Category Archives: Palestinians

THE THREE POSTULATES OF PROGRESSIVE AMERICAN JUDAISM

The Three Postulates of Progressive American Judaism

Postulate:  something taken as self-evident or assumed without proof.

“Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse,” according to the 2013 Pew survey of American Jews. We live in an unprecedented environment of assimilation — Hellenization — of which political Progressive American Judaism is an important concomitant.  Perhaps a quarter of American Jews seem to embrace it to one extent or another.

Some preliminary definitions and disclaimers. 1)  When I say Progressives, I mean self-styled political Progressives.  2)  Not all Progressives conform in all particulars to my descriptions here.  I use the organization JStreet as an exemplar, and my descriptions relate most particularly to this group and to the individuals associated with it.  3) With this focus in mind, the folks I discuss are not exactly foes of israel — certainly not in their own mind — but neither are they exactly friends.  So while on one side they differ from radical enemies of Israel like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler (a small minority), they are also distinct from anyone, whether sometimes critical of Israel or not, who accepts and supports the idea of Israel as a Jewish state (the majority of American Jews).   So, to repeat, I speak of all those who see JStreet as, more or less, an expression of their own views.

A.  The Postulate of Israeli Guilt.

Mr. Peter Beinart, perhaps the most prominent writer associated with JStreet, opens his 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism with an anecdote that he has gleaned from a video.  It seems that an Arab was arrested for stealing water from a Jewish settlement;  the scene was captured on the video.  From this scene, but without any further investigation whatever, Beinart concludes that a grave injustice was done to the Palestinian.  Moreover, Beinart vows, as a result of the lesson that he has learned from the video, he will instruct his children “that unless American Jews help end the occupation that desecrates Israel’s founding ideals, this is what Zionism will become, a movement that fails the test of Jewish power.”

Absent an investigation of the circumstances that lead to the arrest of the Arab man, how does Mr. Beinart know that a grave injustice was done ?  Of course he does not, as Bret Stephens has pointed out in a trenchant review of the book. But even as a religious zealot never questions the postulates of his faith, it does not occur to Mr. Beinart to question the postulate of Israeli guilt.

Note here that the occupation, seen as undesirable by the Israeli government and the majority of the Jewish population of Israel, is presented here by Mr. Beinart as an Israeli crime.  Never mind that Israel has repeatedly, for instance through a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, tried to extricate itself from the burden of the occupation.  Except by those who accept the postulate of Israeli guilt, it is difficult to exculpate the Palestinian elites from responsibility for the stalemate on this question.

After the March re-election of Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel, Mr. Beinart suggested that the U.S. government should “punish — yes, punish — the Israeli government” for holding to its own policies.  One can discuss with people with whom one disagrees, but whom does one “punish,” as Mr. Beinart suggests ? Obviously those who are guilty.

The postulate of Israeli guilt has infected all statements on Israel by these Progressives.  I have seen it, for example, in statements by Progressive rabbis in response to the current intifada in Israel.  Following the lead of JStreet, these Progressives hold that the knifings, shootings, and other murders of Jews, by Palestinian Arabs, are as much the fault of the Israelis as of the Arabs. Go figure.

  Partners for Progressive Israel  (PPI) has gone further:  it suggests that the current violence is actually (mostly) Israel’s fault.  PPI is a small group of self-styled Progressive Jews who support the Meretz party in Israel. PPI’s membership overlaps largely with that of JStreet.

What are we to make of this postulate of Israeli guilt ?  Where does it come from ?  Similar to the question of anti-Semitism, to which it is related, it must remain a mystery to those who insist on seeing man as a rational actor.  And no, our Progressives are not rational.  This irrationality again comes into play when we consider the second of our postulates:

B.  The Postulate of an Immoral Right Wing

Here is a précis of some of the Basic Principles by which the Progressive Judaism of our time likes to define itself:  1)  We support the core democratic values among which there is the principle  of government by the people, as opposed to, for instance, government by an elite.  2) The world can be divided into the Left (good) and the Right Wing (bad).  3)  The Right Wing is, well, not Progressive.  It is, in fact, regressive.  It represent the interests of the billionaires (shades of Bernie Sanders !) and other bad actors.  4) The Israeli government is Right Wing and therefore reprehensible.

Now how do we know that the Israeli government is Right Wing ?  Neither Netanyahu nor the members of his coalition use the term to refer to themselves.  In fact, in the contexts in which our Progressives use the term, Right Wing is no more than an epithet, a term of abuse.  I have blogged on this topic before, here and here. It is of course true that in other contexts, more neutral observers, particularly the media, will refer to the Likud and allied parties as “right wing”  without an implication of moral judgement. But be that as it may, The Progressives’ syllogism — Right Wing is bad;  Likud is Right Wing; hence Likud is bad —  is seriously compromised  when tested by empirical data.

If, as Progressive doctrine holds, the Right represents the interests of privilege while the Left represents the interests of oppressed masses, it should follow, in accordance with the democratic principle that people must be trusted to know their own interests, that the less privileged in society will vote Left, more privileged Right.  But generally speaking, just about all over the world with some exceptions, the very opposite holds true.  Here is a representative study of Israeli voters in the 2003 elections, conducted by Michael Shalev and Gal Levy.  (The full study is available here.)

table

The most relevant line for our purpose here is the last, which gives the social-economic status of the average voter of the different political parties.  The authors report what they call standard scores, which are more commonly called z-scores, and which I will translate into the more common percentile scores.  So we learn that the average Shas  (“right-wing”) voter is in the 21st  percentile of the population;  the average Likudnik (also “right-wing”) in the 41st, the average Labor voter (moderate Left) in the 56th, and the average Meretz voter (Left, strongly approved by the American-Jewish Progressive PPI) is in the 72nd.  (The numbers for the centrist Shinui are 61,  69 for Russian olim.)  In other words, the electorate of the current governing parties come from the distinctly less advantaged while the splinter Meretz group, so beloved by American Progressive Judaism, attracts the over-privileged.

Of course our Progressives can reply, as Marxists sometimes do, that the poor, the downtrodden, the toiling masses do not know what is good for them.  Only we, the enlightened elite, we have the knowledge and the wisdom and the virtue.  Progressives can say that, but only at the expense of repudiating their profession of belief in democratic self-government.  You can’t have it both ways.

C.  The Postulate of Palestinian Innocence

One of the most striking experiences in reading Mr. Beinart and his comrades is their innocence — in the culpable meaning of that term — of any appreciation for the cultural context of the current Israeli-Arab conflict.  The hell that is today’s Syria, the millions of refugees from Muslim countries, the unspeakable violence, internal and exported, of radical Islamism, none of this finds its way into the Progressive media.  So the question that arises for non-Progressives — if Israel is the cause of violence by Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories, who is responsible for the even greater violence by Arabs and Islamists  in the rest of the world ? — never seems to faze our Progressives.

The major cultural factors of Palestinian society that impinge on the Israeli conflict may be summarized under four headings:

1) There is  an Islamic culture of violence.  A very recent, very thorough, very informative review of Palestinian opinion data by Daniel Polisar shows the deep-rooted nature of the problem.  The companion piece by Amir Taheri adds an important historical perspective.

2) There is a pervasive, quasi-unanimous hatred of Jews among the Palestinian masses, documented in the Polisar study.

3)  There is  a constant incitement to violence on the part of the Palestinian elites, documented by an ongoing basis by MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch.

4) The Palestinian school system, in particular, educates the young to hate the Jews, to reject Israel, and to embrace violence.  This too is documented by MEMRI and PMW.

All these cultural factors in Palestinian society are notorious to all — to all, that is, save our Progressives.  What makes them turn a blind eye ?  I suggest that it is their postulate, their unshakable,  irrational belief in a Palestinian people without agency, a people, in the condescending world of the Progressives, who are as innocent as the Israelis are guilty.

We come back to where we started.  The Hellenizing quarter, approximately,  of American Jews, ashamed as they may be of their pushy and over-assertive and over-sensitive co-religionists, seem to have embraced a fairly new stance of Progressivism.  This stance appears to them enlightened and universalist and humane — much more humane than thou. But these new Progressives have paid a great price for their considerable satisfaction with themselves.  And that price is the illogic and incoherence of dogmatic postulates that cannot stand the test of empirical reality.

  

The Conceits of Social Justice

soc just jews plot

The Conceits of “Social Justice”

The year was 1940, and I began, a boy of fourteen summers, my career as a voyeur of fringe groups.

Sundays were a particular treat. In the afternoon the old Socialist Labor Party hosted lectures in an Eight Avenue hotel. There was much talk of industrial unionism and other forms of very democratic arrangement, even though the Party itself (now all but defunct) was ruled with an iron hand, for fifty-five years, by the apparatchik Arnold Petersen (1885-1976).

That meeting ended early in the afternoon, to the sound of the SLP’s own version of the Internationale. But no sooner was the Final Conflict concluded than I headed one block east, to Broadway in the fifties, where the Christian Front of Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979) was picketing radio station WMCA. The station styled itself “at the top of the dial,” but to Fr Coughlin’s folks it was “at the bottom of the pile.” It seems that the station had incurred the Father’s displeasure by banishing his anti-Semitic rants from its airways. I must say that I did enjoy this picketing show, more so than the staid SLP lectures to the west.

And I learned, for the first time, about Social Justice. This was Fr. Coughlin’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic magazine until the Roosevelt administration, with the help of a friendly bishop, found ways of silencing the “radio priest.” Looking back now, I must say that I was never struck by the enormity of the conceit — the enormity of the falsehood — of presenting the Christian Front ideology as a call for justice, social or otherwise.

Now here we are, some seventy-five years later, and “social justice” (SJ) is once again what zealots say they are after. With the demise of the Soviet Union, Marxist slogans like “class struggle,” “socialist revolution,” “anti-Fascism,” etc., are much less frequent in the self-styled Left than the shrill self-righteous clamor for “social justice.”

It is now almost 30 years ago that the distinguished political scientist Guenter Lewy published his Peace and Revolution. The Moral Crisis of American Pacifism (1988) in which he traced the slide of pacifist groupings, more particularly the Quakers, from a principled pacifist refusal to taking sides in war to a shrill anti-Americanism and an equally shrill agitation against Israel. Today’s Quakers see grave violations of Palestinian human rights but cannot spare any sympathy for Jewish victims of Arab terror. They see human rights abuses in America but not in Communist China. This new stance, which had its beginnings roughly at the time of the Viet Nam war, is emblematic of “social justice” of our day. More than anything, it means enlistment in certain very selected “progressive causes” regardless of the moral context of this engagement. And at the same time, it means a determined blindness to basic humanitarian issues.

The prominent “social justice” causes of today include homosexual rights, “Black lives matter,” and the “boycott, divestment, sanction” (BDS) movement to delegitimize the state of Israel. What these movements all have in common is that they are movements of enmity; they are directed against selected target groups which are most generally labelled as “right wing.” In this these movements stand in stark contrast to efforts that seek to improve the human condition by, for instance, eliminating poverty and disease or, to give another example. efforts to promote the education of slum dwellers. Humanitarian efforts of this kind, insofar as they are not directed against “right wing” enemies, stand outside the purview of “social justice.”

The current SJ campaign for the legalization of homosexual marriage illustrates the irrationality of all the different strands of SJ. There is a rational case that can made for the legality of such marriages, based on the particular circumstances of homosexual couples. But it is unreasonable to stipulate an overall “human right” that demands “social justice” for such arrangements. If we were indeed obliged, on general moral or ethical grounds, to support the right of anyone to marry anyone, we would have to support, to give just one example, the “man-boy” arrangement which the German Green Party did indeed advocate some years ago. If “social justice” were a meaningful imperative in this area, what about such justice for polygamists, or, for that matter, for those whose tastes run to inter-species arrangements ? The self-righteousness of gay marriage advocates who see a general “social justice” on their side, but who resist, just like the rest of us, the demands of polygamists, pedophiles, incestors, etc. etc., points to the irrationality and inherent hypocrisy of the whole “social justice” enterprise.

The most prominent SJ movement of our day, perhaps, is the one self-styled as Black Lives Matter (BLM). I have analyzed this phenomenon in two previous postings, here and here. Very briefly, this movement protests certain well-publicized cases in which Black people were killed by police. But Black-on-Black homicide, which BLM pointedly ignores , is 1,127 times more frequent, in an average year. Moreover, a recent New York Times analysis shows that “eliminating the biases of all police officers would do little to materially reduce the total number of African-American killings.” In short, BLM, one of the preeminent SJ movements of our day, is simply not concerned with a very real and very pressing humanitarian crisis, i.e. the crushing disadvantages of life in the Black ghetto.

I will not here dwell on the moral hypocrisy of the anti-Israel BDS movement; too much has been written on this topic for me to be able to offer new insights. Put briefly, BDS pounces on all violence emanating from the Jewish side, completely ignoring the violence and terror on the other. Moreover, BDS is absolutely silent on the humanitarian disaster of the Arab populations who live under Islamist rule.

The City of New York is replete with a number of self-styled social justicers. There are Jews Against Israel of various stripes. There are Quakers and Brooklyn-for-Peacers, Queers Against This or That … unlike the days when the old Communist Party ran all such shows, the zealot scene is now full of independent operators. Among the more exotic of these groups there is the Granny Peace Brigade, earnest old ladies (though, I must say, generally younger than I), who, very much like Quakers, see much criminality in the governments of the United States and Israel. Problems with Islamists ? Not that they have heard of. If you wish to test the earnestness of their humanitarian commitments, ask them about the girls kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram. No, if these ladies have heard of these girls at all, they are of no concern to Peace Grannies.

At the time of the bloody Bolshevik revolution with all its conceit of bettering the human condition, a critic remarked that one single nurse in a hospital accomplishes far more in that regard than does Lenin with all his Bolsheviks. And so, mutatis mutandis, there is much more humanitarian value in the work of those who strive for the elimination of hunger and poverty and ignorance than in all the “social justice” movements taken together. In any case, the former will do less harm than the latter.

Above all, the Arabs don’t want the Jews to have a state….

Finally, a leading Israeli politician tells it as it is.

The Arab street, and elites,  may or may not wish the Palestinians to have a state.  But their main preoccupation, now as much as at any time, is to get rid of Israel.  This, more or less, is the gist of a remarkable interview with left-of-center Knesset member Einat Wilf, published in the Jewish Week of September 16. To read the whole interview, click here.

And here is an excerpt:

… the last decade, with the failure of Camp David, the intifada, the disengagement, the repeated failures of the Palestinian leadership to take advantage of opportunities to have a state has made me very skeptical. I began to question whether the Palestinians want a state more than they want the Jews not to have a state. They may want a state, but it’s second or third priority after making sure the Jews don’t have their state … I’ve become increasingly convinced that the conflict is not about simple territorial claims that can be resolved by finding where exactly the border should go. At the core, the entire Palestinian identity is wrapped in the battle against Zionism. It emerged as a separate identity only through this battle, and for them justice was always more important than statehood. … Given the opportunity to have a state but not perfect justice they’ve always tried to pursue their version of justice and given up on having a state…

 Einat Wilf

I felt the self-flagellation that has become a mark of the left — we don’t have peace because Israel didn’t do enough, in Camp David Barak should have been nicer to Arafat, should have let him go first through the door — it was getting to the point of just being ridiculous…
I’m still in the left in the sense that if by some miracle tomorrow there were an agreement with the Palestinians and it came to a vote in Knesset and we had to get out of the West Bank, I’d vote for it. I don’t have an emotional problem or attachment or messianic views that would make that difficult for me … But I’ve become skeptical that this is what the conflict is about and that it is possible to reach an agreement …