Ori Nir 00:00
Is it? Okay? All right. So I'm going to count to three, and we will start. 123 Hi, everyone, welcome to this Americans for peace now webinar. I'm orange here and with me is my colleague Maxxe Albert-Deitch. Hi, Maxxe.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 00:21
Ori Nir 00:23
You're joining us today from Atlanta, right?
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 00:27
Yes I am technically about 45 minutes north, but yes!
Ori Nir 00:30
got it. So before we start, the two usual housekeeping notes that you're probably all familiar with the webinars recorded, the video will be posted on our YouTube channel, and the audio on our podcast PeaceCast. And if we're already mentioning piece cast, I've kind of give you a quick alert to look for tomorrow's conversation, which I'll probably post sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend. A Conversation with Professor Daniel Berta, who's an expert on the psychology of the conflict, you can call it that. So that's my that's the first comment. And the second housekeeping comment is that you are welcome. In fact, encouraged to ask questions. As you probably remember, the way to do it is to use the q&a tool that's at the bottom of your screen, not the raise hand tool. And please keep your questions short. So we are honored today to have Eric Alterman as our guest, I'm sure that most of you know Eric are familiar with his name, whether before because of his journalistic work, or because of the many books that he's published. We're especially honored that Eric agreed to join us for a conversation on the day, the actual day in which his new book was published, it's today, the book addresses an issue that is at the core of APNS mission, which is the debate inside the United States over Israel, over Israel Palestine. And we'll get to that in a conversation of particularly interest interest to us is the recent and current shift in American public attitudes toward Israel, which again, is the is I guess, the main topic of the book. So Eric, Hello, and thanks for joining us.
Eric Alterman 02:30
Hi, pleasure to be here.
Ori Nir 02:32
Congratulations on the new book.
Eric Alterman 02:34
Thank you very much.
Ori Nir 02:36
So I wanted to start by asking you to talk a little bit about the title and about the book itself. The title of the book, which I should say is, we are not one, the history of Americans fight over Israel, we are going to put a link in a moment in the chat to the book on Amazon. So I'd like to ask you two related questions. First, why the title? And second why the book. What I mean by that is that my shelves, and I'm sure that your shelves, we can see them behind you, as you write in the foreword to your book, are loaded with books about Israel and its relationship with America. So what's what makes this book unique, special?
Eric Alterman 03:25
Well, the second questions, they're both actually pretty easy to answer for me, because I spend a lot of time thinking about them, but the second one has a simpler answer than the first one. The second answer is that this is the only book that anyone's ever written about the debate itself. So it's not about how to solve the conflict. It's not about the conflict itself. It's not about us Israeli relations, or America's role in the Middle East or in conflict between Israel Palestine, it's about the debate in the United States over Israel and and therefore over Israel, Palestine, but for the with a much heavier focus on Israel itself. So no one's written that book. And, and that's what I do. I write about discourse in it, but not in a way like, it's like , it's about this course, you know, in a way that that people actually experience it in mainstream media and the conservative media and the left wing media, but not in an academic way. As for the title, I'm very happy about the title took me a long time to come up with a good title. And this title does for me three things. One is we are not one by we're not one. I mean, first off America and Israel are not the same place. They're not the same country. They have different, very different kinds of countries. In fact, I'm sure our listeners will be shocked to hear that Israel is a very small country in the Middle East, surrounded by Arab countries that was founded in 1948. America is a superpower. In fact, it's until recently the world's only superpower for a while anyway. And it stretches from the Gulf stream waters to valleys. From New York, California, 340 million people. And yet many people, including most pro Israel, argument, people argue in the United States, that there should be no daylight at all between the United States and Israel's foreign policy. And by and large, there hasn't been by and large, the United States has supported Israel, in every international fora and everything Israel does, every once in a while it gets mad about some action taken by some Israeli prime minister. But basically, United States is cool with whatever Israel does, even if it's against US foreign policy, like settlements, for instance, then like the settlements, but don't do anything about the second meaning of the of the second sharper meaning of the title is that Israeli Jews and American Jews are not one. They're very different. They have very different experiences, in terms of their lives, and how they've grown up and what is meaningful to them. And they've come to have very different politics, Israel has become a right wing country, no argument about that. There's even in the last government, which was the good government, compared to the current one or the previous one, it was 72% of people elected to the Knesset were conservatives or right wingers. And that was the good government. Now, we got a much worse government and the number is higher, I don't know exactly what it is. So America, American Jews and Israeli Jews are not one, Israel is a red country, American Jews are a blue country. And third, American Jews are not one. American Jews have enormous differences, particularly over Israel. I would say that there's a there's a slight advantage in numbers of the view of Americans for peace now and J Street, over those of AIPAC and other legacy organizations. But that's not at all represented in the politics. We'll get into that. But in terms of the opinion polls that are published by Pew, and by the polls that J Street pays for. Most Americans do not support settlement policy, they do not support aggressive actions. by Israel, they certainly don't support Israel, consorting with anti semitic governments, or with Donald Trump. And yet, about 25% of Americans do. And a lot of those 25% are very wealthy Republican funders. So they get a lot more for their they're vastly over represented in American politics, compared to most American Jews. They run virtually all the legacy Jewish organizations, and they are very powerful in Congress in a way that vastly again over represents their numbers. And that's in part, a function of the weakness of American democracy and the power of money that in our system, similar to the way the NRA gets what it wants. So those are the three main ideas. American Jews disagree on a lot of things, not just Israel, but particularly about Israel. And those are those are the three messages I'm trying to get across with this title. And then I go back to the beginning of the story, which goes all the way back to 1896 or seven, to Dr. Hertz on the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. And I tell the story of how we got from there to here.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 04:33
So, first of all, I'd like to echo Ori's congratulations on the new book. I mean, I've been a longtime admirer of your writing, I've read a bit of this one. It's I mean, it's excellent on surprising to all of us.
Eric Alterman 09:04
Let me just say it's a little surprising to me. 12 books, I've written 12 books. I think they're all pretty good. I don't apologize. I like them. But I've never written a book that I feel like I've done everything I could that it's 100% as good as it could be. And I've never really said, I'm really proud of this work in a way that I am. So sorry, but I'm gonna say it.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 09:27
I've got two questions for you about it. you frame the whole discussion of we are not one as a starting point. But you said that it took you a while to get to the title. So did you approach the book with a thesis in mind or just with a plan to explore the discourse in the debate?
Eric Alterman 09:45
You know, I've been writing the book. I signed the contract for this book in 2015. But I've been working on in my head literally for 40 years, no exaggeration. I spent a semester at Tel Aviv University In 1980, right when the peace deal was signed with Egypt right afterwards, I took one of the very first day buses with my friends from Tel Aviv to Cairo. Because of our trouble, we're lucky that we didn't screw up relations when we were in Cairo. And, and I had a great Tel Aviv University had a great faculty of Gnosis and and it's more Rabinovich and Shimon Shamir and Chaim Choquette, and professor named Gutfeld, who I became close with, and I came back to college for my junior and senior years. And I wrote, and I was already to be a Jewish intellectual, a New York Jewish intellectual, and I discovered when I got there, I was 20 years old, that this tradition of Jewish intellectuals had been hijacked by neoconservatives that, that they were very well funded, that they had a lot of outlets, that they had their own magazines and columns and jobs and in Congress, and so forth. And then Reagan administration, and they were wrong about everything. And I was I was, I was angry about this, I felt like my place in the world had been taken away from me before I had a chance to claim it. So I looked into this, and I say, How did this happen? And I looked into the effect, I had this idea that it happened because of the 67 War, that everybody was against Vietnam, because it was so stupid, and America was getting people killed and killing people for no good reason. And then Israel became part of the American empire, by with its disruption of the Egyptian military and its occupation of these lands that had previously been Palestine and four kind of nobody really knew who they belong to after. And they decided that, number one, military power was a good thing. And number two, that American power was a good thing because Israel needed America on its side. And so I looked for sort of a flip overnight, on Vietnam, I did this honours thesis, it's pretty good. I looked at the intellect, six different intellectuals, writings about it. And I'm such a nerd, you can sort of tell by my sweater and my books, that I saved my note cards for 42 years. And some of those note cards and interviews I did and research I did are in this book. I did the same thing. 10 years later, when I when I was getting my doctorate at Stanford, and I spent a year writing about the creation of the State of Israel and its effect on American liberalism. Now, the thing about anyone who has a doctorate knows there's really only one thing you're supposed to do with your PhD thesis. And that's prove that you know, everything there is to know about the topic, you already know that no one has written anything that you're not aware. With Jews, you can't do that they're writing down too much too many Jews writing about Israel and liberalism software. So I spent a year on I gave up because I said this is not a dissertation topic. And I wrote my book about presidential life. But I saved those notes too. And, and I've been thinking about it ever since I've written many columns, about Israel and the American discourse and criticize some of the people who are criticizing this book for years. I've taken some crap from American Jewish organizations as a result. So for some reason, this has been very dear to me this topic, the relationship between Israel between Israel, American Jews, and between Israel, United States. And again, I've written now 12 books, they're all kind of about the same thing, except the one that is about Bruce Springsteen. And I can make the case that this one is to that one is to, they're all about how do ideas affect actual behavior on the part of nations? So that's what this book is to it's about how does how does look, Habermas calls the public sphere, how does the public sphere translate itself into action so that it affects people's actual lives? And so that's, that's what this book is. And that's why I feel like I know what I'm doing, because I've been at this topic and the topics that comprise it for 40 years.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 13:57
Absolutely. So that leads into my second question, which is, you know, you started working on this 40 some odd years ago, it's clearly something that's very near and dear to you. What surprised you as you started working on this one working on it now as opposed to when you started?
Eric Alterman 14:12
I'll be honest. I suppose I should be prepared for this question and prepared to answer it, but Israel treated the Palestinian Israelis much worse than I understood before 1967. They Nakba is a real thing. We don't have the numbers, but I quote one document that has the Israeli the IDF, taking credit for expelling 700,000 Arabs, before 1940 Like leading up to 90 and then they passed the law in 1950, where they have expropriated all of their property and kept it for the state. And it was if I'm correct me if I'm wrong, but it was the 1966 that they were living under martial law. and couldn't go from one place to another without registering with the military authorities. And this is the golden era of Israel before it was carrying out an occupation. So I was I was disappointed to learn to learn how badly how the degree to which Palestinian Israelis have always been second class citizens have kind of an afterthought. And the degree to which Zionism mainstream Zionism wanted them to just go away the talk of let's all be friends and let's let's build this country together. Some people believe that some people were dedicated to it but not the leaders of mainstream labor Zionism. The other thing is going to sound a little . But and it's kind of unfair to the to the Arabs, but, man, they've had terrible leadership forever, beginning of the 1920s, when the British offered them a deal that would have given them control over the over the, for Palestine, with some participation by the Jews. And their refusal to even participate in the UN with the UN winscombe The Commission to decide what was to be done when the British left in 1948 through the present, where they are, this strategy is all about BDS, which is a terrible strategy and is doing nothing for the Palestinians who need help. They it's it's a shame that this quote keeps getting quoted because it's such a cliche, but they do not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. That's a quote from me on here. The UN representative about even I've added and, and and now they're good reasons. Let's talk about if you want, the Palestinians have a real problem in terms of their competing constituencies. And the know is a lot is a lot. It's a lot simpler for them than the yes. But But what I've discovered, I think I am the first chapter, the introductory chapter, quoting Aaron, David Miller, who gives me a beautiful blurb for the book, and I never met him in my life. So I'm pretty proud of it, there's never really been conditions for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. What you need is both sides really wanting to being ready to give up what they need to give up. And the American American president who's willing to push them to do it. And we've ever had all three things at once. So that's the other thing that I'm disappointed. Well, that I learned. Most people think there could have been peace, we were so close. We're so close with not one other Camp David, but with under Bill Clinton when Arafat refused to accept Baraks offer. And then, and then later on, in the negotiations have followed that, and so close with the when, with the Camp David Accords, when, you know, at the White House ceremony, where, by the way, I was on the lawn that day, and I was incredibly moved and incredibly optimistic. But actually, we were never very close. And, and, and we're further away today than we've ever been, or at least as far away as we've ever been. So I came away, I'm sorry to say, because you're supposed to sound optimistic and give people hope. more pessimistic about both sides, then I went in.
Ori Nir 18:30
I'd like to ask you to comment on three terms that are often mentioned, in relating in relationship to the Israel us relationship, in relation to the relationship. One is, which you already mentioned before the issue of daylight. And it may be a good, good opportunity to tell a little story here was the first time that President Obama met with Jewish leaders. They sat around the table. This was just shortly after he was he, I think shortly after he was elected. And at some point, the person who was then the head of the ADL said, there should be no daylight between Israel in the United States. And President Obama said why it was he was surprised by this, which everyone was completely horrified by that, you know, it was like a, something you're not supposed to say. So it's maybe a little bit about this issue of the expectation among American Jewish leaders and Israeli leaders, that there should be no daylight. That's one one term. The other is a special relationship. When in how was this special relationship forged and what were the the building blocks of it? And then the third term is the issue of special of shared values, which is has been regarded for many years as the foundation like the ethos was that this is the the this is the foundation of the special relationship, the alliance. And we've been witnessing recently I think that there aren't that this the shared values have have weakened over time. So long, long question.
Eric Alterman 20:30
Yeah. I mean, you guys can just take a break. Now. There's a lot to say, well, you know, the issue of daylight, quote, unquote, daylight. It's an odd one, because I said, we are not wander between different countries with different interests. But Israel, you know, there's a quote of Bibi Netanyahu said that he said in private, but he was, he was videotaped, unbeknownst to him. And he was speaking to a group of settlers, and he said, Don't worry about America. America is a country that can be easily moved. And, and I think this has been the view of all is that, that if you just weighed out America, you'll get what you want, regardless of what Americans say, or think they are going to do. And I think this has been true, even it was even true under the the only American president who ever took on Israel and public, which was Dwight Eisenhower, after the 1956 War. He went on television, and he said, we're going to cut off all not only all aid, we're going to come all trade to you. We're not going to let Americans give you any money, if you don't withdraw from Egypt. The French and the British withdrew immediately the Israelis, the Israelis waited him out. And even though again, he spoke about Israel in a way no ever no American president ever has before says he caved on the on the main things on the main demands that the Israelis were making. And by and large, if you look at all the fights that have made the headlines, the Israelis always get what they want from the United States. I'm so sorry. You told the story about Obama. I'll tell story about Obama. The beginning of the Obama administration, Ben Rhodes, who was his deputy national security adviser came into Obama's office, and he had just seen a liberal democratic congressman. And he was very upset. And he said, Why says, Well, this guy's really upset because he's very uncomfortable with you demanding Israel freeze its settlements. And and Obama says, but he's against the settlement. And Ben Rhodes says yes, but he's more against doing anything about so. And I say that this began as a position of a liberal democratic congressman who's not named, and it ended up becoming the position of the Obama administration itself. The Israelis, they, when they, when they when they say, we're not going to, you know, we don't want to do something, they don't do it. It's one reason. I mean, it's impossible for me to imagine that United States would ever try and force Israel to do anything that Israel. So it's fundamentally against its own security, like, turn itself into a completely democratic country from the river to the sea, and therefore give the Palestinians the majority. It's impossible to before imagine that America would ever demand such a thing. It's one reason I think BDS is ridiculous from a strategic standpoint. But it's even more impossible for me to imagine that Israel would do it, if in some other alternative universe, the United States didn't demand that Israel is going to do what Israel thinks it's best for Israel, and it will tell the United States to go to hell if it needs to, although it prefer to do it quietly. So this issue of daylight is, is way that that American Jewish leaders quote unquote, daylight keep America keep American politicians from overtly criticizing Israel, but they don't really have to worry about American leaders doing anything contrary to Israel's security, because they're not going to do it anyway. It's there's no there's no percentage and there's nothing to be gained by it. They can they can every once in a while. It's so much anger, you know, when when, when begin, go on hikes they were angry when when begun, attack the nuclear plant in Iraq and flute and ignored everybody's rights by flying over their airspace. Americans American president was angry but they didn't do anything about it. They just they got over it, Bibi Netanyahu is right about that. That's that's I can't remember the election now. I'm old. What was second one?
Ori Nir 24:48
So we talked about special relationships and, and about the idea of what was... I forgot, especially shared values, the thing that I was most interested in,
Eric Alterman 25:10
well special relationship. It's a very long story, I would say. It began, it's always sort of been a special issue. But it began, the one we are living in now, I would say began in the 1980s. Under President Reagan, when AIPAC after AIPAC lost the fight over trying to prevent the US from selling AWACS special radar system to Saudi Saudi Arabia. It became instead of a small but effective organization that mainly lobbied congressmen, it became a nationwide organization with grassroots and very public and it became a lobbying powerhouse.One thats along with the NRA, and maybe the, the retired people's lobby, it's the most powerful, single most powerful lobby in the United States, certainly the most powerful foreign policy lobby there has ever been. And at the same time, the Christian conservatives, they always liked Israel for a long time when American Jews were anti Zionist. The eventual Christians were the pro Zionist people in America, American Jews came around between 19 the 1920s and, and after the Holocaust and becoming pro Zionist. Before that they were mostly anti Zionist. But the Christian evangelicals has always been pro Zionist. But in in the 1980s, they became much more political and be much more pro Zionist. The reasons for that, you know, are kind of disturbing, like, they're looking forward to the Book of Revelations when Armageddon takes place, and all Jews go to hell, and they are lifted to heaven, but in the meantime, they're they're doing, they're cool with whatever Israel does. And so they came to prominence in the 1980s. And so did the neoconservatives, who never conquered American Jewish American Jewish politics. They're still they've always been a minority of no more than 30%. But they, they, they were able to speak on behalf of American Jews to American Christians, as if, as if they represented American students, and they took the same positions that the American Jewish organizations took, which is that Israel is always right. And, and, and the media. This is one of my many criticisms of the mainstream media, they treat these people as if they speak for American Jews . So around the same time and the 1980s, the rabbis were kicked off a stage as Jewish leaders and replaced by the head of the agency, the head of the President's coalition, the head of AIPAC and, and so and so these people created this sort of iron, wood, what is it Avi Shlaim who wrote the book, The Iron Triangle, he had a different definition of it, but this is this, these people define what was responsible to be able to say about Israel and Palestine. And what's so interesting to me is that you could get in so much trouble if you went beyond the borders, but the borders are always changing. So President Kennedy was not allowed to say the word Palestinian, according to his advisors. And President Carter was not allowed to say the word Palestinian homeland He got, he caught hell for that. And, and a young President Carter's black representative to the UN, the only most high ranking black person in the cabinet, lost his job and was kicked out for meeting with the PLO, who, what she was doing, actually, on behalf of Israel, it's complicated story, but an interesting one. And those were the only people that could deliver peace. It's ridiculous. And Jimmy Carter was against the policy that said that they couldn't talk to the PLO, but Kissinger has made this promise to the Israelis and, and the American Jewish organizations were enforcing it. And so they, and the young was forced out of administration, very much to the detriment of black Jewish relations and the future of American liberalism. And there's always been a conflict between American Jews liberalism and their Zionism. And until recently, the Zionism as one, and this is one change. And I guess it leads to your next point. Now, the liberalism is winning. And that's, and that's one reason why Israel is becoming far less popular than it used to being with Democrats, and particularly young democrats who are the most liberal group in the country, and Jews. So So that's what's changing. The other the other part of it now this idea of shared values Well, for a long time, Israel, you know, Israel, which is when the argument was saying, we're the only we're the only democracy in the Middle East number one and number two, our Arabs have life much better than any other Arabs. So even though They're not equal. Would they rather go live in Syria? Is that what they want? Or Libya? And, and now we know that Israel is not it's definitely as Who am I quoting when I say Israel is democratic and Jewish, but Jewish, if you're Arab,
Ori Nir 30:20
the Knesset member said that,
Eric Alterman 30:22
okay. It's just a smart thing to say it's not in the book. But but so it's not a democratic country, for if for 20% of its citizens, and most Americans, I think, until recently, probably today, had no idea that that figure is so large, I mean, black Americans are only 12% of the United States. And it was a terrible crisis when they were not given their rights. And people really cared deeply about this. And yet 20% of Israelis have very limited rights. They can vote, but they have very limited rights in other ways. And particularly if you include Jerusalem, as part of Israel, those people 350,000 People do not have political rights, the way Israeli Jews. So it's a debt, it's a democracy with a big, very big asterisk next to it. Now, the thing is, is that historically, Israelis have looked and felt like America, they're, they, they, they don't look like Arabs, they don't look like they don't they look, they don't look foreign, they look other, they look like us. And in fact, they look better than us. You know, we have this idea of the founders of Israel. Out of the movie accidents really were Paul Newman was the avatar. But um, you know, they would work in the fields in the morning, and then they would argue about Dostoyevsky And, and, and philosophy in the afternoon, and then they would go and fight in the evening. And then make love to their girlfriends at night and then do the same thing. The next day. They were they were overmatched. They were Superman. And they and they were they were different kinds of Jews. They were a Jew that American Jews fell in love with, you know, they were not Philip Roth Jews. They were these Leon years, imaginary Jews. And an American Jews love that they lived vicariously through these Israelis. But then, beginning in 1977, with the election of Manachem Begin, it became clear that this was no longer Israel, Israel became a lot more a lot more like America. I went to Israel the first time in 1974. And I and I have a 14 year old and I fell in love with this idea too. And, and the idea that out of the ashes of Holocaust came is new, proud, strong, virile Jew, was just wonderful. Everybody loved it. They loved it before 67 When they had this, they didn't think about it much. But they had this sort of dignified, later exercised view of Israel, and then they they continued to love it for a long time. Again, the power of the Holocaust has remained very strong for a long time. And the idea of Israel being beleaguered, small country surrounded by a hostile power. But that has by and large disputed. So David has become Goliath and vice versa, in today's world, and so the the idea that shared values hold , either American Jews and Israeli Jews together or American Israel together, that no longer holds water at all. Because some, you know, Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump have shown face but we hate Donald Trump we Americans use and most Americans hate. I think I quote not on Sharansky and Gil Troy, saying Israelis are angry at American Jews because they love Trump. And and the American Jews are angry at Israeli Jews because we love Obama, American Jews love them. And and that's that's just not that's not a coincidence. That's very real. Israel is the only democratic country in the world that preferred Trump to Obama and prefer Trump to Biden. And that's the exact opposite of most Americans. So Israel has shared values with evangelical Christians, and with orthodox American. That's important. I don't, I don't quite do justice to this in the book. Today, 10% of American Jews are Orthodox, and this is ultra orthodox. So not that many modern Orthodoxy is disappearing in America. But, but they have. I read a statistic that they have 40% of the babies in New York now. So the mainstream, secular American denominations are in crisis. Conservative Jews, conservatism has lost a third of its membership in like the past 15 years, and reformed Jews have lost about 15%. They would have lost more except that conservative Jews are becoming reformed. Young people are disappearing from both. And I think a big reason for that is that these mainstream organizations have have become Zionist. Not that they're that they're people are objective support for Israel, but that's all they do. They they've, they've replaced the things, they've replaced theology, they've replaced social justice, they've replaced social service and replace, thinking about what it means to be a Jew in the diaspora, with support for Israel, Holocaust remembrance and anti semitism. And there's no there's no substance to that there's no reason to be Jewish. anymore. There used to be work for me when I was I was born in 1960. And when my Bubby and zeyda and my parents said to me, you you got to support Israel because of the Holocaust. I got it. And people my age up to my age got it maybe a little younger than me got it. But now people are getting what why do I support Israel? You know, they're paddling around with with, with Orban and Hungary and, and that Brazilian guys, Bolsanaro, Trump, I don't want anything to do with that. And the Holocaust. While your whole course was terrible, no doubt about it. But so a lot of things been terrible. And you know, what about? What about Cambodia and 1970s and, and other mass murders? What about, you know, Bosnia? And I'm not comparing these things to the Holocaust. They're all their own things. But, but the idea that, that what happened in Germany, in the 1930s and 40s, there in Eastern Europe should dictate a person's identity. Today, it's not it's not compelling. It's not convinced. And to be honest, well, there is an upsurge of anti semitism in the United States. Some of it a great deal of which, by the way, is attributable to people who are angry about Israel. There's really no problem with being Jewish in America the way there once was. There are no barriers really, anyway, we, you know, we Jewish politicians, Jewish lawyers, Jewish presidents of universities, it's fine to be Jewish. It's not it's not dangerous to be Jewish in America is it's as good as anything. We're totally, you know, we're totally part of the establishment today. So, so the idea that we need a refuge from from anti semitism is not convincing either. So so the the what is more rests on today, politically speaking, is the support of Christian conservatives. And the support of the the political system, which to some degree rests on the donor base, which is quite conservative for these Jewish organizations like AIPAC. And and the and the fact that the, the political system is very slow to respond to democratic. When it comes to foreign policy, I wrote a book about democracy and foreign policy almost 25 years ago, in fact, 24 years ago, there's very little effect of this verbal democratic impact on US foreign policy. And it certainly would take a long time before it reaches down Israel. So for all the talk, I'm sorry, yeah, give me a second long answer. But for all the talk about the Democratic Party is no longer on Israel side and the squad, its danger to Israel. Well, when you had after the war, the 2021 War in Gaza. And after the United States had signed $38 billion memo of understanding what Israel over a 10 year period, Congress decided what to give Israel another billion dollars on top of the 38 billion to make up for the money spent on the Iron Dome missile system. What was the vote, it was eight votes against one, abstention from AOC, and five, whatever 538 minus 499 mean 529. Four. So that's the danger Israel faces now that it might, it might be 510, against 20, on day, but the political system is still very much in Israel's court, even though this idea of shared values is a thing of history.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 39:23
So you've touched on this a bit already. But there's a chapter in your book titled Coming Unglued, which, and again, you've talked about this a bit already, suggests that the big break among non conservative Americans and Israel took place under Donald Trump's four years in the White House. And then with that, the closest association being that between a very conservative Netanyahu led Israel and the Trump administration. I'm going to take it from your last answer that that is a correct depiction. But what do you I think happened during that period, particularly among progressive American Jews in terms of that separation. And then I have a follow up for that as well. But I'd like to give you a chance to answer that first.
Eric Alterman 40:11
I think, you know, the, the threat of Donald Trump, if you would call Donald Trump a fascist, shortly after he was elected, you'd be considered ridiculous, you know, you'd be outside of responsible discourse. But he was it wasn't a sort of homegrown American fascist that we learned, you know, he tried to overthrow the election violently, as well as any other way he could think. And, and this was the greatest threat America has faced to its democracy since the Civil War. And we still face it. So American Jews or their Americans first, in most cases, I'm not saying I'm not talking about myself, but I'm saying the there. Israelis, by the way, have contempt for American Jews, in part because they think they're just sort of playing Judaism. And they'll either be they'll either be assimilated into Christianity or or they'll be anti semitism will frighten them into giving up their Judaism. But, um, a separate issue, although one we should probably talk about. But Donald Trump was terrifying, and still is. And the fact that Israel didn't care about American Jews most fundamental political concern and just allied themselves with this evil threat to what American Jews held most dear, like I said, Before Trump, you could you could sort of balance your Zionism and your liberalism. But under Trump, he no longer could. And Trump himself says he says, What do you American Jews doing by not supporting Israel? Because I support Israel and the Democrats don't. And Netanyahu is he's remarkably similar to Trump. He's a lot smarter than Trump. He's not nearly as crazy as Trump, but he's just as focused on him on his own political movement, which is every bit as racist, and exclusionist. And, and potentially violent and certainly corrupt, as Trump says, so they have very similar interests. They also weirdly have sons who are, even if possible, more offensive than they are. I don't mention that in the book. But I mentioned that today because I saw a tweet from er, er, Netanyahu that that was really nice to Kanye West. Yesterday. Anyway. So so the the alliance between Netanyahu and Trump really made this very stark because Trump is the enemy of 75%, of American Jews, enemy in a way that no Republican president has ever been, since the founding of the State of Israel. He's an enemy of not just our not just our party, but our, our most fundamental values, and, and of our country's democracy. And, and, and Israel's leader and Israel's population, and bracelets, and bought into it. So, so, so this made an unbridgeable break between Israel and the majority of American Jews. And and today this week, as, as of the past week, that that break has broken out into the mainstream discourse, because Israel is bringing in these Israeli Government appears to be bringing in the really objectionable people into the government, the federal parties who are, you know, pro terrorist, and they talk about expelling the Arabs from the country and, and the issue over the killing of Palestinian American journalist is another issue that is, is demonstrating that the break is now out into the open. So, so this coming unglued? When I wrote that chapter, and I called it that it was more about how the politics and both countries were simultaneously coming unglued. Netanyahu was obviously so corrupt, but he was going to get he was getting away with it, because he had such strong support from same thing. And but but you could, it has this double meaning now that the that the relationship is coming unglued because of Israel is moving further and further in this extreme direction. United States we don't know what's going to happen. But clearly American Jews and American liberals and the people who have always been there for Israel are can't go along with it. The head of the reform movement, Rick Jacobs, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, he issued a statement about Ben Gvir, etc. that no American Jewish leader has ever said before about Israel. It was much harsher than anything they've ever allowed themselves to say in the past and that I think has it even happened yet. If it does happen, and the Israelis take that direction that they seem to be going on, then then we're going to see a dislocation between the two. That has no precedent.
Maxxe Albert-Deitch 45:16
Sure. So that was the follow up: where do you think this reality might be headed considering what I've sort of been referring to as the extreme-ification of politics? The most recent Israeli election, a sort of return to a conservative Netanyahu led Israel with more controversial further extreme leaders? I think the question in the chat about Orthodox community being the fastest growing Jewish population in the US is relevant in there as well.
Eric Alterman 45:43
Yeah, I haven't looked at chat. I've been focused on our conversation. I will once we turn it over to questions. So listen, so Joe Biden, when it comes to Israel, he is definitely... when the when when Democrats had their primaries, his two competitors, Joe Biden was the only one of the top three, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who said, We will never condition aid Israel, on its behavior, we're gonna give them the aid, they can do what they want. We're not going to use aid as a lever to get them to stop building settlements, or stop letting the settlers beat up Palestinians who are trying to plant olive groves. And we're, when Biden goes, that will be a thing of the past, in the Democratic Party, that that's now it's now a mainstream position to say Israel's the only American military aid to a lot of countries. Israel is the only one that doesn't have to account for how expensive that's one of the great victories of AIPAC, etc, that Israel gets the most amount of American aid, military aid, and yet they do whatever they want. Every other country has to account for exactly where that aid, aid went. So in the future Israel, that that relationship with that aspect of tuition will change. Now, under Biden, you know, Biden's election coincided with Bibi losing the last election. And everybody was thrilled that they didn't have to deal with Bibi. And I quote a I forget who it was a columnist. I think I know Haaretz, who said that the Americans were terrified of this bear in the basement. And they did everything they could to avoid opening the door so that the bear could get out. And then they'd have Bibi back. So so the Bennett government was able to really do whatever it wanted, without the Biden administration, making any kind of public problem they did. They said, Please don't build on area C. They said a few other things. But they basically turned a blind eye to what was going on in the West Bank, with the settlers. So with Bibi in power, and the Democratic Party, having no sympathy at all, for Bibi. And even worse, you know, to the right of Bibi, there will be a lot of conflicts. And it will be just like everything in America, which will be you know, the Trump and Republicans party will attack the Democrats and call them anti Semites, while at the same time exploiting anti semitism, and the Democrats will be divided. And the American Jewish organizations will by and large, come down on the side of Israel, and therefore lose more and more support among Democrats and particularly young democrats. And, you know, it's, I'm a historian, so, you know, to get me to predict the future. But because anything could happen, you know, who knows? But But clearly, these two trends are not going anywhere, the trend that is becoming more and more of an extreme right wing country, and the United States, American Jews are moving to the left, young American Jews. young Israelis are more right wing than their parents and young American Jews are more left wing than their parents, and so are young American Democrats and young American people. That's why Democrats hold on to the Senate because of young people, Generation Z. So these two trends are embedded in the world. Something could change it, but nothing looks like it's about to and you can expect a great deal more conflict. And just to add on to this. I think this is worth thinking about. And not in none of these. It almost I can't find a single example, where Israel changed its policy review because American Jews said don't do it. Sometimes the American government would say don't do it, although that's pretty rare too but American Jews Yeah, there's a famous quote, When Golda Meir who was prime minister at the time, met with American Jews, and because Golda Meir's governor was supporting Nixon and American Jews were supporting McGovern. And they were unhappy. And, and, and golden said, where are your phantom jets? It's just like when Stalin said, how many troops does the pope have? So, so Israel, I think, will continue to get what it wants from Congress and from the presidency because they control the levers of power. Number one, remember to because the Palestinians are so bad at politics, at least they're so bad at American politics. They have no, they have no levers power. And, and they're not and they're not and the Palestinians themselves in, in the West Bank and Gaza, you know, Israel facing the whole list. You're asking us to make peace, make peace with who they are, right? The the the Palestinian Authority is illegitimate. It has an election in 16 years, it's corrupt, it has very little support. You can't make peace with Abbas. I agree with that. So so the Israelis have this opportunity. And they're using it to to make sure that peace, instead of making sure that they're creating the conditions for lasting peace that they can live with. And, and I think that I think, again, elections, but I think history will look back on that as enormously short sighted.
Ori Nir 51:36
We are I'm looking at the clock here. And we're kind of approaching the end of our conversation. There are a couple of things that I wanted to ask you before, we want to make sure we don't leave out. So I'm looking at the questions that are being asked in the QA and q&a, we're not going to be able to address all of them, one of them. And some of some of them reflect the kind of ruffling of feathers of some of our participants. One is asking why do you think that? BDS is ridiculous? Why did you refer to it as ridiculous?
Eric Alterman 52:11
Well, BDS has, I think one main value, which is it, it tells the Palestinians, we haven't forgotten you. We are thinking about you. We, you know, Israel, as the Arab world has basically moved on. It's fine with what Israel does. But the Palestinians have, you know, no, no, no real friends, diplomatically speaking. But there is a group of people who really care and we're going to march for you, we're going to protest on your behalf. But that's it. Barely BDS has no theory of actually improving the lives of Palestinian people. Again, BDS says we're going to conquer American politics, and then America is going to force Israel to turn itself over to a Palestinian majority. Never Never, never, never give anyone a million to one odds that that doesn't happen in any of our lifetimes. The the most recent poll numbers, first of all know most Americans have never heard of 4% of Americans support BDS. 2% supported strongly, that's after 14 years. Again, it has a few. It has it has a few academic organizations. It has a few left wing magazines, no labor unions, no corporations, no local governments, certainly no national government. These the Israelis don't even notice it from an economic standpoint, if you want to compare it to the South African boycotts, so and No, no, no supporter of BDS can explain you how it's actually going to work. They all say, well, people have to get on the right side of history or look at South Africa, the only two things you've ever hear. I've spent a lot of time trying to get really smart people to tell me how do you expect BDS to work? Now I I have I spent a few hours oncein a refugee camp in East Jerusalem. It was the worst place I've ever been in my life. And my life was threatened the Israeli soldiers who led me and said you're crazy to go in there. And I kind of was, but there was there was, you know, feces and urine, running, walking running in the street. Kids with snot coming out of their nose, dressed in rags, it was horrific. Now, I care about these people. I mean, I'm not I'm not I'm not saying they're my main concern, but I don't want those people. This was a long time ago. 1980s. So those those those are the grand parents of the kids who were being born now who are still living there and whose grandchildren will also be born there. And BDS and the Palestinian movement does nothing for these people. Now again, I'm sympathetic to the Palestinians. Contemporary today for the following reason, like I understand why they refused the relatively generous offer that Barak made relative to previous offers. And later on. Palestinians have impossible constituencies to solve now. Now, if Arafat had wanted to make that deal with under Clinton, with Clinton and camp, David with Barack, he was being offered. He was he was told that he better not by the leaders of both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it probably would be upset, he probably imagined he'd be assassinated, if he tried. So that sort of took it off the table, because Israel wasn't willing to part with the parts of Jerusalem that the Arab world felt it needed for a deal. But even if so, you've got that constituency, then you've got the people I just described living in refugee camps, then you've got the people living under occupation, then you've got the people living in exile, who aren't allowed to come back to their homes, but would like to, and are just trying to make a living, or in the Gulf States or the United States. And you've got people who are living quite comfortable lives because they've settled down for generations, or they have good education and good jobs. And, and they talk about Palestine and how beautiful it was, and their gardens, their grandparents, and so forth. But they don't really want to go back, they want to have an identity of Palestine, much like American Jews talk about Israel, they don't want to go live there. So So these constituencies are impossible to satisfy simultaneously. And so just by saying, the only way you can keep them together is by saying no, because then you don't have to deal with their their competing needs. And and so this is one reason why I think peace is impossible for the, for the future, that, that the concessions that would be made to help the people in the refugee camps are the people who I think are most desperately needing help, or the people living under an increasingly brutal occupation by Israel, and at the mercy of these horrific settler violence settlers of late. These people are ours kind of a secondary thought. And the BDS movement, which has marches on campus and speeches at meetings of professors and editorials in the Harvard Crimson. What does it do for these? It's not you know, it's not, America is not going to demand ever, that it's nothing like South Africa. You can call as we haven't talked about the word apartheid, probably, it's best not to talk about it, because it's complicated, and you need a lot of time for it. But Israel is nothing like South Africa. And the BDS movement is nothing like the global movement that helped for South Africa to turn over its country to its oppress majority. So, so I'm, I'm extremely critical of the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian supporters for embracing it. On the one hand, on the other hand, you might say to me, Eric, well, then what should they do? I don't have a good answer. I mean, I do have an answer. They're not asking me. I think a nonviolent a strictly nonviolent movement couldn't be very successful. Because American Jews were horrified by Rabins policy of breaking bones when they were throwing rocks in the First Intifada. And I think if they had like, a strike, like, like we had in civil rights movement, and in Birmingham, and, and all the Arabs stopped working and sat down, and the Palestinians sat down and said, Go ahead and hit us, whatever we're not, you know, we want our rights, we want to one man, one vote, I think that the world wouldn't let Israel the world might, and American Jews might say that Israel is, we can't live like this anymore. You can't, we can't support. It might work. It's the only I can think of but but I and I'm no expert on on Palestinian psychology or Palestinian politics. The book, I should say, is much improved by a reading I got from Dr. Hussein , who read it quite late, but explained a lot of things to me that I wouldn't have otherwise understood. But I think that the power of machismo in in Palestinian and Arab life would make such a thing impossible. And that the idea of resistance and fighting back is so ingrained in Palestinian life that even though it has no hope, of improving their lot, and in fact, it's certain to make it worse, because Israel is always going to respond. You know, many times over. Nevertheless, it's it's fundamental. So, you know, I look at the situation. That's what I've learned. I've learned that American Judaism needs to save itself, that the Israelis are not the Israelis are not, they don't, they're not really interested in what American Jews think. And American Jews, whatever you think about Israel, maybe everything is all done is absolutely necessary and correct. And it's fine. It's still it's still an incident, it's still a vicarious experience for American Jews. That is not consistent with their luck with the way they live. And, and, and the, the meaning the meaningfulness of America of Jewish life and America has suffered for its its wholehearted embrace of Zionism alone. Now, I think it was probably almost certainly the right thing to do in 1940s, there were hundreds of 1000s of refugees that didn't know where to go, the only way they could go is if you created the State of Israel, I get it. I'm ith him. The Likud movement was not realistic. But, um, but at some point, American Jews had to recognize the fact that they were living entirely different lives and the Israelis, and that the heroism that they witnessed was not their heroism. It was it was somebody else's heroism. And, and, and they needed to chart their own path. And the intensity of the embrace of Zionism, and the Holocaust, have stood in the way of that. And so to the degree that I have a conclusion, as an American Jew, rather than as a historian, that's my conclusion that, that American Judaism has been hollowed out by its embrace of Zionism. And that and that it needs to save itself quickly. Because like I said, the numbers have been disappearing, and they're worse among young people than any other. So that that's sort of my, to the degree that I that I have any anything optimistic and say instead, I think that many American people, young American Jews in in in rabbinical academies and cantorial students, that they're realizing this, and American Jewish leaders are, are, are finding a new path. Young, Young, future American Jewish leaders, they're being resisted by contemporary American cheerleaders. And that'll be a very interesting struggle in the future.
Ori Nir 1:02:05
Fascinating, thank you very much. And thanks for ending with some, you know, with a conclusion. I want I was going to quote, but we're, you know, we're out of time was going to quote, the beautiful quote that you, you are quoting in the conclusion of the book of Joan Didion, where she she talks about what the discourse about Israel is like in the United States, but I'll leave it for the reader for the participants, for them to explore when they when they read the book...
Eric Alterman 1:02:32
Right. That's gotta be the whole book to get to that, because it's the very last sentence.
Ori Nir 1:02:37
I very much recommended. Eric, thank you so much for joining us. I want to wish you and all the people who joined us today, Happy Thanksgiving. And hopefully, we'll host you again. Later on.
Eric Alterman 1:02:53
It was a genuine honor for me and I really appreciate the opportunity and I appreciate the work of Americans piece. Now. I joined it, I think when I was in college when the soldiers first came to the United States for the very first time from Shalom Achshlav, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity as having written this book. So thank you,
Ori Nir 1:03:11
thank you very much. Okay. Thank you everyone for joining. And bye now. Bye bye.