Three Key Moments When The New Republic Defended Zionism Against the anti-Israel Left

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The breakup of The New Republic magazine is an occasion to think about its most important scoop – a liberal defense of Zionism. In a season when the American left turned against the Jewish State, The New Republic was a robust, eloquent and at times inspiring advocate. Even many of us on the right reckon that if debate strengthens Israel’s cause, The New Republic will be among those papers that deserve a portion of pride. Herewith is a sampler of three of my favorite TNR dispatches on this head:

Sanhedrin II: The case of Ivan Demjanjuk

Herzl on the cover of The New Republic, September 1997.

This is a reprise of the decision of Israel’s Supreme Court to free Demjanjuk even though it had concluded, to a certainty, that he had served at Sobibor. The court’s decision is one of the ghastliest errors ever made by an Israeli institution. It was greeted in The New Republic by a nuanced and illuminating essay by a superstar of the American appeals bench, Judge Alex Kozinski, who rides the Ninth United States Circuit.

Kozinski predicted that the decision of Israel’s top court would “become a model of judicial craftsmanship.” But, he asked, “is it right?” He reckoned that, by American legal principles, “the opinion is hard to defend.” He doubted that even America’s most liberal judicial titans – like Earl Warren, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall – would have stood for it. He could explain it only by resorting to “a much older tradition,” that of the Sanhedrin, with its obsession for giving the accused the “benefit of every doubt.” Even when Demjanjuk turned out to have worked at Sobibor.

The god that did not fail

It’s hard to think of another publication that marked the double jubilee of the First Zionist Congress in the way The New Republic did. It ran, in September 1997, a cover of the photo of Herzl peering into the future while leaning on a railing at Basel. Inside was an 11,000-word piece by the paper’s proprietor and chief editor, Martin Peretz, sketching political Zionism from Moses Hess forward. And how he marked the historical irony that as Herzl was at Basel, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky were launching their movements.

“Who, in those early inflamed decades in the history of modern revolution, would have imagined that it was not the socialist revolution of the deracinated Jews, but the nationalist revolution of the reracinated Jews, that would come out on top?” Peretz asked. “If socialism was the God that failed,” he added, “then Zionism was the God that did not fail.” He was using the word “God” metaphorically, he pointed out, calling Zionism “a morality, and a politics, of worldliness” and the only ideology “to have accomplished what it set out to do — and to have done so with reasonable decency.”

The usual suspect

This is Jeffrey Goldberg’s October 2007 review of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” It will be a long time before as devastating a review as this is issued in a liberal magazine. It spent its first 1,300 words on one of the “cave encyclicals” of Osama Bin Laden, who sought to convince Americans that it was usury that enabled the Jews “in all their different forms and guises” to “have taken control” of “your economy” and “your media” and to “control all aspects of your life, making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense.”

Then Goldberg dealt with Mearsheimer and Walt and those whose tradition they were trying to make respectable – Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, Joseph P. Kennedy, and, more recently, Patrick Buchanan, Louis Farrakhan, and David Duke. Goldberg encapsulated their key theme as “the belief that America supports Israel only because the pro-Israel lobby forces it to do so.” Wrote he: “What is unfathomable to them is that many Americans, Jewish and otherwise, admire Israel.” Goldberg ends up mocking Walt and Mearsheimer for, inadvertently via their illogic, supporting the Zionist cause.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that a friendliness to Zion was a feature of TNR only under Peretz, though he brought it to its apogee. He reminded me, in a phone conversation last week, that Horace Kallen, a philosopher and early member of the Zionist Organization of America, was on the first board of The New Republic. And that Felix Frankfurter, who was encouraged to the Zionist cause by Louis Brandeis, was an – not the – editor of the magazine in its early years.

It would also be inaccurate to suggest Israel was the only cause of the magazine in the generation now departing. But articles like those in the sampler above were its defining contribution to the national debate here in America in the past generation. It’s not the only contribution by the generation of editors and writers whose conduct of the magazine is now ending, and it may be that the new owners will stick with Israel. Either way, in a generation when the left has been campaigning against the Jewish state, TNR’s counter-vision has been no small thing.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.

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