Glenn Greenwald on Gideon Levy and J Street by mattsteinglass
November 3, 2009, 3:46 am
Filed under: Israel

This Greenwald column is basically right on, but this misses something:

I have almost nothing but good things to say about J Street — they are fighting a difficult and largely noble battle — but the fact that not even this group, devoted to orthodoxy-busting, is willing to get anywhere near what Gideon Levy advocates illustrates how constricted American debates over Israel continue to be compared to Israel’s.

If we’re talking about American Jewish debates here, then the reason Gideon Levy and other Israelis can go farther in their critiques is the same reason why African-Americans can have a much more full-throated and vicious debate within the community about various kinds of problems than white commentators can have about those problems. Basically, you do your army service and serve your miluim, and it entitles you to say a whole lot of stuff that people sitting in nice coffee bars in Manhattan can’t say.


7 Comments so far
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I see how some might feel Israeli’s have more freedom to express their views than those out in the despora….I don’t agree with them though.

Israeli’s have more say in Israel’s affairs as they can vote in Israel. We out in the despora have no less rights to have our own opinions and speak them openly. Anyone suggesting otherwise isn’t interested in open discussion so much as elites decreeing to the great unwashed hoards (DFH’s in americaspeak).

And honestly, as an American….we contribute $3B to Isreal each and every year. That alone gives me a right to say what I think. Those who don’t agree with me might be aware that we can always take our football and just go home.

Comment by kindness

“Basically, you do your army service and serve your miluim, and it entitles you to say a whole lot of stuff that people sitting in nice coffee bars in Manhattan can’t say.”

This is b.s. Half my family was murdered in a concentration camp. I can be – and am – very critical of Israel. But I’m all of 32 years old.

Older Jews, particularly the ones who might like to make a large donation to an organization, are incredibly conservative, often anti-Arab, and won’t have a debate.

Don’t forget – these are the same people who voted for McCain. Obama won something like 95% of Jews under 30. So it’s not just that older conservative Jews won’t have a debate about Israel – they didn’t even like having a debate about how the United States should be run!

Comment by mark

Mark, I agree with the basic thrust of your views, and I absolutely think Americans and American Jews have a say in what happens in Israel. But I’m making an observation about the way political discourse works: dues-payers, blues-singers, etc. Ta-Nehisi Coates can say virtually whatever he damn well pleases about race relations in America; I have to think pretty hard and make sure I don’t say half-assed stuff that might be offensive. And that is as it should be — up to a point. To put it another way, a resident of Sderot can say “We should not invade Gaza to try to stop the rockets, because of the risk to civilians,” and nobody can challenge him; he’s under the rockets. For me to make the same case, without facing the consequences, I have to be a lot more cautious, because I’m talking about other people’s lives.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

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Matt, I can’t exactly follow your logic. “Saying what you damn well please” is different than offering a valid critique. You seem to lump these two things together (in your original post you say Levy can go further, but in your response to Mark you only talk about caution and offense, and you link the two together when you say “But I’m making an observation about…”). Telling Mark you think “Americans and American Jews have a say” doesn’t concede the point that they probably have something of value to say. Then you assert that it is only dues-payers that can have a valuable opinion (or are entitled to speak that opinion) and even more, you go on to claim that Levy’s military service is a sort of dues-paying somehow equivalent to TNC’s, you know, being African-American. In what universe are those two experiences even on the same scale of dues-paying? One’s a choice (even though it’s mandatory, it’s a choice by the society and the democratically elected leaders), and one was never a choice, you know, being a slave and all.

It’s not the same thing. To carry out your analogy, the only people that can really criticize the Israeli government are ex-government officials, because they’ve paid their dues in that system. But the whole point of democracy (whether you live there or here) is the citizen’s ability to know what they want and to identify injustice when they see it. I may have a less valuable critique than Levy, but not because I didn’t do military service, but probably because I just don’t have access to as much information as he does, or I haven’t put the work in that could get me to almost the same point in credibility or entitlement that he has. Democracies are based on equal and automatic entitlement, no?

The general problem with your point is that it keeps Americans and American Jews afraid and inactive, when they should be feeling more entitled to speak up.

Comment by joeljoel

joel, sorry for late response, but I find this a really unexpected reply to be getting. Nobody is more aggressive than me in thinking that American Jews should be more critical of the Israeli government. But it’s just a fact that there are some things left-wing Israelis will feel no qualms about saying that I would feel qualms about saying because I’m not Israeli. If you don’t see why that is, I’m not sure I can explain it to you, but I think you’ll probably experience it at some point when you try to cross a boundary and find that you’ve said something people will not accept coming from you, but might accept coming from somebody else.

Comment by Matt Steinglass

hi matt, thanks for your response.

i do understand fully how things can be more acceptable when coming from some people and not from others. i was simply disagreeing with the premise that serving in the army was the prerequisite in this case, as that seemed to be the main thrust of your argument.

i agree perfectly, in fact, that someone like TNC can say a lot more about African-American life and race relations than me, because he has paid his dues. I was disagreeing with the premise that serving in the army in Israel and being black were similar in any way. Now, being Israeli or being Jewish, as a general state of identity…you could argue that there is more overlap there, and in your response to my comment it seems you have clarified it for me, so thank you.

And sorry if I wasn’t clearer. I wasn’t implying that your discussions in general were opposed to progress, I thought simply that using that line of argument (army service=can critique=being black) wasn’t ultimately serving your work.

Comment by joeljoel

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