THE SPINE DECEMBER 4, 2008
Louis Dembitz Brandeis, the first Jew to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court, was also the leading American Zionist and, for some years, the great titanic figure of international Zionism itself, even above Chaim Weizmann, who ended his career as the first president of the State of Israel. (Justice Stephen Breyer has written about Brandeis' Zionism in TNR.) Brandeis's base was the Zionist Organization of America, a body that still exists but one that, I'm afraid, must embarrass Brandeis' ghost.
One of Brandeis' contributions to American law was his insistence that evidence was an intrinsic element in argument. Not flimsy evidence, not out of context evidence. But evidence that on its face carries the day.
Brandeis also argued that Zionism was for Jews an intrinsic element in their being Americans. This was one of the first iterations of a trans-national America that was argued in the pages of this magazine by Randolph Bourne and Horace M. Kallen. (Look them both up. They were the essence of independent intellectuals, and -to be sure- they disagreed with each other on many matters.
Brandeis' Zionism was confident. The ZOA at present seems to believe that their Zionism is a marginal ideology and a marginal sect when, in truth, it is just the opposite, embraced by a large majority of Americans and disdained by very few. Of course, also there are many Americans who don't care one way or another. But the U.S. has not been a more or less consistent supporter of Israel because of the enmity or indifference of the population.
In any case, the ZOA appears to want to appear as a besieged minority against everyone. Especially if "everyone" is made up of Democrats and liberals. In fact, the ZOA seems to want to paint Barack Obama into an anti-Israel and anti-Zionist corner. Are these Zionists nuts? During the campaign the operation became a full-throated bullhorn for John McCain and Sarah Palin. What would Brandeis have made of that?
The ZOA has assaulted Obama from the sidelines. Not really on the basis of anything he said. And certainly not on the basis of the men and women he has put into positions of decisive power. What can these critics say about Mrs. Clinton? That once long ago she kissed Mrs. Arafat? Frankly, I pitied Hillary being in the predicament.
Not being able to criticize Obama frontally they bark not at him but at his aides. The evidence components of their aggressions are simply pathetic.
Susan Rice is one of their targets. I do not know Ms. Rice. I have never met her. And, yes, I have criticized her on occasion. That's what free journalists do in a free society. But the ZOA has stigmatized her as one of Israel's most baleful enemies. And here my observation about Brandeis' high standard for evidence comes into play. The evidence the organization assembles is pathetic. My God, how many public figures have mentioned James Baker as special envoy to the Middle East? He is a malevolent figure, certified in his malevolence towards Israel and towards Jews. But his name is commonly held to be apt for the post. Like Bill Clinton, who in some way really loves Israel, did more harm on the White House lawn and at Camp David than Baker ever did, even inspired by his prejudices. There will be a test for Susan Rice and for Barack Obama very soon. Whether she opposes the United States participating in the United Nations' gang rape of Israel at Durban II. I doubt that she will. And here we can follow the government of Canada which has already declined the gracious invitation from intellectual and political hoodlums. Here we can test the limits of engagements.
And now I come to the ZOA's other victim of the day, Samantha Power. The New Republic carried many of her most searing articles from Bosnia. We co-published her book, A Problem from Hell, with Perseus Books. It won a Pulitzer Prize and probably was the most important book on genocide of the decade (save perhaps Saul Friedlander's Nazi Germany and the Jews and The Years of Extermination). Leon Wieseltier edited much of it and gave it its title. Samantha is a friend, a good friend, in fact. She has uttered some phrases about Israel that I did not like and that I thought were erroneous. We have quarreled over them. She reminds me, as I've told her and others, of Maud Gonne, the lover of W.B. Yeats and a fiery Irish nationalist. How can she not grasp deeply Jewish nationalism, its romance and its realities?
Has she made mistakes? Have I not made mistakes? The fact is that she truly, truly loves Israel and the people of Israel. They appeal to both her ecstatic imagination and to her understanding of the gravity of the world. To her defiance and to her discipline. If anybody thinks she is an enemy of Israel or even less than that, not a true friend, that anybody needs to know that love and affection always require questions. Adoration does not help Israel. It misleads it.
And here below are the hysterical comments and the hyperbolic comments from the ZOA. An embarrassment to passionate Zionists like myself.