Ami Isseroff died this week. A remarkable intellect, Ami was uncompromising both in his Zionism and, believe it or not, his socialism. “I’m opposed to occupation, a member of the ‘peace camp’ and always will be,” he told me. But despite this, he well understood the nature of the Arab leadership and had no illusions about what would result from precipitous concessions. He kept his Zionist compass intact when many of his left-wing friends were losing theirs. Ami proved that it’s possible to be a left-wing Zionist today.
Naturally he took vicious hits from both the Left and the Right. That didn’t stop him. An amateur historian (though he had a doctorate in Psychology and worked in computer software), he always knew the facts far better than his opponents.
I first made his acquaintance shortly after I started blogging in 2006. Ami was always helpful to a fault, despite the fact that he and I disagreed about almost everything except the importance of the Jewish state.
We often argued. Insofar as I can remember, he never gave in on anything. Usually I just let the argument peter out. He believed that I should write “West Bank” instead of “Judea and Samaria” because “nobody to the left of Meir Kahane will read you.” I responded that I refused to let the Jordanian occupation define the Jewish homeland. We never settled this, of course.
He hated religion. I thought Judaism was a positive force. Once I wrote something that included the word ‘hashem‘. Almost immediately, I received an email: “‘Hashem?’ Did you lose your mind?” We didn’t settle this, either.
Ami was, above all, practical. “What you are doing is supposed to be hasbara, not making yourself feel good. Always ask yourself what the effect of your writing will be. And never lie.” He often made the point that only a tiny percentage of the world’s population is Jews, so why do we aim so much of our efforts at them?
He was fond of sending emails entitled “Hasbara this” describing things done by the Israeli government, the IDF or in Israel’s name that he felt were public-relations disasters.
His greatest scorn was reserved for Israeli politicians who made empty threats and right-wing bloggers who made Israel appear to be belligerent. One well-known blog had a banner that read “There is only a military solution.” This annoyed Ami no end — he tried to get the blogger to remove it (finally it was changed to “There is no diplomatic solution.” He wasn’t mollified). He would say “Israel must always be for peace first and foremost,” although he understood the need to be prepared for the worst.
Here’s an example of his writing, from an important 2008 article called “The future of Jewish anti-Zionism – a Zionist analysis“:
In large part, the Arab Palestinian anti-Israel movement is led not by Palestinian Arabs or anti-Semites, but by Jews. Halper, Beinin, Rose, Pappe, Chomsky, Finkelstein and Brian Klug, rather than Alloush, Abunimah, Fayyad Husseini, Qaukji, Tamimi and abu Youssef, are the intellectual mainstays of the movement to wipe out the Jewish state. Their English is much better, and they can cast their ideas in slogans acceptable to western culture. “Secular Democratic State” sounds so much better than “Drive the Jews into the Sea” to a good progressive, doesn’t it? It is hard to label them as “anti-Semites.” It is hard to discredit their lies. If a Jew and an Israeli says that Zionists commit war crimes, it must be true.Their appearances and their books and articles are lauded in the Arab world, and reprinted in Al-Ahram and Roz el Youssef alongside the latest “proofs” of the authenticity of the blood libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Not since al-Andalus (Moorish Spain) have Jews enjoyed such a Golden Age.
But he also wrote this (2007):
ZOA speaks for the extreme end of the revisionist movement, generating a message that alienates all but the most committed Zionists. The Zionist right in the US has struggled mightily to convince everyone that Zionism is synonymous with settlers and settlements and with the Greater Israel movement. That is exactly the point that the anti-Zionists are trying to make of course. The opposition score a goal every time Mort Klein and the ZOA come out against another peace initiative.
Ami believed that the Internet was the theater in which the information war between Israel and her enemies would be fought, and did what he could to create effective grass-roots support for Israel in cyberspace.
He was responsible for numerous blogs and informational websites, including MideastWeb, a resource for historical information, documents, timelines, etc. and ZioNation, an opinion blog. Unlike many writers — including academics and professional journalists — he understood the difference.
I last saw Ami in his home in Rehovot this January. He had already suffered a stroke which made typing difficult; but he continued his blogging and correspondence with help from his family and many friends. I learned many things from Ami, but one of the most important was that the labels of ‘left’ and ‘right’ often obscure reality more than elucidating it.
May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration.
You can read the eulogy written by his brother Hadar here.