Sometimes, the most daring thing a scholar or an organization can do is to
mention the obvious. That is a lesson that Indiana University's Professor Alvin
H. Rosenfeld and the American Jewish Committee have recently learned to their
Rosenfeld is the author of a 30-page study titled " 'Progressive' Jewish
Thought and the New Anti-Semitism," which was published in December by
AJCommittee. In it Rosenfeld, briefly surveys the international rise of anti-Semitism
and then goes on to touch on the various excesses of intellectual anti-Zionists
with an emphasis on those leftist Jews who are important elements in the
massive contemporary assault on Israel.
Rosenfeld's conclusion is that those Jewish writers and thinkers who have
aided the assault on Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist cannot pretend
that their stand is unrelated to the wave of violent Jew-hatred, which is itself
largely focused on the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish self-defense. He
rightly asserts that anti-Zionist Jewish authors such as British historian
Jacqueline Rose, New York University's Tony Judt and Pulitzer-Prize winning
playwright Tony Kushner have been carrying the intellectual water for a weird
coalition of the far-left, the far-right, and the Arab and Islamic propagandists.
TARRED AND FEATHERED
Rosenfeld is careful to specify that questioning policies of Israeli
governments is not the same as being anti-Israel, let alone anti-Semitic. But he has
the bad manners to point out that those who aggressively question Israel's
right to have any government or to defend itself against those who seek to destroy
it are, at best, unwitting allies of a growing anti-Jewish movement.
That movement's end goal is, whether these so-called "progressive" want to
admit it or not - the extinction of the world's only Jewish state, an event
that would obviously entail the mass slaughter of Jews.
For this, Rosenfeld and his sponsors at AJCommittee have been treated to the
sort of public tar and feathering that is usually reserved only for the
troglodyte denizens of the far-right.
In a New York Times feature on the controversy (accompanied by a posed photo
in which Rosenfeld is shown looking like a Kafka-esque prosecutor pictured
from above in an oddly sinister light), Boston University scholar Alan Wolfe
wondered if AJCommittee were not itself fostering "anti-Jewishness" by its
criticism of liberals.
In an editorial, the Forward huffed that Rosenfeld's essay is "a shocking
tissue of slander" that attacked all liberals.
Scholar Stanley Kutler wrote in The Boston Globe that Rosenfeld was merely
trying to smear liberal critics of the Iraq war and those who thought America's
strong support of Israel during the recent war with Hezbollah as an "
The New Republic's John B. Judis accused Rosenfeld, not to mention the entire
pro-Israel movement of being hypocrites because they won't admit to having a "
dual loyalty" toward Israel that the Jewish state's foes accuse them of
And author and Columbia University journalism professor Samuel Freedman wrote
in The Jerusalem Post accusing Rosenfeld of using innuendo in accusing
leftists of complicity with anti-Semitism. Even worse, in his view, is that by
singling out these anti-Zionists, Rosenfeld has made martyrs out of them.
This is a consistent theme in much of the criticism of the piece, which
largely centers on the notion that what the American Jewish Committee has engaged
in is an attempt to censor critics of Israel and to suppress debate about its
Like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, the authors of "The Lobby," the
widely criticized attack on American supporters of Israel, those in Rosenfeld's
cross-hairs, think they are victims of a witch hunt. AJCommittee, a bastion of
American liberalism for a century (which was bizarrely labeled a "conservative"
group in the Times piece), has been forced to defend its credentials as a
defender of freedom of thought.
But they have not indicted all "liberals" or "progressive" as anti-Semites
as has been alleged. Nor is the Rosenfeld's piece a slam on mainstream
liberals or the Democratic Party, the vast majority of whose members are supporters
of Israel. Nor do they intend to silence Jewish dissidents, something that,
given the access to mainstream media bully pulpits that these leftists possess,
would be impossible anyway.
To the contrary, in recent years, it is the supporters of Israel who are
becoming pariahs in intellectual circles, not its critics. For all the talk of "
martyrdom" on the part of people like Tony Judt, the fact is, they have not
suffered one bit for pot shots at Israel or their sneers at those who stand up for
If we want to know where we are headed, we need only look to Britain, where
in intellectual and artistic circles it has gotten to the point where it may no
longer be possible to identify as a Jew without also disavowing any support
BUYING INTO SLANDER
A group of British Jewish celebrities, including actor Stephen Fry and
playwright Harold Pinter recently signed a joint statement titled lambasting
official British Jewish institutions for continuing to support Israel. Since they
agree with the slander that Israel is an oppressor, incredibly, they see support
for it as justifying anti-Semitism.
Those who want a more in-depth look at this phenomenon of growing Jewish
anti-Zionism than Rosenfeld's slim pamphlet provides should instead go to the
recently published "The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders," a
collection of essays on the topic published by Transaction Books last year. In
it, authors such as literary critic Edward Alexander (who edited this important
volume along with British writer Paul Bogdanor) and Rosenfeld himself
contribute essays on this puzzling and deeply dangerous trend.
It is not innuendo to note, as Rosenfeld does, that calling Israel a "Nazi
state" and urging its dismantling is not unrelated to the attacks on Jews in
Europe or to the verbal violence against Israel that is becoming bolder here.
That anti-Zionism has established a beachhead among leftist intellectuals and
academics in this country cannot be denied.
What is yet to be determined is whether more Jewish liberals and centrists
are prepared to fight back and answer this insidious trend with the sort of
plain talk it deserves or if, afraid of being branded as "intolerant" as was the
case with Rosenfeld, they will back away from the fray. If the pasting
Rosenfeld and AJComittee has taken does serve as a deterrent to frank discussions
about the abandonment of Israel by the hard left and its impact on academia and
our political culture, the consequences will not be inconsiderable.
Despite their braying about martyrdom, it takes no courage to run, as some "
progressive" do, with the pack of media and academic jackals who defame Israel
or whitewash its foes. But while these ideological zealots brazenly disavow
the Jewish state, many other Jews have simply disengaged from the cause because
they do not wish to be identified with an "illiberal" Israel. The result is
an increasingly open field for the haters and a new growth for anti-Semitism
just as Rosenfeld and others have asserted.
It is an encouraging sign that a mainstream group like the American Jewish
Committee was prepared to publish Rosenfeld's piece and stand by it despite the
abuse they have absorbed. The question that remains unanswered, is whether
they and other groups will continue this necessary fight?