Open Zion

08.27.12

How Bill Kristol and JVP Are Both "Israel-Agnostic"

Here we go again. The Republican Jewish Coalition and Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel are demanding that the Obama campaign renounce the endorsement of a California rabbi named Lynn Gottlieb because she supports boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against all of Israel and serves on the rabbinical council of Jewish Voices for Peace. (She’s also attended a dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and visited Tehran). Last year, Brandeis refused to admit a Jewish Voices for Peace chapter into Hillel. In 2010, the Anti-Defamation League listed JVP as one of the top ten “anti-Israel” groups in America.

What makes JVP so treif? At root, it’s that the organization does not support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state. To be fair, JVP doesn’t oppose it either. As a 2007 declaration explains, “Our mission statement endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution. Instead it promotes support for human rights and international law.” That doesn’t make JVP “anti-Israel,” but it doesn’t make it “pro-Israel” either. Perhaps the best way to describe JVP is as “Israel-agnostic.” Since being a Jewish state is core to Israel’s identity (as expressed in Israel’s name itself), JVP’s ambivalence about Jewish statehood makes it ambivalent about Israel itself.

But if being “Israel-agnostic” is grounds for exclusion from the organized American Jewish community, then JVP’s tormentors may be on shaky grounds themselves. After all, Jewishness isn’t Israel’s only defining characteristic. So is liberal democracy. The state of Israel, according to its declaration of independence, “will uphold the full
social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex.” The RJC seems to acknowledge  this itself, offering as one of the reasons it supports Israel that “as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel shares our values.” 

If you believe that liberal democracy is also central to Israel’s identity, then supporting Israel’s permanent occupation of the West Bank, where Jews enjoy citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote and Palestinians don’t, is also grounds for declaring an organization to be “anti-Israel.” To be fair, the RJC and the Emergency Committee don’t explicitly support a permanent Israeli occupation. But they don’t oppose one either. Just as JVP takes no position on whether there should be one or two states between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, neither do the RJC or the Emergency Committee. Thus, both groups are “Israel-agnostic,” just in different ways. JVP is agnostic about Israel’s Jewish character. RJC and the Emergency Committee are agnostic about its democratic character. If right-wing Jews like Bill Kristol believe that this second kind of agnosticism is legitimate but the first kind is not, then they should explain why. If not, they should stop throwing stones from a glass tent.