Tomgram: Tony Karon on Growing Dissent among American Jews

I often think of the letters that come into the Tomdispatch email box as the university of my later life — messages from around the world, offering commentary, criticism, encouragement, but mainly teaching me about lives (and versions of life) I would otherwise know little or nothing about. Then again, the Internet has a way of releasing inhibitions and, from time to time, the Tomdispatch email box is also a sobering reminder of the mindless hate in our world — of every sort, but sometimes of a strikingly anti-Semitic sort, letters that are wildly angry and eager, above all, to shut down or shut up commentary or debate of any sort.

It’s ironic, then, that the threat of sparking such “anti-Semitism,” as well as charges of being functionally anti-Semitic, have been used for a long time in this country as a kind of club to enforce, within the Jewish community, an exceedingly narrow range of correct opinion on Israel and its behavior in the world. In recent months, such attacks from within the Jewish establishment seem to have escalated whenever any professor or critic steps even slightly out of line, and the recent controversial book, The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt has caused a little storm of consternation. Tony Karon, who runs the always provocative Rootless Cosmopolitan website, suggests that these attacks may not be what they seem, that the need to turn back every deviation from Jewish orthodoxy may actually reflect a loosening of control within the political world of American Jews, and a new opening, a Jewish glasnost. Tom

Is a Jewish Glasnost Coming to America?

Despite a Backlash, Many Jews Are Questioning Israel
By Tony Karon

First, a confession: It may tell me that I hate myself, but I can’t help loving Masada2000, the website maintained by militant right-wing Zionist followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane. The reason I love it is its D.I.R.T. list — that’s “Dense anti-Israel Repugnant Traitors” (also published as the S.H.I.T. list of “Self-Hating and Israel-Threatening” Jews). And that’s not because I get a bigger entry than — staying in the Ks — Henry Kissinger, Michael Kinsley, Naomi Klein, or Ted Koppel. The Kahanists are a pretty flaky lot, counting everyone from Woody Allen to present Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on their list of Jewish traitors. But the habit of branding Jewish dissidents — those of us who reject the nationalist notion that as Jews, our fate is tied to that of Israel, or the idea that our people’s historic suffering somehow exempts Israel from moral reproach for its abuses against others — as “self-haters”is not unfamiliar to me.

In 1981, my father went, as a delegate of the B’nai B’rith Jewish service organization, to a meeting of the Cape Town chapter of the Jewish Board of Deputies, the governing body of South Africa’s Jewish communal institutions. The topic of the meeting was “Anti-Semitism on Campus.” My father was pretty shocked and deeply embarrassed when Exhibit A of this phenomenon turned out to be something I’d published in a student newspaper condemning an Israeli raid on Lebanon.

By then, I was an activist in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, which was consuming most of my energies. Having been an active left-Zionist in my teenage years, I had, however, retained an interest in the Middle East — and, of course, we all knew that Israel was the South African white apartheid regime’s most important ally, arming its security forces in defiance of a UN arms embargo. Even back then, the connection between the circumstances of black people under apartheid, and those of Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, seemed obvious enough to me and to many other Jews in the South African liberation movement: Both were peoples harshly ruled over by a state that denied them the rights of citizenship.

Still, this was a first. I could recite the kiddush from memory, sing old kibbutznik anthems and curse in Yiddish. I had been called a “bloody Jew” many times, but never an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew. What quickly became clear to me, though, was the purpose of that “self-hating” smear — to marginalize Jews who dissent from Zionism, the nationalist ideology of Jewish statehood, in order to warn others off expressing similar views.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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