First Jewish Week’s James Besser, and now the writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin, known to many as a feminist hero and Jewish activist, has written a groundbreaking piece in the Jewish magazine Moment. Her essay, “Jewish McCarthyism Strikes Gold(stone)”, in which she decries the shameful campaign against Richard Goldstone who investigated the war with Gaza on behalf of the UN, is remarkable because of where it appears, a respected Jewish magazine read by members of all branches of American Judaism. More evidence that the Jewish center is shifting and that the starry-eyed love-affair we American Jews have had with our fantasy of Israel is ending. Pogrebin writes:
Some weeks after the report’s release, a rabbi friend emailed me asking what I thought of it, promising me “confidentiality.” He knew how perilous it can be for a Jew to go public with an opinion that diverges from the “mainstream,” meaning the views expressed by “Jewish leaders” of “major Jewish organizations” and others who purport to speak for “the Jewish community.”
To understand the price for breaking ranks, just look at how mercilessly Judge Goldstone—a proud Jew and declared Zionist—was vilified, not by gentile anti-Semites or Arabist Israel-haters but by Jews in the Israel-right-or-wrong mafia who, rather than address the troubling issues raised in the report, resorted to character assassination to delegitimate its lead author.
Regarding Goldstone’s final report, she concludes:
I wish the document’s charges were being actively discussed and convincingly rebutted by an internal investigation, but debate has been effectively squelched. Smears and death threats have done little to erode Judge Goldstone’s prestige among those familiar with his lifelong commitment to truth and justice. But the ad hominen attacks have deeply wounded him, his wife, two daughters and four grandsons who must relate to their Jewish friends and colleagues under a cloud of McCarthyite slander.
Of course, on the surface, such a deliberate and calculated attempt by a significant portion of the Jewish and Israeli leadership to destroy the life of another Jew, who by all accounts is not just a great human being but a true friend to Israel, makes absolutely no sense. But as we see in this older but must-read Nation article, Israeli historian Idith Zertal shows in Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood that the builders of the state of Israel, like Ben-Gurion, long acted as though the interests of the Zionist project far outweighed the interests of individual Jews, whether Mizrachi Jews from Arab countries or traumatized Holocaust survivors. The stories are sadly numerous: From the tragic 4,500 Holocaust survivors on the famous Exodus ship, who through Ben-Gurion’s intervention were forced to stay on the boat for 7 months (Chaim Weizmann convinced the French Prime Minister to take them in as refugees, but Ben-Gurion thought they were more useful to him if they remained on the ship and helped build sympathy for a future Israel) — to the coerced “recruitment” of exhausted Holocaust survivors into the Haganah, the Jewish underground militia that fought the war of ‘48.
Certainly anyone who has witnessed protests by elderly, poverty-stricken Israeli Holocaust survivors and their families against an Israeli government that failed to care for them would find this history believable. Or those aware of the cavalier attitudes towards Jewish life exemplified by the settlement project itself. And so on and so forth…
In that sense, Pogrebin’s piece is striking for what it doesn’t say explicitly but necessarily plants in the minds of Jewish readers: perhaps it’s long past time to assume the interests of most Jews are aligned with the interests of Israeli governments when it comes to valuing the lives of Jews, let alone our cousins, Palestinians. As a Jew essentially sacrificed at the altar of toxic nationalism, Goldstone sadly has plenty of good company.