Jewish Ideas Daily has been succeeded and re-launched as Mosaic. Read more...

Zionism Derangement Syndrome

Members, Im Tirtzu

A smoldering resentment, bordering on political paranoia, is palpable in sectors of Israel's Left these days. Everywhere, it seems, powerful enemies are conspiring to undermine the centers of cultural influence that leftists have long regarded as their own property, and as beyond criticism. Their response bears a resemblance to the left-wing American affliction that the columnist Charles Krauthammer memorably labeled "Bush Derangement Syndrome."

Relevant Links
The Real McCarthyites  Joel Golovensky, Haaretz. The predominance of anti-Zionist bias in Israeli academia is no longer a gut feeling or a hypothesis; it is a demonstrated empirical fact.
Cant Trumps Debate  Gerald Steinberg, Jerusalem Post. Claiming to be under unprecedented threat, the powerful Israel academic Left has launched a fierce counterattack on enemies real and imagined.
The Sad State of Israeli Radicalism  Assaf Sagiv, Azure. There should not and need not be any affinity between Israel’s unabashedly anti-Zionist radicals and its left-wing Zionists.

One recent challenge to Left hegemony is a proposed law now winding its way through the Knesset's legislative process. The bill, prompted in part by an independent report on certain Israeli pressure groups, including Peace Now and B'Tselem, would require political-advocacy organizations to reveal how much money they receive from foreign powers. On the face of it, this seems unexceptionable enough: in the U.S., the Foreign Agents Registration Act has long stipulated that persons paid to act in a political capacity by a foreign principal must declare their relationship; the proposed Israeli law, by contrast, would merely require the reporting of donations from foreign states and state-funded foundations.

Another challenge comes from a new grass-roots student effort called Im Tirtzu. The organization, which insists its political platform is centrist, has declared its intention of urging Diaspora Jewish donors to reconsider their support of Israeli universities whose humanities and social-science departments are bastions of anti-Zionist teachings and whose tenured faculty work to propel the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against the Jewish state. The group will also urge students to avoid academic departments that silence or intimidate those voicing Zionist convictions.

Finally, a meticulously documented and scathing 141-page report, "Post-Zionism in Academia," released by the Institute for Zionist Strategies, a conservative think tank, has found that nearly all social-science and humanities departments at Israeli universities are dominated by faculty advocating radical positions anathema to the country's mainstream. The situation is said to be particularly egregious at Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities, where, according to the report, most curricular readings in sociology are "post-Zionist"—really anti-Zionist—in orientation.  

To each of these initiatives, the Left's panicked response has been not to question or rebut facts and arguments but to cry outrage and to accuse the critics of engaging in attempted censorship and intimidation—in, to use the much-favored scare word, "McCarthyism." Thus, the New Israel Fund, borrowing in its own way from the late Wisconsin demagogue's playbook, has denounced Im Tirtzu as "ultra-nationalist" and "extremist"—and, in a final sign of the student organization's turpitude, as a recipient of money from evangelical Christians. The president of Ben-Gurion University has branded Im Tirtzu for engaging in a "witch hunt"; Haifa University's president has protested that it is the one politicizing academia; and Yossi Sarid, former chair of the Meretz party, has lambasted the group as a "gang of hoodlums." Says the president of Tel Aviv University, dismissively, "It's impossible to divide the world into Zionists and anti-Zionists."

The president might have been channeling the editors of Haaretz, the influential newspaper that has devoted the fullest coverage and highest dudgeon to the unfolding events. There is indeed a genuinely Zionist Left in Israel, though its strength is waning, but the paper's editors have veered unpredictably between supporting this tendency and voicing an empathically anti-Zionist line—thereby contributing to the definitional muddle seemingly endorsed by the president of Tel Aviv University. In its own heated blast at Im Tirtzu and the Institute for Zionist Strategies, Haaretz referred to their principals as "political commissars," to their work as "shameful," and to their aims as "spreading fear . . . and undermining freedom of expression." As for respecting the views of Israel's mainstream public, the paper wrinkled up its editorial nose at so patently "illegitimate [an] ethnocratic distinction."  

What next? As the rather unhinged nature of these reactions suggest, Israel's Left is beginning to fear that its uncontested hold over major centers of the country's elite culture may be as vulnerable as its hold over political power has proved to be. One thing to watch will be the behavior of the remaining Zionists on the Left, and in particular whether, like Haaretz, they will wish to continue providing intellectual cover for a cadre of overtly anti-Zionist radicals. Another is the behavior of Diaspora donors, and in particular how much they really care that Israeli universities have been nurturing a political culture inhospitable to the Zionist enterprise.

As for those now challenging the Left's hegemony in academia and elsewhere, their own challenge will be how best to resurrect the Zionist ethos whose destruction they have accurately diagnosed and faithfully reported.

Tags: , , , , , ,


David on August 25, 2010 at 7:22 am (Reply)
What a load of rubbish! So according to this piece the Left's response is "deranged."

I suppose then that the reaction of CUFI (Pastor John Hagee's Christians United For Israel) was also deranged when they decided to cut off Im Tirtzu's funding. It just so happens they were also Im Tirtzu's biggest funder and stated that they were cutting off the funds because Im Tirtzu "misrepresented their focus" as "educational" and not political. Which is a polite way of saying that Im Tirtzu lied to them in order to get money.

Nevertheless, Jager seems to think that it's perfectly fine for people to boycott Israeli universities for not being right wing enough. And just at a time when Jews and supporters of Israel are fighting a principled battle worldwide against other political boycotts of Israeli universities.

Jager also apparently doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with trying to muzzle academics in Israeli universities, let alone boycott them.

Jager clearly falls into the camp of those who, with their constant demands for loyalty tests, litmus tests and censorship, are doing thir utmost to alienate more and more Jews worldwide from the Zionist enterprise.
Dr. Avraham Walfish on August 25, 2010 at 7:54 am (Reply)
David's comments on the article are a perfect case in point of rhetoric masquerading as argument. Calling the attention of donors to the nature of the institution which they are supporting is not the same as calling for a boycott or "muzzling" - especially when the (documented!) facts support their case. The call is not to silence the proponents of post-Zionism, but to insist that the academic institutions that sponsor them make sure that students are exposed to other points of view as well. This is what academic institutions are designed to do, and if they are failing to do it, then calls for revision are demanded by those who champion academic freedom.
Max Singer on August 25, 2010 at 8:47 am (Reply)

As I understand it, Hagee didn't say he disapproved of the Im Tirtzu position, just that he regarded it as political rather than educational, and that he as an American Christian organization quite properly wanted not to be involved in trying to influence Israeli politics.
Shouldn't this discussion try to keep two things quite separate. First, facts about the nature and balance of academic programs in specific Israeli university departments. Second how various parties -- government, donors, university administrations, etc. -- might properly respond to those facts, consistently with academic freedom and other concerns.
independent patriot on August 25, 2010 at 10:00 am (Reply)
I find it ironic to live in a nation that you wish to destroy. The question seems to beg itself, why are these people even in Israel if they detest it and its existence so much? It is different if you remain in a nation and criticize in order to make it a better place to live, but that is not the purpose of Israel's academic circles. So again I ask why are they in Israel? Since their actions could be construed as having Jewish blood on their hands, do they some how think that when an Iranian missile lands on Tel Aviv that it will somehow miss their house like the angel of death passed over the Israelites in Ghoshen? Proves that not all Jews are truly intelligent.
Geoff on August 25, 2010 at 2:19 pm (Reply)
Derangment evidently runs on both side. Im Tirtzu has called for the boycott of Israeli universities? Talk about tone deaf. In the words of Jeff Foxworthy,
If CUFI refuses to fund you - you're deranged.
David on August 26, 2010 at 4:57 pm (Reply)
Not an attempted boycott or muzzling? This nonsense they and their supporters are now peddling about "only wishing to draw the attention of donors" is as insulting to the intelligence of readers as it is mendacious.

Im Tirtzu's letter stated: “We will request that all the donors submit their contributions to a trust fund managed by a lawyer, to be released to the university after it is factually proved that the bias that exists in the department, as expressed in the faculty make-up and the syllabus content, is remedied,”

Morover, Im Tirtzu sent Ben Gurion University "a letter, giving it a 30-day warning while asking it to use this time to change its policies and remove the need for contacting donors."

This was little more than a blatant attempt at blackmail, which blew up in the blackmailer's face when the intended victim called Im Tirtzu's bluff. and large US donors reacted by stating that they would increase their giving in response.

This disgusting attempt at McCarthyism and blackmail, followed by pathetic lies from the likes of Dr. Walfish, is typical of Im Tirtzu - which was condemned for its use of antsemitic imagery in attacks on the New Israel Fund, and for its reprehensible rewriting of the Yizkor prayer in another of its attempts to smear those it regards as "traitors" (anyone to the left of the Israeli Far Right).

Comments are closed for this article.

Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Pin us on Pintrest!

Jewish Review of Books

Inheriting Abraham