Israel’s onslaught drags U.S. Jewish life into the abyss

Originally published: Mondoweiss on December 10, 2023 (more by Mondoweiss)  |

It has been another horrifying week in Gaza, as our reporters have sought to document. It saw the murder of a great poet, Refaat Alareer, and his family, by the Israeli army. It saw the Israeli army stripping and humiliating scores of Palestinian men on the street of a bombed-out city–including, by our report, shopkeepers and journalists—in scenes reminiscent of Abu Ghraib and the Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe.

It saw the U.S. defying the world to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a ceasefire—and the U.S. resupplying Israel with tank shells.

“There is a real danger that we will actually lose our homeland, possibly forever, and will be forced into Egypt,” Tareq Hajjaj writes.

And here in America, the Jewish establishment has been consigned to the role of supporting genocide, and it has accepted that role eagerly in all its expressions and activities. The effect on Judaism of this moral collapse is unfathomable. Young Jews will save the religion; but the tragedy is sure to envelop my people for decades, and produce great suffering in Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. too.

I’m talking about the unanimity of official Jewish life. Tony Blinken—who became secretary of state by invoking his father’s surviving the Holocaust—is today a shell of a man. Look at him on CNN. He has stood up again and again for Israeli massacres, while saying that he has asked Israel to do better– pretty please. These performances at the gates of hell will haunt him, just like Colin Powell lying at the U.N. to enable the destruction of Iraq.

Just like J Street issuing pathetic political calibrations, aimed at standing by Biden as families are massacred.

If we do not see evidence soon that the government of Israel is, in fact, making meaningful changes to its conduct of the war and its attitudes regarding post-war arrangements, then J Street will no longer be able to provide our organizational support for the current military campaign.

Then there is the case of the university presidents. As you surely know, Liz Magill resigned yesterday as president of the University of Pennsylvania after a tidal wave of criticism of her and Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, for giving flatfooted answers at a congressional hearing last Tuesday when a New York Republican demanded that they condemn calls for genocide against Jewish students.

The supposed calls for genocide are Palestinians and their allies calling for intifada. Intifada means shaking off. It is a liberation cry as old as human persecution. And to be clear, who is actually being slaughtered now: More than 17,000 Palestinians in Gaza by the latest count, with over a million starving.

But who cares about Palestinians? Magill and Gay never stood up for Palestinians’ right to free speech. When the criticism hit, they apologized for their testimony. “I am sorry,” Gay told the Harvard College newspaper. “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret.” Magill posted an ashen video on X.

That wasn’t enough. Three days later, Magill resigned along with the chair of the Penn board of trustees, Scott Bok. And Harvard President Gay is now facing pressure to step down, including in a statement by the school’s Hillel that she can’t protect Jewish life at Harvard.

This is about the destruction of American Jewish life because it is, 1, a triumph of censorship of critics of Israel (at universities that once provided a huge leg up to aspiring Jews like me), and 2, the resignations at Penn were fostered by donor threats—even the New York Times and Harvard Crimson stories acknowledge as much.

This is a naked expression of the power of the Israel lobby to enforce Zionist orthodoxy in official life.

Note that Bok was promptly replaced on the Penn board by vice chair Julie Platt, who the Times informs us “chairs the board of the Jewish Federations of North America,” which has been tirelessly raising money for Israel.

The board of advisers of Penn’s business school had called on Magill to resign. That group includes billionaire NFL owner Josh Harris, a big supporter of Israel. And David Blitzer, who co-owns the Philadelphia 76ers with Harris and others and supports Israel. And Jeff Blau, a real estate biggie and Israel supporter.

No wonder Pennsylvania’s Jewish governor visited the campus and said Magill had failed a test of leadership.

The smearing of Palestinian supporters at Penn and Harvard reminds us that Columbia last month suspended Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace under donor pressure. (A “Jewish billionaire philanthropist”, Harvey Swieca, had resigned from the Columbia Business School board of overseers over Israel protests at the school, saying they made Jews “unsafe on campus.”)

The flexing of financial muscle for Zionism is evident, too, in stories about the Basel art fair in Miami this weekend, where “Jewish collectors” are shunning works by artists who support Palestinian rights. Even NBC News is hinting at this avowal of racism among the entitled.

And by the way, MSNBC, whose corporate CEO is a big Israel supporter, canned Mehdi Hasan‘s show this week, surely because he has criticized America and Israel’s war on Gaza. While the Nation ran an article by a Zionist declaring that Jews have a long connection to the land (a bullshit basis for a country, let alone a war, that the great Chomsky dismisses out of hand). Though Daniel Levy’s respect for Palestinian resistance at the Nation was an antidote. Even Bernie Sanders has disappointed us—and thrilled AIPAC.

So, as savagely dark as this year is for Palestine, that darkness is permeating Jewish life. The Zionist ideology that has reigned in Jewish life since at least 1967 is demanding support for genocide, and the big Jewish organizations are happily complying. I can only salute all the great young Jews working to shake off these forces. In the spirit of intifada.

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