Jul 12, 2010

Peter Beinart, a response

A month ago, Peter Beinart wrote an article in the New York Review Of Books titled, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment".

In the article Beinart attempts to explain why he thinks the younger generation of American Jews remains ambivalent to Israel.

Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives.

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. 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. For several decades, 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.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.


Israeli governments come and go, but the Netanyahu coalition is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society: an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community that is particularly prone to anti-Arab racism. In 2009, a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis (and 77 percent of recent immigrants from the former USSR) support encouraging Arabs to leave the country. Attitudes are worst among Israel’s young. When Israeli high schools held mock elections last year, Lieberman won. This March, a poll found that 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school students—and more than 80 percent of religious Jewish high school students—would deny Israeli Arabs the right to be elected to the Knesset. An education ministry official called the survey “a huge warning signal in light of the strengthening trends of extremist views among the youth.”


All of which raises an uncomfortable question. If American Jewish groups claim that Israel’s overseas human rights critics are motivated by anti- Israeli, if not anti-Semitic, bias, what does that say about Israel’s domestic human rights critics? The implication is clear: they must be guilty of self-hatred, if not treason. American Jewish leaders don’t generally say that, of course, but their allies in the Netanyahu government do. Last summer, Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called the anti-occupation group Peace Now a “virus.” This January, a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu accused Israeli human rights organizations of having fed information to the Goldstone Commission that investigated Israel’s Gaza war. A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud promptly charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of those human rights groups, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs.

To their credit, Foxman and other American Jewish leaders opposed the move, which might have impaired their own work. But they are reaping what they sowed. If you suggest that mainstream human rights criticism of Israel’s government is motivated by animus toward the state, or toward Jews in general, you give aid and comfort to those in Israel who make the same charges against the human rights critics in their midst.


Because they marry earlier, intermarry less, and have more children, Orthodox Jews are growing rapidly as a share of the American Jewish population. According to a 2006 American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey, while Orthodox Jews make up only 12 percent of American Jewry over the age of sixty, they constitute 34 percent between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. For America’s Zionist organizations, these Orthodox youngsters are a potential bonanza. In their yeshivas they learn devotion to Israel from an early age; they generally spend a year of religious study there after high school, and often know friends or relatives who have immigrated to Israel. The same AJC study found that while only 16 percent of non-Orthodox adult Jews under the age of forty feel “very close to Israel,” among the Orthodox the figure is 79 percent. As secular Jews drift away from America’s Zionist institutions, their Orthodox counterparts will likely step into the breach. The Orthodox “are still interested in parochial Jewish concerns,” explains Samuel Heilman, a sociologist at the City University of New York. “They are among the last ones who stayed in the Jewish house, so they now control the lights.”

But it is this very parochialism—a deep commitment to Jewish concerns, which often outweighs more universal ones—that gives Orthodox Jewish Zionism a distinctly illiberal cast. The 2006 AJC poll found that while 60 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews under the age of forty support a Palestinian state, that figure drops to 25 percent among the Orthodox. In 2009, when Brandeis University’s Theodore Sasson asked American Jewish focus groups about Israel, he found Orthodox participants much less supportive of dismantling settlements as part of a peace deal. Even more tellingly, Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated Jews tended to believe that average Palestinians wanted peace, but had been ill-served by their leaders. Orthodox Jews, by contrast, were more likely to see the Palestinian people as the enemy, and to deny that ordinary Palestinians shared any common interests or values with ordinary Israelis or Jews.

Orthodox Judaism has great virtues, including a communal warmth and a commitment to Jewish learning unmatched in the American Jewish world. (I’m biased, since my family attends an Orthodox synagogue.) But if current trends continue, the growing influence of Orthodox Jews in America’s Jewish communal institutions will erode even the liberal-democratic veneer that today covers American Zionism. In 2002, America’s major Jewish organizations sponsored a large Israel solidarity rally on the Washington Mall. Up and down the east coast, yeshivas shut down for the day, swelling the estimated Orthodox share of the crowd to close to 70 percent. When the then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the rally that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well,” he was booed.

America’s Jewish leaders should think hard about that rally. Unless they change course, it portends the future: an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel. My own children, given their upbringing, could as easily end up among the booers as among Luntz’s focus group. Either prospect fills me with dread.


This obsession with victimhood lies at the heart of why Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young. It simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or what they have seen of Israel’s. Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto. The year 2010 is not, as Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed, 1938. The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce.

But there is a different Zionist calling, which has never been more desperately relevant. It has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets,” and in the December 1948 letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others to The New York Times, protesting right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. It is a call to recognize that in a world in which Jewish fortunes have radically changed, the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.

For several months now, a group of Israeli students has been traveling every Friday to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers. Although repeatedly arrested for protesting without a permit, and called traitors and self-haters by the Israeli right, the students keep coming, their numbers now swelling into the thousands. What if American Jewish organizations brought these young people to speak at Hillel? What if this was the face of Zionism shown to America’s Jewish young? What if the students in Luntz’s focus group had been told that their generation faces a challenge as momentous as any in Jewish history: to save liberal democracy in the only Jewish state on earth?

Too many years I lived in the warm embrace of institutionalized elusiveness and was a part of it,” writes Avraham Burg. “I was very comfortable there.” I know; I was comfortable there too. But comfortable Zionism has become a moral abdication. Let’s hope that Luntz’s students, in solidarity with their counterparts at Sheikh Jarrah, can foster an uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it still could be. Let’s hope they care enough to try.

Haaretz picked up and analyzed Beinart's article the other day in its Friday Supplement section.

My father, Dr. Harold Goldmeier, wrote a response to the Haaretz article. Here is what Dad (Opa) wrote, in Haaretz, and here:
Subject: Beinart's attack In a recent article, Peter Beinart is quickly becoming the intellectual spokesman for the new left establishment trying to have their voice heard over the old Zionist establishment that supporters Israel right or wrong. In his two most recent articles in the last ten days or so, he has turned his attentions to Israel.

Today, in Haaretz, but also in the general media he holds nothing back in his painting Israel as doing no good for American prestige and power among Muslims. He can find nothing more to blame on Israel than for what P.M. Netanyahu did not say to Pres. Obama at the White House this week. No mention of a Palestinian state or discussion about Gaza at a joint press conference are adequate grounds to accuse Netanyahu of treating the President like a schmuck writes Beinart.

Israel just can't win with people like Beinart. There is no pleasing Beinart. Well Beinart is the schmuck. He reminds me of the Palestinian woman interviewed on NPR who complained that the IDF does not rape Palestinian women, because their women aren't good enough to be raped by an occupying force. Whoever heard of such a thing, she screamed. Our women are not pretty enough or human enough to be raped by Israeli soldiers according to this Palestinian knucklehead.

I think Beinart is confusing Americans' lack of concern about the survivability of Israel as a nation with a lack of interest by Americans. Sure there are existential threats to Israel, but Americans are worried sick over their faltering economy, joblessness, and the high cost of health care if they can get it all. Israel has survived for more than six decades, and her future is not dependent upon the formation of another Palestinian or Arab state; that's just not high on the agenda of young Americans or American Jews.

Could Israel be doing some things better? Of course Israel is not perfect, and her leaders say some awfully stupid things that a better public relations program at the very least would improve her image. But attacks from our friends demonstrate how free speech thrives in Israel unlike in her enemies' countries.

According to Beinart, a false liberal cannot be an enthusiastic supporter of Israel. He doesn't define me or my politics. An American liberal can be for the war in Iraq and against it in Afghanistan; for pro-choice, unemployment benefits, child welfare support, and an avid supporter of American aid to Israel.

There is anguish among American Jews, but we always worry about everything, and no people has a greater guilt complex than Jews--thanks Mom. Mr. Netanyahu and Pres. Obama focused their public remarks on the Iranian threat of nuclear destruction in the Middle East and its potential for making dirty bombs that could be easily transported anywhere in the world. then you will see anguish.

Beinart must have been too busy to hear the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. who publicly told Congress that the benefits of bombing Iran's nuclear program outweigh the short-term costs such an attack would impose (according to Eli Lake in The Washington Times). Or how about the reports that Egypt will not open it's locked and sealed borders crossings with Gaza, and pleads with Israel not to loosen her borders with Gaza for fear of Hamas getting too much a political jump start from winning political points while the P.A. festers.

For the record, Mr. Beinart, a schmuck is an insult usually meaning an obnoxious, contemptible person who is stupid, foolish, or detestable. Did you really mean to call our President that; or, did you mean he was treated like a shmendrick, best defined in The Joys of Yiddish as physically impressive but a weak person who has not yet grown up (politically wet behind the ears). A cute description would be of a woman who beat her shmendrick of a husband who crawled under the bed. "Come out!" she cried. "No!" he said. "I'll show you who's the boss in this house!"

No, Mr. Beinart, neither of these gentlemen is a schmuck or a shmendrick. They are two powerful leaders trying figure out how to survive in a world where the Flintstones have automatic weapons and nuclear bombs.

Dr. Harold Goldmeier Chicago, Ill. 773-764-4357 hgoldmeier@aol.com Dr. Goldmeier was a Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University where I earned a Doctorate in Education, and taught as an Assistant Professor at Tufts Medical School. He taught public elementary school, worked in government and education for nearly two decades, and in business for nearly three. I am married more than forty years, have children living in America and Israel, and a son who recently served with the Israel Defense Forces. He has published more than two dozen articles in professional journals and popular magazines and newspaper, is now a writer, consultant to government agencies, and to small businesses on economic growth and marketing.

1 comment:

  1. What Beinart most insidiously ignores, and your Opa missed in his otherwise wonderful response, is that itty bitty Elephant in the room - Terrorism. Oh, that's right, there's no such thing in Obamaland.


Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...