember pre-1967 Israel, many if not most Israelis remember a time when the government and General Labour Union controlled two-thirds of the economy, when having a ‘red card’ was necessary to get a job, and when anyone who wasn’t secular, socialist and Ashkenazi was a second or third class citizen.
By all indications, liberal Jews in the Diaspora actually support this massive disenfranchisement, since they never tire of referring in articles to anyone who doesn’t answer to this qualification – Mizrahi Jews, Russian Jews, religious or Haredi Jews – as a bunch of wild-eyed and dangerous “anti-democratic” natives presently threatening the great utopia established by the enlightened White Men of socialist yore. And right-wingers are apparently the racist ones.
Our hands did not shed this blood (and we weren’t there anyway)
The attitude of liberal Jews towards the Arabs, whom they treat as ‘noble savages’ more often than not, is similarly hypocritical. Somehow the words “Military Administration” only come up in the context of the evil Occupation and not the reality Arab citizens faced for most of the pre-’67 period when the left reigned supreme. It’s not surprising that Ari Shavit’s book which divides Israeli history into justified injustices pre-1967 and unjustified injustices post-1967 has been welcomed with open arms. That Shavit’s historical description of events – such as his claim of a 1948 “massacre” at Lod – has little to stand on makes no difference. What matters is that liberal diaspora Jews who feel guilty about “being part” of such acts can have a collective act of catharsis at the expense of their Israeli brothers who actually face the dilemmas they so agonize over.
Which brings us back to the New Yorker and Rivlin’s Jeremiad. If the narrative of liberal elite Jewry once spoke of Israel as a “socialist paradise”, now it is based on the slogan: Israel Must Be Saved From Itself ™ – and the Jews will do the rescuing. This can be through the generous funding of a veritable army of left-wing (and often non or anti-Zionist) NGOs through the New Israel Fund, the publication of scathing articles in the New Yorker as a kind of “tough love” or if all else fails, the threat that Israel doesn’t toe the liberal line, American Jewry will turn its back on Israel.
This condescending attitude revealed itself in full during Protective Edge when Shmuel Rosner, a liberal journalist, penned an article in the New York Times arguing that if he has to choose between Israel’s security and the adoration of Diaspora Liberal Jewry, he will choose the former. The responses came thick and fast. One respondent claimed that he loved Israel like he does his children but that he needs to scold it if it misbehaves. Another, claiming to speak for many of her friends, compared Israel to a relative addicted to heroin who needs to be put into treatment, against their will if necessary. Jewish solidarity at its finest.
What does this all mean?
Your average Israeli or Israel supporter will rightly ask themselves whether this means anything. Nu? So there are Jews who think the real Israel doesn’t live up to their fantasies and are throwing a fit. We have always had people like that, on both the right and the left, religious and secular. Should I really be concerned?
My answer is no and yes. No, because contrary to Peter Beinart and co., I don’t believe the support of many of them matters all that much. There’s a high correlation between lack of affinity with Israel and lack of affinity with Jewish identity, and the idea of chasing after such people who don’t really care at the expense of the interests of millions of Israeli Jews strikes me as more than a little pointless, if not pathetic. If they want to go that badly, let them. The shortfall in donation money can be made up by opening the local and global markets as much as possible and cultivating other groups who won’t treat us like we should be involuntarily committed.
Yes, because liberal Jews in elite positions – like those who write for, edit or own publications like the New Yorker – are capable of doing Israel a great deal of harm. The New Yorker is part of a select group of publications such as Haaretz, the Atlantic, the New York Times and the Guardian, which are read by a highly influential cross-national elite of journalists, professionals and government bureaucrats. Many people of real power – ambassadors, senior officials, parliamentary advisors or foreign office clerks – often rely almost exclusively on such ostensibly ‘neutral’ and ‘balanced’ publications for their information and to inform policy decisions. What’s worse, if they arrive at the anti-Israel policy recommendations endorsed by such outlets, they can convince themselves that by doing so they are really Saving Israel From Itself™.
Once upon a time, when I actually believed in the power of an effective Hasbara campaign, I might have recommended we work harder to get outlets like the New Yorker to cover Israel in a fairer, less alarmist and more complex fashion. I have since outgrown that phase, and I believe Israel and its friends need to find ways to bypass publications like the New Yorker and find direct channels to the government elites it appeals to. The tendency of liberal Jewry to conduct group therapy at our expense, whether to clear their own consciences or to remain within their liberal circle of friends, is not going to stop anytime soon.