Alan Alda's wife signed a letter denouncing the newly elected left-wing mayor of New York for doing AIPAC's bidding. The Sandinista supporter had been accused of many things until then, but being an Israeli stooge wasn't one of them. Signing the letter, along with the spouse of that guy from MASH, were Martha Weinman Lear, the wife of the cousin of liberal producer Norman Lear, Eve Ensler of the Vagina Monologues and diet guru Jane Hirschmann author of Overcoming Overeating who took a break from obsessing over food to sail on a Jihad cruise to Gaza.
Signing on to the attack on Bill de Blasio for being a dirty Zionist were such faded celebrities of the literary left as Erica Jong, who hasn't written a single book that anyone can name in the forty years since Fear of Flying first came out and Gloria Steinem, who peaked around that same time.
These familiar names of the Manhattan cocktail party circuit who grind their teeth every time they hear Netanyahu's name, give way to the professional activists, the board members of the toxic American Jewish World Service, the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Dorot, the Rabbis for Gaza and Rabbis for Obama and the men and women like Peter Beinart of Open Zion and Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace who have built their lives around the war on Israel as much as any Islamic Jihadist tinkering with a Kassam rocket in Gaza.
Joining them was Kathleen Peratis who, according to her Nation bio is a "longtime peace activist" who repeatedly calls for boycotting Israel despite traveling there "at least twice a year for the past twenty years." It's unclear how she combined the two, perhaps she made sure not to buy anything from Jews while she was in Israel.
Their names are equally familiar to a smaller circle of those who fight for and against Israel and their signatures are as predictable as snowstorms in winter.
The radical clergy sign on; Rachel Brown Cowan, a Unitarian who married a Jewish writer for the Village Voice, added "Rabbi" to her name and has been attacking the Jewish State non-stop after her husband's death, Rolando Matalon, who has yet to find a Latin American Marxist group he wouldn't embrace, Ellen Lippmann, a BDS supporter and Sharon Kleinbaum, a lesbian supporter of the Fast for Gaza that aids and abets the not particularly pro-lesbian Hamas.
Reading these names feels like reviewing the membership of a small familiar club. Everyone knows everyone else and everyone in the club hates Israel.
Between Erica Jong and Alice Kessler-Harris (the biographer of Anti-Israel Communist playwright Lillian Hellman, whom Kessler described as having a "streak of Jewish anti-Semitism") is Peter A. Joseph who pays for this whole dance, funding everything from Peter Beinart's Open Zion to the Manhattan JCC whose anti-Israel turn has led to a pitched battle among members.
Peter A. Joseph revived the Israel Policy Forum, which had originally been folded into the Center for American Progress, and turned it into a machine for churning out anti-Israel letters. Before the IPF merged into CAP, it put out a letter urging the United States to work with Hamas. Afterward, its tactics have become slightly subtler, its letters appearing to be pro-Israel while advocating anti-Israel policies.
The Israel Policy Forum put out a letter in support of Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, despite his ties to the Iran Lobby, signed by Peter A. Joseph, hedge fund manager Neil Barsky, Marcia Riklis, the daughter of corporate raider Meshulam Riklis (not by his second wife Pia Zadora), Jack C. Bendheim, the president of a company that once dumped toxic waste in a Connecticut town, and Risa A. Levine, apparently a real estate lawyer from New York.
Why was anyone expected to listen to Pia Zadora's stepdaughter and a guy who once made a documentary about Ed Koch when it came to nominating a Secretary of Defense? The same reason that Bill de Blasio was supposed to listen to Alan Alda's wife and a diet guru who hates Israel.
Hating Israel has become a small petty club for the wealthy left and the Israel Policy Forum allows assorted obscure figures to assert their status by denouncing things or demanding things under the banner of an organization whose only asset is the wealth of a few private equity backers.
The Jewish Anti-Israel left likes to pretend that it's a grassroots movement whose voice is being squelched by some nebulous Jewish establishment when in reality it is an unelected establishment using its wealth and lingering fame to shout over the majority of American Jews who support Israel.
These sons, daughters, stepdaughters, wives and nieces of famous people, fading Feminist writers, Wall Street millionaires trying to buy social relevance, hippie social scientists who hit it big with books about food, sex or childrearing, radical rabbis holding forth to congregations who believe in religion as little as their preachers, are a phantom establishment, community leaders without a community except their own mutual approbation.
Anti-Israel Wall Street figures hire Anti-Israel activists to denounce the Jewish establishment for not paying enough attention to them. Family foundations run by privileged leftists send American activists to Israel to set up front groups to protest against something or other. They hold dinners where the nieces and nephews, the boycotters and the faded stars of the left listen to the activists that they pay tell them that any day now, American Jews will finally come around to their point of view.
Fittingly, considering the figures involved, the whole thing is a pyramid scheme except that the only people they can sell anything to is each other.
Every few weeks the Israel Policy Forum churns out another letter headlined "Prominent Jews Urge Someone or Other To Do Something" signed by by the guy who made a Koch documentary, Pia Zadora's stepdaughter, a hedge funder, another hedge funder, the guy whose company left drums of toxic waste in Connecticut, the Rabbi who loves the Sandinistas even more than Bill de Blasio and a retired Democratic congressman who attends the same cocktail parties.
The phantom establishment floats on a bubble of its own manufactured prominence. Its letter signers are important because they fund organizations that put out letters which they then sign. These antics are not limited to the Israel Policy Forum or even the United States.
A year after British comedian Stephen Fry appeared on a genealogy television show to trace his mother's Jewish roots, he signed on to a letter by British Jews, a group that he had never considered himself a member of, declaring its "independence" from the British Jewish establishment. The list included the expected collection of fading feminist authors, Marxist playwrights, historians and philosophers, as well as radical sociologists, pop psychologists and professional activists.
The "coming out party" of Independent Jewish Voices consisted of non-practicing Marxist Jews who were notorious for hating Israel, the UK, industry, facts, mirrors and human civilization announcing that loudly in a letter that was covered by their media friends.
There is a long history of such letters going back to the founding of Israel, the names of forgotten self-proclaimed leaders mixing with a few more notorious figures whose unfortunate legacy has survived into this time. None of these letters however have counted as much as a bullet in the rifle of an Israeli soldier standing watch in the night.
American Jews who worry over these letters from the phantom establishment of the cocktail party ought to look back and see how futile the rantings of I.F. Stone, New Dealer Joseph Proskauer, the rabid Elmer Berger and FDR speechwriter Samuel Rosenman proved to be.
Before J Street or the Israel Policy Forum, there was Jewish Alternatives to Zionism headed by "Rabbi" Elmer Berger who had claimed that the Communist revolution in the Soviet Union meant that Jews no longer needed "Palestine".
Does anyone remember Lewis Affelder or Mr. and Mrs. Noel A. Buckner whose names appeared as sponsors on Jewish Alternatives to Zionism's stationary? How many remember Mary Louise `Wheezie' Gutman who collected English ceramics and owned a distillery? The wind of history has blown past their graves. Their names are smeared ink on yellowed paper while children play in the streets of Jerusalem.
The phantom establishment is rootless; it has no links to a people or to a religion. Its aims are destructive and like all destructive forces, it carries its own futility with it.
American Jews should contend with them, but should not be too impressed by them. Their kind has been at it for generations and, despite all the venom and fury, the boycotts and screeds, have made less of an impression on Israel than a single Jewish family in the hills of Shomron.
The phantom establishment is money and words. There is no blood in its veins or heart in its chest. It does not go on the way that the Jewish people do because it is not of them, only against them. When its anger is spent and its letters are signed, the children will play on in the streets and roads, the hills and fields of Israel, neither knowing nor caring that there was once a Jane Hirschmann, a Mrs. Noel A. Buckner, a Rachel Brown Cowan or a Rebecca Vilkomerson that sought to do them harm.