“If Only You Were More Polite…” (On MASA, Naftali Bennett and a Common Critique of the Left)

Last Sunday, a group of young Jewish members of a new diaspora anti-occupation collective called “All That’s Left” interrupted Naftali Bennett’s keynote address at an End of Year “MASA” gathering, chanting “Diaspora Jews say end the Occupation.”

I think that this action was really dope. [Full Disclosure (Not that anyone in the universe thinks that I am anything remotely close to an objective-ish journalist): I am active in All That’s Left]. It’s gotten excellent positive coverage in the media, from a Haaretz write up, to blogs on Open Zion and Jewschool, to a Times of Israel blog written by Josh Leifer, an organizer of the action and an ATL member, in which he eloquently made the case for the action:

”Bennett represents a dangerous combination of the entrepreneurial, problem-solving ethos of neoliberalism with a totalitarian disregard for civil rights. Failing to bring this to the attention of the hundreds if not thousands of MASA participants who attended the event would have constituted a moral failure.”

But I think the real testament to action, in terms of media, is the swarm of negative feedback it has received from the Far Right, and the hand wringing discomfort it has generated in parts of the Plan Right/Fake Left. In terms of the former, the settler newspaper “Arutz Sheva” published an op-ed in which one could almost feel the mouth-froth spritzing through the computer screen as the author accused the “loser” organizers of the action of hating Judaism. (Some choice arguments about why Naftali Bennett represents Judaism according to the author: He was in Sayeret Matkal! And he is wealthy!). If this ain’t enough to get your pulse a-pulsin’, browse the comments section on Josh’s op-ed. If I hear one more right-wing American Jew claim that they are somehow in line with Martin Luther King’s ideology of equality and justice, well, I might just have to… write an op-ed. (Again).

The interesting thing about this piece, though, is not that settlers think that Leftists=anti-Semites, but rather the first line: ”Some uncivilized leftists disrupted a speech by Naftali Bennett.” Uncivilized. This refrain is one that was echoed in a more “moderate” take on the action, by Ben Sales writing for JTA, the mainstream American Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

This refrain is one that we hear time and again. The article is written as if it is an objective-ish news analysis, and makes an academic (and I think rather fair) comparison between the action and one done by JVP activists in the US a few years back. It is not until the last line that the piece steers off into the subtle, smug and incredibly harmful  rhetoric of “If only you were more polite.” (Josh addresses this also in his piece, referring to the White Liberals who told Dr. King that they were uncomfortable with his tactics). Sales interviews Josh, and then concludes by saying: ”He did not call Masa to voice his objection, though, and said that there was no organized campaign to try to cancel the speech.”

Let’s stick with the first half of that proposition. Josh Leifer did not call Masa to voice his objection. The absurdity is so absurd in that clause, that I cannot but wax a bit more wry and facetious than my usual tone. First, Josh should have called 1-800-MASA, the direct line all 19-year olds are given to decision makers in major Jewish organizations. Indeed, if Josh had taken time to call MASA, perhaps the conference organizers would have realized the mistake they had made!

Josh Leifer: Hello, MASA?

MASA: Hello, Josh Leifer!

JL: Um, I wanted to let you know that I think that your decision to have Naftali Bennett give the keynote address at your event is really problematic, because he is a major advocate for settlement, occupation and apartheid.

MASA: Oh my! We had no idea. We simply thought that he was a high-tech leader with good English! We knew nothing about his political background and there was nothing ideological or calculated about our choice to have him address our crowd of thousands of young and highly influence-able diaspora Jews! We’ll make sure to take back the invitation right away!

In reading this, I was reminded of a campaign I was involved with a few years ago, in my youth, calling on another major diaspora Jewish organization to stop actively supporting the occupation, ie., calling on JNF to stop the eviction of the Sumarin family in Silwan. The campaign was partly led by Rabbis for Human Rights, with whom I was then active, and the JNF’s first response to the campaign was as follows:

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It turned out that all “the facts” listed in the above letter were actually straight-up out and out lies, but hey, who’s counting (when it comes to mega-rich mainstream organizations, that is)? But it still would have been nice if RHR had had a little menschlichkeit and called. (And don’t you wield your Yiddish at me, you schlemiels, it was your form of Zionism that gobbled up Yiddish culture and language).

If only they’d called us. If only these young, uncivilized leftists had been more polite. Then certainly MASA would have reconsidered honoring a man who is unabashedly anti-democracy and anti-Arab. Then the JNF would have certainly promised to stop forcibly evicting Palestinian families from their homes and replacing them with radical Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. If only they hadn’t yelled. If only they’d gone up to Naftali Bennett to voice their concerns afterwards. Perhaps Naftali Bennett would have even changed his mind and stopped calling for the, um, less-than-democratic (read: a.part.heid (sorrysorrysorrysorry)) style of annexation of most of the West Bank. If only Rabbis for Human Rights had given us a phone call, we would have explained everything. If only they’d been more polite!

That’s the whole point, kiddos: Damn straight we are not polite. And we will keep being not polite as long as you keep whitewashing racism, as long as you keep putting a pretty face to violent occupation, as long as forced annexation and housing evictions are mainstream agenda items, disguised by trees and good English.

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