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."
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.
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