Thursday, January 08, 2009

Memo to Liberal Jews: Dennis doesn't "get" you

Cross-posted to DovBear.

Dennis Prager has a message for his liberal counterparts in the Jewish community: What gives? In theory, Dennis' column directs this open-minded query at his old "chum" Alan Dershowitz, but it seems more designed as a general shot across the liberal Jewish bow.

Dennis asks:

Given that Israel's security is so important to you, given that you believe that the ability to morally distinguish between Israel and its enemies is tantamount to the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and given that those who condemn Israel for its "disproportionate" response to Hamas terror-rockets are almost all on the left in America and Europe, why do you continue to identify yourself as a man of the left?

Everyone who thinks sometimes differs with one's ideological compatriots. But when one's ideological compatriots are morally wrong on the greatest moral issue of the moment and perhaps the very clearest as well, don't you at least suffer from cognitive dissonance?

As always, as soon as Dennis throws out the "moral" word, I have a strong urge to vomit, preferably on his person. I suppose I could try the next best thing, which is to show him the errors of his ways.

Let's try this slowly: Much like the right, or the center, "the left" is not the monolithic Borg cube that Dennis imagines, or (perhaps) would like it to be. Not only is there a diversity of opinion within the left in general, there are also people on the left who are not anti-Israel. Dennis suggests that Dershowitz, by virtue of being a liberal, is an "ideological compatriot" with every college student, activist, or blogger that self-identifies (or which Dennis lumps together) as being "left". This is, quite simply, false. The fact that Dershowitz and a random protestor may both call themselves liberals or vote for the same President (if the latter voted at all) does not obligate Dershowitz to defend every boneheaded position they take, nor justify why he continues to call himself a liberal in light of the fact that some fellow liberals happen to be idiots. That would be like trying to hold Dennis Prager responsible for all the idiotic things said by Pat Buchanan, Lyndon Larouche or Michael Savage. Their interests rarely intersect, and it would be unfair to claim any of my three conservative strawmen's wacko followers as "true" representatives of the conservative movement in order to force Prager to defend them or "quit" his party.

Even if, as Dennis claims, ALL of the anti-Israel people are on "the left" (which I don't believe, since I doubt Islamists consider themselves "liberal"), it does not prove that the left is anti-Israel, either inherently or in actuality. This is a basic logical fallacy- all surgeons are doctors, therefore all doctors are surgeons. Frankly, Dennis should know better.

The anti-Israel element within the left should be observed, and confronted, but they do not define the left, not even the Jewish left. No one would claim Rabbi Eric Yoffie as a conservative, yet he does not hesitate to draw his own lines in the sand and take an activist group to task when he thinks they're off the track.

I support a two-state solution, believe that military action by Israel should be a last resort and welcome an active American role in promoting peace between Israel and her neighbors. But I know a mistake when I see one, and this time J Street got it very wrong.

J Street’s first statement expressed “understanding” for Israel’s motivations, and called — as I do — for a political rather than a military solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nonetheless, its conclusion was that Israel made a mistake in attacking Hamas and that the United States and others must press for an immediate cease-fire.

A second J Street statement was worse by far. It could find no moral difference between the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militants, who have launched more than 5,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israeli civilians in the past three years, and the long-delayed response of Israel, which finally lost patience and responded to the pleas of its battered citizens in the south. “Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong,” it said, and it suggested that there was no reason and no way to judge between them: “While there is nothing ‘right’ in raining rockets on Israeli families or dispatching suicide bombers, there is nothing ‘right’ in punishing a million and a half already-suffering Gazans for the actions of the extremists among them.”

These words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve. A cease-fire instituted by Hamas would be welcome, and Israel would be quick to respond. A cease-fire imposed on Israel would allow Hamas to escape the consequences of its actions yet again and would lead in short order to the renewal of its campaign of terror. Hamas, it should be noted, is not a government; it is a terrorist gang. And as long as the thugs of Hamas can act with impunity, no Israeli government of the right or the left will agree to a two-state solution or any other kind of peace. Doves take note: To be a dove of influence, you must be a realist, firm in your principles but shorn of all illusions.

You don't have to agree with Yoffie's opinions to know that his strategy is the more grown-up and productive one. Rather than or ignoring the anti-Israel left (or what Yoffie perceives as such), or apologizing for its existence, as Dennis would have him do, Yoffie prefers to openly engage, debate, even criticize. And J-Street, for its part, is free to respond right back. Both are unquestionably liberal Jewish individuals representing liberal Jewish organizations. And yet, neither are restricted or defined by each other. Grow a clue, Dennis.

Dennis' analysis also suffers because he is so vague when it comes to what constitutes being anti- and pro-Israel. While I feel like many people are sensitized to detecting anti-Israel criticism and rhetoric, defining "pro-Israel" can be a lot trickier. Forgive me, then, Dennis, when some comments of yours don't pass my stink test:

He knows that on the Internet, the most virulent attacks on Israel are on the left, while the most pro-Israel websites are nearly all conservative and right-wing, from to LittleGreenFootballs to NationalReviewOnline.
What does "pro-Israel" mean? Presumably it involves not attacking Israel, even praising it. But what about analysis? What about when Israel does things one thinks are wrong or dangerous? What is the difference between a conservative "pro-Israel" editorial criticizing decisions to talk with the Palestinians, withdraw from land, and so on, and so-called "anti-Israel" articles making the same criticisms on other topics? Put another way, how "pro-Israel" were these organizations or media outlets (if they existed) during the Rabin years? Let's be honest, people's definition of "pro-Israel" is highly dependant on what they consider to be GOOD for Israel.

Dennis concludes with an attempt to play psychologist, ironically illustrating the behavior that keeps liberals, particularly liberal Jews, from openly critiquing the movement: according to Dennis, if liberal Jews do not confront the problems (even failings) of the left, they are hypocritical, or wilfully blind. However, if liberals do admit that problems exist, the next step is to convince us that the whole left wing is worthless and the only logical (and moral) thing to do is to jump ship:

to acknowledge the moral failure of the left, especially the secular left, on most of the great moral issues of the post-World War II era – the Cold War, the Middle East, confronting (or even acknowledging the existence of) the Islamist threat – is very difficult for a person on the left, even one as analytical as Dershowitz. Secular leftism is analogous to Arthur Koestler's "god that failed." And few people want to confront the fact that the ideal, the god they bet their lives on, is a false god.

What's false is Dennis' contention that because the elusively-defined "left" of the past 50 years made mistakes (presumably the right made none), the movement is permanently doomed to ideological and moral bankruptcy. This is like when Sean Hannity attempts to link the modern-day Democratic party with Jefferson Davis.

But wait, there's more:

Second, to acknowledge the broken moral compass that guides the left is to implicitly endorse the right, especially the religious right. But that is very difficult for anyone on the left to do because the essence of the secular left is a rejection of the Christian right. That it is conservatives, especially religious conservatives, who are the most stalwart supporters of Israel, must greatly disturb Dershowitz.

There is no room for grays in Master of Nuance Prager's monochrome universe. Apparently he has never heard of the terms centrist, moderate or independent. Get over it, Dennis. We know the left is not without its problems. But we'd rather point out those flaws and move on than jump in bed with the right.

I particularly like how the "essence" of the left is so easily reduced to "the anti-right." (Man, and here I thought we actually had some ideas of our own...)

Best of all is the conflation of the religious right with the religious right. Using this logic, I guess Jews should all either become atheist Communists or go join an evangelical church. Given his eagerness to beat us all with the "Judeo-Christian culture" stick, I think we can guess which direction Dennis is leaning.

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