The incoherence of the Zionist Freedom Alliance

Recent weeks have seen the appearance of a group called the Zionist Freedom Alliance at UC Berkeley. It is not clear at this point what the group’s affiliation is with Tikvah, however all the major members of Tikvah work with the Alliance, which sponsored Israeli Liberation Week.

The Zionist Freedom Alliance reflects the desperate and doomed status of right-wing Zionism in the United States. In tactics, it adopts thuggery, aggression, and violence in the style of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the terrorist organization the Jewish Defense League (which Tikvah links to on its Facebook group). It also romanticizes the Irgun, a Zionist militia group which carried out dozens of attacks on civilians in the 1930s and 40s. In rhetoric, it pretends social justice, national liberation, and anti-imperialism. Overall, it symbolizes a failing attempt to maintain victim status for the State of Israel, which possesses the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East as well as the world’s 5th most powerful military.

The ZFA’s main goal is to provide a “revolutionary space” for Jewish youth through which they can support Israel. It arose to “fill the void… by establishing a campus network that would proudly champion Israel’s national rights.” One of its organizers at Berkeley, Gabe Weiner, a founder of Tikvah who was involved in a recent attack on Arab students at Berkeley, tells right-wing website Arutz Sheva that the purpose of the group is to confound anti-apartheid activists who are accustomed to support for Israel being couched in neo-Conservative language. Thus, the group attempts to explain Israel as an anti-imperialist force which is being screwed over by “the same people who invaded Iraq,” as Yehuda HaKohen, one of the speakers at their 10-person Berkeley rally stated on Nov 12 (pictured above). These historically inaccurate and baseless claims are supposed to confuse the Palestinian solidarity movement, which has consistently stood against Israeli oppression for 60 years and has encountered similar opposition throughout that time.

Because there is no longer any substance to the right-wing Zionist argument in the United States (that is why it is such a marginal movement within the American Jewish community, and may even be stronger amongst Christian Evangelicals than Jews in the US–AIPAC and similar lobby groups are now faced with dovish competitors like J Street), we see a shift to a war of images. It is no longer about building a Jewish movement, but about building ambient support for the Israeli occupation amongst Americans as a whole. Not only right-wing organizations like the ZFA and its satellites like Tikvah follow this approach, but so do new propaganda firms like BlueStarPR, who aim to create “positive images” of Israel by emphasizing its technology sector and its alleged status as a liberal democracy in the Middle East while refraining from mentioning the occupation.

These approaches, from right and left, all share one thing in common. They completely ignore the existence of the Palestinian people. Zionism does not know how to reconcile itself with the existence of Palestinians, nor can it conceive of co-existence between Jews and Arabs. Those Israelis who acknowledge the existence of Palestinians have now earned the enmity of their right-wing neighbors who accuse them of being self-hating traitors. Growing internal tensions in Israeli society have led to violence, including the assault of left leaders and academics and recent reports by the Shin Bet that left leaders may be assassinated soon by right-wing Zionists from the settler movement. On the other hand those who continue to ignore the Palestinians typically promote genocidal actions in their political pronouncements like the expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine, or their “extermination,” to borrow a term from the ZFA’s website. In other words, their only resolution is an incitement to violence against Arabs and Palestinians.

In times like this, it is imperative for people to stand up against the radicalization and violent rhetoric of the Zionist right in the United States. These organizations go through phases. The Jewish Defense League, inspired by Meir Kahane, was once considered a terrorist organization in the United States. In 2001, two of its leaders were arrested for plotting to bomb the office of Congressman Darrell Issa (major Jewish American organizations condemned the plot). Given the racist expletives and slurs that the ZFA and Tikvah attackers shouted last night when they assaulted Palestinian students at Berkeley, I am concerned by how this right-wing ideology can embolden people to violence. One anonymous commenter on a Daily Californian article notes that one of the attackers attended a Jewish fighting camp this summer called iCommando sponsored by aish Campus. In fact, one board member of Tikvah today writes on his Facebook that he is “waging the war against organized crime (SJP).” In response, a student at the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco writes, “need ammo? men? i suggest an alliance.” War? Ammo? At a University?

With all this transpiring I am heartened by the support and condemnation of mainstream Jewish student leaders on campus. I want to point out that this is not an issue which affects only Arabs, Palestinians, or anti-apartheid activists. It endangers all students and promotes misperceptions that could potentially incite to violence. The Daily Californian, for example, mysteriously found it necessary to note that “all three men [attackers] are Jewish.” The fact that they are Jewish is irrelevant. They are extremely marginal elements in the Jewish and campus community at Cal, and their organization has already been removed from the Jewish Student Union. The lack of attendance at their rally reflects the fact that they have no substantive support whatsoever either from the campus Jewish community, or the community at large. While it is re-assuring to know that they lack any support on campus, it is disturbing that this lack of support may only frustrate them to use even more extreme means to physically hurt students they disagree with.

I second SJP’s call for campus administrators to respond to these events immediately and to ensure the safety of students by pursuing disciplinary action against the attackers. I also call upon the ASUC Senate to eject SQUELCH! Senator and Tikvah President John Moghtader, who the Daily Cal reports participated in the incident as well. It is worth noting that two of the attackers have refused on several occasions to meet with members of SJP in order to discuss ways of preventing tensions on campus. Last month they also participated in a similarly aggressive disruption of an SJP event involving John Dugard and Norman Finkelstein (video right). They clearly have no interest in working to defuse these tensions themselves, so it is time now for the campus community to collectively work to protect our safety and to stand against that kind of aggression and violence on campus.

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"Nothing so tires a person as having to struggle, not with himself, but with an abstraction." - Jose Saramago, All the Names