One American history student recently wrote me that, following a link from the Web log Little Green Footballs, he noticed my “name on a list of ‘known Jews.’ Does it disturb or frighten you to be bluntly characterized as a ‘Zionist American Jew,’” he asked, “or do you take a degree of pride in your apparent notoriety among Palestinian activists?”
Clicking onto the Web log I discovered a site in high dudgeon. Over 280 people had responded to the news that “Students at University College Cork in Ireland have put together a list of well-known authors and speakers who are Jews.” Calling it a “shameful database,” Little Green Footballs quoted one reader who pronounced it the “Internet version of the Nazi yellow star.”
A few clicks later, I found the “Cork Palestine Solidarity Campaign” Web site listing 149 American Jews, from Elliot Abrams to Mortimer Zuckerman. Most names were designated “American Jew”; 23 were “anti-Zionist American Jew”; 18 of us, including, Abrams, Zuckerman, Wolf Blitzer, Arthur Hertzberg, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, were labeled “Zionist American Jew.” A few merited their own categories, including the “Hardline Zionist Israeli American Jew” Martin Kramer, the “Moderate Zionist American Jew” Michael Lerner and the “neo-con American Jew” Martin Peretz.
I first thought of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” rather than a virtual “yellow star.” I remembered Lesley Stahl reporting in her memoir about CBS News that correspondent Daniel Schorr “loved” being on Nixon’s list — it “was a badge of honor.” Yet along with my perverse pride came a slight tremor of dread. “Is this hate list a hit list?”, I wondered. If Palestinians gain glory from targeting pizzerias and murdering infants, what would stop them from targeting an academic, however obscure I might be?
The more I perused the list, the more confused I became. The list had dead Jews and live Jews, including the banker Felix Warburg and the screenwriter Ben Hecht. I realized this was a vast database listing articles related to “Palestinian Solidarity,” with pungent commentary on pro-Zionist pieces. There were also lists of Palestinians, Europeans, Israeli Jews — some deemed Zionist, others not — categorized by subject as well as by nationality and political orientation. All this was an effort to fight the media bias these activists perceived — in favor of Israel.
As an educator, I wanted to pronounce the site benign. “Our side” has Jewish Agency databases detailing the history of Zionism, and Daniel Pipes’s “Campus Watch” database monitoring classroom bias. How can I begrudge Palestinian activists their research project?
Yet that reaction, too, was not satisfying. There was something about the tone and wording, the use of “Zionist” as a pejorative, that was menacing. Being outed on this Web site as a “Zionist American Jew” lacked the warmth and lyricism of my proudly proclaiming “I am a Zionist.” Part of it had to do with the list’s ugly reductionism — boiling people down to their national origins and then branding them “kosher” or “unkosher,” as it were. There was something a bit too European about the need to identify reporters such as CBS’s Bob Simon and NPR’s Terry Gross as “American Jew,” Wolf Blitzer as “Zionist American Jew” when the relevance was unclear.
Moreover, after Daniel Pearl’s captors beheaded him because they deemed him a “ZAJ” rather than an “AJ” or simply an American, such labels promulgated in Europe by Palestinian supporters spring from poisoned sources. In an immoral universe where being a Zionist is a capital crime, being identified as such becomes a death threat.
The Web site rests on a seedbed of hate, broadcasting hostility to the Jewish state, hijacking symbols to make Jaffa Oranges manifestations of “apartheid” policies to be boycotted, rather than fruits of a people’s renewal. In the 1970s, pro-Palestinian European hijackers selected Jews from non-Jews at Entebbe. Today, Palestinians and their European supporters often target Jews indiscriminately, with aggressive rhetoric feeding vicious violence. Addicted to their status as victims, allergic to taking responsibility for their actions’ implications, too many pro-Palestinians will ignore the fact that such lists fester in a context of glorified thuggery.
The cult of the suicide bomber, the way the virus of violence infects support for the Palestinian cause, can make a supposedly academic Web site seem menacing, not only to “paranoid” Jews, but to the hundreds of outraged non-Jews on the Little Green Footballs Web log, and to my concerned student. When the Web site’s section of “Palestinian Protest Chants” exhorts people: “We don’t care what you say, Intifada all the way!” and when that Intifada has murdered 900 innocents, doubting their intentions makes sense.
My student asked me if I was scared or proud. I am both — as well as sad and angry. I resent the bloody intifada the Palestinians have unleashed against Israelis, and I resent the worldwide intellectual and ideological intifada fostering that violence which is scarring my home turf, the university. I hate the polarizing effect on discourse about the Middle East, the emotion that squelches candid analysis on both sides. And I despise the whiff of menace hovering about the intellectual intifada-ists, given the constant rhetorical attacks against “Americans and Jews” and the global reach terrorists and antisemites have demonstrated.
So, I will wear my listing as a ZAJ with pride. And I will urge leaders who are merely listed as “American Jews” to support Israel more passionately to get bumped up into my more exclusive category. But when I next move, I am sorry to say, my home phone number will be unlisted.
Gil Troy is the author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today” (Bronfman Jewish Education Centre).
Gil Troy is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book, The Zionist Ideas, which updates Arthur Hertzberg’s classic work, will be published by The Jewish Publication Society in Spring 2018. He is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University. Follow on Twitter @GilTroy