Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 1

I’ve put up several videos recently criticising Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and examining the growing disconnection – ‘distancing’, in the jargon of the sociologists who’ve studied it – of young American Jews with Israel. The speakers in these videos have included the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and the American historians and activists Norman Finkelstein and Elizabeth Baltzer, both of whom are descended from Holocaust survivors. As I’ve made clear in previous posts, I’ve been prompted to do this because of the smears against leading members of the Labour party – Ken Livingstone, Naz Shah and Jackie Walker, amongst others, of anti-Semitism. Those accused are not to my knowledge anti-Semites. The above three certainly aren’t. Leninspart in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, states quite clearly that all forms of racism, whether against Blacks, Jews or the Irish, is the worst form of reaction, and needs to be opposed. Naz Shah has the support of her local synagogue, which would be highly unusual if she were a Nazi. And the accusation is both risible and disgusting in the case of Jackie Walker. Walker’s mother was a Black woman, who was thrown out of America because of her participation in the civil rights movement. Her father was a Russian Jew, and her partner is also Jewish. These people haven’t been accused of anti-Semitism because they are Jew-haters. They’ve been accused of anti-Semitism simply because they’ve criticised Israel for its persecution of the Palestinians. Walker was accused because she compared Black slavery to the Holocaust in a conversation with two friends, one of whom was also Jewish, on Facebook. This comment was lifted and turned against her by a pro-Israel group.

One of the things than comes out very clearly from this talk by Prof Finkelstein is that in America such accusations are wearing very thin. They don’t impress large numbers of American Jews, who can see through all the BS when it’s applied to genuinely liberal, decent politicians. An example of this is Jimmy Carter. Carter was accused of being an anti-Semite because he wrote a book about Israel with ‘Apartheid’ in the title. So the leading members of the Israel lobby, like Alan Dershowitz, began to smear him in the vilest terms imaginable. He was an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, and a supporter of terrorism. It was the kind of invective Stalin’s prosecutor, Vyshinsky, used against the victims of the purges during the show trials. Carter, who organised the Camp David peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt in the 1970s, then decided to take the battle to the Neo-Cons. He arranged a debate with Dershowitz at Brandeis University, the largest secular Jewish university in the US. Carter described it as ‘going into the lion’s den’. Even before he opened his mouth to speak, he received 3 or 4 standing ovations from the students. When it came to Dershowitz to talk, 2/3 of the students left the lecture hall before Israel’s most vocal defender in the US had even uttered a word.

And there’s more, much more. American Jews are, by and large, very liberal. American liberalism – the rule of law, the separation between church and state and so on, has allowed American Jews to prosper. As a result, the political affiliation of American Jews is almost the complete mirror image of that of Israelis. The majority of Israelis are now right-wing in the political leanings. American Jews are largely left. They also want a two-state solution to the problem of Palestine. And they are also largely opposed to the Iraq invasion. Finkelstein makes the point that American Jews were largely uninterested or opposed to the foundation of Israel, because they were afraid that it would lead to the accusation that they were more loyal to the new Jewish state than they were to their homeland of America. They seem fear of being seen as somehow treacherous, as less than patriotic, as well as other, liberal feelings and attitudes, has led them to reject both George Bush and the war in Iraq. The Israelis by and large love George Dubya. American Jews generally despise the Smirking Chimp. And 70 per cent of American Jews are opposed to the war in Iraq. This is partly out of a desire not to be seen as its authors, as the war was planned by the Republicans in America, and Israel’s Likud party.

Finkelstein also states that Americans, including American Jews, are becoming increasingly less impressed with evocations of the Holocaust. It’s been overused so much that it’s actually lost its proper emotional impact. Finkelstein discussed how rhetoric about the Holocaust was used by Netanyahu and the Israeli government to drum up support for a war with Iran over the country’s nuclear weapon’s development programme. Netanyahu repeatedly described Ahmedinijad as Hitler, and said that if the Iranians developed these weapons, it would lead to a new Holocaust in the Middle East with the destruction of Israel. Those trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Iranians were denounced as appeasers, and compared to Neville Chamberlain at Munich. And the attitude of American Jews to this was marked indifference. In a survey of Jewish Americans under 35, it was found that fifty per cent said it would not affect them if Israel was destroyed. Finkelstein himself says he is somewhat dismayed by this figure, as the destruction of any country or culture saddens him. And American Jews tend to share the rest of the world’s fears, as expressed in opinion polls, that Israel is the real threat to world peace.

Finkelstein begins his talk by discussing how American Jews were extremely uninterested in Israel in the period from 1948 – it’s foundation – to the 1967 War. He states that this was a period in which the barriers to Jewish advancement in America suddenly came down. Many institutions before 1948 would not employ Jewish scholars. He quotes Noam Chomsky as saying that the reason why MIT became such a centre of scientific excellence over Harvard, was because Harvard would not take Jewish scientists and mathematicians. So they all trooped down the road to take up positions there. As the barrier fells, Jews became far more involved in making successful lives, and living the America dream.

As a result of this, they had extremely little interest in Israel. Finkelstein quotes the great American sociologist, Glazer, whose 1957 study of the attitude of American Jews and Jewish life found that the impact of Israel on American Jewry was remarkable slight. He also discusses a survey of 30 leading American Jewish intellectuals at an academic symposium, who were asked about the situation of American Jews. Only three of them even mentioned Israel, and of those three, two only did so in order to dismiss it as of any importance. He also quotes an interview in Israel with the celebrated author, Elie Wiesel. At the time there was a fear that Jews were becoming too assimilated, and Wiesel was asked how Jews could be made to reconnect with their Jewishness. Wiesel talked about the Holocaust and the situation of the Jews in Russia. But he did not see Israel as having any use in this process.

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One Response to “Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 1”

  1. 61chrissterry Says:

    Reblogged this on 61chrissterry.

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