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Beinart’s Blast
Mon, 05/17/2010 - 20:00

Some Jewish leaders are already dismissing former New Republic editor Peter Beinart’s harsh treatise on American Jewish leadership because of its venue: the New York Review of Books, a high-toned outpost for the Israel-is-always-wrong crowd.

That would be unwise. Even while we disagree with some of Beinart’s analysis, his essay points to critical challenges facing Jewish leaders as our community, like the nation as a whole, becomes more bitterly polarized and as Israel faces growing pressures, both internal and external.

Beinart asserts that the mainstream pro-Israel community here turns a blind eye to increasingly undemocratic impulses in Israeli society regarding its treatment of Israeli Arabs and attitudes toward Palestinians. “For several decades,” he writes, “the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

We must find ways to bridge the widening gaps between Jews with very different perspectives on Israel’s future, or risk a potentially calamitous decline in connection to the Jewish state and activism on its behalf. 

Jews on the left will find support in Beinart’s analysis for their argument that groups like AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, do not reflect the real views of a dovish majority. Jews on the right will see confirmation of their conviction that liberal, secular Jews simply don’t care as much about Israel as do more observant, politically conservative Jews.

One takeaway point underlying Beinart’s analysis: dissent is not treason. American Jewish groups, out of a laudable passion for Israel and an understandable fear about its future, are increasingly intolerant of dissent — and we’re not talking about dissent that questions Israel’s right to exist, but dissent about the best way for Israel to achieve the peace and security its citizens seek and deserve.

That, as Beinart points out, is part of the estrangement of younger Jews from an Israel cherished by their parents. He favors a more open pro-Israel movement that encompasses criticism of Israeli policies as well as the support most pro-Israel groups feel is their obligation. 

Truth is, there is plenty of healthy debate in our community about every aspect of Jewish life, and especially Israel. There is, sadly, less historical knowledge about Zionist history and modern Israel’s struggle for survival in a hostile Middle East, especially among younger people whose memories do not include the creation of the state, the Six-Day or Yom Kippur wars, the heroism of Entebbe, etc. Instead they know about the Rabin assassination, intifadas, unresolved military conflicts and increasing attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel.

Tolerance for dissent is well and good, but it’s hard to see how pro-Israel groups can be effective in their most important mission — defending Israel and promoting strong U.S.-Israel relations — while also serving as forums for debate over Israeli policy. That is especially true in 21st-century America, where ferociously focused lobbying, not nuanced debate, is what drives public policy.

In addition, Beinart seems to ignore the impact years of terrorism and Arab rejectionism had on a Jewish leadership that saw so many peace moves met with suicide bombers, not a willingness to negotiate.

Beinart worries about the increasingly Orthodox cast of American Zionism. But that shift reflects a hard reality: drift from commitment is not a factor in that community, as it is in so many other parts of the Jewish world.

But it is also true that “liberal Zionism,” as Beinart puts it, is a proud tradition among American Jewry, and care must be taken not to write it outside the pro-Israel mainstream as Israel and its supporters face difficult new challenges. In our zeal to defend an embattled Jewish state, it is too easy to forget that Zionism has been a diverse, contentious movement from the beginning, and that active debate has always been part of its strength.

And there is little doubt the “Israel can do no wrong” approach of so many Jewish groups is profoundly unappealing to many progressive Zionists, especially among the young, who must also be made to feel part of a vital, vibrant pro-Israel movement.

There is much we reject in Beinart’s biting analysis, but he raises issues we cannot afford to ignore.


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I do not understand all the contentiousness in Israel regarding religion. It would be great if the American model of religious tolerance amoungst Jews could exist in Israel. The main problem as I see it is that non-religious Jews do not take their religion seriously (as is their right ((rite?)) and therefore cannot be trusted as caretakers of the most serious questions, including "who is a Jew". That is the simple truth. Despite all their chest pounding and indignation, religion does not have the same priority for the non-orthodox as it is for the Orthodox. It makes no sense to have people with limited depth of knowledge in charge of serious topics with long lasting consequences. Sadly, their casual attitude has wreaked havoc on the Jewish community. Despite the terrible effects of their indifferent attitudes we cannot seriously force a Jew to practice his religion in the Orthodox manner. However neither should we every accept their beliefs (or lack thereof) as true Judaism.
Look, anyone can take any position they want on almost any issue, but the folks from J-Street and their ilk don't stike me as critisizing Israel out of love, but rather out of complete lack of identification with the reality of Israel and a lack of respect for and identification with the people of Israel. Where is the Zionism?
The liberalism of most non orthodox Jews in America has led to the assimilation of young Jews to an extent that your article on the college experience of the Rabbis' daughters. The article about Rabbi Forman a"h shows the differences in liberal Judaism in America and in Israel. The arab 'lsraeli s present an internal danger to Israel as the conduct of their elected knesset members would not be tolerated in any other country. The women of the wall are free to pray at the non orthodox sections, which are jut as much a part of the wal as that used by the orthodox. They attempt o cause incidents and are treated as anyone who disrupts a religious service. It is the same as if a woman or man would be treated in America if they insisted in praying iin the other sex portion of an orthodox synagogue. Israel is the home of all Jews, no matter if they are Orthodox, Reform , Conservative, or Reconstructionist or secular.
I believe that Peter Beinart and similar Far Left-Wing idealogues do not represent the mainstream of American Jewry and have nothing positive to offer the marketplace of Jewish Idealism. Ask any University student about their liberal arts professors and they will tell you that 99% are Noam Chomskyite in their virulent hatred of anything traditionally Jewish or Israeli, whether religous, political, cultural, educational or social. Those like Beinart and Chomsky are iconic in their virulent antagonism of any idealism other than their eternal "metaphyisical disgust," as I would term it. The Beinart-Chomsky philosophy is bankrupt and has nothing to offer the serious marketplace of ideas. Instead, Mr. Rosenblatt, I encourage The Jewish Week to focus on those in our diverse Jewish community who are attempting to do positive deeds to better the Jewish Community in America, Israel and the world. As the Israeli phrase goes: Maspik !!! Enough already with the self destructiveness of the "existential" Far Left !!!
The alienation from Israel by a younger generation of largely liberal American Jews is the product of an assimilation process that is built on a foundation of both religious and historical ignorance. The success of anti-Israel forces in the falsified re-writing of the narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict, aided by a media populated by journalists who share the same knowledge deficit, is what informs many of today's Jewish college students and others. Real time education is the only cure.
One point you totally miss in terms of the liberal disconnect with Israel is that out of polical expediency Israel has become very hostile toward Liberal Jews. The Women of the Wall incidents, the Jerusalem bus segregations, the non-recognition of non-Orthodox Rabbis, the new conversion laws all are signs that Israel is rejecting Liberal Jews, not the other way around. Any one of these issues could be dismissed as a misunderstanding, but combined they present a very disturbing pattern of rejection of the large majority of Diaspora Jews. Despite this, I am a strong supporter of Israel's right to exist and defend themselves from terrorist attacks vigorously - I just wish that my love and support were better repayed with a small degree of respect for me as a Liberal Jew.
The Left is willing to sell its Jewishness and destroy Israel, as many self defeating Jews have in the past. Islamic violence is what the real issue here. Appeasement does not work, many Jewish elite and press thought to appease Hitler in the 1930's. Feed the beast and hopefully it wont be hungry for more. It does not work Jews should live anywhere in the world if they want, but most countries do not allow us residence, especially Arab states.
The lack of flexibility and tolerance of dissent on the part of mainstream Jewish organizations is mirrored by the same reality in the left-wing liberal Jewish world. No one wins. Especially in a democracy.