PA President Mahmoud Abbas addressing Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, May 7, 2020. (Flash90) (Flash90)
Mahmoud Abbas

Mainstream Jewish groups need a reality check more than anti-Zionist Jews.

By Jonathan Tobin, JNS.org

Pro-Israel liberals took particular pleasure last month in mocking the latest evidence that Jews on the far left know no limits in their hatred for Israel.

The object of their derision was Jewish Currents, a far-left publication that issued a formal apology to its readers for accepting an advertisement from the Dorot Fellowship for a 10-month-long fellowship program for American Jews in Israel.

But as much as it’s hard not to laugh at the contortions those on the far-left go through to maintain their standing as “good Jews” in the eyes of their antisemitic ideological allies, mainstream Jewish groups that are still trying to promote a two-state solution with the Palestinians may be the ones who have lost touch with reality.

The fellowship was explicitly pitched as open to both Zionists and non-Zionists, and requires participants to return to the U.S. upon completion of their stay rather than remaining in Israel. Many of its past graduates have gone on to careers in progressive groups that are bitterly critical of the Jewish state, like J Street and the New Israel Fund, and are vocal Israel-bashers.

But the mere fact that this program took place in Israel was enough to generate a backlash against the magazine. Within a day, its editor issued a public apology, claiming that it was “not in line with our values” and had somehow “not been vetted properly.” That seemed to imply that the “values” of Jewish Currents consist of support for boycotts of Israel.

Jewish Currents was founded in 1946 as an organ of Communist Party USA. It tottered along for decades as an organ of red diaper babies still trying to justify the Stalinism of their deluded parents, even as it retreated a bit from their ideological extremism. Eventually even that limited audience died out, and the publication merged for a few years with the socialists of the group formerly known as the Workmen’s Circle, before collapsing altogether.

But it was revived in 2018 by a new generation of radicals and scored something of a coup in 2020 when author Peter Beinart, the former tribune of liberal Zionism-turned dedicated anti-Zionist, left The Forward and joined its ranks.

This publication ought to be one of the preferred outlets of members of anti-Zionist and antisemitic groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. But the audience of Jewish Currents remains small, perhaps because in its target demographic, the appetite may be limited for any title that includes the word “Jewish.”

Still, some of the mockery of Jewish Currents from liberal Zionists who still believe in Israel’s right to exist struck me as a bit hollow.

There are still many more American Jews who define themselves as liberal Zionists than those who identify with the anti-Zionist radicals at Jewish Currents.

But the shift in the Democratic Party base in favor of anti-Israel figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as well as her openly antisemitic “Squad” colleagues like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and away from the aging moderates who still claim to be allies of the Jewish state, can’t be ignored.

People who read Jewish Currents — and it is telling that AOC follows it on Twitter — are illustrative of a tiny minority of American Jewry. But anti-Zionism is becoming less of an outlier position if not altogether respectable among Jewish elites in fields like journalism, something that is reflected constantly in the pages of publications like The New York Times.

Jews who think, like so many antisemites, that one Jewish state on the planet is one too many are setting themselves up for disappointment. The nearly 7 million Jews who live in Israel aren’t about to acquiesce to their extinction of their state. But the notion that a two-state solution involving the creation of what would actually be a second independent Palestinian state, along with the one in all but name currently ruled by Hamas in Gaza, is no more realistic than Beinart’s fantasies about the end of Zionism.

The reason is that the ambitions of the Palestinians are more in tune with the “values” of Jewish Currents than they are with those who claim to be both “pro-peace and “pro-Israel.” That was confirmed for the umpteenth time by a recent item published in Haaretz.

The article by anti-Zionist journalist Amira Hass was a reaction to the recent visit of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to the home of Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The meeting, at which Gantz made some concessions on financial support and other matters to Abbas without getting anything in return, was denounced by right-wing members of Israel’s governing coalition.

Gantz’s critics were correct that appeasing Abbas while the P.A. still funds terrorism is wrong. But the move could be defended as being little different from past decisions by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing governments to allow funding to flow to Abbas and even, albeit indirectly via Qatar, to Hamas. The justification is that while Abbas and his Hamas rivals will never make peace with Israel, it is in the interest of the Jewish state to keep the Fatah government of the West Bank afloat and even to ensure the same for Hamas rule in Gaza if it will help motivate these bad actors to maintain relative quiet.

Yet it also stirred the hopes of some Jewish liberals that the meeting was a harbinger of future peace talks that would, with the proper amount of pressure coming from the Biden administration, mean that their two-state hopes are not dead.

But as Hass reported from Ramallah, when Abbas invited Palestinian intellectuals, writers and journalists to his headquarters to discuss this, those who thought he would give some outline of a “political horizon” for action were disappointed. Abbas did repeat his usual threats that the corrupt P.A. would collapse without more financial help, and that without even more Israeli concessions he would take drastic measures to revive the Palestinian cause. Abbas has been saying the same things throughout the 17 years of the four-year term to which he was elected as P.A. president, and his current threats are no more credible now than in the past.

But his main subject was something else. As Hass reported, “To everyone’s surprise he expatiated at length about the origins of Ashkenazi Jews (Khazars who converted to Judaism, he says), and about the differences between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, Jews from Arab and Islamic countries.”

Even after being given a gift of concessions at no cost to himself, Abbas’ main obsession remains promulgating long-since-debunked conspiracy theories such as the one about the Khazars in order to delegitimize Jewish rights to their homeland. Nor should it be surprising to learn that a man whose doctoral dissertation supported Holocaust denial should be thinking along these lines.

With such a person — who is, after all, the supposed moderate as opposed to the radicals of Hamas — peace is impossible. And since the nature of Palestinian political culture makes it hard to imagine a less hateful thinker replacing him, that vindicates the position of the majority of Israelis who believe that the status quo must be maintained indefinitely since there is no other choice compatible with their country’s survival.

The distance between those Americans who deny the legitimacy of a Jewish state, and a Palestinian leader who promotes antisemitic conspiracy theories, isn’t so great. But though their position is much more respectable than one grounded in hate, it is those Jews who cling to a belief in two states as a path to peace who are truly disconnected from Palestinian reality.

Jonathan Tobin is editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate.

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