What Spencer Ackerman doesn’t know about the pro-Israel crowd would fill a reservoir the size of Central Park. He’s taken to the neocon funded Tablet (“Tabloid”) Magazine to propound his critique of progressive Jewish rhetoric in the debate over the nature of Israel. And he’s done so using terms that are in themselves both instructive, and insulting. Here’s how he begins his rhetorical primer:
At the risk of sounding like the shtetl police, there’s a right way and a wrong way for American Jews to argue with one another.
He has it precisely right. He does sound like a Zionist cheyder teacher wagging his fingers at his recalcitrant students who balk at reciting their alef-bays. But no, he has it precisely wrong when he attempts to lay out the “right” and “wrong” way for Jews to argue. I would concede that there are certain terms that are not just offensive, but impermissible in such arguments. Scatology, threats of violence, Nazi references–all are treif whether coming from the left or right. And I’ve censored, moderated and banned comments here on both sides of this debate.
But “Israel Firster?” C’mon. Though this isn’t a term I use commonly, I find nothing wrong with it generally. While in strict terms it denotes someone who places Israel’s interests above U.S. interests, that isn’t precisely what the pro-Israel right does in its own mind. While to a reasonable outside observer it does appear that this is what they are doing, in their own minds the interests of Israel and the U.S. are the same. So they don’t feel they’re weighing one above the other. However, in objective terms they are. Because in objective terms two separate nations must have separate interests unless one is a puppet or satellite of the other. So I feel that the notion that Israel and America have the same interests is noxious and deluded. That’s why I don’t have a problem with Israel Firster.
I’ve displayed the disgusting graphic that accompanies Ackerman’s piece which implies that those who use the term “Israel Firster” are doing Hitler’s work. Isn’t this precisely what Ackerman is decrying? The abuse of overwrought Holocaust memes to discredit the real ideas of our enemies? So what’s worse: Israel Firster or invoking the Holocaust where it doesn’t belong? Spencer Ackerman and Tabloid’s editors are hypocrites. Total friggin’ hypocrites.
Further, having a debate about the use of this term is a total waste of time. It’s a distraction. One that the pro-Israel right is happy to have us get bogged down in. So Spencer Ackerman is doing a toivah for Josh Block, Eli Lake and all his friends. To confirm this, you have only to note that a second article on virtually the same subject is published by necon smearmonger, Lee Smith, in Tabloid. Mazel tov, Ackerman, you’re up in lights right next to the ideological equivalent of Josh Block (if not Meir Kahane).
There seems to an explicit or implicit assumption that whether left or right, we’re all Jewish brothers (and sisters, though he seems not to acknowledge any women are part of this debate):
…Our cousins on the Jewish right.
If we’re all cousins, then the implication seems to be that there are tribal rhetorical boundaries that may not be crossed. I don’t relish this call to blood as a governing principle in political debate.
Sure, Josh Block, Eli Lake and the pro-Israel brigade are fellow-Jews, but what do I owe them because of that? Very little. Why? Because if their bellicose views lead to, or defend Israeli wars against Palestinians or even worse, Iranians, they will be getting Israelis killed. Even worse, they will be undermining Israel’s long-term interests and endangering it’s survival. What’s more important? Obeying Spencer Ackerman’s parochial rules forbidding nasty phrases against fellow Jews or ensuring Israel survives through this century?
Make no mistake, this isn’t an inside the Beltway or intramural Republican-Democratic debate about health care reform or TARP. This is life and death. In such circumstances, I don’t have the luxury of conceding the essential goodness of my adversary by virtue of our common ethnic-religious origin.
I don’t have a problem with another criticism levelled by Ackerman against Max Blumenthal for calling Jeff Goldberg a “former Israeli prison guard.” The only change I would’ve made is to call him an “Israeli-American” prison guard. After all, Goldberg not only served in the IDF, he wrote about it proudly, making money off the connection. Why not focus on this aspect of Goldberg’s past when assessing his bona fides to address U.S. interests regarding Israel policy? It is entirely appropriate to examine people’s past associations in determining their current views, as long as we are honest in characterizing what those past associations were (which the right almost never does).
Another thing that bugs the shit out of me about Ackerman’s piece is the finger in the eye he offers Jewish leftists by sprinkling his essay liberally with the term “Jewish state,” as if this was an entirely appropriate lexical substitute for Israel. In this, he’s marking himself not as a Jewish leftist or progressive on the question of Israel, but rather as a liberal Zionist. What the world doesn’t need more of is liberal Zionists. This is not just a discredited and irrelevant brand, it no longer even resonates inside Israeli politics where liberalism died a slow and painful death about the time Shimon Peres prostituted himself by abandoning Labor and joining pal, Ariel Sharon in Kadima.
Israel is not the Jewish state. It is a state that includes Jews and non-Jews. It is a state for its Jewish citizens and a state for its Palestinian citizens (I’m not including West Bank Palestinians in this concept). Not a bi-national state. But a unitary state that includes two ethnic groups who deserve equal rights according to democratic principles (one citizen, one vote). To subsume all Israelis under the term “Jewish state” does a grave disservice to not just Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, but Israeli democracy. Spencer Ackerman either doesn’t believe in a real Israeli democracy or he simply doesn’t understand the implications of his words. That isn’t surprising for a liberal Zionist like himself who writes far more often about other issues than Jewish, Israeli or Zionist politics. On this subject he’s simply out of his depth.
Spencer Ackerman is a full-blooded progressive on domestic and even many foreign policy issues to his many fans. But that doesn’t translate to the I-P conflict. Many a good progressive lapses into liberal Zionist clichés when they switch to the I-P conflict. It’s as if their brain and their principles contract. A certain mental and political circling of the wagons occurs. Instead of thinking in bold, broad strokes about the big issues, they retreat in fear.
To understand the true nature of Ackerman’s allegiances you only have to note that he calls Eli Lake “my good friend.” Eli Lake is an intellectual/political fake. A total shill for Israel and its military-intelligence apparatus. Anyone, whether progressive or otherwise who admires this dude is a dud.
This article appeared at Tikun Olam