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Which Way ‘Forward’?

By Ralph Seliger

I’m a subscriber to The Forward, where I used to be published with some frequency. An opinion piece that’s gotten my notice the other day is “No, You Can’t Be a Feminist and a Zionist” by one Mariam Barghouti, identified as a writer based in Ramallah. This provocative title was the subject head for a Forward email to subscribers recently. (Click here for an extensive non-Forward interview with this young Palestinian-American.)

Actually, I’m with Ms. Barghouti when she inveighs against IDF depredations vis-à-vis Palestinians, and women soldiers who participate. Yet women don’t serve in the IDF because they are Zionists (as the article implies), but because they are Israelis, and as such engaged in an interminable conflict, with attendant wrongdoing on both sides — repression, harassment and displacement by Israelis in the West Bank, with acts of terrorist violence from some Palestinians. Victimizing Palestinians doesn’t serve Israel’s need for peace, but Israelis are not doing this because Zionist ideology dictates such a policy.

I don’t want to sound like one of the rightwing yahoos who comment beneath the article, but I’ve asked my Third Narrative colleagues why The Forward would want to publish a blatantly anti-Zionist opinion by a non-Jew and a non-Israeli — especially if it’s not part of a forum including pro-Zionist feminists. One colleague responded that today’s Forward is dedicated to presenting a certain “balance.” As evidence, he pointed to this piece by Amanda Berman, “Zioness Is Here To Stay, So Get Used To Us.”

Berman is identified as a co-founder of the so-called Zioness movement and as an attorney with the “Lawfare Project.” Her’s is an opposite view to Barghouti’s, a feisty defense of Zionism with a feminist and leftwing activist twist. One problem I find with this “Zioness movement” is that there’s no concern expressed for Palestinians under occupation. This bears no resemblance to a liberal Third Narrative perspective.

Forward_roosevelt imagePresenting a wide variety of views from the left to the right, from hyper-Zionist to anti-Zionist, and from Jews and non-Jews, does represent diversity, but it also elevates diversity above presenting a clear and predominant point of view. As a Yiddish daily newspaper during most of the twentieth century, The Forward began life closely identified with the Socialist Party of Eugene Victor Debs and Norman Thomas, and then as supporting FDR’s New Deal; the editors and staff could be described as democratic socialists or social democrats fighting for the advancement of welfare-state protections for working people, and compassion for the poor and minorities. They were also basically secularist.

Curiously, the first decade of its new English-language edition in the 1990s was marked by a staunchly neoconservative orientation under Seth Lipsky. It was then recaptured for the liberal left (and liberal Zionism) under the editorship of J.J. Goldberg. Although his successor, Jane Eisner, is a liberal and cares about Israel, the publication’s current political coloration seems more opaque. Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I see this as a loss.

5 Responses to “Which Way ‘Forward’?”

  1. Larry Snider
    December 1, 2017 at 12:19 pm #

    Sounds as though your Third Narrative is onto something Ralph. I believe in dialogue, led an inter faith dialogue group; New Hope for Peace many years ago and then took another interfaith group to Israel-Palestine with Leah Green of the Compassionate Listening Project. My belief is simple. Peace talks between governments need to be amplified through the sponsorship of an ongoing National Dialogue Program that gradually brings enough Palestinians and Israelis together to shift the political landscape to once again favor peace.

  2. February 12, 2018 at 5:01 am #

    You make an interesting point, but my guess is that the Forward wants to expose its readers to Palestinian points of view, which it didn’t used to do, and which is a big, glaring hole in any publication that claims to be discussing Israel, and if you want to show Palestinian points of view, you really should expect that they will be anti-Zionist. I think they made a good decision.

    • Ralph Seliger
      February 13, 2018 at 2:26 pm #

      But readers are unclear about what The Forward actually believes about Israel. Can’t the publication find ways to present Palestinian opinions as “Palestinian opinions” and not raise doubts about its editorial point of view? If The Forward’s editorial viewpoint is all about “diversity” and “openness” now, and therefore will not highlight or emphasize Zionist views (we would prefer liberal or leftwing Zionist perspectives), then it’s become muddled in its political thinking. In other words, can’t it be both clear in where it stands and be open to other views (clearly labeled as such)?

  3. Sheldon Ranz
    April 30, 2018 at 12:25 pm #

    The Forward is clear where it stands when the piece is signed by Jane Eisner. She is the editorial stance. All else is Op-Ed.

    • Ralph Seliger
      June 30, 2018 at 9:15 am #

      Judging from my own bewilderment, Sheldon, I’d say that this distinction is less than crystal clear.

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