Warns Zionism is increasingly for the Orthodox
This is what we’ll be talking about all week. Prominent liberal journalist Peter Beinart has predicted that Zionism among young American Jews is increasingly the exclusive reserve of the insensitive, illiberal Orthodox. Moreover, he blames this trend on AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the rest of the establishment. These organizations, by insisting on all-but-unquestioned support for Israel and its governments’ policies, have served, he argues, as “intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.”
Here is the essay’s crux: “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.”
Beinart is one-time editor of the staunchly pro-Israel New Republic. He prominently supported the Iraq invasion and specifically chastised fellow Democrats who didn’t. He has since repudiated that support, but even so, it is not a little surprising to see a one-time genuine hawk calling Israeli “new historian” Tom Segev “fearless.” (Under his leadership TNR endorsed Joe Lieberman in the 2004 Democratic primaries. Joe Lieberman!)
And even that is not as jarring as Beinart’s choice of venue. The New York Review of Books is the premier outlet for essays that are critical of Zionism; it famously published Tony Judt’s repudiation of Zionism in 2003. Tellingly, this is Beinart’s first contribution to the journal. Among other things, Beinart’s decision is designed to reassure you that, no, you’re not misreading it, and, yes, his piece really does represent a genuine shift for him. It also means Beinart chose to trade a certain amount of credibility with those who disagree with his conclusions in exchange for solidarity with those who do. Not to be overly cynical, but Beinart’s new book is out in two weeks.
Beinart’s essay may not garner quite the controversy that Judt’s did, but older American Jewish liberals won’t enjoy being told that their strong support for Israel is illiberal. They will make some immediate counterpunches, and will also take issue with Beinart’s handling of the relevant research, which may not suggest a permanent generation gap on the question of Israel (more on this in a bit).
The left will applaud Beinart, although he remains a Zionist—there are no better prizes for them than once-hawkish Jewish apostates. Meanwhile, J Street may be a little afraid to embrace him, even though his critical, liberal Zionism seems like a good match. (Beinart conspicuously does not mention the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” group.)
The Orthodox? Well, they won’t be too happy, and few will blame them. (Beinart attends an Orthodox synagogue. Awkward!)
Quick prediction: The sentence that will attract the most ire is, “Not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well.” It will be very easy for critics to mention Walt and Mearsheimer as an inspiration.
After the jump: A couple key paragraphs and the anticipated counter-arguments. I’ll round-up the responses in the afternoon, assuming any writers or bloggers decide to respond to Beinart’s essay. (That was a joke.) (more…)