Sheffey, DWS — Breaking with tribes


Bob Somerby, he of the Daily Howler fame, has been taking fellow liberals to task for their take on the controversy surrounding plans to build an Islamic center near the site of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks.

He berates liberals for not allowing for differences between true bigots and those who have nuanced objections to the placement of the Islamic center — and now he worries that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), beloved in these pages as an exemplary member of our own ancient tribe*, might face a drubbing from her liberal/Democratic tribe for her departure from its orthodoxies..

He quotes her on Tuesday’s Larry King Live:

SCHULTZ: I really don’t think it will be a national issue. I think what it boils down to is—it is a case of, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. I think the leadership of the mosque and that Muslim community in that area of New York City would be well served to sit down with the leadership in New York and in that community, and work together to build some consensus on an alternative site.

Quoth Somerby:

Schultz favors an alternate site; Kevin Drum doesn’t. (We’d link you, but Kevin’s August archive doesn’t seem to be working.) For ourselves, we think both views are reasonable—could be advanced by decent people. But in the tribal world of the arch pseudo-liberal, Schultz’s view would make her a bigot, were she part of the other tribe.

Because she’s part of the One True Tribe, this view only makes Schultz a “coward,” according to developing norms.

Should people who favor an alternate site be regarded as bigots? Pam Geller pretty much seems like a textbook bigot; she speaks about Muslims in the familiar old, sweeping, dehumanized ways—which is pretty much the way some liberals speak about white conservatives. But should anyone who favors an alternate site be regarded as a bigot?

Steve Sheffey also belongs to the same two tribes: He is a veteran pro-Israel activist and a veteran Democratic campaigner in the Chicago area, currently involved in the campaign to elect Dan Seals to Mark Kirk’s old seat in suburban Chicago.

At the Huffington Post yesterday, Steve breaks with a consensus in the pro-Israel tribe, most recently articulated by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ill.), that president Obama somehow grounded Israel’s existence — and by implied extension, Israel’s right to exist — in the Holocaust, when he delivered  a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo over a year ago:

What Obama did say is true. The realization by European secular Jews in the late 1800’s that the Enlightenment had failed to stop anti-Semitism and that the only way for Jews to live as fully emancipated people was in a state of their own was the driving force behind modern-day political Zionism. While Israel’s legitimacy does not derive from our tragic history, a good case can be made that were it not for our tragic history, there would be no State of Israel today. Would Herzl have aspired for a Jewish homeland if he had not witnessed European anti-Semitism?

Maybe Obama read Israel’s Proclamation of Independence which, while not a long document, devotes three full paragraphs to the Holocaust and World War II, including the statement that "The recent holocaust, which engulfed millions of Jews in Europe, proved anew the need to solve the problem of homelessness and lack of independence of the Jewish people."

The drafters of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence went further than Obama did regarding the Holocaust. It is well-documented that a sense of guilt over the Holocaust played a large role in Harry Truman’s decision to reject the advice of the State Department and recognize Israel.

Read again what Obama said above. I don’t think he said anything we can argue with, and he certainly did not state that Israel’s legitimacy is grounded in the Holocaust.

(He also quotes me making the same argument, so call this post self-serving — but it is gratifying to see this point made by someone else. At least Steve and I can link to one another as this hoary claim is bound to reappear.)

Seals, incidentally, earned the endorsement yesterday of a powerful Jewish congressman who is not Henry Waxman — Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House tax-writing committee, Ways and Means.

Levin, wearing his ways and means hat, cited as reasons for his endorsement Seals’ opposition to Social Security privatization and his opposition to proposed Republican changes to Medicare. Then he put on his Jewish congressman hat and praised Seals’ position paper on Israel.

"Your position paper relating to Israel is so clear, especially, ‘the relationship between the U.S. and israel is founded upon their shared democracy and freedom’," Levin enthused on the conference call. "In addition your reference to Iran as ‘a profound threat’ — I could not be more pleased Dan to be here and to give you personally my strong support."

Seals, now facing Republican Bob Dold in November, ran unsuccessfuly twice against Kirk, who is now seeking the state’s open Senate seat. Kirk repeatedly won in the heavily Jewish district in part because of his outfront pro-Israel posture, but also because local Jewish activists hankered for a Republican who was a national security hawk, but moderate on social issues.

On the call, Seals refreshingly acknowledged why getting out that position paper was key: "This is a local issue here in our district," he said.

*In fairness, let me mention here our affection for Eric Cantor, otherwise known as The Only Jewish Republican in Congress.

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