The politically lonely progressive Zionists

As rockets flew between Israel and Gaza last month, American Jews watched with alarm as anti-Israel rhetoric became the norm in some left-wing circles. Accusations of Israel’s alleged genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid spread widely, even reaching the halls of Congress. 

“It’s become a very common experience for rabbis, and Jews of really any kind who lean to the left progressively, to find, at the very least, difficulties in progressive circles with the love for Israel,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar-in-Residence at UJA-Federation of New York. Among people like him — American Jews who support progressive policies but also support Israel — “the language of being lonely has been getting louder.” 

With Zioness founder Amanda Berman, Creditor is the editor of Fault Lines: Exploring the Complicated Place of Progressive American Jewish Zionism, a book of essays released this week. The idea behind the book was to allow members of the Jewish community to grapple, collectively, with the increasing difficulty of being a Zionist in progressive spaces. “Why should people continue to feel lonely when it’s a very obvious problem?” Creditor asked. 

The book contains four dozen essays, half of which are original; the rest were reprinted from other publications or taken from speeches or sermons given by the book’s contributors over the past couple of years. Writers include rabbis, journalists, nonprofit professionals and activists; organizations represented include the American Jewish Committee, the National Council of Jewish Women and the pro-Israel LGBTQ organization A Wider Bridge, along with major Reform and Conservative congregations around the country. 

The essays contend with what it means to be a Jew who supports Israel and who also supports progressive causes in the U.S., and to refute common misconceptions from people on both the political left and right. “The presumption from anti-Zionists in the progressive world is that you cannot be a good person and love Israel, and that’s just wrong,” Creditor told Jewish Insider

The problem, he argued, is an “anti-Jewish fundamentalism at the fringes of progressive politics,” such as the recent removal of an Israeli food truck from an immigrant food festival in Philadelphia. “If it isn’t countered, it becomes the core of the progressive movement.” The response should be “to show up as loud, proud Jews,” Creditor said. 

The idea to put together a volume of essays came after Creditor saw a Times of Israel blog post authored by Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. “The American left has embraced moral maps that, while they may provide helpful frameworks for understanding some of America’s foundational and ongoing issues, warp understanding and discourse when applied to other parts of the world,” Burton wrote, in a post published the day before Israel and Hamas agreed to a cease-fire.

“I found it to be one of the most important statements today, about how an American-left lens can get Israel wrong,” said Creditor. “It sparked my thinking that we could put together a collection relatively quickly because this is not a new question.”

Creditor has a history of progressive activism, including as founder of the Rabbis Against Gun Violence movement. But he sees himself first and foremost as a Jewish educator — so while he hopes the book might inspire progressive politicians to engage in dialogue on these topics, his desired audience is the Jewish community. 

“I want to support those who are showing up with courage as Zionists in progressive spaces, for them to feel the camaraderie and community of those who are experiencing similar struggles,” said Creditor. He also wants to remind right-leaning pro-Israel advocates that progressives — including those who might criticize, but deeply love, the Jewish state — are, in fact, Zionists.

“As a Jewish community, we have to stop alienating each other when we disagree. We should not deem as anti-Zionist someone who is a progressive American voter who loves Israel. Within Israel, there’s robust debate about what building a better society looks like. That’s a healthy democracy,” Creditor explained. “The presumption that a critical voice is treasonous is itself incorrect.”

As Creditor sees it, progressive Zionists have their pro-Israel bona fides questioned by both the anti-Israel left and some in the Jewish community. “Progressive Jewish Zionists are not receiving the dignity they deserve in progressive circles, and they’re not receiving the dignity they deserve in conservative Zionist circles,” he argued. “Certain conservative Zionist circles typically judge progressive Zionists as naive or disloyal. Those are the same arguments, the same aspersions that progressive Zionists receive from progressive circles.”

Neither Creditor nor Berman define what the book means by “progressive,” but Creditor argues that this is by design. They did not want to limit participation in the project.

“I’m not quite sure what ‘progressive’ means, and there was no litmus test for the authors, because I’m not really sure how to define the word to begin with,” noted Creditor. “I just know how it generally lumps together people who favor LGBTQ equality, combat the American gun violence epidemic [and] who stand for criminal justice reform.”

Still, even though the editors did not set ideological boundaries about who could contribute, the book mostly falls within mainstream pro-Israel discourse. Numerous contributors wrote about trips to Israel with AIPAC, and one essay made the argument that progressives should attend AIPAC’s annual policy conference. 

“There were no submissions rejected based on any institutional affiliation,” said Creditor. After putting out the call for submissions, Creditor and Berman did not receive any from people who affiliated with more left-wing Israel-focused organizations like J Street or IfNotNow.

The one requirement was that contributors consider themselves Zionist. “This is about how to navigate the world of progressive Zionism, not how to reject Zionism,” he noted.

This Israeli journalist argues in favor of a new globalization

The Appalachian coal miner, a stand-in for the long-suffering white working class, looms large in American politics. Coal miners who lost their jobs as the U.S. moved away from using coal as a power source became a key target of Donald Trump’s “make America great again” mantra in 2016. News organizations reported on coal miners as a political class, with a typical CNN headline from a week before the 2016 election reading “Hillary Clinton might lose Ohio because she badmouthed coal.” 

Now, an Israeli journalist suggests that the story of the American coal miner transcends electoral politics and is actually a powerful parable about our era of global turmoil. In Revolt: The Worldwide Uprising Against Globalization, Yediot Aharonot columnist and Channel 13 commentator Nadav Eyal argues that disillusioned coal miners in Pennsylvania are just one piece in a global puzzle of vulnerable people being crushed by globalization. The book, recently translated into English from its original Hebrew, argues that the solution is not nationalism — but a better, more cooperative globalization.

In a Zoom interview with Jewish Insider, Eyal explained why he believed he was so well-suited to predict Trump’s ascent before many American commentators and political insiders: an “outsider’s view,” he said. He leaned on that perspective in a Hebrew documentary about the former president’s rise that aired in Israel in June 2016, when his chance of winning the presidency still seemed like a longshot to many in the U.S.

It was this documentary, “Trumpland,” that led to a book deal for Eyal, but from the beginning, he decided that Trump would not be the centerpiece of his project. “The era of the revolt is too momentous, too consequential, to be defined by Trump or by the media’s addiction to him,” Eyal writes in the book’s introduction. 

The English edition of Revolt, which was originally published in Hebrew in 2018, is not just a retelling of American political pundits’ conversations about the so-called “white working class.” He connects political discontentment among U.S. industrial workers to Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and even to radical climate activists. Rather than making an argument about the recent rise of nationalist leaders like Trump or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Eyal aims to focus on the people who feel they have been left behind in the global economy . 

While many authoritarian leaders around the world have recently wooed their citizens with appeals to nationalism, Eyal posits that this energy could be cultivated for other ends.

“Speaking with my American friends, they want to believe that [Trump’s election was] an accident. It’s a fluke. I don’t think it is,” Eyal told JI. “I don’t want to say it’s a movement, but it’s a sentiment: Revolt. [But] it doesn’t need to go to the Trump side. It can go to positive stuff.”

The people, organizations and movements Eyal reports on in Revolt do not correspond to a specific political ideology, but rather reflect a general sentiment directed at systems and governments that people believe failed them. “What we’re seeing is a multi-layered, leaderless revolt of some sort against porous structures, which are deemed corrupt, hollow, or unrepresentative,” he explained. 

The non-Hebrew editions of Revolt don’t include much reporting on Israel’s current political situation. Each version includes some local flavor: the German edition has a particular focus on the country’s neo-Nazi problem, while the Italian one has a lengthy section on COVID-19, the north of Italy having been devastated in the early days of the pandemic. The book will also be published and sold in local languages in countries including Brazil, Croatia, Spain, and the Netherlands.

The original Hebrew edition attempts to make the case to Israelis that, in the current moment, there is “only one [model] that is really successful within globalization, at least in the West, and that model is of a liberal democracy,” Eyal told JI. In his view, if Israel moves too far to the right or too far in the direction of the country’s ultra-Orthodox — in other words, if it abandons the tenets of what Eyal views as its liberal democracy — then Israel is “just going to destroy its own partnership with globalization.”

Eyal’s politics lean left, and his argument will make sense to progressives. He writes that growing the social safety net, and in turn increasing taxes, will help people like the Appalachian coal miners who are out of work and might not want to learn a new trade. But he also argues that labeling people who feel left behind by globalization as racist or backward is wrong. “It’s about not delegitimizing those people who are revolting, who feel that nothing works for them,” he said. 

If the only people who lend legitimacy to those who feel left behind are radicals, then they will be drawn toward radical, authoritarian politicians. What Eyal wants to see is a “radical mainstream,” where more moderate politicians offer a solution to the very real problems of globalization, rather than “the radical sides of your party.”

In new book, H.R. McMaster describes White House debate over Iran deal

In a new book looking back at his time in the military and in several presidential administrations, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster expounds on what he thought were “fundamental flaws” in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and why he tried to persuade President Donald Trump not to withdraw from the deal. 

In Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World, released on Tuesday, McMaster called the original JCPOA negotiated by former President Barack Obama “an extreme case of strategic narcissism based on wishful thinking” that led to “self-delusion and, ultimately the deception of the American people.” 

Yet, when Trump wanted to make good on his campaign promise to leave the deal, McMaster made clear his opposition to withdrawing from the accord. In the book, McMaster explains that he wanted the U.S. to maintain leverage to punish Iran for its behavior on matters unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program and to get the parties in the agreement to fix the deal’s flaws. McMaster said he also wanted to avoid giving Tehran the opportunity to portray itself as a victim. But as he attempted to work on a comprehensive Iran strategy, McMaster wrote, Trump grew “impatient.” 

McMaster details how he intervened in former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s efforts to certify the deal in April 2017, and how he successfully lobbied the president to recertify the agreement over the next two 90-day deadlines as required under the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. “We had created a window of opportunity for our allies to demonstrate the viability of staying in the deal while imposing costs on Iran,” McMaster writes. “That window closed soon after I departed the White House.” A month after McMaster left the administration, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the deal. 

The former national security official accuses the Obama administration of ignoring Iran’s behavior in the region and avoiding confrontation in an effort to preserve the accord. According to McMaster, Obama officials “focused on selling the deal rather than subjecting it to scrutiny” by using a “red herring” talking point — the Iraq War — to pose “the false dilemma” of either supporting the deal or going to war with Iran. 

McMaster also offers his view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Trump peace plan announced in early 2020. Trump’s moves on Israel, he writes, “communicated support for Israel, but also removed incentives that might have been crucial in a future agreement.” While he described the rollout of the peace plan as “dead on arrival” due to lack of participation from Palestinian leaders, McMaster posits that the plan itself may at some point “help resurrect the possibility of a two-state solution.” 

The book itself is not a tell-all on the Trump administration. McMaster does not write about being excluded from Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the president’s trip to Israel, or his disputes with Trump and Jared Kushner. “This is not the book that most people wanted me to write… a tell-all about my experience in the White House to confirm their opinions of Donald Trump,” McMaster writes in his preface. “Although writing such a book might be lucrative, I did not believe that it would be useful or satisfactory for most readers.”

McMaster accuses the Russians and the alt-right movement of leading a campaign against him, under the hashtag #FireMcMaster, because they viewed him as a threat to their agenda of undermining America’s national security. McMaster writes that the attacks against him were “often inconsistent” in nature. “For example, one caricature on social media portrayed me as a puppet of billionaire George Soros and the Rothschild family (both of whom were frequent targets of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories), while articles in the pseudo-media charged me and others on the NSC staff as being ‘anti-Israel’ and soft on Iran,” McMaster recalls.