Increasingly anxious that most of us have no intention of going to Israel to boost Jewish numbers, the Israel-based Jewish Agency — apparently oblivious to irony of its own actions — has complained to Germany over official policies that make life there so attractive to Jewish immigrants from former Soviet territories, thus discouraging them from going to Israel. More immediately threatening to the Zionist establishment, however, is another reality: Many Jews are beginning to make once unthinkable criticisms of Israel’s behavior. If you want to bludgeon Jewish critics with the charge of “anti-Semitism” when they challenge Israel’s actions, then it’s hardly helpful to have other Jews standing up and expressing the same thoughts. It undermines the sense, treasured by Israel’s most fervent advocates, that they represent a cast-iron consensus among American Jews in particular.
That much has been clear in the response to the publication of John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt’s controversial new book The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which challenges the wisdom and morality of the unashamed and absolute bias in U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. In an exchange on the NPR show Fresh Air, Walt was at pains to stress, as in his book, that the Israel Lobby, as he sees it, is not a Jewish lobby, but rather an association of groupings with a right-wing political agenda often at odds with majority American-Jewish opinion,
Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, argued exactly the opposite: Walt and Mearsheimer, he claimed, were effectively promoting anti-Semitism, because the Israel lobby is nothing more (or less) than the collective will of the American Jewish community. Which, of course, it isn’t. In fact, in the American Jewish community you can increasingly hear open echoes of Mearsheimer and Walt’s skepticism over whether the lobby’s efforts are good for Israel.
But Foxman’s case is undercut by something far broader — an emerging Jewish glasnost. Of course, like any break with a long-established nationalist consensus, the burgeoning of dissent has provoked a backlash. Norman Finkelstein — the noted Holocaust scholar and fierce critic of Zionism recently hounded out of De Paul University in a campaign of vilification based precisely on the idea that fierce criticism of Israel is the equivalent of “hate speech” — could be forgiven for being skeptical of the idea that the grip of the ultranationalists is weakening.