A Wall Street Journal columnist warned of a rising tide of anti-Semitism on the Left and urged listeners to make the “liberal case” for Israel.
“We have to stand up as forcefully and as vocally and as obnoxiously as we can against what is a rising, a swelling tide of anti-Semitism coming back into so-called polite discourse,” Bret Stephens told an audience at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
The foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal spoke to an audience of about 175 at a forum cosponsored by the American Jewish Committee on Oct. 1.
Stephens focused neither on the far right nor the Arab world, but among people who “bizarrely describe themselves politically as being progressive.”
“This is the anti-Semitism that masquerades as anti-Zionism,” said Stephens, former editor of the Jerusalem Post. “This is the anti-Semitism that says Israel is an apartheid state or that Israel is somehow an illegitimate state. And this is becoming an accepted part of everyday discourse.”
In his wide-ranging talk, Stephens warned of the potential for Armageddon should Iran become a nuclear state; he suggested that a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, although a theoretical ideal, has no place in reality “until Palestinians come to terms with Israel as a legitimate Jewish state.”
“It’s absolutely a fool’s gambit to propose that a 23rd Arab state be brought into creation that in very short order will attempt to rain terror down and ruin its neighbor,” he said.
He urged Jews not to be blind to the “significant minority” of people in Arab and Muslim countries who hold favorable attitudes not only toward the West but also toward Israel, and to “cultivate,” “educate,” and “nourish” them.
“They want a future for themselves and their societies which is more tolerant, more progressive, more pluralistic, more liberal, and more democratic,” he said.
Record of freedoms
But much of his talk was focused on figures on the Left whose attitudes, he said, especially toward Israel, recycle “every old anti-Semitic canard” about Jews, particularly a propensity toward greed, power, and influence.
He singled out John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, whose book The Israel Lobby suggests America’s best interests in the Mideast are undermined by the influence of the pro-Israel community, and The Economist magazine, which has written of Israel’s “greed for other people’s land” and, as Stephens wrote during the Second Intifada, has “shown remarkably little interest in the humanitarian tragedies endured by Israelis.”
“The views are not considered despicable, just controversial,” he said. “We need to stand up to each and every instance of this and call them to the floor. If we don’t, we simply are going to have to live with it as a fact of everyday life.”
Because “the most ferocious, militant criticism of Israel” is coming from the Left, the fiercest defense must also appeal to the Left, argued Stephens.
Part of that appeal must be based on Israel’s record in defense of gay rights, women’s rights, freedom of the press, freedom of artistic expression, and opposition to the death penalty.
The case needs to be made that “the only country in the Middle East that defends those values and that has expanded those rights consistently over its history, despite that history being one of a state of emergency, is Israel,” he said. “If you want to oppose Israel because you are actively in sympathy with fascist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, fine. I understand your opposition. But if you are going to tell me you’re a liberal and a progressive, etc., etc., and you oppose Israel, this is either illogical or hypocritical, and that point needs to be driven home.
“It behooves everyone who considers himself or herself a genuine liberal or a genuine progressive…to stand up to these people.”