Sunday, June 19, 2011

Divide and Conquer

As I mentioned last time, my wife Jackie is currently in Israel leading a trip for Jewish twenty-somethings as part of the Taglit Birthright Israel program. So it was with some interest that I clicked over to a piece entitled Birthright’s True Aim, and Is Its Aim True? by Marc Tracy in the online journal Tablet.

Tracy briefly reviews a 4,000-word piece by Kiera Feldman entitled The Romance of Birthright Israel in the left-wing magazine, The Nation. Tracy correctly notes that “Birthright is a central aspect of Israeli-diaspora relations,” and that it therefore deserves close examination. He praises Feldman's essay in those places in which it “earnestly relays what Birthright is about, for its organizers as well as its participants.”

But Tracy also identifies some troubling aspects of Feldman's analysis. He notes that Feldman seems to have “cherrypicked her data and interviewees,” and identifies a past Birthright participant quoted in Feldman's piece who, as it turns out, had a running dispute with the Israeli government—a fact left undisclosed by Feldman.

So kudos to Marc Tracy for uncovering some of the less-than-savory techniques used by Feldman to tarnish the Birthright program. But he misses the big picture, which is not Feldman's overt attack on Birthright's agenda, but rather her covert rhetorical campaign against Israel itself: 

Israel is an “ethnocracy” built on the “forty-four-year illegal occupation of Palestinian lands”. The Green Line is an “internationally recognized border”. Seven hundred thousand Palestinians were “expelled” in 1948. These allegations require no support because, naturally, The Nation's readership already knows them to be true.
Birthright Israel indoctrinees, er, I mean, participants

I've used this forum in the past to make the liberal case for Zionism. Others, such as Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, have also done so, far more effectively than I ever could. This case needs to be made, in part, because there are those, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition, who would claim the mantle of Zionism exclusively for the right. 

They are wrong to do so. As Harris and Hirsch so clearly explain, there is a compelling liberal interest in the Zionist cause. The right has its Zionist argument, and so does the left: all that remains are the anti-Zionists, who have sought to divide and conquer by clothing themselves in the rhetoric of the left, as Feldman has done, or in the politics of the right. This strategy has proven tragically effective: as Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the US, has stated, “Israel has become a partisan issue in the U.S., and this... is bad for us.”

If support for Israel does split along party lines in the years to come, it will not only be the fault of the Republican Jewish Coalition and its cynical campaign to make the GOP the home of pro-Israel American politics. No, it will also be the fault of writers like Ms. Feldman, whose casual and presumptive misrepresentations of history can be immediately transformed into fodder for the next RJC appeal.


  1. Scott, I agree, the fault lies first on the Left, among those who betray liberal principles (if, in some cases, they even really hold them) through their hostility to Israel. The problem is then deeply exacerbated by those on the right who both incorrectly and unwisely identify their support for Israel with conservatism, and even with hostility to President Obama. It is unwise because among those of liberal belief, but with beliefs still to be fully formed about Israel, the regular identification of Israel with American conservatism will only assist in their alienation.

  2. Jay: right, you hit the nail on the head. In fact, I have little doubt that the syndrome you've identified is responsible for the reflexive (and ill-informed) hatred of Israel we find all over college campuses. After all, if George W. Bush likes them, they've got to be bad ...right?

    Thanks for the comment!