After all, Foxman did not try to make any case for Israel’s expanded expropriation of Palestinian land and illegal building of settlements there on the merits of the policy itself. Rather, he is complaining that J Street is simply refusing to blindly endorse the policies of the Israeli government. He is going so far as to insist that to question any policy of Israel’s government—even one whose foreign minister happens to be an avowed and unapologetic racist—is to forfeit one’s “pro-Israel” credentials. And he is doing so on behalf of a statement by a politician that, as much as he might like to, he cannot even defend on the basis of common sense. What matters is that Foxman is insisting that to be “pro-Israel” is ipso facto to support the policies of the government of Israel, even when you don’t agree with them and even when you believe your own government to be on the right side of the dispute.
I’m perfectly happy to admit my own dual loyalty, as should any honest supporter of the Zionist project. After all, it’s impossible for Israel and the United States to have exactly the same interests all the time, and sometimes Israel’s well-being may have to take precedence. But what Foxman is calling for is not dual loyalty. It is not even loyalty to conscience. Rather, it is blind loyalty to a foreign government, namely that of Israel. The idea that one cannot disagree with Israel’s government and still call oneself “pro-Israel” bespeaks a kind of Jewish McCarthyism that has for too long been the guiding political strategy of old-line Jewish professionals and the organizational structure they represent. Foxman wants a patent on the term “pro-Israel” and attacks anyone who begs to differ. I call that “defamation.”
Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and City University of New York’s graduate school. His latest book is Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America.