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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Liveblog: Thin Ice – Criticism vs. Loyalty in Israel-Diaspora Relations

I mentioned that I was attending the President's conference here in Jerusalem. I am currently attending a session entitled Thin Ice – Criticism vs. Loyalty in Israel-Diaspora Relations. You can go here to see biographies of the panelists. Moderator is Shmuel Rosner, and panelists are Jeremy Ben Ami, Danny Dayan, Eric Yoffie, Fania Oz-Sulzberger and Diana Pinto.

Rosner introduces everyone. Ben Ami is the first speaker and immediately goes to how we talk about Israeli-'Palestinian' relations. Ben Ami rejects the notion that we are not loyal to those that they criticize, saying that loyal friends give criticism and advice (yes, but not in public). He rejects the notion that criticizing the government does not demonstrate disloyalty. He argues for wider doors (what a shock). He says it's a mistake for the government not to meet with organizations that disagree with it. He criticizes the hearings held in the Knesset on J Street. Ben Ami cites Peres warnings about no peace process and calls him 'captain of our ship' (but no one elected Peres). He claims that his opponents are trying to distract attention from a conversation about the path that Israel is on through discussions about loyalty.

Danny Dayan says that he was invited to balance Jeremy Ben Ami. Dayan wants to discuss boundaries of Jewish solidarity tent. 50-60 years ago you had the anti-Zionist bundt which was anti-Zionist but part of the Jewish solidarity tent. Today that's inconceivable. Today the boundaries are set by the litmus test of at least not being anti-Zionist and anti-Israel. Neturei Karta and BDS are both outside the solidarity tent.

Does calling yourself pro-Israel make you part of the Jewish solidarity tent? Dayan argues that lobbying your government (i.e. US) not to veto an anti-Israel Security Council resolution makes you anti-Israel. An organization that endorses politicians who criticize Israel and are neutral about Hamas is not pro-Israel. You can imagine the rest - I can't believe Dayan is sitting next to Ben Ami.....

At the end Dayan says he wasn't talking about a specific organization, but it's clear that he was.

Being outside the Jewish solidarity tent is not as bad as attempting to infiltrate the Jewish solidarity tent. Ouch.

Rosner skips Yoffie and goes on to Oz-Sulzberger. Oz-Sulzberger says we have to be careful not to be hijacked by enemies of Israel. Please respect our differences of opinion and don't push us out. People who voice moderate, left-of-center Zionist opinions - Meretz to Kadima spectrum - are shunned by their Jewish congregation members. (Third sentence got much less applause than first). There should be no problem in lovingly critiquing our government. She applauds Facebook Judaism. She thinks this is good for the Jewish future.

Diana Pinto is next. She believes that we ought to be able to say what we think about Israel. She says there is more than one diaspora. There are Israelis who live abroad because they feel that their values are not being recognized in Israel. And then there are other Israelis abroad who are more loyal to Israel without carrying an Israeli passport and are making sure that moderate leftwing positions are frightening. (Dayan is looking more and more like a token on this panel, isn't he?).

Most of the debate about Israel-diaspora relations takes place in America. Pinto lives in Europe. God and ethnicity are absolute taboos in postwar Europe.

Eric Yoffie says that there are multiple Jewish diasporas. We are the most variegated people on earth. Supporting governments unconditionally is a mistake. Even Jewish governments are imperfect human creations. Only an anti-Semite can believe that Israel has always had the leadership it deserves. Neither right nor left believes it must unconditionally support Israeli governments - right didn't support some governments and left didn't support others. The story of the diaspora is the story of passionate particularism. We have to accept and support diversity.

But there have to be red lines. If it means everything, it means nothing. Diaspora communities entitled to say that there are some views that are outside the tent and government of Israel is entitled to set its own standards. He includes BDS and questioning every act of self-defense by Israel as being outside the camp. He says that supporting policies that prevent Israel from ever being Jewish and democratic also puts you outside the camp. Then he adds state of Israel action that delegitimizes reform and conservative Judaism.

Shmuel Rosner now asking short questions. He asks Ben Ami whether there is a difference between giving advice and lobbying foreign governments. Can you apply political pressure to Israel? Ben Ami says the question is relative and loaded and says he wants to answer a different question. He says that Jewish Americans have the right to express their opinion regarding American foreign policy. Obviously question directed at J Street and he says that J Street doesn't lobby US about pressuring Israel - he says that they lobby for a two-state solution. He ducked the question.

Asks Danny Dayan the same question. Dayan reads J Street attempt to lobby US government not to veto the Security Council resolution in February. Dayan addresses Yoffie's words and says that the reform movement was anti-Zionist and came in to the Zionist tent, but Ben Ami, on the other hand, knows that Dayan refuses to boycott J Street, but says he is having second thoughts over whether he should have met with J Street congressional delegation two weeks ago. He quotes Betty McCollum who justified rockets from Gaza and was endorsed by J Street, which undermines Israel's interests. He gets lots of applause for that.

Ben Ami responds that what's undermining the state of Israel is the settlement enterprise. Gets much less applause. He sees settlement enterprise as a threat. Dayan asks when J Street last did something that was just pro-Israel. Ben Ami says that they do it every time. Ben Ami claims that they lobbied for the Iran sanctions (that's a lie). Dayan reads J Street statement from Ben Ami and Trita Parsi, and Ben Ami claims it's being read out of context.

Rosner says that he couldn't say this wasn't predictable and moves on to a question to Oz-Sulzberger. She says that everything we say is being tweeted as we speak. Indeed. We need to be aware of that. She says brush up your English and don't play into anti-Israel hands.

Pinto says that we are too quick to reject criticism as anti-Semitism when it comes from non-Jews. She says that we have to play for the middle terrain.

Eric Joffie says we need to reach young people on campuses and we are not reaching them with arguments about black or white, in or out. He says that our young people want to hear us make the case for Israel in a loving, compelling way.

He opens the floor for questions. Asks that we keep questions short.

First question asks whether J Street lobbied against condemning Palestinian school books. Ben Ami says no.

President of Australian Zionist federation asks about BDS limited to 'West Bank.' Does J Street distinguish that from other BDS. Says he sees no distinction and says that J Street is opposed to 'West Bank only' BDS (that's a surprise).

President of J Street's Brandeis branch asks Danny Dayan how he justifies what he does in light of kids who are falling out of Judaism because they're turned off by Judaism and 'settlements.' Dayan says that they should come to Israel and see the country with their own eyes. He says that their next delegation should not take its members to see people who work full time to defame Israel. He says that he would not put people outside the tent just because they oppose 'settlements.'

Bizarre - Dayan says that the problem is that Jeremy Ben Ami is such a nice guy. He says that he felt solidarity with him the first time he met him. But no more.

Rosner asks Dayan how he would engage young Jews in diaspora communities with Israeli policies (and I'm sitting and thinking that Challah Hu Akhbar should be here for this). Dayan says that we have to fight ignorance and that he agrees with every word of Rabbi Yoffie. Dayan says that he is all in favor of opening reform communities in settlements - just come. But like Rabbi Yoffie said, you can't cross the red lines.

South African Zionist Federation delegate raises Goldstone. Asks Ben Ami why J Street went all out to introduce Goldstone to US Congress. Adds quick anecdote. They asked Goldstone whether he believed the Israeli government was responsible for war crimes and Goldstone said no.

Ben Ami responds that the Washington Times is an ideological newspaper and that they didn't try to introduce Goldstone to Congress. Funny - that's not what Colette Avital said.

Rosner asks for questions that aren't for Ben Ami. Lots of discussion about how to involve young people.

Last question: Nationalism is out of favor with young people and Zionism is Jewish political nationalism so settlement policies not what's turning off youth. Pinto responds that human rights and other international references aren't wrong and can't assume they're just a code word for Israel bashing and new anti-Semitism. Says we had better revise our notions. Can't throw principles away with misused realities behind them or we paint ourselves into ethnic corner.

Danny Dayan says that at the next conference we need to ask what the limits are of Israeli criticism of the diaspora - we have been avoiding that question for 60 years.

Joffie says bring young people to Israel because Israel sells itself.

End of panel. Have to find a place to charge laptop.

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At 12:52 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

J-Street is not Zionist, pro-Israel or pro-peace. Endorsing a set of policies that would leave Israel vulnerable to attack and more isolated in the world is not securing the Jewish future. Jews have a right to criticize Israel but there are limits. We live at a time when no one knows what tomorrow will look like. It calls for prudence, responsibility, restraint and national unity among the Jewish people. These are not J-Street's watchwords - today or in the future.

At 5:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My maternal grandfather and uncles belonged to the Bund. They came to America, read Der Forward, loved America, hated "the bosses", were tailors and joined the ILGU, supported Israel, supported Jews. The relationship between Ben Ami to the guys of the Bund is the relationship between dog do and shoe soles.


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