Right-wing media watch dog group’s conference on “Israel’s Jewish Defamers.” “The CAMERA people are losing and they know it.”

Philip Weiss and Tony Karon both chime in and Ben Harris at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency provides excellent coverage, while I offer my own personal observation below.

We told you about the CAMERA Israel’s Defamers conference.

Enemy number one? The respected Israeli paper Ha’aretz. Harris reports:

In her opening remarks, [CAMERA director Andrea] Levin insisted that it is not criticism that is at issue, but defamation, which, when coming from Jews, is afforded added potency. She singled out Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, one of the country’s most respected news sources and — through its English-language edition and Web site — a chief source of media perspective on Israel abroad. Levin accused the paper of printing outright lies and failing to issue corrections, even when the mistakes are pointed out.

David Landau, Ha’aretz’s editor-in-chief, refused — “as a matter of policy and principle” — to respond to the substance of Levin’s criticisms because they came from CAMERA, an organization that he dismissed as “Mcarthyite.”

“I advise your readers to relate to CAMERA’s tendentious statements and comments with the same measure of skepticism,” Landau said, “and to read Ha’aretz.com and draw their own conclusions as to the veracity of our reporting and the contribution of our op-ed columns to honest and caring debate within Israel and the Jewish world.”

Weiss observed:

The most important statement Levin made was that she gets the brushoff from Amos Schocken, the Haaretz publisher, but with the American media, “there is an unwritten contract between them and us.” (Verbatim transcript to come later, when I have a little time…) An unwritten contract: to be fair to Israel, to print CAMERA members’ letters, to pick up the phone.

Isn’t that amazing and scandalous? Levin is explaining why there is a free debate in Israel and not here. Because of the lobby and its “unwritten contract.” Because U.S. support is crucial to Israel’s existence. And so Americans, who supposedly so love the Middle East democracy that they support it out of the goodness of their hearts, must not read the news from Israel.

Enemy number 2? Rabbi Michael Lerner. Harris continues:

The real heat at the conference came later, with a tour de force from celebrated author Cynthia Ozick, whose presentation, “Reflections on Apostasy,” vilified Jews who appear to identify with the enemies of the Jewish people. Ozick reserved particular vitriol for Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the left-wing journal Tikkun and a frequent critic of Israel.

After ridiculing him as a “garrulous mime,” questioning the validity of his rabbinical ordination, and slapping him with a flurry of unflattering adjectives — chaotic, disorganized, self-contradictory, puerile, and unbearably long-winded, to name but a few — Ozick accused the yarmulke-wearing rabbi of providing Jewish sanction to some of Israel’s most implacable foes.

“Only imagine Karl Marx davening and you will comprehend the dazzlement of Rabbi Lerner’s current achievement,” Ozick said.

Lerner is “one of a growing band of ambitious, self-touting Jews whose hostility to the State of Israel more and more takes on the character of the spite that kills,” she said. “The noise they make they call a silencing. The debate they attract they call a censoring.”

And who is losing? Philip Weiss, who went and discovered a largely older and in many ways sympathetic crowd of familiar Jews who still saw the world was against them, wrote:

The CAMERA people are losing and they know it. Near the end Cynthia Ozick was asked how we should go about delegitimizing the delegitimizers of the Jewish state and she sighed and said, “It’s hopeless.” Alvin Rosenfeld, the author of the disgraceful report on Jewish anti-Semitism put out by the American Jewish Committee, was mildly more optimistic. He said exactly what I say: “We are in a furious intellectual struggle. There is a war of ideas going on… it won’t end quickly…. It is steady work.” And it is “serious and worrisome” inasmuch as these ideas may now “enter the mainstream.” Amen.

Tony Karon weighed in on the whole question of the decline of support for Jewish nationalism.

One reader (thanks, Sasha!) pointed out this glum editorial by arch-Zionist and neocon Daniel Pipes, warning that even if it overcomes all the mortal threats that neocons like to see all around Israel, that won’t help it cope with what he calls Israel’s ultimate challenge — “a Jewish population increasingly disenchanted with, even embarrassed by, the country’s founding ideology, Zionism, the Jewish national movement.” (Actually, Daniel, I’d call it the Jewish nationalist movement, but let’s not quibble here.)

It’s worth quoting at lenght from Pipes’ piece:

“Worse for Israel, Jewish nationalism has lost the near-automatic support it once had among secular Jews, many of whom find this nineteenth-century ideology out of date. Some accept arguments that a Jewish state represents racism or ethnic supremacism, others find universalist and multi-cultural alternatives compelling. Consider some signs of the changes underway:

  • Young Israelis are avoiding the military in record numbers, with 26 percent of enlistment-age Jewish males and 43 percent of females not drafted in 2006. An alarmed Israel Defense Forces has requested legislation to deny state-provided benefits to Jewish Israelis who do not serve.
  • Israel’s Attorney General Menachem Mazuz has up-ended the work of the Jewish National Fund, one of the pioneer Zionist institutions (founded in 1901) by determining that its role of acquiring land specifically for Jews cannot continue in the future with state assistance.
  • Prominent Israeli historians focus on showing how Israel was conceived in sin and has been a force for evil. Israel’s ministry of education has approved school books for third-grade Arab students that present the creation of Israel in 1948 as a ‘catastrophe’ (Arabic: nakba).
  • Avraham Burg, scion of a leading Zionist household and himself a prominent Labor Party figure, has published a book comparing Israel with 1930s Germany.
  • A 2004 poll found only 17 percent of American Jews call themselves ‘Zionist.’ “

On a personal note, I (Cecilie) was moved by Philip Weiss’s report that the attendees, largely older NY Jews, fearful, felt like his people. Some of them literally could have been my people.

The truth is that I could never have enough compassion for my elderly relative who still lives with the trauma of barely surviving the 900 day siege of Leningrad, who watched her uncle starve to death in front of her, (actually, well over 1 million people starved to death in front of her), whose parents sent her there for safety but who disappeared forever into the inferno of war and gas chambers. That she is alive is a miracle. And that she thinks I’m one of Israel’s defamers for drawing attention to what the Israeli government is doing that is simply wrong on every level, is understandable. What I do makes her feel less safe. If there is no mythical fortress Israel, then what could ever save us?

We are a traumatized people. Many of our elders are deeply traumatized, still. I didn’t see my father express any emotion at all about what happened to his aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother until he was 80 years old and completely lost all composure in one moment. Most of my life, he has brushed off the topic by deflecting the conversation.

I have compassion for the elders like those who attend CAMERA conferences – feeling reaffirmed in their sense that the world is against them. It is virtually impossible for them to open their eyes and ears to all the ways that groups like CAMERA are actually diminishing any possibility of a future that is safe for Jews in Israel. They are too scared, too damaged.

I do not have that same compassion for our so-called Jewish leaders who “lead” with demonization and fear. And who insist that the way to support and love the Jews is to insure that all of us be protected from reality, and to insist that we enable unspeakable acts that ultimately and ironically, make all of us less safe.

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