Friday, December 3, 2010

The no-true-liberal fallacy

Perhaps it's a variation of the no-true-Scotsman fallacy, but there's something that's been bothering me for a while. That's the claim that lots of liberal Jews are liberal except when it comes to Israel. That's the premise of this piece at +972 by Jerry Haber (and posted to Facebook by Meretz USA), titled "Zionist, Yes; Progressive, Maybe."
But when push comes to shove, many progressive Zionists I know will let their Zionism trump their progressiveness. As one pointed out to me, the State of Israel is the bedrock of their Jewish identity. So while they can conceive a tactical compromise on their progressive values, they cannot countenance any move by any third party that will have the slightest negative effect on Israel
But, of course, lots of liberals are pro-Israel precisely because they're liberal (or even, like me, Leftist). Haber's piece could easily be turned around as "Critic of Israel, Yes; Progressive, Maybe." I'm not sure what's meant here by "the State of Israel is the bedrock of their Jewish identity" -- I might say that Israel provides self-determination on which is based my ability to speak to my Jewish identity and on behalf of my Jewish identity in the public sphere with somewhat less fear, making my political rights more practical and not merely theoretical, but I don't think that's entirely what's meant here -- but let's take it for granted that the State of Israel is indeed the bedrock of Jewish identity for a great many Jews, enough that it is a meaningful example. Then I have to ask what is progressive about denying an oppressed minority their identity? Indeed, isn't that the basis for many of the criticisms of Israel's claim to be a Jewish state - that it denies its Palestinian minority their identity?
But why will they sit in coalitions with the likes of ZOA, but not with the likes of JVP?
I'm in no position to sit in coalition with the ZOA or anyone else, but I will happily and loudly say that I despise them. I can think of no reason more significant than historical accident that the ZOA should be part of AIPAC while JVP isn't. But I'm no fan of JVP, either, because I believe they traduce my rights. Since when is "stop playing the race card" a progressive argument? True progressives -see what I did there- recognize that the race-card-card always trumps the race-card, and that "Stop playing The Race Card™" is constantly used to derail discussions about race and racism. Supposedly some powerful trump card, The Race Card™ is more like the 2 of clubs. Yet this is the basis of JVP's Muzzlewatch website. JVP claims to take antisemitism seriously, but when have they ever said, "now that's some serious antisemitism"? I would take them more seriously if they were to also point out when pro-Israel arguments or discussions about antisemitism were muzzled by, for example:
Is it too much to ask from progressive Zionists in the US to emulate their Israeli brothers and sisters and, at the very least, not diss JVP in public?
Now, of course, Haber does say:
Of course, I have my red lines; I wouldn't join a coalition with Neo-Nazis Against the Occupation.
But, of course, any anti-racist with more than an hour's experience talking with racists knows how quickly they start saying, "I'm not a Klansman or a neo-Nazi." Usually, they start the conversation with "Now, I'm no racist, but..." Again, this is Anti-Racism 101: Racism is more than just the extreme edge that most people easily recognize as racist. I will not abandon these lessons and principles just so that Jerry Haber can accept me as a liberal in good standing.

If Haber wants to broaden the debate, rather than chastising Jews with good, solid, leftist reasons for supporting Israel  as a bulwark against antisemitism, he would do better to acknowledge what is right in what they say. He would do better to say that broad coalitions provide relationships in which it is easier to criticize than to say that we shouldn't criticize. And if I'm more likely to sit down with someone too anti-Palestinian than to sit down with Haber, it may be because it's Haber who wants me to keep quiet.


M.S. said...

I pointed this out to a friend while we amused ourselves at a BDS event (by way of explanation: I enjoy confrontation, it is a hobby).

It was a nice contrast to the woman up front telling us how American and Russian Jews are just sooo backwards and Conservative.

Jerry Haber said...

Nowhere in my piece did I say that liberal Zionists should not criticize progressives on their left, either their positions or their tactics. Nowhere in my piece did I say that liberal Zionist organizations should be silent. When I said that they should not "diss" groups like JVP (which includes anti-Zionists and non-Zionist, but does not take a stand of Zionism, only on the self-determination of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples) I did not understand "diss" to mean "criticize". Good Lord, I praised J-Street's attitude, and it certainly has criticized positions taken by JVP (like BDS).

What I want is for the liberal Zionists to understand that their natural allies for ending the occupation are not on their right but on their left, and they should not demonize them by considering them beyond the pale, the way Kenneth Bob of Ameinu does, but Jeremy Ben Ami of J-Street does not. I am glad that you appear to agree with me on that one. Certainly, the younger generation of liberal or progressive Zionists understand the importance of that coalition.

By the way, you apparently skipped over my first sentence, which defended the coherence of "progressive Zionism" in theory, and practiced by folks like the J-street crowd in practice.

Matt said...

Jerry, aside from qualifying your first sentence to death, you also write, "But when push comes to shove, many progressive Zionists I know will let their Zionism trump their progressiveness." That's the crux. (As for your support for JStreet, it seems so subtle that I'm still not seeing it.) My biggest point is that for progressive Zionists, their Zionism and liberalism are not the least at odds: they are not progressive despite being Zionist. There really is an important difference there, and if you don't see that then I don't think you're understanding me at all.

On the other hand, when you say, "I did not understand 'diss' to mean 'criticize'." I have no idea what you mean. Certainly I expect that when I 'criticize' JVP, I expect to be 'criticized' for 'dissing' them. Perhaps you could comment on the particular criticisms I made above, and we'll see how far that takes us.

You write, "What I want is for the liberal Zionists to understand that their natural allies for ending the occupation are not on their right but on their left." Well, for starters, who said I consider JVP to be on my Left? And who said I consider JVP to be useful in ending the Occupation? Frankly, I think they only contribute to Israeli fears that will prohibit them from making concessions. But anyway, while ending the Occupation is an important goal for me, it is not my only goal.

For the record, I'd prefer to see both ZOA and JVP as beyond the pale. I think both are destructive and only serve to entrench oppressions.

Matt said...

The Rules of Racial Standing by Derrick Bell. "Few blacks avoid diminishment of racial standing, most of their statements abot racial condidtions being diluted and their recommendations of other blacks taken with a grain of salt. The ususal exception to this rule is the black person who publicly disparages or criticizes other blacks who are speaking or acting in ways that upset whites. Instantly, such statements are granted 'enhanced standing' even when the speaker has no special expertise or experience in the subject he or she is criticizing."

This is how I see JVP, btw, and the biggest criticism I have of them is that they relish this enhanced standing. If JVP took the stance that all Jews have a right to criticize antisemitism as each sees it that would be quite different, but JVP actively cuts down Jews who talk about antisemitism.

Jerry Haber said...

Matt, thanks for the clarification.

Now can I get you to admit that there is a difference in approach to JVP by J Street, which respectfully disagrees with them, and Ameinu, which considers them beyond the pale, and not worthy of being part of the Jewish communal discussion on Israel?

Look at J Street's statement on BDS. It "notes positively" the attempts to limit BDS to partial divestment and partial boycott" -- and then says that J Street will not take that route. It does not diss JVP; it disagrees with them.

And speaking of J Street (by now you have gathered that I highly respect that organization as a model of progressive Zionism, though I don't agree with it) -- look at their position on Gaza after the Gaza Op that got them in so much hot water with Rabbi Eric Yoffe (a progressive Zionist in your eyes?) They took what I considered to be a responsible progressive position -- blasting Israel for its conduct of the Gaza campaign in real time, at a time when other organizations inside and outside Israel (Meretz, for one) were stuttering -- Meretz lost a seat to Hadash for that blunder. And while J Street disagreed with elements of the Goldstone report, it condemned the delegitimization and demonization of Goldstone not only by the right but by many mainstream groups -- and J Street took the heat for that.

Progressive Zionism has had a history of selling out on its progressiveness, such as socialist Zionism has had a history of selling out on its socialism. As a progressive Zionist, I am sure you are familiar with Zeev Sternhell (himself a progressive Zionist)'s book, Israel's Founding Myths, in which he shows how Labor Zionism abandoned socialist principles for its nationalism.

All that having been said, I still maintain that it is possible to be progressive and Zionist -- and you will see many progressive Zionists protesting side-by-side with Palestinians and non-Zionist Jews at the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan demonstrations here in Jerusalem.

That spirit of cooperation has already has its effect on campuses where J Street U and JVP coordinate their activities -- a model of the coalition building I am calling for.

Matt said...

Even in this comment, you still privilege "progressive" over Zionist. Do you not see why I have a problem with that? It makes Jewish liberation into a lesser liberation than the liberations of other peoples. Oppression Olympics, if you care for that term. No attempt to further disempower Jews can be an acceptable way to go about empowering others. And BDS is about disempowering Jews. I think most advocates are quite clear on that, but even if it's not that stated goal, it would still have the effect of profoundly disempowering Jews. I will not tolerate that, even in “limited” form.

I wrote in the post: Haber's piece could easily be turned around as "Critic of Israel, Yes; Progressive, Maybe." I have to say again that what you write could be turned around. It is a progressive value that more people should be able to speak to their experience. In fact, that was an argument that won me over when some anti-Zionist Jews argued that they ought to be able to speak to their experience; however much I disagree with them on Israel, I had to admit that they had that right. The question for me then was 'What was speaking to their experience, and what was speaking beyond it?'

In denying Jews the right to speak to their experience of antisemitism, Muzzlewatch “sells out” any progressive values JVP might ever have had. I don't care whether you call this criticism or dissing, but I could not possibly sit in a coalition with those who will gladly leverage that kind of enhanced standing to silence me. And, if it was somehow not obvious to you, I have found myself silenced in that way! As have many others. I have every right to criticize BDS as antisemitic without having to get into a discussion about the Race Card™, or how "hysterical" some Jews are, or how I'm selling out my liberal values or any other way in which my actual experience is deemed illegitimate.

So here's the deal: when JVP is willing to stand up for my right to speak to my experience of antisemitism, then I won't “diss” them.