Liberal Zionism and Michelle Alexander

The New York Times has a new op ed columnist, Michelle Alexander, a liberal with whose views I would normally be comfortable. But yesterday she claimed in the Sunday Times that it is the duty of all right thinking liberals to protest against Israel just as Martin Luther King protested against the Vietnam War despite Lyndon Johnson’s advocacy of civil rights legislation and the War on Poverty.

In her zeal, she shows a great deal of ignorance about the differences and the facts. She first claims that the Israel Palestine conflict is one of the great moral crises of our time. Supposedly, the Israel lobby and its allies have kept people from speaking out about it. And she repeats that Israel is somehow responsible for the displacement of 750,000 refugees in 1948 and owes them a right of return.

First, for a New York Times reporter to say she has been somehow intimidated from speaking out is absurd. Really. Those bad Israelis somehow gagged her, the nefarious Israel lobby somehow threatened her. Sounds a bit like the usual Jewish conspiracy stuff.

Second, there are many moral crises today. The slaughter in Yemen, the imprisonment of perhaps a million Uighurs in China, the continuing depredations in the Congo, Russia’s annexations in the Ukraine, and our own president’s assaults on immigrants and others all have a more devastating impact, in terms of lives lost or ruined, than the events in Israel. The plight of Muslims in Kashmir ruled by India is, ironically, explored in a series of editorial cartoons which appear on the page of the Times immediately adjacent to the Alexander editorial. As to religious freedom, Saudi Arabia has been judenrein since 700 A.D. No synagogues there, unlike mosques in Israel, but no protests about it either.

Third, she repeats the lie that the Israelis somehow caused the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. There would have been no war and no displacement at all if the Arab countries had simply accepted the UN Partition resolution. Instead they chose to make war. In the course of this war, the Arabs expelled Jews wherever they won. The old city Jewish community in Jerusalem was kicked out with an hour’s notice and Jews were barred from the old city for 19 years, the Etzion bloc was destroyed, and earlier, the Jewish community of Hebron had essentially been annihilated by Arab riots. Can there be any doubt as to what would have happened to the Jews of Tel Aviv if the Arabs had won that war. Yes, the Israelis did some bad things during the war, Deir Yassin was a sin, but they were under an illegal attack by 5 powerful neighboring nations.

And what of the 850,000 or so Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after 1948. Do they have any right to get their homes and property back? Their trauma was if anything greater since they had to go longer distances to live in Israel. Yet unlike Arab countries who have isolated Palestinian refugees for generations, at least these refugees found a safe harbor in Israel.

More broadly, there is no bar from anyone criticizing the settlement policies of the Netanyahu government, or the nonsense perpetrated by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate with respect to issues like marriage and divorce. But please do not drag Dr. King into the debate on one side of a situation which has far more ambiguities than our own nation’s sad history on racial relations, or use our misconceived war in Vietnam as a template from which to attack Israel so broadly.

About the Author
Peter Buchsbaum is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Joseph Weintraub, Chief Justice of NJ and served as a Judge of the NJ Superior Court from 2004 to 2013 after a career as prominent municipal land use lawyer. Peter was listed in Who's Who in America for 25 years. Today, he sits on the Board of Trustees for Har Sinai Temple in Pennington, NJ; and he is a co-founder of J-PLAN (the Jewish Pluralism Legal Action Network), which advocates for marriage equality in Israel.
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