Sometimes, the most daring thing a scholar or an organization can do is to mention the obvious. That is a lesson that Indiana University's Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld and the American Jewish Committee have recently learned to their sorrow.
Rosenfeld is the author of a 30-page study titled 'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, which was published in December by AJCommittee. In it Rosenfeld, briefly surveys the international rise of anti-Semitism and then goes on to touch on the various excesses of intellectual anti-Zionists with an emphasis on those leftist Jews who are important elements in the massive contemporary assault on Israel.
Rosenfeld's conclusion is that those Jewish writers and thinkers who have aided the assault on Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist cannot pretend that their stand is unrelated to the wave of violent Jew-hatred, which is itself largely focused on the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish self-defense. He rightly asserts that anti-Zionist Jewish authors such as British historian Jacqueline Rose, New York University's Tony Judt and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner have been carrying the intellectual water for a weird coalition of the far-left, the far-right, and the Arab and Islamic propagandists.
Tarred and Feathered
Rosenfeld is careful to specify that questioning policies of Israeli governments is not the same as being anti-Israel, let alone anti-Semitic. But he has the bad manners to point out that those who aggressively question Israel's right to have any government or to defend itself against those who destroy it are, at best, unwitting allies of a growing anti-Jewish movement.
That movement's end goal is, whether these so-called "progressives" want to admit it or not -- the extinction of the world's only Jewish state, an event that would obviously entail the mass slaughter of Jews.
For this, Rosenfeld and his sponsors at AJCommittee have been treated to the sort of public tar and feathering that is usually reserved only for the troglodyte denizens of the far-right.
In a New York Times feature on the controversy (accompanied by a posed photo in which Rosenfeld is shown looking like a Kafkaesque prosecutor pictured from above in an oddly sinister light), Boston University scholar Alan Wolfe wondered if AJCommittee were not itself fostering "anti-Jewishness" by its criticism of liberals.
In an editorial, the Forward huffed that Rosenfeld's essay is "a shocking tissue of slander" that attacked all liberals.
Scholar Stanley Kutler wrote in The Boston Globe that Rosenfeld was merely trying to smear liberal critics of the Iraq war and those who thought America's strong support of Israel during the recent war with Hezbollah as an "embarrassment.
The New Republic's John B. Judis accused Rosenfeld, not to mention the entire pro-Israel movement of being hypocrites because they won't admit to having a "dual loyalty" toward Israel that the Jewish state's foes accuse them of having.
And author and Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman wrote in The Jerusalem Post accusing Rosenfeld of using innuendo in accusing leftists of complicity with anti-Semitism. Even worse, in his view, is that by singling out these anti-Zionists, Rosenfeld has made martyrs out of them.
This is a consistent theme in much of the criticism of the piece, which largely centers on the notion that what the American Jewish Committee has engaged in is an attempt to censor critics of Israel and to suppress debate about its policies.
Like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of "The Lobby," the widely criticized attack on American supporters of Israel, those in Rosenfeld's cross-hairs, think they are victims of a witch hunt. AJCommittee, a bastion of American liberalism for a century (which was bizarrely labeled a "conservative" group in the Times piece), has been forced to defend its credentials as a defender of freedom of thought.
But the truth is, they have not indicted all "liberals" or "progressives" as anti-Semites as has been alleged. Nor is the Rosenfeld's piece a slam on mainstream liberals or the Democratic Party, the vast majority of whose members are supporters of Israel. Nor do they intend to silence Jewish dissidents, something that, given the access to mainstream media bully pulpits that these leftists possess, would be impossible anyway.
To the contrary, in recent years, it is the supporters of Israel who are becoming pariahs in intellectual circles, not its critics. For all the talk of "martyrdom" on the part of people like Tony Judt, the fact is, they have not suffered one bit for pot shots at Israel or their sneers at those who stand up for Zion.
If we want to know where we are headed, we need only look to Britain, where in intellectual and artistic circles it has gotten to the point where it may no longer be possible to identify as a Jew without also disavowing any support for Israel.
Buying Into Slander
A group of British Jewish celebrities, including actor Stephen Fry and playwright Harold Pinter recently signed a joint statement titled lambasting official British Jewish institutions for continuing to support Israel. Since they agree with the slander that Israel is an oppressor, incredibly, they see support for it as justifying anti-Semitism.
Those who want a more in-depth look at this phenomenon of growing Jewish anti-Zionism than Rosenfeld's slim pamphlet provides should instead go to the recently published The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders, a collection of essays on the topic published by Transaction Books last year. In it, authors such as literary critic Edward Alexander (who edited this important volume along with British writer Paul Bogdanor) and Rosenfeld himself contribute essays on this puzzling and deeply dangerous trend.
It is not innuendo to note, as Rosenfeld does, that calling Israel a "Nazi state" and urging its dismantling is not unrelated to the attacks on Jews in Europe or to the verbal violence against Israel that is becoming bolder here. That anti-Zionism has established a beachhead among leftist intellectuals and academics in this country cannot be denied.
What is yet to be determined is whether more Jewish liberals and centrists are prepared to fight back and answer this insidious trend with the sort of plain talk it deserves or if, afraid of being branded as "intolerant" as was the case with Rosenfeld, they will back away from the fray.
It takes no courage to run, as some do, with the pack of media and academic jackals who defame Israel or whitewash its foes. While ideological zealots brazenly disavow the Jewish state, many other Jews have simply disengaged from the cause because they do not wish to be identified with an "illiberal" Israel. The result is an increasingly open field for the haters.
It is an encouraging sign that a mainstream group like the American Jewish Committee was prepared to publish Rosenfeld's piece and stand by it despite the abuse they have absorbed. The question that remains unanswered, is whether they and other groups will continue this necessary fight?