An unfortunate rude incident at The Jerusalem Post Annual conference has become an excuse to bash the “right wing” and “far right” and particularly right wing Jewish Americans. US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew was booed several times during a speech in which he sought to explain and defend the Obama administration’s policy on Iran and Israel. Lew is a long-time supporter of Israel and Jewish causes and it was embarrassing to see someone who certainly has Israel and the Jewish people close to his heart. It is hard to draw a parallel, a Hispanic audience booing a hispanic member of Congress like Raul Grijalva because of some perceived anti-hispanic view of the administration he supports?
Either way, the responses to the booing make one feel that it has never happened before in US history. Haaretz commentator Chemi Shalev claimed the booing was the result of years of incitement against US President Barack Obama.; “The people who booed Lew on Sunday do not represent American Jews, of course. They don’t represent right wing Jews either. Nonetheless, the incident, so uncharacteristic of Jewish American norms of behavior, is not detached from what can only be described as incitement against Obama and his administration. It momentarily got out of hand, but ended in mere boos and a turning of backs. Israelis who lived through the period preceding the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin cannot be blamed, however, for fearing that it might have been, and could still be, very much worse.” He claimed that the booing “highlights the dangers of right wing incitement” against Obama.
The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin? This is part of the Israeli left-wing worldview in which critique of the Left is always termed “incitement” and used to tar the entire right wing with being at fault for a murder, just because some of them were very critical in their views. What does Shalev know about American Jewish behavior? He claimed in another article that “It was one of the surliest receptions ever accorded to such a high-ranking administration official by a Jewish audience in the United States.” Do Jewish Americans never boo? If Dick Cheney gave a speech to a liberal Jewish audience about the great success of the Iraq war, does anyone seriously think he would not be booed? Israeli commentators tend to stereotype Jews in the US without bothering to truly survey them. How do we know that the reception Lew received was one of the worst ever received by an audience of US Jews?
The booing garnered other angry responses. Philip Weiss wrote about it on his website and called it a “new low.” J.J. Goldberg writing an oped at The Forward tried to get to the bottom of why it happened. “The New York audience, on the other hand, is always heavily salted with the Post’s core readership of aging pro-Israel hardliners, usually about one-third Orthodox and mostly eager to spring to Israel’s defense against any enemies, even when they’re IDF generals.” Goldberg’s main agenda was to attack The Jerusalem Post. “In addition to the volatile stew that it cooks up at the Marriott every spring when it unites thoughtful analysts with hot-headed roughnecks, it [The Jerusalem Post] might want to consider its role in helping to generate that sort of hostility in the first place, through its publication of a constant stream of vitriolic, over-the-top, ad-hominem attacks on Obama, liberals, peace talks and even Israel’s generals in its regular lineup of incendiary hard-right columnists. There’s only so many times that a newspaper can publish accusations of self-hate, treason and anti-Semitism against fellow Jews, Israelis and Israel’s essential allies before the witches’ brew blows up in our collective face.”
Who are the “hard right columnists” at the newspaper he refers to. Like Shalev, he doesn’t have to actually provide evidence, because it is easier to stereotype the ‘Post’. In point of fact of course the newspaper has a long list of centrist and left wing columnists such as David Newman, Gershon Baskin, Susan Rolef, Jeff Barak, Kenneth Bandler and Gil Troy among them.
But what is fascinating is the way in which this incident is primarily being used as a tool against the “right” or to sooth some grudge against the ‘Post’. When J.J Goldberg posted his article on Facebook, one response to it was “My only comfort is that the median age in the audience was 50, so most of them will be dead in 20 years.” The irony of the story about “incitement” is that the real incitement is a visceral hatred for anyone considered to be “right wing.” The real hate-speech is in the hearts of too many people on the left who have a deep-seated hatred for those whose opinions differ from their own. Which is the real incitement, some people that accuse Obama of anti-semitism, or those who mock the age of an audience and find comfort in their passing beyond this world? If a right wing commentator claimed that his “only real comfort” from attending a left-wing conference was knowing that “most of them will be dead in 20 years,” everyone would call that “far right hate.”
I am someone who have vociferously defended Barack Obama against the insane hatred of the Right. I’ve spoken out about his recent speeches and interviews arguing that he is very much in touch with the Jewish people, perhaps the most pro-Jewish president ever and that he is certainly pro-Israel in his policies. Nothing offended me more than being at a recent dinner and having an elderly person lean over and say “you know why Obama does it, he is a Muslim.” Those attitudes are disgusting, many of them are tinged with racism. There is a racism and gross hatred among the anti-Obama crowd, and that includes some US and Israeli Jews who deplore him.
But the fact is that the booing incident is being used to attack all critique of the US administration. There is a coddling of Obama and a knee-jerk response to any critique of him. It can’t see the difference between the crazy anti-Obama view and the legitimate critique that is necessary. It isn’t incitement to be concerned about Obama’s Iran policy. It isn’t even incitement to boo that policy? When Israel’s culture minister was booed on June 9th, why was that acceptable in Israel and to the mainstream left? Booing is very common in politics. Wherever Dick Cheney goes he seems to get booed. Bernie Sanders was heckled at a townhall when talking about Israel.
To pretend booing is bad decorum, rude, anti-democratic, or just part of the evil “right wing” is based on total ignorance of the nature of democracy. In the British house of commons, as in the Israeli Knesset, booing is common. So why is it good in British democracy but unheard of to have it happen to Jacob Lew? The fact is that booing may be rude and hostile, but it is also part of democracy. Of course conferences that invite administration officials or anyone should tell audiences not to boo. But even the most prosaic events have become places of anger and vituperation these days because of the heated political debate. At a conference at Ben-Gurion University I was attacked as a “fascist” and “collaborator” during a discussion of the Israeli bedouin. That was part of the incitement campaign in which rumors were spread about me, without even bothering to ask what I think.
It’s fine that Goldberg and Shalev wanted to use an unfortunate incident to target the “far right” and try to attack critique of the Obama administration. While the administration doesn’t deserve booing, it certainly deserves rigorous critique. Critique is normal and is what makes democracy strong. Politicians should be able to withstand critique and deal it right back. Meir Dagan successfully did that at the Jerusalem Post Conference when he responded to attacks on him with mocking.
So let’s be honest. If you were really offended by the booing and felt that booing is some sort of incitement, then one expects you to condemn the booing of Miri Regev and everyone else who gets booed often.