In the ghetto of self-righteousness and self-pity

From attacks on our site to talking points for rabbis: thoughts for the Jewish New Year.

So it’s that time of year again, when Gerald Steinberg writes an article about us. Steinberg, the head of a right-wing organization called NGO Monitor, has been using +972 (along with a few of other organizations) as tools in his efforts to demonize the New Israel Fund (following its decsion to add us to their donor-advised list). This is what he has to say:

A number of +972’s bloggers have invoked the immoral and false “apartheid” analogy, and in a February 2012 interview in The Nation, Noam Sheizaf, +972’s editor-in-chief, referred to Jerusalem as an “apartheid city.” In May 2012, +972 published a cartoon depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raping President Barack Obama and eating his limbs. And in September, Sheizaf used his twitter account to refer to critics as “the Jewish KKK” and “fascist”—reinforcing the image of the NIF network as exploiting a “progressive” and “liberal” façade for extreme polarization and hate speech.

If Steinberg wants to analyze works of satire or scan my Twitter feed for expressions that might sound shocking, that’s his own business.  Yes – I linked to a site full of hate talks against liberals, Muslims and Israeli leftists, which included comments wishing for their death – and called them “Jewish KKK.” I have also used the same expression to describe their moral equivalents here – those gangs that roam the West Bank, torching mosques and olive trees and beating or shooting at Palestinian farmers. I use blunt language sometimes, because I think we should wake up to the realities of our days.

Steinberg’s obsession with +972 is not the problem, nor are death wishes (“criticism,” in his words) on right-wing blogs. The problem is the rise of his agenda, both here and in Jewish communities in the United States. For some years now, organizations like NGO Monitor have been forming blacklists of Israelis suspected of “radical” or “anti-Zionist” positions. In academia alone, dozens have been targeted, with various degree of success. But as I reported yesterday, this practice is now becoming state policy, with the committee in charge of monitoring and financing academia now threatening to shut down the Department of Politics and Government at the University of Be’er Sheva – the same department that has been the target of increasing attacks and threats.

In the last three or four years, something new and disturbing has been taking place. An effort to limit the conversation, to police the debate, to shut down criticism, and to take over every platform available in our communities for the most vulgar advocacy work in the service of Israel’s current right-wing policies.

Here is an item that might seem unrelated, but for me it’s part of the same story: right after I read Steinberg’s post, I came across this piece, regarding a new campaign, designed to help American rabbis use the holidays for Israel advocacy in their communities. Examples:

The letter asks rabbis throughout the High Holidays and Sukkot to learn about the goals and strategies of those seeking to delegitimize Israel so they are best able to talk to their congregants about the difference between legitimate criticism and what is happening within some anti-Israel movements.


During Yom Kippur, the themes of self-awareness and praying for “our whole people” can be used as a segue into a discussion on Israel.

When such blunt indoctrination is at work, there is very little room left for real conversation. When the debate is policed by all sort of watchdog groups – NGO Monitor had no less than 27 paid employees in 2010, and they are but one organization – the space for challenging (and at times – unpleasant) political activism is shrinking. This is a problem that is felt more and more in Israel.

What really troubles me is the  fact that every other day there is a new “rule” about what can or can’t be said about Israel (apartheid, occupation, segregation vs. “legitimate criticism”). We do not intend to obey such rules on this site.

I am troubled by the tendency to shut ourselves in a ghetto of self-righteousness and self-pity. The fact that a site that has it in its mission statement a goal to present “an unconventional and unique stand on politics and the social and cultural life of the American and international Jewish community,” but ends up giving prime real estate to a McCarthyist, is, I think, a sign of our times.

I am troubled by what seems to me like a decision we took a while back to stop dealing with the problems we face – especially with the elephant in the room – and instead put so much effort in monitoring the way we are allowed to talk, or rather not talk, about those same problems. (If you don’t like the term apartheid in reference to Jerusalem, I urge you come up with another word to describe a city in which one-third of the population has so few legal rights, including limited voting rights and limits on their ability to purchase real-estate. Or let’s just drop the discussion on words altogether, and talk issues instead?)

I am troubled by what seems to be the emergence of a tight alliance between the dominant political powers in my country, and the most radical flank of a decaying and corrupt Republican party – to the point where you don’t know who is who and which is which. I am troubled by the growing Islamophobia in certain Jewish communities, not to mention in my country, and by the willingness of Israelis and Jews to cooperate with the worst of racists – some of them the spiritual descendants of those very same forces who persecuted our people – just because they now have a common enemy. And perhaps most of all, I am troubled by the fact that many of those who were supposed to be my allies within the Jewish communities are too confused, heartbroken or bewildered to take a public stand.

This, and not NGO Monitor, is the real problem.

This is where I urge the reader who has gotten this far to take a stand with us against the Steinbergs of this world. When it comes to supporting this site, you can do it in the usual ways: Share an article you find thought-provoking with a friend, even if he or she might disagree with it (actually, especially if he might disagree). Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Write a comment every now and then. Drop a line (our email:, even if it’s not a compliment. Writers love feedback, any feedback. Donations go a long way in helping us sustain this project – after all, the goal of NGO Monitor is to dry our very limited resources.

And most important, don’t let your Rabbi segue from the shofar into the Likud’s talking points.