It’s hard to fathom what could have possessed the leaders of the American Jewish Committee to publish the screed posted on their Web site this week, “’Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University. From its sensationalist title to its tired invocation of the Holocaust in the opening paragraph to its closing words about the “drift of ‘progressive’ Jewish thought,” the slim essay is a shocking tissue of slander.
The essay’s contents, mostly a recitation of anti-Israel sentiments voiced at various times by a handful of left-wing and liberal intellectuals — some quoted correctly, others twisted beyond recognition — teach us little that we didn’t know about the current state of thought among progressives, Jewish or not. But that is not its intent. It is deliberately silent about Jewish progressives who support Israel, defend it against detractors, lobby for it in Washington — and lead its troops into battle. When such liberals are mentioned, as in the case of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, it is only to defame them by lumping them with the extremists. Explaining nuance would muddy the essay’s apparent intent, which is to turn Jews against liberalism and silence critics.
No, this booklet teaches nothing worth learning about antisemitism or progressive thought. On the other hand, the fact that it was commissioned and published by an organization that once stood for dignity and civility in Jewish communal discourse speaks volumes about the state of Jewish leadership today.