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The Failure of American Jewish Liberalism

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  • AMI
    Follow Israel News on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MuddleEast Facebook Zionism cause: it s up to you to make it grow. http://www.causes.com/causes/73516 The
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19 9:49 AM
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      Follow Israel News on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MuddleEast
       
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      There is something very strange about a pundit who paints a one-sided, hateful picture of Israel, cites almost every dubious accusation against Israel that has been made in the last ten years, insists that Israel is run by Fascist maniacs, but still claims to be pro-Israel. Very strange, but that is what Peter Beinart does in his Jeremiad against Israel and the Failure of the American Jewish "Establishment."

      Even stranger to accept, Beinart seems to believe that the only way to win the hearts of American Jewish young people to the Zionist cause is by more of this sort of vituperative dumping on Israel. This doesn't seem to me to be a good plan for making Israel popular, but serious people are reading this and are not laughing at the absurdity of the idea.

      Beinart, once an ardent supporter of Israel, has penned an indictment of the American Jewish establishment for supporting Israeli policies. In the cause of supposed "liberalism," Beinart paints a black and white picture. The sainted Palestinians are hapless victims of the evil and heartless Israelis in his fantasy. The American Jewish establishment is all composed of mindless agitprops who rubber stamp their approval of every act of the Israel government, no matter how outrageous. The article is accompanied by a villainous caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu.

      Beinart claims that American Jewish organizational support for Israeli policies is alienating American Jews from support for Israel. He cites focus group studies of Frank Luntz and surveys by others that indicate that young Jews are less interested in Israel and do not identify with Israel. His thesis is, as one might expect, heartily supported by Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street.

      Beinart lashes out at Avigdor Lieberman, Effie Eitam and others in the Israeli government, and seems to be under the impression that only they represent the Zionist cause and that theirs are the only voices in the Israeli government. Beinart mentions Ehud Barak favorably, but seems to have all but forgotten that Barak is Defense Minister in the government he is excoriating. Barak was also Defense Minister in the former Kadima government. Barak was responsible for the attack on Gaza that Beinart and other "liberals" condemn so loudly. Barak and Livni, not Netanyahu and Lieberman, are accused of war crimes in the Goldstone report. The supposedly dovish Amir Peretz was Defense Minister during the Second Lebanon War that Beinart decries. The Gaza war in particular is supported by a broad Israeli consensus. Neither war can be blamed on Benjamin Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman, who were not even in the government at the time.

      This is the heart of Beinart's thesis:

      ... Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster--indeed, have actively opposed--a Zionism that challenges Israel's behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens.

      Undeniably, many people, including Jeffrey Goldberg, are willing to accept the dictum that secular, liberal Jews are turning away from Zionism in droves. Goldberg wrote:

      ...Ben Smith has helped me figure out the source of the claustrophobic feeling I've been experiencing lately. It turns out that it occurs when you've been locked in a small room ...with Peter Beinart and Jon Chait and.... well, that's the point, isn't it? Who else is still out there arguing that you can be liberal and Zionist at the same time meaning, pro-Israel and anti-occupation?.

      Goldberg and Beinart are probably as close as you can get to being the "Chief Rabbis" of the pro-Israel progressive establishment. They are influential. People of a certain type read them to find out what they ought to think. It is unfortunate that so many people cannot do any independent thinking, and it is doubly unfortunate that opinion and influence are only poorly related to knowledge and integrity, but that's how the world works. The issues cannot be ignored.

      The data however, do not support Beinart's thesis. Ok, so who are you going to believe, a respected guru or some surveys? Facts and figures are for empiricists and pedants according to the new philosophy. The important thing is what we want to believe, right?

      Beinart cites Frank Luntz, but he ignores Frank Luntz's study data discussed in the confidential Israel Project document that was outed by pirates. Luntz found that young Jewish Americans are not interested in anything Jewish or related to Judaism, regardless of whether or not it is related to Israel or settlements. It is likely that spin-savvy J Street was well aware of these findings. That may explain why the word "Jewish" doesn't appear in their organization name. They are J people from J Street, and can thus avoid saying the J word, which has become just as noxious as the Z word.

      The recent AJC survey shows complex results for American Jews, but a clear majority support Israel and the policies of the Israeli government, including some policies that J Street opposes and Beinart evidently opposes as well. A clear majority is also liberal and supports the Democratic Party and President Obama. Only 15% of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans. A full 74% of the respondents indicated that they feel close or very close to Israel. This number has not changed much in the decade during which the question has been asked in yearly surveys. Since only 10% of the respondents are Orthodox Jews, we have to conclude that support for Israel is not confined to Orthodox Jews. An almost unanimous majority, 94% of the respondents, insist that in a peace agreement, Arabs must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. 61% of the respondents insist that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty. 75% of the respondents agreed that the goal of the Arabs is not the return of the occupied territories, but the destruction of Israel. That opinion is not confined to Orthodox Jews.

      The Beinart thesis is improbable even without these data. American Jews, and even American Jewish Zionists, have historically kept their distance from Israel, often regarding it at best as a place to house unfortunate refugees from Eastern European and Arab countries. The stance of a large part of the American Zionist movement was always, "Israel is a good place to give charity to, but American Jews wouldn't live there." Beyond the issues raised by Zionism, in a democratic and open society, American Jews are going to assimilate in increasing numbers. Assimilation took place in Germany before the rise of Hitler, and all over Western Europe. It had nothing to do with Israel. Inevitably those who don't want to identify as Jews to a greater or lesser degree, do not want to identify with Israel either. A non-Jew can support Israel on the merits of the issues. A Jew who wishes to assimilate will always fear that support for Israel will call attention to their Jewish origins and raise accusations of double-loyalty.

      Jeremy Ben-Ami declaims:

      Beinart - with his impeccable pro-Israel credentials - is hopefully an effective messenger to convince the American Jewish establishment that it is not simply enabling self-destructive Israeli behavior that is damaging American interests, it is sowing the seeds for the end of the American Jewish community as we know it.

      It is the usual cry of "Do it my way or the end of the world will ensue." The silliness of this idea should be self-evident. Decrying imaginary Israeli war crimes will not bring American Jews closer to Israel. Even if Israel were to withdraw from all the occupied territories and elect an Arab Prime Minister, it would not cause one Jew to decide not to marry a nice WASP and it won't convince even one J person in J Street not to have Buddhist Passover Seders or "Chanuka Bushes" or whatever suits their fancy.

      Beinart and Ben-Ami and many others espouse a strange sort of liberalism. It has room for the Hamas in the roster of legitimate political organizations, but no room for Avigdor Lieberman or even for Alan Dershowitz. Palestinian Arabs are to enjoy "democracy," but within the confines of Judaism, we must all think Beinart-thought or else. Anyone who disagrees is a racist colonialist fanatic warmonger and should not get a hearing. Palestinians should have a unity government that includes Hamas, but Israel must not have Yisrael Beteynu in its coalition, according to Beinart and Ben-Ami.

      Israel elected Avigdor Lieberman and is turning increasingly to the right because the Palestinians have stabbed the Israeli peace movement and the Israeli left in the back. It began with the terror attacks in the 1990s and it continued with the violence initiated in September 2000. It was crowned by the Hamas takeover of Gaza. All the blackest predictions of the right-wing extremists were thoroughly vindicated by the Palestinians, as though they were reading from a script. The "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas insists on Right of Return for Palestinian refugees, has reiterated on countless occasions that Palestinians will never recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and denies that Israel has any national rights in what he calls "Arab" East Jerusalem, an area that encompasses the Jewish quarter, the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and the seat of the ancient Jewish monarchies. The Hamas, which J Street insists must be part of a Palestinian government, still vows to murder all the Jews in order to bring about the End of Days. Give Israelis a realistic path to ending the occupation without ending Israel and we will support more dovish policies.

      There are many factual misstatements and distortions in Beinart's article, but a discussion of those points might obscure the forest by focusing on too many individual trees. Beinart is wrong. American Jews, mostly non-Orthodox, agree that Arabs are not serious about peace, and insist on conditions for peace that are anathema to self-proclaimed "liberals" like Ben-Ami. The overwhelming majority of American Jews, if they identify themselves as Jewish, feel close to Israel. If American Jews assimilate, it won't be because of Israeli policies.

      Believe it or not, Peter Beinart, it is possible to think that the Jewish people have national historic rights in East Jerusalem and to support peace and liberal values at the same time. One should not have to accept the erasure of East Jerusalem's Jewish history, or insist that Jerusalem belongs to the Muslims because Muhammad flew there on his horse, in order to be a liberal. One should not have to advocate including the genocidal Hamas in a Palestinian government in order to be considered a liberal. One should not have to make common cause with the Muslim Students Union in order to be a liberal.

      Israel has an image problem, and Israeli policy and society are far from perfect. But joining the chorus of Hamas groupies and repeating their one-sided lies about Israeli policy is not going to win any sympathy for Israel among young American Jews. Nor will Israel agree to peace on PLO or Hamas terms in order to please Beinart.

      If Beinart had really wanted to make a constructive contribution to Israel advocacy, he could have found plenty of Jewish and Zionist forums for doing so, including conferences of AIPAC and J Street. Instead, Beinart chose instead to publish in the New York Review of Books, which, as Jeffrey Goldberg notes, is generally anti-Israel. We should view his article for what it is: A rant intended to bash Israel for a general audience, using the cause of Israel advocacy as a lame excuse.

      The failure of the American "Liberal" Jewish establishment is that they refuse to recognize what most American Jews understand: The core issue behind all the "occupation" rhetoric is that the Arabs and "liberal" Jews like Tony Judt, Ilan Pappe and the JVP deny the right of self-determination of the Jewish people.

      Beinart ignores the effect of his own dogmatism. It is not true that American and Israeli Zionists have no reservations about the policies of the Israeli government. Beinart must be well aware of both Israeli and American Zionist criticisms of Israeli policies.

      I was raised in the traditions of the Labor Zionist movement. I mourned Yitzhak Rabin. Together with friends in Israel and the United States, I started a small NGO to promote peace, democracy and dialog. I won't hide the fact that I didn't vote for the present government and do not support it.

      However, I soon discovered that the issue at stake is not peace or ending the occupation, but ending Israel. Israel has been under merciless and unfair attack as an "apartheid" regime. Zionism is villainized as a demonic and racist Jewish conspiracy. Any and every criticism of Israel, regardless of validity, by any Jew, is seized upon by the anti-Israel propaganda machine as grist for their mill. That will no doubt include Beinart's article. We are confronted by fanatic supporters of the Hamas at UCSD and UC Berkeley who scream "Palestine is free from the river to the sea." Instead of lending support to the Zionist cause, Beinart suggests that Jewish organizations should join with the screaming students in condemning Israel, in order to please "liberal" young Jews.

      The dogma of Zionist evil was made official by the UN General Assembly "Zionism is racism" resolution. It was again popularized by the Durban conference, has penetrated to human rights organizations and it is centralized internationally by the Arab and Muslim controlled U.N. Human Rights Council. It is appalling that so few "liberals," Jews included, are willing to speak out against the idea that countries like Libya and Iran should be stewards of human rights issues. They are unwilling to debunk the torrent of fabrications that are being created. It is even worse when an ostensible friend of Israel, like Beinart, uncritically echoes the lies and the half-truths generated by the UN HRC and the so-called human rights NGOs.

      Beinart is bringing coals to Newcastle. Judge Goldstone, Richard Falk and Ilan Pappe don't need his help. There does not seem to be a shortage of voices, Jewish or otherwise, "critical" of Israel, of Zionism and of Jews. Every one-sided attack like Beinart's tells those of us who are painfully aware of the delegitimization of Israel and Zionism, that we have no sympathetic ear among American progressives. Each such article generates increasingly dogmatic articles by right-wing Zionist ideologues about "anti-Semitic leftists" and "self-hating Jews." Attitudes are hardening on both sides within the Jewish community, if there is such a thing. That cannot be constructive either for advancing the cause of Israel or for advancing the cause of peace. As the liberal Jewish establishment withdraws farther and farther from support for Israel, and takes up the narrative of the anti-Zionists, it will have less and less influence on Israeli policy and the direction of the Zionist movement, because its critique is increasingly based on enemy propaganda rather than on facts. Beinart is helping to marginalize the Jewish peace camp.

      The self-proclaimed American Jewish liberal establishment is not simply enabling self-destructive American behavior that is damaging American interests, and itself engaging in self-destructive behavior that is damaging its own interests. It is sowing the seeds for the end of the Zionist movement and of the state of Israel.

      Ami Isseroff


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