Murray Polner: We Aren’t One: American Jewish Voices for Peace





[Mr. Polner was the editor of Present Tense, published by the American Jewish Committee from 1973–90. He wrote Rabbi: The American Experience; co-edited (with Stefan Merken) Peace Justice Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition, as well as No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran and, with Jim O’Grady, Disarmed & Dangerous, a biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. He is an HNN Book Department editor.]

Back in the 1980s the major American Jewish welfare organization adopted as its fundraising slogan "We are One." The implication was that American Jews were a united bloc. But we are not "one" and never have been. Ideologically, we are everything from anarchists to Zionists, working people to the gilded rich. Noam Chomsky is as Jewish as Irving Kristol, and Norman Finkelstein as Jewish as Alan Dershowitz. We are neither angels nor saints. And we are certainly not monolithic, despite perennial efforts to paint anyone critical of various aspects of Israeli policies as "self-hating" Jews.

The truth is that the overwhelming number of America’s estimated 6 million Jews is opposed to the Cheney-Bush-neocon regime as their voting patterns have shown time and again. In 2000 and 2004 the overwhelming majority of us voted for Gore and Kerry. In the 2006 congressional elections 80% of the Jewish vote went Democratic. And repeated surveys of Jewish college students show them to be overwhelmingly liberal to moderate. Tikkun Olam or "saving the world" remains our true heritage and legacy.

In a new book I recently edited with Stefan Merken (Peace, Justice, & Jews: Reclaiming Our Tradition),we differed with those Jewish organizations that are silent – about Israel and the Palestinians, about Iraq, about Iran. The overwhelming majority of American Jews has supported a negotiated "land for peace" settlement between Israel and Palestinians and has no interest in pursuing this or any Administration’s fantasies of perpetual war.

Indeed, one of the shrewdest American Jewish commentators, M. J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, has rightly written: "There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons’ 18th birthdays for another generation."

American Jewish peace voices do not genuflect before the Israel Lobby. See, for example, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom – the Jewish Peace Alliance for Justice and Peace – which is said to have more than 15,000 members, the Jewish Voice for Peace, and Meretz USA an affiliate of Israel’s Meretz bloc; Americans for Peace Now, which reportedly has 25,000 members, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, and the Shalom Center. Prolific writers abound too: Rabbis Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine and Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Congress when it was still liberal and now President of the U.S./ Middle East Project, Michael Massing at the New York Review of Books, Tony Karon, Philip Weiss, Norman Birnbaum, and many more who will never be silent.

Unlike Israel, where free speech and public debate thus far remains sacred, a number of so-called major American Jewish organizations (many of whom have few if any paid members) have sought mightily to stifle critics. The publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s book (The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy), flaws and insights all, has been treated as the second coming of pogromists and saber-wielding Cossacks.

Tony Judt, the distinguished New York University historian and critic, was prevented from speaking at the Polish Consulate in New York City because of ADL’s pressure. Judt, who is Jewish, was scheduled to speak about "The Israel Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy." A protest, with more than one hundred signatories, many of them Jewish, soon appeared (The Case of Tony Judt: An Open Letter to the ADL, New York Review of Books, November 16, 2006), denouncing the "climate of intimidation." This suppression of alternative views, this scotching of debate, this silencing of differing views, is nothing less than a sign of frightened men and women creating a new blacklist.

Jimmy Carter, who accomplished more for Middle Eastern peace than any other president, was bitterly denounced earlier this year for daring to use the word "Apartheid" in describing Israel’s domination of Palestinians, a word often heard and read in Israeli newspapers. (See his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid).) Israel may or may not practice South African-style "apartheid" – as some leftists insist – but when he spoke at Brandeis University after the true believers had publicly excoriated him, most of the students at the meeting (which was aired on C-Span) stood and applauded. (The squelching of debate isn’t limited to the U.S. Danny Rubinstein, a veteran Israeli journalist for the Israeli daily Ha’aretz was invited and then disinvited by the British Zionist Federation because he, like other Israelis, had dared to use the forbidden word). Two Catholic colleges also caved in to pressure. St. Thomas College in Minneapolis (barring Bishop Tutu, it was forced to back down in the face of protests) and De Paul University in Chicago, which denied tenure to critic Norman Finkelstein after the faculty had overwhelmingly supported him.

Jewish neoconservatives on the other hand (and there are lots of non-Jewish neocons as well) get a free ride. Yet they do not speak as Jews and they certainly don’t represent the rest of us. But because so many of them are Jewish, the rest of us are often held responsible for their epic blunders. Indeed, some of the guilt-by-association allegations against all Jews are nothing less than classic anti-Semitism.

Neocons are in reality very well paid home front warriors and publicists for the new American Empire. Callow ideologues, they played a crucial role in getting the U.S. into Iraq and are now desperate to take on Iran but from afar (please don’t count on they or their close family members ever ending up in combat units in Iran). Some are probably motivated by right-wing Israeli sympathies; most, however, are drawn to rigid Manichean geopolitical doctrines of preemptive war. Now they are clinging as "national security" advisors to the bellicose Rudolph Giuliani, once again hoping for another "cakewalk" against Iran.

The truth, though, is that the primary responsibility for the massive bloodletting in the Middle East rests with the President, Vice-President, Donald Rumsfeld, their Congressional sycophants, a mass media that serves as a willing transmission belt, and the mighty oil, munitions and yes, Israel Lobby, which also includes Christian fundamentalists and Christian Zionists, desperate to welcome Armageddon.

Let me be very clear. NoAmerican Jewish peace voice or group questions the right of Israel to exist as an independent sovereign state. Nor, I hope, should any non-Jewish critic though Israel is no more immune to criticism than any other country. And not to be overlooked is that within Israel many courageous and principled Jewish critics of any number of Israeli policies are active, among them the feminist center for peace and justice Batshaolm; the leftist peace bloc opposed to the occupation of the West Bank Gush-Shalom; the anti-militarist New Profile; Meretz; Peacewatch; the Israeli dailyHaaretz,B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Yesh Gvul, an organization supporting Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories, Shalom Achschav/Peace Now, which favors Palestinian self-determination, the Israel-Palestine Center for Research & Information, a joint organization working for a "two-state, two-people" resolution and many more.

The same thing is happening among more and more American Jews right now.



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list