Twenty years ago at a park in Beverly Hills, actor Richard Dreyfuss, feminist Betty Friedan and Yael Dayan, the daughter of the late Israeli leader Moshe Dayan, stood before a crowd of some 300 people and called for a two-state solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.
Many in the crowd booed and hissed the speakers. Eventually they shouted Dreyfuss down. He had to be escorted offstage, past Jews who spat at him and called him names.
I know, because, as the local head of Americans for Peace Now back then, I organized the rally. I helped form a human ring around Dreyfuss as he raced for the safety of his car.
And I was there when a screaming protestor broke through our linked arms, called Dreyfuss a traitor, then said, “Hey, Richard, you think I could get your autograph?”
To follow the controversy over members of the Jewish mainstream accusing Jewish liberals of fomenting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred by criticizing the Jewish state is to relive that afternoon in Roxbury Park, and all its attendant stupidity.
Back then, at the height of the first intifada, the Jewish establishment charged that Jews who spoke out publicly against the “Iron Fist” policies of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin were aiding the enemies of Israel. If Friedan or any other Jew wasn’t going to serve in the Israeli army, the argument went, they had no right to criticize Israel. At a time when American support for Israel was crucial, for Jews to break ranks from the party line could only give Israel’s foes in Congress fuel for dissent.
But those Jews would not be silent. Their ranks grew. Eventually their far-left ideas – for a two-state solution and negotiations with the Palestinians – became Israeli government policy; Rabin was shot dead at a rally in Tel Aviv, organized by Peace Now.
The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters might just be on to something.
I have no idea whether the vision of today’s leftist outliers like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner will become tomorrow’s reality. I’m not going to defend them, because those men, criticized harshly in a report by Alvin H. Rosenfeld funded by the American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee), are more than capable of defending their own views.
But I will defend the importance of Jewish self-criticism.