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Israel Thrown into NY State Primary

By Ralph Seliger

We should be astounded and saddened by this headline at the website of New York’s Jewish Week: Dem. Primary Could Split Jews Over Israel (with this descriptive subhead: “Cuomo-Nixon race will likely force debate over West Bank policy”).  Cynthia Nixon, the actress and liberal political activist who is challenging New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination in his bid for reelection, signed a petition in 2010 supporting Israeli actors and musicians refusing to perform at the new theater in the large West Bank settlement town of Ariel.

Among those crying foul is Alan Dershowitz, attacking her and others for signing this petition, said to be initiated by the Jewish Voice for Peace. Dershowitz characterizes JVP as having “a malignant agenda — ending Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.”  Although increasingly shrill in actions against Israel, JVP is officially agnostic on their preferred solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

It doesn’t matter to Dershowitz that this petition was signed by many liberal supporters of Israel, including Mandy Patinkin and the late Theodore Bikel.  Those condemning Nixon today make no distinction between JVPers who support a full-on boycott of Israel, and liberal Zionists like Bikel and Patinkin who were expressing opposition to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Among those disagreeing with Dershowitz, is Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights:

She said that as “someone who believes that being pro-Israel requires working to end the occupation and to create a two-state reality, I view signing a letter in support of Israeli artists who oppose BDS and who do not wish to perform in the occupied territories to be a pro-Israel action. On the other hand, supposedly anti-BDS regulations that collapse the difference between Israel and the occupied territories only play into the hands of those on the far left and right who wish to erase the difference between Israel within its internationally-recognized boundaries, and the occupied territories.”

She added in an email that Israel “should not be a major issue in the gubernatorial race, since New York State does not make its own foreign policy. Jews, like other New Yorkers, will consider a range of state-based social and economic issues when decided how to vote.”

Although not personally Jewish, Nixon has two Jewish children from her first marriage, and is a member of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST) in Midtown Manhattan.  The Jewish Week article quoted a variety of people, for and against Nixon regarding Israel, including:

Bob Liff, a Democratic activist from Manhattan whose children went to school with Nixon’s children, [who] described her as a “serious woman who was active in the integration fight in the school; she is smart. She is an open-minded woman.”

Liff dismissed Nixon’s signing of the Jewish Voice for Peace petition, saying: “I don’t buy that any of that reflects on her qualifications or lack thereof to be governor. … To try to put some kind of anti-Semitic cast on the Nixon campaign is really a reach.”

It will be troubling and worrisome if the Israel issue surfaces in an ugly way in what should be an entirely unrelated political contest.  Is this not “crying wolf” at a time when real antisemites are at large in the land (think of the Charlottesville episode last summer), who truly merit our attention and concern?

2 Responses to “Israel Thrown into NY State Primary”

    March 30, 2018 at 9:22 am #

    “Dershowitz characterizes JVP as having “a malignant agenda — ending Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.” Although harshly critical of Zionism, JVP is actually agnostic on their preferred solution for Israel and the Palestinians.” Sorry Ralph, but while you are technically correct about the formal stance of JVP as agnostic, the reality is that these days Dershowitz’ characterization of JVP is accurate. That doesn’t justify his attack on Nixon in any way shape or form, but it is true.

  2. Ralph Seliger
    March 30, 2018 at 9:30 am #

    Alas, you are right about JVP. Despite its formal stance, which is bad enough, JVP is increasingly acting in a malignant way. But as you acknowledge, Dershowitz and others’ attack on Cynthia Nixon, as if she were an activist or supporter of JVP –aggressively inserting Israel into an irrelevant political context– is also malignant.

    In response to Stan’s good point, I’ve amended how I refer to JVP.

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