Caroline Glick / Wikimedia Commons
From the New Jersey Jewish News comes word that the campus Hillel at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, recently sponsored an appearance by a militant one-stater. The program was co-sponsored by, among others, two nearby Jewish federations including the state’s largest, the Jewish Federation of MetroWest (through its Jewish community relations committee).
You might think there’s a scandal brewing. But not likely. The one-stater in question is the fiery right-wing Israeli columnist Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post. Glick’s new book “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East” calls for Israeli annexation of the West Bank, a position she’s advocated for years. She’s vehemently opposed to the two-state solution. Her March 11 talk was also cosponsored by the equally one-statist Zionist Organization of America. It was “supported” by the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, where Rutgers is located.
Whether Glick’s Rutgers appearance violates the much-discussed national Hillel guidelines governing campus programming is probably a matter of interpretation. Contrary to popular belief, the guidelines don’t actually say anything about potential speakers supporting a two-state solution. They say that Hillel “will not partner with, house, or host” organizations or speakers that “Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.” Unlike, say, AIPAC, which “strongly supports a two-state solution,” Hillel has no opinion on the matter.
Some people might argue that annexing the West Bank would result in an Israel that is either not Jewish or not democratic, but Glick and most of her fellow Zionist one-staters don’t agree. Most tend to dismiss the demographic projections that show Jews becoming a minority. Others come up with theoretical Israeli constitutional arrangements that somehow add up to a state that’s Jewish in character and still democratic. Their claims might not seem plausible, but there’s nothing in the guidelines about plausibility.
Where Glick and others like her might run afoul of the guidelines is in a separate clause that bars speakers who “foster an atmosphere of incivility.” The guidelines don’t define “incivility,” so we’re left again with a matter of interpretation. But Glick devotes a huge proportion of her writing to tearing down those who disagree with her and branding them as enemies of Israel and the Jewish people. I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but it seems as though she spends more time attacking Jews she disagrees with—along with allies of Israel, beginning with President Obama and his secretary of state—than advancing her own ideas.
Her range of targets is remarkably broad. The former heads of the Israeli security establishment who persuaded the security cabinet not to bomb Iran in 2010 — Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — were guilty of “arguably treasonous” acts. IDF chief of central command Nitzan Alon, who told reporters that violence would escalate in the absence of peace talks, and Israeli attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, who enforces Supreme Court rulings on illegal settlement construction, are a pair of “radicals” and “post-Zionists” guilty of “subversive behavior”—just “like their comrades on the Supreme Court and in the media.”
Frequently, her targets aren’t merely guilty of bad behavior or even bad judgment, but of seeking to harm Israel. Thus, J Street’s “aim is to delegitimize the organized American Jewish community’s right to defend Israel.” The New Israel Fund finances liberal Israeli NGOs in order to “advance the aim of transforming the State of Israel from a Jewish, democratic state into a bi-national state.” Peace Now “has joined the boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign.”
And, of course, President Obama embraced negotiations with Iran not as a way to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but “to give himself political cover [in order] to open the door to Iran acquiring nuclear bombs. Obama doesn’t want to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. He wants to insulate himself from criticism when it gets the bomb.”
Her writing is a textbook lesson in the difference between robust debate and mud-slinging. Rather than grant that her opponents might have benign goals but mistaken ways of reaching them, she assumes that the dire outcomes she foresees coming from their prescriptions are obvious to them as well—and that they advocate them precisely in order to bring about disaster. That’s about as useful a definition of “incivility” as I can think of.
She seems to realize it, too.
In one unintentionally comical column from 2012, she slammed the Obama reelection campaign for tweeting a link to a Maureen Dowd column in which Dowd charged that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were getting their foreign policy tips from “neocon” Dan Senor (which, in fact, they were). Glick then noted that New York Times columnist David Brooks had once called “neocon” a “popular code for Jewish.” Then, presuming that this was as obvious to the Obama team as it was to her, she concluded that the Obama campaign harbored a “willingness to direct the public to anti-Semitic screeds against his political opponents.” If A = B and C = D, then A = Z. Got it?
But it gets better. That “willingness” to use “anti-Semitic screeds,” Glick concluded, is part of the “administration’s general strategy” for defending its policies, which
involves responding to criticism not with substantive defense of his policies, but with ad hominem attacks against his critics.
(Sound like anyone we know?)
What’s the point of all this? To prove that Caroline Glick doesn’t play nice? As a matter of fact, her style of journalism isn’t all that different from the kind you’ll find every day in Haaretz, Fox News, MSNBC and the Washington Post. It’s the way journalism is practiced these days. And politics, for that matter, if you follow what goes on in the Knesset and the House of Representatives. Not to mention the Netanyahu cabinet.
It would be lovely if we could convince everyone to debate one another in a civil manner. But how? What does that really mean? The New York Jewish Community Relations Council recently came out with a call for civility in Jewish communal discourse on Israel that frames the issue with a rare wisdom. In addition to the usual stuff — “respectful speaking and listening,” seeing fellow Jews as “part of … the family of Israel” — it adds the element, critical and too often forgotten, of striving to “be curious about our differences.” That is, to try and understand how the other person sees things, rather than assuming that they see what you see and perversely choose to cause damage.
They’re playing with fire, of course. If they really followed their own advice, they might find themselves talking to Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions types who turn out to be acting out of their own love of Israel. And then what?
Alas, these fine ideas generally fall by the wayside the moment we believe our most cherished values are at risk. Once we decide that the other side might succeed in achieving their goals—and presumably bring about the dire outcome that we foresee from their choices—then civility goes out the window. It’s life and death, and all’s fair.
Hillel has itself in a pickle right now, trying to present itself as a forum for open Jewish discussion while putting up barriers to the wrong kinds of Jewish discussion. At the moment they’re doing themselves enormous damage by trying to enforce speech restrictions. If they go the other route and throw the doors wide open, they might find themselves with more admirers on campus but fewer big donors. Nobler souls have tried of late to square the circle, preserve both honest inquiry and fiscal stability, and found themselves beaten bloody.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).