February 9, 2007
Attack on AJCommittee Essay Was Over the Top
A February 2 editorial on a new essay by Alvin Rosenfeld published by the American Jewish Committee was way over the top (“Infamy”).
By employing such malicious language as “screed,” “sensationalist title” and “shocking tissue of slander,” by ascribing false motives for the essay’s publication, by decrying reference to the Holocaust and by calling into question “the state of Jewish leadership today,” the Forward does a disservice to its readers and to its own high standards of Jewish journalism.
Rosenfeld is an internationally recognized scholar. His work deserves to be addressed on its own merits rather than simply subjecting it to a litany of verbal assaults.
What are the central questions? He cites two in his introduction: “What, if anything, is new about the ‘new’ antisemitism? In what ways might Jews themselves, especially so-called ‘progressive’ Jews, be contributing to the intellectual and political climate that helps to foster such hostility, especially in its anti-Zionist forms?”
These may be uncomfortable issues for some, but that cannot diminish the importance of asking them at a time when Israel’s very legitimacy is once again under challenge in many quarters. Let’s be clear. Rosenfeld is not talking about those who criticize Israeli policy, even harshly. Rather, he focuses on those who would deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state — which is the case with those he cites, except for Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen — and those who lose no opportunity to portray the state in demonic terms.
Take, for instance, Jacqueline Rose. Her book, “The Question of Zion,” published by Princeton University Press — and dedicated “to the memory of Edward Said” — asserts about Israel that “the soul of the nation was forfeit from the day of its creation.”
In sum, this is a face-off between mainstream and extremist thinking on Israel, not between liberals and conservatives.
American Jewish Committee
New York, N.Y.
Throughout his essay, Alvin Rosenfeld seeks to make the label “progressive” a derogatory term, just as three decades ago neoconservatives made “liberal” a derogatory term. Yet today, isn’t it obvious that if there is any subset of Jews that has caused an increase in antisemitism in the United States, it is the neocons who served in the Bush administration and who, rightly or wrongly, are regarded by countless Americans as largely responsible for dragging America into an unwinnable war in Iraq?
It’s one thing to write an essay strongly condemning Jewish antisemites. There have always been some of these types, and they deserve all the condemnation they get.
It’s quite another thing to suggest that they are “progressives,” a label that most American Jews use to describe one’s liberal views on social justice, poverty, civil rights and liberties, separation of powers, and separation of religion and government issues.
Those same progressive Jews comprise the great bulk of American Jewish supporters of Israel. It is to them that the American Jewish Committee and Rosenfeld owe an apology.
The writer is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Mission of Campus Coalition Is Advocacy
The Zionist Organization of America’s position on the Union of Progressive Zionists, a group that is sponsoring the Breaking the Silence program on college campuses, has been consistent: Although the union has the general right to promote this hateful program that unfairly attacks Israel and the Israeli military, it doesn’t have that right as a member of the pro-Israel umbrella called the Israel on Campus Coalition, since the program violates the coalition’s mission (“Drawing Red Lines,” December 29). Only if the UPZ insists on continuing to sponsor this program should its Israel on Campus Coalition membership be terminated.
The coalition mission statement calls on member groups to “foster support for Israel on campus,” promote “Israel advocacy” and “counter the worrisome rise of anti-Israel activities on college campuses.” The UPZ’s program does exactly the opposite.
The ZOA’s campus professionals and leaders have attended meetings of this program and witnessed firsthand the condemnation of Israel that lacked fact and context, including calls for Israel to be brought before the international court at The Hague and charged with crimes against Palestinians.
The American Jewish Congress echoed the ZOA’s concerns, noting in a letter to the ICC that the UPZ-sponsored program “contradicts [the coalition’s] mission statement and… does great harm to the cause of Israel.” Instead of speaking the truth, the program “brings one-sided condemnation of Israel, ignores the larger context of terrorism and… adds to the serious problem of anti-Israel prejudice on campuses.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has also raised concerns about the UPZ’s program. The Jewish National Fund expressed “deep concern and disappointment” about the union’s program, stating that “the UPZ used poor judgment… and stained the reputation of all of our Jewish organizational partners.”
Many Jewish groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, have as part of their own mission an agenda to fight incitement against Israel. Why, then, are they permitting this incitement to go unchallenged, and why are they legitimizing it, by permitting the sponsor of this program to remain a part of the ICC?
These groups’ response is particularly troubling given that major university presidents from Harvard to Berkeley, and even the United States Commission on Civil Rights, have recognized that anti-Israel sentiment on American campuses is a serious problem. The UPZ-sponsored program only adds gasoline to the fire. These demonizing attacks against Israel by Jews are given more credibility than demonizing attacks against Israel by Arabs, and therefore are more dangerous.
Director of Campus Activities
Director, Center for Law & Justice
Zionist Organization of America
New York, N.Y.