Guardian

The liberal racism of J Street’s Daniel Levy


H/T Mere Rhetoric

With the liberal lobbying group, J Street, still reeling from revelations that their director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, wasn’t truthful about funding the group received from George Soros, a video has surfaced of J Street’s co-founder, Daniel Levy (who’s been fawned over by the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky and Chris McGreal) which again reveal the group’s true colors.

At a Q+A of “Palestinian Politics and Obama’s Peace Plans,” an event held in October 2009 by Levy’s The Century Foundation (cached event page here, PDF of quotes here, full video here and here), Levy – who recently caused problems for J Street when he referred to Israel’s entire creation as “an act that was wrong” – accused Israel of doing everything in their power “to try to turn the Palestinians violent.”  Here’s the exchange:

DANIEL LEVY: So Fatah is irretrievably bought into a negotiations-only strategy. What if the negotiations don’t deliver? And Hamas into an illegitimate strategy that includes use of violence against civilians.
BASSIM KHOURY: We Palestinians have part of the blame with where we are now because of our homicide bombings in Israel.
DANIEL LEVY: The Palestinian side has failed to produce a third alternative. The third alternative inside the territories is about nonviolent resistance which is why Israel does everything to try and turn nonviolent resistance into violence.

Of course, CiF Watch is not unfamiliar with tropes – by Israel haters both above and below the line at the Guardian – suggesting Israeli culpability for Palestinian terrorism and extremism.  But, when the leader of a large, well-funded, lobbying group, which claims to be pro-Israel, advances such a narrative it is especially troubling.

“Liberal Racism” is a term I was first introduced to by Jim Sleeper, then of The New Republic.  In his book, he characterized it as the phenomenon of liberal “whites” or Westerners expecting less morally of racial minorities – or, at least, those who fit their (often quite arbitrary) definition of racial minorities – than of others.  Sleeper decries the liberal blindness to the desperate need of “victims” to take responsibility for their own lives.

As African-American writer Shelby Steele has observed:

“We choose not to see certain things that are right in front of us. For example, we ignore that the Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority.  [And] the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims.”

The projection of innocence onto the Palestinians is what often lays beneath the surface of commentary which excuses immoral Palestinian behavior as a mere reaction to Israeli oppression which they, as the “oppressed”, are unable to control – whether it be suicide bombing, support for extremists, government sponsored incitement, or a political culture imbued (indeed, saturated) with virulent  anti-Semitism.

J Street styles themselves as a bold, new, progressive movement which seeks to achieve peace in the Middle East by applying outside pressure on the Israeli government to make territorial concessions, and other policy decisions, which the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public consistently rejects.  J Street and their fellow travelers seem to genuinely believe that they – who will never have to suffer the consequences of such decisions – know more about what’s in Israel’s best interest than the Israeli public.

While the sheer hubris the save Israel from itself view is staggering, what’s even more troublesome is a J Street leadership which seems to deny Palestinians the most basic moral agency which all others are assumed to possess.  Contrary to what Mr. Levy is suggesting, the Palestinians have free will, and possess the power each day to make choices about whether to aspire to peace and reconciliation with the Jewish state or whether to resort to violence, hatred and rejectionism.  No one can make that choice for them.  It is theirs and theirs alone.  Any ideological orientation which would deny this fundamental truth needs to be called for what it is: racist.

 

24 replies »

  1. It’s interesting when ones writes of Daniel Levy, no one mentions that he’s Lord Levy’s son. Tony Blair’s ex Middle East envoy.

  2. Michelle what a valid point. People’s relationships are relevant to their actions. Perhaps its something genetic, in the blood or in the water.

    So tell us, whose child are you? Do you have some interesting connections?

  3. I imagine that when Jeremy Ben-Ami gives up on the JStreet con, he will be even more careful for the next con and will include in the new organisations mission, ‘Pro Israel’ AND ‘persuade the Palestinians that compromise is the only way’.

    Both will obviously be just empty words.

  4. there has never been a non violent protest in the west bank and/or gaza

    the arabs themselves call the protests “unarmed”

    to them, someone throwing stones…is unarmed

    what they do is set up protestors to march…then have the kids throw stones from the front or the back of the protest…making sure to keep the kids out of view of their cameras….

    when border police respond (which they must…rocks can kill) they make sure to show the response…and then show the kids throwing the stones

    that the border police are not equipped with their own mounted cams is pure idiocy

    again…jstreet shows itself to be terrorist enablers

  5. This is another example on Adam Levick milking an oral non-sentence for what it’s worth.

    Look at the first part of what Daniel Levy says:
    “The Palestinian side has failed to produce a third alternative. The third alternative inside the territories is about nonviolent resistance”
    This agrees exactly with what Adam and the comments are claiming. So far, so good.

    Now lets look at the second part:
    “which is why Israel does everything to try and turn nonviolent resistance into violence.”
    It really doesn’t go with the first part and it doesn’t make sense either; if the Palestinians haven’t developed non-violent resistance than there isn’t really anything for Israel to deal with.

    As I have pointed out before, this is the way everyone talks – there is no opportunity to go back and correct the ambiguities. Therefore there is no point in microscopically analyzing isolated sentences of this kind.

    Perhaps what he is referring to are the few instances of non-violent resistance at the start of the first Intifada. Perhaps you would like to comment on how Israel dealt with them ?

  6. Walt Kovacs, your description is a very good illustration of the Arab propensity to bend the truth to suit themselves. When one remembers that stones are used in some Islamic regimes to commit judicial murder slowly and cruelly (no stone must be big or heavy enough to kill the unfortunate victim outright) ’tis but a small step, symbolically at least, to define these stone throwers, however young they are, as would-be executioners of Jews.

    Michelle, your post is distinctly odd and I can understand Germolene’s reaction to it. It seems to me that you either want to stir the pot here or are projecting, and if the latter, then that speaks volumes about your motivation. I would therefore second Germolene’s question – do you have “influential” relations which might have led to your writing it, or did you just not give it much thought?

  7. MindtheCrap, why don’t YOU tell us, with appropriate links from disinterested sources, how Israel dealt with them? You seem to want to do so very much

  8. Hairshirt:
    Try googling “Bet Sahur tax revolt” and let me know what your conclusions are:
    1. “No taxation without representation” applies only to Americans.
    2. Israeli law applies to the Palestinians regarding assessment of taxes, but does not apply to the Palestinians when the taxes are not paid.
    3. etc, etc.
    I want to emphasize that I am not disagreeing with anybody here: the Palestinians did NOT develop a tradition of non-violent protest, but the isolated attempts to do so were suppressed harshly. Is this what Levy is referring to ?

  9. And it should be pointed out that Levy is agreeing with Bassim Khoury (the former Minister of National Economy for the Palestinian Authority), who says :
    “We Palestinians have part of the blame with where we are now because of our homicide bombings in Israel.”
    So why doesn’t Adam write an article emphasizing that Levy thinks that the Palestinians are to blame ?

  10. mtc, re: “this is another example on Adam Levick milking an oral non-sentence for what it’s worth.” Boy, there’s a mouthful.

    Respectfully, I’d like you to respond to the substance of Levy’s remarks (which were made in 2009). Do, in your mind, the Israelis attempt to turn the Palestinians violent?

  11. Adam Levick:
    Why don’t you reply to the substance of what I wrote: that you are again interpreting an isolated sentence from an oral interview, a sentence that appears to contradicts itself. If anything, Levy is agreeing with the statement that the Palestinians harmed their cause by turning to violent protest. Do you disagree? Also please reply to my comment on how Israel responded to cases of non-violent protest and the long-term effect of this response.

    Finally, you are the author of this article and you posted it on a site that allows and encourages comments from the readers. I posted my comment on the “substance of Levy’s remarks” above. You don’t have to agree with me, but you have to expect and respect different opinions. As the author of the article it is your responsibility to respond to the reader’s comments and defend your position, not the reader’s.

  12. Yes, it was I who popularized the term “liberal racism” in a book by that name, and I’m probably as critical as Adam Levick of anyone who’d excuse Islamicist or secular Palestianian violence that destroys politics as a venue for dialogue and progress. A politics of death is the death of politics, and Palestinians as well as Israelis have taken that road too often and too far.

    But I don’t excuse over-doing the point at the expense of Jeremy Ben-Ami and others at J-Street or of George Soros, who, whatever their faults, offer American neo-conservatives and the current Israeli governing coalition a way out of certain self-destruction.

    This is a very old problem for political writers, who cannot do their work well or credibly unless they avoid turning the enemies of their enemies into their friends. I got at this during the 2008-2009 Gaza War, in a TPM post — “Gaza Needs a George Orwell Now” — that prompted the following NPR interview. I hope that Mr. Levick and others will listen to what I, the author of Liberal Racism, do and do not say regarding Palestinian and Israeli violence.

    The TPM post:

    http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/01/11/its_time_for_an_orwell_in_gaza/

    NPR interview:

    http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/2009/jan/15/gaza-latest/

  13. Jim Steele a way out of certain self-destruction.
    Oh dear, another one of those monocular commentators who see only Israel as being relevant and the only side responsible for their own actions, remaining blind & deaf to the Palestinians’ refusal to budge from their stance, to make land exchanges, or to admit Jews as citizens or residents.

    What is Soros’s way out of the situation pray tell? I do know that he sees almost everyone as being responsible for antisemitism except the antisemites themselves. JStreet’s way seems to be to obfuscate their true actions and motives, cloaking them in speech acceptable to those in whose company they happen to be.

  14. I disagree with J Street folk on every key point. However, one cannot lose sight of the fact that they too as Jews have every right under the sun to voice their points of view in regard to Jewish matters.

  15. Thanks for your comments, Mr. Sleeper. I enjoyed your book when I read it, and still think your arguments, about the pathology of certain liberal views regarding race, are as relevant today as they were then.

    Levy’s arguments “that Israel’s creation was a mistake” and that “Israel tries to turn the Palestinians violent” are reprehensible. Do you deny this?

    Further, do you deny that the later remark by Levy fits the broad definition of liberal racism? Look, its your book, but denying the Palestinians moral agency (due to some post-colonial view of them as immutable victims) seems to fit your definition quite well.

    Further, I simply don’t understand how, 10 years after Israel’s withdrawal from S. Lebanon (which greatly empowered Hezbollah), and 5 years after their withdrawal from Gaza (which resulted in the emergence of Hamas), you (or any liberal) can make the argument that it is Israel that needs to be on the defensive, and that its behavior is indeed self-destructive.

    By “self-destructive”, I’m assuming you’re referring to the settlements?

    The overwhelming majority of Israelis, me included, who used to support such unilateral withdrawals now quite soberly and rationally hesitate to agree to further withdrawals until we have some degree of confidence that such concessions will truly lead to peace, and not simply lead to yet another terrorist state on our eastern border. Do you really think this is unreasonable?

    Finally, I’m continually amazed by the intellectual tick displayed by even the staunchest liberal defenders of Israel – whereby they need to distance themselves from “neocons” and “Likudnicks” in order to maintain their street cred within progressive circles.

    Neoncons (and Likud supporters) have simply come to the conclusion that Palestinian/Arab intransigence (terrorism, anti-Semitism, the rejection of a Jewish state within any borders, etc.) is, by far, the biggest obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Agree or disagree, but I honestly don’t see how such a view can be seen as a “neocon” view. What, beyond simple name-calling”, does such a characterization even mean?

  16. I’m traveling and can”t do better than give you this in response — along with the links I’ve provided in the comment above. It’s too late, I think, for your line of reasoning, based though it is on the reluctant conclusion that it’s too late for the J-Street line, as well. I disagree with you in reckoning the odds and the best likely strategies, and I’m not calling anyone names.

    http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/06/04/from_beit_shemesh_a_plea_to_american_jews/index.php

  17. Thanks for your comments, Jim. You have an open invitation to pen a full length unedited reply on our blog, if you wish. Again, thanks for taking the time to reply.

    Adam

  18. “When one remembers that stones are used in some Islamic regimes to commit judicial murder slowly and cruelly (no stone must be big or heavy enough to kill the unfortunate victim outright) ’tis but a small step, symbolically at least, to define these stone throwers, however young they are, as would-be executioners of Jews.”

    Before I begin, I realize the simple fact of trying to answer this rationally makes me an idiot.

    Given the pogroms during the late 19th/early 20th, are you aware of any description of the Soviet casualties of WWII as “would be executioners of Jews.”

    Given WWII itself, when east Germans were sent to labor camps in the USSR, were any of them called “would be executioners of Jews.”

    So why is it when a Palestinian kid throws a rock at a soldier armed with an automatic, he gets to be a would-be-executioner of Jews? It can’t have anything to do with living on land coveted by Zionists.

    Not to mention that if Palestinians are going to execute Jews by stoning them, a logical target would be the ones who go to their villages and demonstrate with them.

  19. Mr. Sleeper:
    I enjoyed reading your thoughtful and perceptive Bet Shemesh article. Unfortunately it won’t attract very much appreciation on this site.

  20. Sergio Bramsole

    I disagree with J Street folk on every key point. However, one cannot lose sight of the fact that they too as Jews have every right under the sun to voice their points of view in regard to Jewish matters.

    Yes. They do. But they misrepresent themselves to Us Jewry. Their narrative is the Palestinian narrative that the Palestinians are the victims only and have very little if any responsibility for their part in their removal to ‘safer’ places until the combined Arab armies had pushed all the Jews into the sea.

    This is their deception. They are a ‘con-job’. And they have fooled many good people.

  21. JerusalemMite

    They offer an alternative way to go forward. The question is: how many would fall for all that nonsense. I venture to speculate very few, if any.

  22. “Levy … referred to Israel’s entire creation as an act that was wrong”

    Once you’ve taken that tack, it’s no longer about Israel’s policies. It’s about Israel’s entire being.

    Am I stating the obvious? Apparently not, as a lot of people still think that, despite starting from such a point, there is room for negotiating with non-Jews who hold that view or breaking bread with Jews who hold that view.

    andrew r,

    “So why is it when a Palestinian kid throws a rock at a soldier armed with an automatic, he gets to be a would-be-executioner of Jews?”

    Well, that’s where the “would-be” part comes. What the world wants, is for Israel to remove all its security barriers (including, but not limited to, the fence), so that the “would-be” could turn into “is” (God forbid).

    All according to the Bipartite Elimination Plan against the Jewish State:

    1) For the post-1967 territories, invoke international “law” to ensure their being ethnically cleansed of all Jews.

    2) Then, for the pre-1967 territories, prepare the ground for a repeat of the 1947-9 War of Independence by making the remaining State of Israel a “state of all its citizens,” and flooding it with descendants of the refugees of the aforementioned war.

    That is the truth of the matter.