“It’s almost laughable,” says M. J. Rosenberg of Media Matters. “The organized Jewish community, which claims to be worried about young Jews defecting in droves, just cannot help itself from doing things that drive Jews (not just young ones) away. Between supporting Netanyahu, advocating for war with Iran and maintaining the occupation, and keeping silent as Israel evolves into a theocracy, it is also in the business of preventing debate on all these things and more.”
The case in point? New York City’s Museum of Jewish Heritage, which describes itself somewhat oxymoronically as “a living memorial to the Holocaust,” first scheduled and then turned around and canceled a talk by New Republic senior editor John Judis, author of the newly published Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict.
As this review in the Boston Globe points out, Judis’ book is no polemic, but a serious historical study. So why the cancellation? The book challenges the conventional Zionist wisdom about President Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948, showing him as a hard-nosed politician trailing in the polls in May of an election year, and being heavily lobbied by American Zionists who then helped ensure his reelection.
Judis quotes this from Truman: “I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”
Such were the folkways of American politics: squeaky wheels getting the oil. And with American Arabs and Muslims still generally reluctant to take an active organized part in national politics, such they remain.
As for the irony of a museum banning historical discussion, this is quite the trend among elderly American Jewish poohbahs when it comes to Israel. When Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism came out last year, Jewish community centers, under pressure from wealthy donors, seem to have all but blackballed him. “Pretty soon,” says Rosenberg, “any institution under any kind of Jewish auspices will have to abide by speech limits set by the Jewish 1%. The 92nd Street Y already does (it will not allow any Palestinian to speak unless ‘balanced’ by a Jew). Brandeis University wouldn’t permit President Carter to speak [on his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid] without a simultaneous rebuttal by Alan Dershowitz. Pretty soon, Mount Sinai hospital will check what books patients are sneaking into their sick rooms.”
Or maybe not. Controversy over the museum’s about-face on Judis’ book is sparking exactly the public debate its donors sought to avoid — and far beyond the presumably hallowed halls of the museum itself. As with the conservative Indian attack on Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus, which I posted on here, the desire to squelch consideration of Judis’ book is fated to achieve the precise opposite of what it intended. Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism became a bestseller, and now Judis’ Genesis looks set to do the same.
As I post this, it’s #2 on Amazon’s list of books about Israel and the Middle East. By the time you read this post, it may well be #1.