In a Times of Israel blog post, Joshua Shanes, Associate Director of the Yaschik/Arnold Jewish Studies program at the College of Charleston defends Professor David Myers as the newly appointed director of the Center for Jewish History. I don’t know either of these two men but I am taken by certain assumptions in Shanes’ blog. Shanes writes that there should not be a “litmus” test for appointment to head a Jewish titled agency in the diaspora and cites as a “normative” opinion that the “occupation”, presumably Israeli settlement policy, is wrong policy. By implication, he defends those who link with entities such as BDS if those entities are likewise opposed to settlement policy. Shanes couples much of his argument to the McCarthy era in US history from which I infer that he views critique of Myers as analogous to McCarthy’s broad and usually non-factual smears of loyal US citizens.
It is possible to take a different view. First, it is important to emphasize that Israel is still very much dependent on US support for arms and spare parts. Second, it is important to note that the Democratic Party in recent elections has been moving away from Israel toward, the famous statement of a generation ago Secretary of State William Rogers, a more “even-handed” stance regarding Israel and the Arabs. Third, any Jew who, in publically criticizing Israel, does not also include equally weighted criticism of the Palestinian Arab leadership in its policy toward Jews starting 150 years ago, and its policy toward the Jewish State starting in 1948 and continuing to the present is not himself “even-handed”. Comment from prominent Diaspora Jews, reflecting personal views, bolstered by scholarship the conclusions of which are predetermined by underlying premises of self-defined human values, weigh heavily on the first two items above. That is, such comment is used to diminish US support for Israel.
A litmus test looking for equal criticism of the Palestinian or larger Arab position is indeed appropriate in assessing Jews who criticize Israel. We in the US have just this year seen largely Jewish funded groups previously tied to Jewish causes now leaning backward to be fair to US Muslims while maintaining their public criticism of Israel on “settlement” or “occupation” policy. Is it unfair to expect those groups to link their support for Muslim, as well as all immigrants, to insistence that immigrants vow support for US law and disavow terror?
It is appropriate to ask these prominent US Jews, usually scholars in a university or think tank, to define their view of an appropriate end-Palestinian position: Is it evacuation of half-million Jews from the PA; is it a Jew-free Palestine with a near open-border Israel? And in wars such as the last in Gaza, do they think anything more than their personal definition of a “proportionate response” is appropriate in wartime, recognizing that the very term proportionate means that victory is precluded.
Scholarship does not mean false comparisons to the past, nor name calling of opponents. These Jewish scholars need to examine the end-game of their critique and to declare this in their statements.