Joshua Holland writes: The latest round in the long and nasty debate over Israel, Palestine and our own government’s Mideast policy began with a coordinated campaign — initiated by a former AIPAC staffer and eagerly picked up by the conservative media — to marginalize a handful of progressive bloggers at the Center for American Progress and Media Matters who wrote critically of Israel’s hard-right government and called its enablers in the United States “Israel Firsters.” (I wrote about the dust-up in December.)
The back and forth has continued since then, and it’s now become clear that we need to offer a simple challenge to those who say that such terms are beyond the pale because they bear some vague resemblance to some old “anti-Semitic trope” or another. What, exactly, is an acceptable way of mixing it up with these people? How can we marginalize their malign policy preferences without being smeared as anti-Semites or self-loathing Jews?
America’s political discourse is not a garden party. We’re factionalized, and we throw sharp elbows, especially online, where conservatives call liberals “moonbats,” and accuse them of hating America, and liberals lob back terms like “wingnut,” and accuse their counterparts of being morons.
In the debate over Israel and Palestine – and U.S. policy in the Middle East – one side has been disarmed, their derogatory labels rejected as singularly unacceptable, while their opponents remain free to use the coarsest insults against them with impunity.
The problem stems from the objective fact that there are a group of Americans – disproportionately represented among right-wing Christian evangelicals and older generations of Jewish-Americans – who ally themselves with the Israeli government. They do so regardless of its ideological bent at the moment and deny that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances (sometimes going so far as to deny their existence). They wish away the cruelty of the occupation, pretend that there are only rejectionists on the Palestinian side and Israel only wants peace, claim Israel has never violated international law or trampled on human rights, insist that Israeli Arabs don’t face hostility and discrimination and go around calling everyone who disagrees anti-Semites and terror supporters.
And despite the fact that their views are totally out of sync with most liberal Israelis, and many of the policies they favor, like a military attack on Iran, would likely result in an utter disaster for Israel as well as its neighbors, they insist on calling themselves “pro-Israel.”
People who do not accept these arguments have attempted to characterize the views of this group and to come up with a variety of typically rough-and-tumble labels to apply t it. But all of them have been condemned as entirely out of bounds because, if held up to the light in just the right way, they kind of, sort of resemble some old anti-Semitic stereotype.