peter beinart + the failure of the US jewish establishment

by anzya

I was recently pointed in the way of Peter Beinart’s article, published last month in the NY Review of Books – “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”. If you haven’t read it, do now, as there are some pretty sharp analyses in there about the way Jews in America perceive, criticise and/or defend Israel and its politics. And though it focussed on American Jewish Zionist orgs, so much of what he writes applies to the attitudes of Australian Jews towards Israel and Zionism. I particularly liked his argument about the generational differences between American Jews in how they view Israel, which I’ll quote here:

These American Zionists are largely the product of a particular era. Many were shaped by the terrifying days leading up to the Six-Day War, when it appeared that Israel might be overrun, and by the bitter aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, when much of the world seemed to turn against the Jewish state. In that crucible, Israel became their Jewish identity, often in conjunction with the Holocaust, which the 1967 and 1973 wars helped make central to American Jewish life. These Jews embraced Zionism before the settler movement became a major force in Israeli politics, before the 1982 Lebanon war, before the first intifada. They fell in love with an Israel that was more secular, less divided, and less shaped by the culture, politics, and theology of occupation. And by downplaying the significance of Avigdor Lieberman, the settlers, and Shas, American Jewish groups allow these older Zionists to continue to identify with that more internally cohesive, more innocent Israel of their youth, an Israel that now only exists in their memories.

But these secular Zionists aren’t reproducing themselves. Their children have no memory of Arab armies massed on Israel’s border and of Israel surviving in part thanks to urgent military assistance from the United States. Instead, they have grown up viewing Israel as a regional hegemon and an occupying power. As a result, they are more conscious than their parents of the degree to which Israeli behavior violates liberal ideals, and less willing to grant Israel an exemption because its survival seems in peril. Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism.

I realise I am reading this about a month late(!). Much has been written on Beinart’s piece already in other blogs including jew school, mondoweiss, Tablet mag and AJDS. Since then, however, there has also been a more recent rebuttal from Abraham Foxman from the ADL published in the NY Review blog, (in which he gives some pretty annoying and predictable arguments in defense of Netanyahu et al), and a response from Beinart who, rather unusually and admiringly politely, writes:

The ADL was founded “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” What I have always admired about that statement is its suggestion that to truly defend Jewish dignity, one must also defend the dignity of other vulnerable groups. At home, the ADL still honors that mission, working valiantly, for instance, against racial profiling in Arizona. But how can an organization that is so vigilant in opposing bigotry in the US be so complacent about a government shaped by men like Lieberman, Effi Eitam, and Ovadia Yosef? How can it not take its rightful place in the struggle on behalf of Palestinians evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah?

I think would be interesting to follow this post up at some stage and to see how Australian Zionist orgs repsond/ed to this article and debate, and the similarities and comparisons between the Jewish establishment in US and in Australia that can be drawn. So stay tuned. And do put your two cents in the comments section below 🙂