Peter Beinart is the great liberal hope of the less extreme anti-Israel leftists. That is, those who claim to be pro-Israel even as they attack it viciously. I’m referring to the Promised Land and Magnes Zionist type individuals who have come to view Israel through the distorted lens of original and continuing sin.
Beinart is an Israel critic whose views suggest that the best way to get to the magical Israel everybody wants to have, is by weakening its support among “pro-Israel” folks, or at least getting them to temper it so that they don’t, heaven forbid, forget to also mention all of its failings. This, in turn, will lead to a diminution of American and the American public’s support for Israel, thus weakening Israel and forcing it to…come to some sort of agreement and peace with the Arabs. In other words, it’s all Israel’s fault…
Since reading his essay in the NY Review of Books and having read god knows how many pro and anti responses, I remain with my original reaction to his piece, which is that he undermines his own case by focusing primarily on Israel as the culprit in the failure to achieve peace or in watching the country move to the right. In order to get there, he has to ignore a lot of facts, not to mention the enemies of Israel. If it’s alright, I won’t get into details because plenty of others have done it. On our site, Jamie Kirchik was kind enough to reprint his article from elsewhere and it provides some strong points against Beinart’s piece.
On the other hand, the movement of Beinart to the anti-Israel camp (he would not label himself as such, by the way) is of interest to me, in part because he thinks that he sees a similar move among liberal young Jews. In my opinion, his ideas about young Jews and their distancing from Israel are off the mark. The problem has little to do with his complaints about the leadership of the Jewish community, which is somewhat of a ridiculous assertion anyway since the Jewish community is far from a top-down organization (sorry, Walt and Mearsheimer). Sure, there are groups that have political clout, they do not dictate what happens in the homes of Jews, or even for that matter on podiums at synagogues.
No, the problem isn’t that Jewish communal leaders are trying to cover up for Israel by hiding its lesser deeds or its failings. The problem is that there are fewer young Jews who come from families where Judaism is a primary factor in their lives. There are many more children of intermarriage, many more children of highly assimilated families, many more children whose connection is nothing more than knowing they have a Jewish background. In other words, there are far fewer young Jews who are committed in any way to Jewish life or their Jewish heritage. Israel, for them, is a complete unknown. Maybe they will discover it on a Birthright trip, but even that is far from a certainty.
For them, and these are the young Liberal Jews about whom Beinart is writing, Israel is actually a problem. After all, who wants to go to college just to be lumped in with the “war criminals” and their supporters? If you have a choice between diluting that part of your identity and having a good time in school, or publicly identifying or supporting a state that has become anathema on campus, the decision is an easy one to make. I can even understand anger at Israel growing from those circumstances.
It seems to me that Beinart lives in a bubble. He simply has no idea the extent of the forces attacking Israel. On Jewlicious, I and others make an effort to cover the extent and type of Israel bashing that takes place out there in North America and Europe, but it is impossible to keep up. It is simply an ocean of anti-Israel activism and rhetoric. Much of it, by the way, is led by Jews or receives the support of Jews. Groups like Muzzlewatch or Jews Against Israeli Apartheid and their ilk, bloggers like Noam Sheizaf or Richard Silverstein, activists like Naomi Klein and Norman Finkelstein, Jewish academics like Mark LeVine and Tony Judt, Israelis like Shlomo Sand or Neve Gordon, historians like Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappe are often in the vanguard of voices attacking Israel. Beinart is the latest to join this team. Except, while they lead, in part because of their knowledge and in part because they are Jewish and therefore convenient shills, the fact that can’t be disputed is that there are multitudes of people who are a part of their “team” and who are fighting the same fight. Except that for them the endgame is the destruction of Israel. I know, I know, they say they love Israel and want it to live securely, but their criticism is so deep and harsh that one wonders why such a state even deserves to exist.
In other words, these folks have decided to join the unholy alliance of the Left and the Islamists who seek to destroy Israel. Sure, Beinart will protest that he loves Israel and wants it to survive and thrive, but there is no question that the people on his side are those who don’t see things that way. For them, Israel is a blot that must be erased. How often these days do you see anti-Israel protesters with signs demanding a two state solution? Never. Rather, the action on the other side is geared toward vilification of Israel from every possible angle. The joke, which is apparently lost on the cadre of well-meaning leftists and their Jewish shills, is that the other side is actually supporting the erasure of the liberal democracy of Israel and its replacement with another country like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran et al. Their vision for Israel is a nightmare when compared to the values Beinart and his colleagues hold dear, and yet these are their partners. In crime.
Steve Rosen worked for AIPAC for 23 years until somebody in the US Government decided to falsely accuse him of spying. He was engaged in a debate on NPR with Peter Beinart the other day. Rosen is a very smart man and I have found that time and again I agree with his analysis of situations. Their debate was interesting and troubling. I thought its conclusion was well worth putting up on Jewlicious:
STEVEN ROSEN: The last two weeks, Peter, Israel’s been under assault, and you’ve been on the radio reciting what’s wrong with Israel. The last two weeks were the acid test, the rainy day, a day in which, yes, there are questions about whether Israel handled the boarding of this ship properly. And people who say they’re friends have to be there on a rainy day, not just on a sunny day, not just if Israel does everything perfectly and lives up to your golden, shining Israel on the hill, in your imagination. But on days when Israel’s imperfect, you have to be there. And if you’re not going to be there when the going gets rough, then don’t call yourself a friend.
PETER BEINART: I can be there, if I believe that Israel is badly hurting itself, just like I had the right to be there when I thought the United States was badly hurting itself during much of the Bush/Cheney period. You can say that I’m a utopian to believe that Israel should not be in the business of creating a situation in which 80 percent of the people in Gaza are in food aid, that it’s utopian to believe that Israel can be secure. I don’t believe that’s utopian. If that’s utopian, then the people who created the State of Israel were utopian because that was not the vision that they had of what the Jewish state would be, and I don’t believe that it’s the vision that that we have to settle for today.
STEVEN ROSEN: I don’t hear you talking about Israel facing a security dilemma, the dilemma of 3,000 rockets and the danger that far more potent and more accurate and larger warheads will get there that will threaten Israel’s major cities. I don’t think just filling the airwaves with more criticism of Israel contributes one thing.
By the way, a point that I didn’t make earlier, you talk about people whose voices are silenced. At the typical American university a friend of Israel will find it very difficult to get tenure in the political science department. A friend of Israel is looked at as someone suspect, outside the community of values. And in anyplace where the intellectual elites congregate, friendship toward Israel is not well regarded. I doubt that there are very many staff members at National Public Radio who are standup friends of Israel, because it’s not popular in these environments.
The real imbalance is an unwillingness to hear the pro-Israel voice. That’s the real problem.
PETER BEINART: But, Steve, the problem is you’re defining pro-Israel as only people who won’t be publicly critical. And when you define it that way, yes, you are going to find that pro-Israel voices, as you define them, are very rare on university campuses and other places. But if you define pro-Israel in a more generous way, just as I would define pro-American as people who are very, very upset about certain policies of American governments, then the balance of forces looks very, very different.
I think you are self perpetuating this cycle of victimology/everybody is against us, by not being generous in your interpretation of those people who genuinely do want Israel to exist, indeed, even thrive and prosper as a Jewish state but believe its own policies are harmful in that effort.
By your definition, I also am part of this sea of people who are anti-Israel. That just has no meaning for me, given the, the values with which I was raised, given the connection to Israel that I feel and that I inst- will plan to instill in my children. It â€“ it’s, it’s kind of insulting.
STEVEN ROSEN: Well, we’re going around in circles. I, I don’t see how you, you devote 90 percent of your time to what’s wrong with Israel, you minimize the threat to Israel, you describe Israel’s leaders as, as nearly demonic people, and then at the end of it, you say, I’m a great friend of Israel.
I, I just don’t get it.