Confessions of a Jewish Dissident

Washington

Abstractly speaking, I should be quite a popular person in the American-Jewish community. I am a dissident. I am also, at a time when the search is on for moderate voices on the Palestine question, a moderate. And I proved my devotion to displaced persons in and out of the Middle East years ago. I have a medal to prove it, from the Haganah—the illegal Jewish army that fought what Prime Minister Begin calls the Jewish war of liberation and established the state of Israel in 1948.

Yet despite all these credentials I find myself—like many fellow American intellectuals, Jewish and non-Jewish, ostracized whenever I try to speak up on the Middle East. It demonstrates what slight changes in time and space can do to familiar categories. Dissidents, Jewish and non-Jewish, in the Soviet Union are—deservedly—heroes. They may be forced to circulate their views in samizdat, they may be dependent for circulation in their homeland on the typewriter and carbon paper. But at least they make the front pages of the American and world press, and the correspondents in Moscow hang on their words. Here at least their books are bestsellers.

But it is only rarely that we dissidents on the Middle East can enjoy a fleeting voice in the American press. Finding an American publishing house willing to publish a book which departs from the standard Israeli line is about as easy as selling a thoughtful exposition of atheism to the Osservatore Romano in Vatican City.

In this respect, our lot is worse than that of the Arabs. Even before Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem made it fashionable, there were synagogues willing to invite Egyptian and even Palestinian Arabs, and occasionally an American of Arab origin to explain his viewpoint. Only a few days ago Mohammed Hakki, an able and eloquent Egyptian newspaperman who now works for his country’s embassy here in Washington, was given a Sabbath forum and heard with courtesy at Adas Israel, one of the capital’s most prestigious congregations.

But I have yet to hear of an American journalist of dissident views, Jewish or gentile, accorded similar treatment. I will not name them but there are top figures in the profession, with long records of championing Israel and the Jewish people, who complain bitterly in private that if they dare express one word of sympathy for Palestinian Arab refugees, they are flooded with Jewish hate-mail, accusing them of anti-Semitism.

As for Jewish dissidents in America, we get the standard treatment. We are labeled “self-hating Jews.” American Jewish intellectuals are lectured on what is stigmatized as their weakness for “universalism.” One distinguished academic was summoned to an Israeli consulate for a scolding and put into deepfreeze by colleagues for advocating a generous peace policy toward the Palestinian Arabs. We are asked why we cannot be narrow ethnics, suspicious of any breed but our own. Isaiah is out of fashion.

Gentile dissidents are generally treated simply as anti-Semites, no matter how …

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Letters

Israel and Dissidence May 4, 1978