The liberal racism of J Street’s Daniel Levy

H/T Mere Rhetoric

With the liberal lobbying group, J Street, still reeling from revelations that their director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, wasn’t truthful about funding the group received from George Soros, a video has surfaced of J Street’s co-founder, Daniel Levy (who’s been fawned over by the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky and Chris McGreal) which again reveal the group’s true colors.

At a Q+A of “Palestinian Politics and Obama’s Peace Plans,” an event held in October 2009 by Levy’s The Century Foundation (cached event page here, PDF of quotes here, full video here and here), Levy – who recently caused problems for J Street when he referred to Israel’s entire creation as “an act that was wrong” – accused Israel of doing everything in their power “to try to turn the Palestinians violent.”  Here’s the exchange:

DANIEL LEVY: So Fatah is irretrievably bought into a negotiations-only strategy. What if the negotiations don’t deliver? And Hamas into an illegitimate strategy that includes use of violence against civilians.
BASSIM KHOURY: We Palestinians have part of the blame with where we are now because of our homicide bombings in Israel.
DANIEL LEVY: The Palestinian side has failed to produce a third alternative. The third alternative inside the territories is about nonviolent resistance which is why Israel does everything to try and turn nonviolent resistance into violence.

Of course, CiF Watch is not unfamiliar with tropes – by Israel haters both above and below the line at the Guardian – suggesting Israeli culpability for Palestinian terrorism and extremism.  But, when the leader of a large, well-funded, lobbying group, which claims to be pro-Israel, advances such a narrative it is especially troubling.

“Liberal Racism” is a term I was first introduced to by Jim Sleeper, then of The New Republic.  In his book, he characterized it as the phenomenon of liberal “whites” or Westerners expecting less morally of racial minorities – or, at least, those who fit their (often quite arbitrary) definition of racial minorities – than of others.  Sleeper decries the liberal blindness to the desperate need of “victims” to take responsibility for their own lives.

As African-American writer Shelby Steele has observed:

“We choose not to see certain things that are right in front of us. For example, we ignore that the Palestinians—and for that matter much of the Middle East—are driven to militancy and war not by legitimate complaints against Israel or the West but by an internalized sense of inferiority.  [And] the quickest cover for inferiority is hatred. The problem is not me; it is them. And in my victimization I enjoy a moral and human grandiosity—no matter how smart and modern my enemy is, I have the innocence that defines victims.”

The projection of innocence onto the Palestinians is what often lays beneath the surface of commentary which excuses immoral Palestinian behavior as a mere reaction to Israeli oppression which they, as the “oppressed”, are unable to control – whether it be suicide bombing, support for extremists, government sponsored incitement, or a political culture imbued (indeed, saturated) with virulent  anti-Semitism.

J Street styles themselves as a bold, new, progressive movement which seeks to achieve peace in the Middle East by applying outside pressure on the Israeli government to make territorial concessions, and other policy decisions, which the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public consistently rejects.  J Street and their fellow travelers seem to genuinely believe that they – who will never have to suffer the consequences of such decisions – know more about what’s in Israel’s best interest than the Israeli public.

While the sheer hubris the save Israel from itself view is staggering, what’s even more troublesome is a J Street leadership which seems to deny Palestinians the most basic moral agency which all others are assumed to possess.  Contrary to what Mr. Levy is suggesting, the Palestinians have free will, and possess the power each day to make choices about whether to aspire to peace and reconciliation with the Jewish state or whether to resort to violence, hatred and rejectionism.  No one can make that choice for them.  It is theirs and theirs alone.  Any ideological orientation which would deny this fundamental truth needs to be called for what it is: racist.


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