January 17, 2008
Google the phrase “right to exist” and the hundreds of hits will invariably be about Israel or Zionism — not Kurdistan or the smallpox infection, not the North American Man-Boy Love Association or the collected works of Aaron Spelling.
In 2008 we are well past the point where Israel has to do or not do anything to be considered controversial. It’s not the occupation that rankles the New Ontologists, but Israel’s insistence on existing at all. And that’s why American Jews went nuts over Ms. magazine’s boneheaded decision to spike an American Jewish Congress ad.
You’d have to see the ad to understand how innocuous it is. It features head shots of the speaker of the Knesset, the minister of Foreign Affairs, and the president of the Supreme Court, women all, and three simple words: “This is Israel.”
Ms. rejected the ad, according to Katherine Spillar, the magazine’s executive editor, because its policy is to “only accept mission-driven advertisements from primarily non-profit, non-partisan organizations that promote women’s equality, social justice, sustainable environment, and non-violence. The ad submitted by AJCongress for consideration appeared to be a political ad, and as such, was inconsistent with this policy.”
Political? What’s political about an ad celebrating the achievements of women at the highest levels of government? Doesn’t Ms. call itself the “media expert on issues relating to women’s status”?
Ms. Spillar explains: “With two of the women featured in the ad from one political party in Israel, Ms. concluded that in accepting the ad it could be viewed as though it was supporting one political party over another in the internal domestic politics of a country.”
Oh, please. True, Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik are both Kadima (and how many American Jews, let alone Ms. readers, even know that?). But Kadima does happen to be the ruling party in Israel. How else would a woman politician reach the pinnacle of power if not as a member of the winning party? Besides, Israel has a coalition government that includes not only the centrist Kadima, but leftist Labor, hawkish Israel Beiteinu, fervently Orthodox Shas, and a senior citizens’ bloc. That’s not “one political party”; it’s a Marx Brothers movie.
Perhaps Ms. thinks, or thinks their readers will think, that Kadima represents politics antithetical to its own. Considering the party’s leader is under fire from the Right for even suggesting the division of Jerusalem among other conciliatory moves toward the Palestinian Authority, what on earth could those “ideals” be?
Another possibility is that Ms. had a problem with AJCongress’ politics. Earlier in the decade the organization was portrayed as moving to the right. In May, however, it elected a new president, Richard S. Gordon of Ventnor City, a longtime Democratic politico who pledged to recommit the group to abortion rights, separation of church and state, and energy conservation — issues that, in fact, would warm the hearts of many Ms. readers.
But to even argue about the ad’s “politics” is to suggest that Ms. is telling the truth. I tend to believe the AJCongress’ Harriet Kurlander, who tried to place the ad and said she was told by a Ms. rep that it “would set off a firestorm” and that “there are very strong opinions” on Israel. I’m sure that’s true on both ends — that the rep said it and that it would set off a firestorm.
Because among Ms. readers are probably those who cannot even accept Israel’s very right to be. Were they to see an ad that has anything good to say about Israel, they just might cancel their subscriptions or withhold their donations to the Feminist Majority Foundation, the magazine’s publisher.
Ms. had the bad luck to reject the ad at a moment when attacks on Israeli legitimacy have reached a critical mass. Later this month, Britain’s once august Oxford Union will debate the following proposition: “This House Believes That the State of Israel has a Right to Exist.” Arguing against the proposition are Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe — both of whom call for an academic boycott of Israel. Wait, it gets better: Supporting Israel’s “right to exist” are Norman “Holocaust Industry” Finkelstein, who last week paid a goodwill visit to Hizbullah headquarters in Lebanon, and Ted Honderich, a British philosopher who claims that Palestinians “have a moral right to their terrorism.”
Remember what’s being argued at Oxford. Not that the occupation is illegal or unwise, not whether the Palestinians have a right to a state. These are subjects Israelis debate regularly — incessantly, in fact — and you’ll find majorities there that agree with both propositions. Instead, Oxonians will take part in a two-hour-long exercise in wish fulfillment.
The debaters might find this all so very amusing, but the patience of Israel and its supporters is wearing thin. The simple point of the AJCongress ad was that Israel is not the sum total of its conflict with the Palestinians. It wasn’t asking Ms. readers to support one policy over another, or one politician over another, or even one people over another.
Ms. made a different point, inadvertently or not: that it supports those who insist that you can’t talk about Israel unless you’re willing to rend your garments, beg forgiveness, or condescend to the Palestinian cause.
Andrew Silow-Carroll blogs at njjewishnews. com/justASC/.