I'm not usually prone to hysteria or hyperbole, but lately there's a strong whiff of Jewish McCarthyism in the air--by which I mean attempts by powerful members of our community to scare, silence, ruin or excommunicate anyone who disagrees with them on Israel. Three examples:
Recently, a stranger came up to me at a meeting and accused me of "destroying the Jewish people" because I had signed an open letter to New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio faulting him for secretly meeting with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and virtually declaring himself its lackey.
In fact, I was one of 58 Jewish New York-ers--among them such notable destroyers of the Jewish people as playwright Eve En-sler, pianist Emanuel Ax and Ruth J. Abram, founder of the Tenement Museum--who felt moved to protest what the mayor said at that meeting: "City Hall will always be open to AIPAC. When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call, and I'll answer it happily 'cause that's my job."
It seemed obvious to us that declaring himself at the beck and call of AIPAC sets a dangerous precedent. No elected official, much less the mayor of New York City, should be in the pocket of any group. Furthermore, AIPAC represents not the people of Israel or "the Jews," but by its own definition, the Israeli government, whose current policies--on such matters as West Bank settlements, treatment of Palestinians and the privileging of the ultra-Orthodox--are deeply troubling to millions of us who likewise consider ourselves "pro-Israel."
The mayor never responded to our letter. But the Jewish attack dogs came out in force. Several of the letter's signatories (I will not compound their distress by identifying them) were reprimanded by wealthy donors and board members who made clear that criticism of AIPAC will not be tolerated. There were lightly veiled intimations that they might find themselves without a platform or their institutions suddenly starved of funds.
An anonymous flyer distributed at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun accused two of its rabbis, who had signed the letter, of making "false and defamatory statements" about AIPAC and committing the sins of lashan hara [evil gossip] and hotzaat shem m [libel]." A group of conservatives, including Jeffrey VViesenfeld, a former aide to leading New York Republicans, took out an ad in New York-area Jewish media comparing the 58 signers to Jews who, in 1943, urged FDR not to meet with European...