Public Comment

The Looking Glass World of F.L.A.M.E.

By Joanna Graham
Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 06:04:00 PM

Jim Sinkinson, who sent out the misleading packet to Daily Planet advertisers accusing the paper of anti-Semitism and suggesting that they close their accounts, is, among other things, the director of F.L.A.M.E. (“Facts and Logic about the Middle East”), an organization with an address in San Francisco. Perhaps you’ve seen F.L.A.M.E.’s monthly letters in The Nation or in other publications, but whether you have or haven’t, you should check out their website to get a take on where they’re coming from. These folks, however many of them there are (two? three?), are extreme right-wing Zionist ideologues, the pro-Israel version of all those many online crazies who can fill your surfing hours with horror and amusement. 

Here’s a current headline garnered from the site: “Yes! Efforts by F.L.A.M.E. and others succeed in rousting Charles Freeman—but now he condemns the ‘pro-Israel lobby’ for undue influence.” The involuted thinking it takes to produce a headline like this is breathtaking. How can a person congratulate the pro-Israel lobby for taking someone down and accuse the victim of anti-Semitism for saying that that’s what happened—all in the same sentence? Well, actually, it’s a deeply revelatory sentence. In the strange world of F.L.A.M.E. et al., it’s OK to roust Charles Freeman or trash the Daily Planet—in fact, it’s necessary to do so to “protect Israel”—but it’s always anti-Semitic when the victims complain they’ve lost their job, their career, or their newspaper, because, well, then they’re blaming Jews, and since Jews are a priori always blameless, they must be anti-Semites. 

Our problem—and it’s a big one—is that this looking-glass world is the world in which we live. Not only was the highly respected Charles Freeman hounded out of a position for which he was eminently suited and which would have done us all a world of good (honest reporting of intelligence to the White House for the first time in at least eight years), but the orchestrator of the attack is known to have been Steven Rosen, disgraced former head of AIPAC, forced to step down because of espionage charges for which he still faces trial. Despite his own highly questionable position, Rosen succeeded in besmirching Freeman’s name, spreading outright lies which were duly reported by the supine media as the God’s honest truth. And our new president, Barack Obama, for whom so many have had such high hopes, blinked fast, refusing to utter a bleat against the Israel lobby, even when its representative du jour is unsavory and possibly criminal. Israeli journalist and activist Uri Avnery says, “The portrayal of the power of the lobby by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt [in their book, The Israel Lobby] has been fully vindicated.” 

Under these circumstances it may seem strange for me to say that the current situation not only will not last but is actually fragile. But this is self-evident to someone who has been around the block a few times, for reason number one that nothing lasts forever and reason number two that Israel is a completely unstable entity which, I would go so far as to assert, since it has no borders and no citizens is not even quite a real nation but more the world’s biggest utopian experiment gone badly awry. Zionism is an ideology based on obsolete 19th-century race thinking and a wholly discredited vision of the state as the territory of a “volk.” Not to mention rule by rabbinocracy, as if the whole country were a transplanted 18th-century Polish shtetl, a situation which 70 or 80 percent of the Jews of Israel absolutely despise but which they’re stuck with because that was the bargain David ben Gurion made to get the religious folks on board the Zion train. 

Still unknown is what will happen when this slowing top falls over. Guesses include: following worldwide BDS campaign, Zionism ends and Jews accept minority status in Palestine a la South Africa. Or Jews pack up, after a war or not, and go home a la Algeria (from which, by the way, many Jews decamped). Or Israel takes the Sampson route and blows up the Middle East, maybe in the process setting off that nuclear catastrophe for which we’ve all been waiting so long. Or the Palestinians get so PTSD’ed and ethnically cleansed and socially fractured that by the time they’re the clear majority they can’t take advantage of it and the Zionists win. Or a red calf is born at last and the temple is rebuilt and the anti-Christ shows up and all the faithful are raptured off to Heaven. Or, or, or…. The only firm prediction I can make is that 50 years from now, or maybe 10, or maybe two, things there, as well as things here, will be vastly different from what they are now. 

If the ending is bad—or if the process of getting from now to then is bad—there’s always a chance that we Jewish-Americans will be blamed, either because, like Jim Sinkinson, we actively served a foreign state which in the end did harm to America or because we stood by and let others do so without objecting. So far, though, even those who’ve been targeted by the lobby, like Charles Freeman, have refused to take that road. Freeman pointed out on CNN that there are Jewish members of his own family and that, anyway, AIPAC doesn’t represent everyone; some Jews are actively opposing Israeli policies. 

Just as the Cold War required Communists in our washrooms, Zionism needs to find anti-Semitism everywhere, because without it, the state of Israel has no reason for existence. But is anti-Semitism truly the changeless and universal attitude of all gentiles towards the Jews? Do Jews really belong only in the state of Israel and nowhere else? Freeman’s remarks point in a different direction, towards blended Jewish and non-Jewish families; towards full integration of Jews, as of every other minority group, in this nation of immigrants; and towards a multiplicity of opinions among the Jews on every subject, including Israel. In other words, from Freeman’s point of view, we Jews are Americans. As Israel goes down the tubes and that proverbial fan starts to fling that proverbial stuff around the room, we’d better hope that Freeman is right and Sinkinson is wrong. 


Joanna Graham is a Berkeley resident.