Peter Beinart and Zionism

Another great session at Tomorrow 2012 – the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. It’s been an incredible day and I have so much I want to write…and for once I have time to do it!

So here’s the next one…Peter Beinart has written a book called The Crisis of Zionism. When I agree with the New York Times, you know something is amazing. Here’s what was written about his book in the NY Times:

He [Beinart] sets out to save the country by labeling many of its leaders racist, denouncing many of its American supporters as ­Holocaust-obsessed enablers and advocating a boycott of people and products from beyond Israel’s 1967 eastern border. (

I’ll start by saying I haven’t read it – maybe Mr. Beinart wants to send me a complimentary copy? Probably not. So let me write about what he said, and not what he wrote. Perhaps had I read the book, I’d have been more prepared. I wasn’t.

He began with a justification for an argument that I’ve had with myself for many years, even before I moved to Israel. If it isn’t your son on the border of Israel, do you have the right to criticize, to advise, and perhaps even to condemn Israel for what it does to survive and thrive in this area of the world. This touches on information from a second session that I don’t want to write about here. I want to focus on Beinart.

I’ll start by saying he was charming and he is clearly a great thinker. He spoke of his Egyptian-born grandmother (who disagrees with his politics and thinks, as I do, that he is painfully naive). He’s a man with an opinion, that is clear and he’s stubborn. Facts are unlikely to sway him. Interestingly enough, he touched not just on Israel, but on American Jewry and there his views come close to mine. I’ll explain that one in a second. First, about Israel.

He has built a mountain on shifting sands; an argument on facts that simply are inaccurate. He said, “what legitimizes Israel is its democracy.” What an absurd statement. First, why does Israel need to be legitimized? When was the last time anyone asked what right the US had to exist? Wait, the US is a democracy. Okay, when was the last time someone asked what right North Korea has a right to exist or what legitimacy it has?

Then, Peter Beinart decided to play a game – an insulting one and one of the many reasons why he does not have a right to think his opinion should mean anything here – until it is his son on our borders. He has decided that it is acceptable to boycott products from the West Bank but he encourages purchasing products from what he inaccurately and annoyingly refers to as “democratic” Israel. Here again is the latest form of idol worship that plagues Beinart and many left-wing American Jews – democracy. It is not God who determines the future, the present, the right and wrong of things – it is the idol known as democracy, that Beinart worships.

I’m all for democracy. I would vote for it anytime. But Israel is greater than our democracy. Our democracy is a sign of our humanity, our freedom, and who we are – it is not what we are.

I wanted to ask Beinart if he was a Zionist and if he had answered that he was, I would have asked him to define Zionism because I do not believe you can be a Zionist and at the same time support a path that could so easily lead to our destruction. His path for our future involves OUR taking all the risks at a time when we have no peace partner. I wanted to ask him who our peace partners are – these non-existent dreamers that he trusts them with our future and security but he had already quickly dismissed security as “another argument” in this intellectual game. And to a large extent, that’s what Israel is to him and to others who came to the conference to share their opinions with us – an intellectual game, an academic exercise. As Beinart was talking, almost literally, Israel was being hit by rockets. Nine today,  and the day is still young; and only one day after Israel was hit with almost 70 rockets.

When the conversation finally turned to American Jewry, Beinart was not optimistic about its future. His best line was clearly, “We’ve built better Holocaust memorials than we’ve built Jewish schools.” I agree.

His discussion reminded me of something Yaakov Kirschen of Dry Bones said years ago – almost 30 years ago to be exact. He said to a rather shocked and disbelieving crowd of young college students at Columbia University (paraphrased slightly): in another few generations, there will be no Jews in America. I asked him did he really believe that all American Jews were going to make aliyah? I said it in the voice of the doubter, as if I was so smart, and he so stupid. I thought he was impossibly naive and though I shared his pro-aliyah (moving to Israel) dream, I really wanted him to wake up to reality. And then he looked at me and I realized it wasn’t him being naive and I certainly wasn’t the smart one in the conversation. And quietly, slowly, he responded “I didn’t say that.”

Years later, I would learn an interesting fact of history – when the Jews left Egypt…not all the Jews left. According to most sources, 4 our of 5, 80% never left. The first time I heard this, I thought of American Jews – 80%, I would guess, will never come to Israel – will be lost. It fits with what remains of my family in America.

I don’t know what the future of American Jewry will be – if my family there is a measure, American Jewry is in deep trouble (in one case, one uncle’s children are running at 75% having married non-Jews). I do know that Peter Beinart’s naive, academic and decidedly inaccurate view does indeed damage Israel – because he gives others the false idea that peace is within our hands and to achieve it, we must take risks that he, from the safety of his American shores, suggests for my sons.

When it is your sons on the borders of Israel, Mr. Beinart, let’s talk. Till then, maybe your next book should be, The Crisis of American Jewry. At least that book, you have the knowledge and the right to write.

7 Comments on Peter Beinart and Zionism

  1. Paula, You took the words out of my mouth. Somehow democracy stopped being a vehicle and became a God.

  2. Every now and then I get to read a post I wish I had written. This is one of them. Thank you for putting into words everything I have wanted to say to and about Peter Beinart since first reading about his book.

    I can’t believe that he suggests that Israel must act according to the principles that will gain approval points from America’s lost generation of Jews, rather than what will preserve your sons’ lives on a day to day basis.

    Someday I hope he learns the true danger of saying things out loud for the world to hear before you have enough wisdom and information.

  3. the only thing I agree with him about (probably) is that he is entitled to his opinion even though he doesnt live here and even though his kids havent (yet?) served in the IDF.
    we all have opinions on all sorts of things we are less than experts about, and on topics that we have little or even no direct involvement with. people have opinions. he says his loudly. so what. Our rejection of his opinions should be on content and not on disqualifying his right to have an opinion.

  4. As far as Beinart I agree with you.

    My issue is with your view of the future of American Jewry as being very negative.If you judge the attachment to the Jewish people by how religious they are, orthodoxy is the only branch of Judaism that is growing in the US. While most Jews are still part of the reform movement, the younger generation is seeking out their heritage. And yes Birthrite really is making a big difference. Interestingly the antisemitism young Jews face on campus makes a difference too. It is the first time most of them have experienced anything like that and it does make them think beyond themselves and not in an anti-Jewish way either. Those that reject Israel are the fringe and as much as Beinart wants to say it is the future, no it is not. The problem is however, that there is NOT enough education on the subject of Israel. Young Jews, like most young Americans are concerned with creating a future, getting a viable education and being able to become adults. No Israel is not their top priority, but Israel never was the top priority of the majority of Jewish-Americans ever. That has been the greatest falsity of the last 70 years that Israel was Jewish-Americans overriding concern.

    As far as intermarriage, that has been a nadir here since I was a child. But the number of self-identified Jews according to the last census has grown..not alot but it has grown.Also not every intermarriage ends up with non-Jewish children.Jewish-Americans accept a child as Jewish with maternal or paternal parentage. That by the way will be one of the big issues of the future and that is why t is important for those in Israel to learn to accept that orthodoxy is not the only branch of Judaism in the world. I have several nieces and nephews raised as Jews who do not qualify under orthodoxy.The question is does Israel turn their backs on these children and then thereby turn its back on these children’s entire family?

    Will the Jews of the US eventually disappear? Only God knows. The challenge here to the Jewish people is not that we are discriminated against in a governmental way, but that we are fully accepted by the vast majority of the populace and antisemitism is at an historic low here. Jews feel safe. We are not collectively discriminated against even though vigilance is necessary.

    What the future holds for any of us is unwritten. We all do the best with our choices and we all hope to lead a good life. But I don’t think saying kaddish for the Jewish-American community is the way to go.

  5. Peter Beinart is about thirty years out of date. Israel has tried to do everything possible to make peace with its neighbors. They refuse to accept Israel as part of the Middle East.

    Israel cannot commit national suicide to get itself liked and so that it can get itself in Beinart’s good graces again. That is the bottom line.

  6. Beinart is a hypocrite at best who talks a good talk about “democracy” but feels that from his chauvinistic ivory tower in the US he may undermine our democratic choices and invalidates and disfranchises them at every turn. His lack of respect for those Israelis who don’t toe his line borders on the Colonialist / Imperialist. Sorry but the little I have heard of his opinions leads me to conclude that this is no friend of our society.

  7. Paula, it really is sad how someone like Beinart can be so correct in his reading of American Jewry and so totally off about Israel. What is his fixation about those short 19 years and its very temporary ceasefire line that he worships it?

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