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Thursday, July 31, 2008


reclaiming judaism for jews

though not much in the public spotlight, as this is where reportage fears to tread for reasons now plain to him, joe klein has attempted to engage in a deeply-needed dialogue within the american jewish community about the nature of neoconservatism and indeed the politics of american jewry.

Time columnist Joe Klein's accusations that Jewish neoconservatives, who played a particularly visible role in the drive to war in Iraq and have since pushed for military confrontation in Iran, sacrificed "US lives and make the world safe for Israel," have spurred angry charges of anti-Semitism and personal attacks from critics at such neoconservative strongholds as the Weekly Standard, National Review, and Commentary.

But the fierceness of the controversy surrounding Klein, generally considered a political centrist, highlights the growing antagonism between neoconservative hardliners and prominent US Jews whose more moderate views are aligned more closely with those of the foreign policy establishment.

The controversy began June 24, when Klein argued in a Time blog post that the "fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives – people like [independent Democrat Sen.] Joe Lieberman and the crowd at Commentary – plumped for this war [in Iraq], and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties."

Within a day, Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, accused Klein of espousing ,"age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government."

The reaction from the right-wing press was even harsher. Commentary editor John Podhoretz reiterated the accusation of "anti-Semitic canards," and called Klein "manifestly intellectually unstable."

Writing in National Review, former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner called Klein "a man who cannot control his anger and even hatred."

But Klein has refused to back down, accusing his attackers of using charges of anti-Semitism to silence criticism of neoconservative policies.

"When [Commentary writer] Jennifer Rubin or Abe Foxman calls me anti-Semitic, they're wrong," he said in an interview. "I am anti-neoconservative."

many neoconservatives would like to convict klein for making the distinction in that last bit, but he is of course absolutely correct to make it.

i have previously noted that anti-zionism is not anti-semitism -- though klein has not here even remotely expressed the thought, one can validly believe that the establishment of the political entity of israel was a mistake and not only honor the religion and culture of judaism but defend it. that is far more than klein has said in this dustup, but a growing number of americans and even israelis believe exactly that -- the creation of the israeli state may have been the apotheosis of zionism, but it has been profoundly damaging not only to palestinians but to the levant as a region, americans as a people and to judaism as an institution of religion and culture by dint of its political establishment -- and can do so honestly, fairly and without religious or any other particular prejudice. the advent of "constantinian judaism" as termed by marc ellis has served on this view primarily to pervent and dilute the high moral aims of the jewish faith by conflating it with the amorality of power, in (among others) the manifestation of messianic zionism. the consequences can be argued to have been as damaging inside israel and to israelis as anywhere else in the world.

far short of that, however, as uri blau implied the enabling of likudnik ideology has been the mission of a narrow group of representatives which has wrongly presumed to speak for both israelis and american jews. there is an active israeli political left which is supported by huge numbers of american jews, but you would never know it by the words of those who most powerfully purport to speak for israel and judaism in washington. the decay of the foremost political organization of that disposition has given me hope that an avenue can open that will allow a cultural and therefore political reconsideration in america of what unconditional support for israel and more particularly for the israeli right wing has wrought. joe klein and the work of j street and the israel policy forum are bolstering that hope now, capitalizing on the observation of gary kamiya:

How long AIPAC will hold sway depends on how long it can convince politicians that it speaks for American Jews. It doesn't, but only American Jews can prove that. American politicians are not going to stop paying homage to AIPAC until there's an alternative -- and only Jews can provide it.

i had great hope for ariel sharon's last gambit -- and still have, even with all the disappointments of kadima (though there were many). israel has nevertheless moved in a positive direction in recent months even as it has allowed irrational hysteria regarding iran to dominate its front pages and at times foreign policy discourse.

but for israel to truly begin to repair the damage of decades of national paranoia -- and for judaism to reclaim its rightful moral heritage -- american jews like joe klein must be successful in advertising to the american political establishment that AIPAC and neoconservatism do not speak for american jewry. when that unflinching american political support for israeli militarism is broken and the management of the interests of anglophone empire there questioned critically, real progress toward peace in the holy land, as well as the improvement of the lot of both palestinians and israelis, will be realized.

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