Can we call Mondoweiss anti-Semitic yet?
Earlier this year, a minor tiff broke out in the pages of The Atlantic (a fine publication to which I occasionally contribute), after Armin Rosen published an article which asserted that Mondoweiss“often gives the appearance of an anti-Semitic enterprise”. Robert Wright found Rosen’s piece “McCarthyite” in character, deeming Mondoweiss to be merely “an edgy website that is highly critical of both Israel and Zionism”.
Wright took umbrage with the idea of guilt by association: the notion that, if someone deems a publication or institution to be anti-Semitic, all those connected to it must be anti-Semitic as well. In Rosen’s article, Alex Kane – then a staff writer, now an assistant editor – was chided for not publically challenging Mondoweiss’ “lunacy”, while acknowledging that he is not responsible for the work of other writers. The latter point here is worth stressing: Kane holds political views that verge on the repugnant, including the idea that Zionism “helped drive 9/11”, but in general he appears to be a perfectly acceptable individual.
The question apposite to the one Wright raises and challenges is the far more interesting and important one, however. It is also one which underscores Rosen’s piece, namely if a publication or institution chooses to lend its imprimatur to an article or series of articles that can be deemed anti-Semitic – and Rosen cites numerous examples of questionable work – can said organisation be characterised as anti-Semitic as a whole?
Rosen and Wright’s particular quarrel is dead, and since I have no desire to reanimate it, I shall refrain from picking a side. Thus, I shall place my loaded gun upon the mantelpiece, and merely note that when all was said and done, Andrew Sullivan came down on the side of Wright and Mondoweiss.
For those not familiar with Mondoweiss, it is (in its own words) a “news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective,” which seeks to publish “a diversity of voices to promote dialogue on these important issues”. Herein lays the first canard, for claims of plurality are negated by its other commitment to “offer alternatives to pro-Zionist ideology as a basis for American Jewish identity”. Whatever diversity there is on Mondoweiss is akin to an argument between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, for I have yet to read one article on said site that has been favourable to Israel.
Then again, this is understandable. The site’s founders, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, are anti-Zionists. It is a political position which influences the way in which Mondoweiss addresses the important questions pertaining to the future of Israel and Palestine. Anti-Zionism informs the articles they select for publication and the commentators they choose to hire. It colours their coverage of the news coming out of the region, suppressing Israel’s achievements or pleasant news regarding the two-state solution, while augmenting the most awful effects of the occupation, and promoting developments which indicate things might be moving in the direction of Isratine and the death of the Jewish state.
Anti-Zionism – or, to put it other way, the belief it was a mistake to have created Israel in the first place; that Israel is not and can never be the answer or even an answer to the Jewish question – is, it goes without saying, a very problematic ideology. It constantly requires one to walk the thin line between disbelief in a Jewish state, and anti-Semitism, since anti-Zionists must constantly be forced to answer the question of why it is that Jews – and only Jews – are the only national group not entitled to a state of their own. One’s answer to that question says a good deal about a person’s character, for good or for ill.
Economics Over Easy
For $50,000 per head, guests at the King David Hotel on Monday morning received a menu which included croissants, coffee, various cheeses, eggs, salad and shakshuka. On the side, attendees at this fundraising breakfast were treated to a joint economics and social studies lecture from Mitt Romney on the “dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality” between Israel and the Palestinian Territories. “Culture makes all the difference” Romney said, citing David Landes’ findings in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations as his inspiration for such a conclusion.
Landes’ work, oft-cited by Romney, argues that beginning with the United Kingdom, nations which have become wealthy and prosperous have done so because their national cultures were and are amongst other things capitalistic, meritocratic, technocratic and science-orientated. By extension, countries that have experienced stunted development have failed to integrate these qualities into their own cultures. It is Landes’ assertion, for example, that Islam has discouraged diversity, initiative, and education in the countries where it is the predominant religion under authoritarian, oil-rich regimes.
Within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic, Romney’s emphasis on Landes’ shambling and sweeping conclusions regarding national culture could not be less helpful or enlightening. Rather, the present disparity – where the GDP per capita in Israel is $31,400 compared to $2,900 in the West Bank – is directly attributable to the ongoing politico-military conflict and the influential role of governments and institutions, of the political culture.
Kadima Means Nothing — Ariel Is Worse
The break-up of Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz’s marriage of convenience bears no significance for the future of the peace process. The partnership between Likud and Kadima was never a serious endeavour to begin with, in spite of much talk about reforming the electoral process, introducing a universal draft, and even kick-starting the moribund talks between Netanyahu and Abbas. Rather, the deal was made entirely out of necessity: for Mofaz to elongate the life of his sham of a party, a project he has now surely annulled; for Netanyahu to continue his principal policy of inactivity on all fronts, under the auspices of national unity.
Far more noteworthy, at least when it comes to the hope that, someday, a democratic, Jewish state might reside with a democratic, Palestinian state in a condition of perpetual if uneasy peace, is the decision by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education (JSCHE) to recognise the Ariel University Center as a full-fledged university. In doing so, the JSCHE have gone over the heads of the Council for Higher Education which recommended against recognition, thereby establishing Israel’s first university beyond the Green Line in the occupied territories.
But, as Liel Leibovitz notes in Tablet, the word of the council is essentially meaningless when it comes to the occupied territories:
Because Israeli law doesn’t apply in the West Bank…all civilian affairs in the region are overseen by the Israel Defence Forces. In 1997, after the council refused to supervise a number of nascent Jewish academic institutions established east of the Green Line, a new body was formed, called the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHEJS). Its members are appointed by the army.
And, that this university has been established in Ariel only augments the controversy, given the settlement’s position in the West Bank. Ariel competes with Ma’ale Adumim for the indignity of being the most controversial settlement in all of the West Bank, principally due to its size – a city of some 17,700 people – and its location, some 13km west of the Green Line, north of Ramallah and southwest of Nablus. Netanyahu has previously referred to Ariel as a suburb of Tel Aviv, “the heart of Israel”, and “an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement”. Yet having the borders of any prospective Israeli state swoop around the settlement would create a lengthy talon of land that not would only threaten the contiguity of a Palestinian state, but would be indefensible and vulnerable to enemy assault.
The decision by the JSCHE is a far more dangerous and destructive event than the slipping away of Shaul Mofaz and his gang of status quo politicians into the political night. Because, much like the Levy Report, its acceptance beyond those who have a vested interest in its continuation represents a normalisation of perpetual occupation or eventual annexation, either of which would end finally and irreversibly the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.
In London, Calls to Reinvigorate the Liberal Diaspora
LONDON – The launch Monday of Brits for Peace Now, the reincarnated and reinvigorated branch of the famous Israeli peace organisation, coincided with a moment when as Lee Wilson, Development and Communications Director for Peace Now acknowledged, the disconnect between younger Diaspora Jews and Israel over vital issues such as human rights and settlements has never been more palpable.
Since Wilson made aliyah from the UK in 1993, younger, more liberally-minded Jews, particularly in the United States, have come to see themselves as unrelated to or unaffiliated with the State of Israel. Peter Beinart, in his seminal essay on the subject in The New York Review of Books, proposed that this detachment exists because the children of the ’67-generation have grown up with “no memory of Arab armies massed on Israel’s border”, but rather “viewing Israel as a regional hegemon and an occupying power”. As such, they tend to be “more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril”.
This divide between liberal youth in the Diaspora and Israel has been exacerbated, Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow in the Middle East programme at the UK-based international relations think-tank Chatham House asserted, by the impression that the political right has developed a monopoly since Oslo on what it means to be patriotic and pro-Israel. These groups, who tend to closely associate themselves with the values of the Likud, are far more willing to argue that to criticise specific elements of government policy, and in particular the settlements or the occupation, is to damn Israel entire.
Wilson expressed her hope that disaffected or disassociated Jews young and old might find that Peace Now and NGOs of its stripe offer a way to “support Israel without leaving their liberalism at the door”. “You can be a patriot and believe in peace”, Mekelberg proclaimed. “It’s not a competition”.
Obama on Israel and the Palestinians
Unlike the speeches of the previous commander-in-chief, those made by President Obama are orated for the purpose of dissection. They are written by a meticulous language of fairness, accuracy and a little caution that open the door to numerous interpretations. By contrast, where can one go with such nuanced statements as “you’re either with us or against us”?
Obama’s speech on Thursday was intended as a second address to the Arab world, after his famous Cairo speech of 2009. After all, its broadcast was timed specifically for when citizens of the Near East and North Africa would be home from work. It set out state by state how the United States viewed events related to the Jasmine Revolution, though it is his remarks on Israel and the Palestinians that I shall focus on now.
What is clear right off the bat is that Obama views the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as integral to the stabilisation and eventual flourishing of the Arab Spring. “At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past,” he proclaimed, “the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever”.
At the same time, the speech seemed to heave cold water on the idea of talks resuming in the immediate, particularly in the wake of the emergence of a unity government in the Palestinian Territories. On this, Obama said:
“Recognising that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognise your right to exist?”
Here, Obama has fallen into line with the standard Israeli position since the Fatah-Hamas split, adding that Palestinian leaders need to come up with a “credible answer” to this question. Moreover, the President fired a warning shot in the direction of Fatah: “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimise Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” This would appear to signal that the United States will indeed vote against and perhaps veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood as a threat to Israeli security.
As to justification such a stance toward the Palestinians, one which puts that out of kilter with the rest of the international community, Obama pivoted to make some important statements with regard Israel’s role on the West Bank. He referenced with regard to the Palestinians the “humiliation of occupation” and settlements as a barrier to peace. Most importantly, Obama stated: “The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation”. Such a bold notion has never been articulated by a sitting United States President, and Obama deserves credit as such.
The most contentious paragraph of the speech, the one which Media has most aggressively analysed, focused on the issue of borders:
“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The use of the word ‘contiguous’ is one Obama has used before during the 2008 presidential campaign, in the speech he made to AIPAC (the one that called for a united Jerusalem, for reference). Perhaps the President is merely referring to the proposal for a disengaged corridor on Israeli soil that links Gaza to the West Bank, which was part of the Olmert Plan. If not, then Obama seems to be signalling a desire to enlarge Palestinian territory to the stage where the two entities meet, thus in turn slicing Israel in two, which would do a great deal to threaten Israeli security and indeed its very existence.
His comments on borders are not in fact radical, to put it mildly. The notion of having boundaries centred about those which existed pre-1967 is a consensus opinion amongst European and world leaders, and is in fact something most Israelis believe ought to be the outcome of talks. Again however, no sitting American President has ever said this out loud before, even though the idea of using the Green Line as the basis for peace negotiations was the foundation of the Clinton Parameters, the Bush Road Map and the Olmert Plan.
Overall, the speech reflects an approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict that is a mirror of the attitude he has brought to the presidency: one of care, even-handedness, an awareness of the necessary stances he must adopt, and a desire to always seek resolution. I believe Obama is genuine in his desire to resolve the dispute, to maintain a secure Israel and to allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, based on the belief that “people should govern themselves”. What is not clear, however, is what the administration will do to make this happen, or whether they believe it’s even possible at all.