Beinart’s vicious attack is presented as criticism of the failure of the organized Jewish community in the US to relate to Jewish youth, but its real purpose is to bash the Netanyahu government. J Street has been pushing it on its websites and email lists. This isn’t surprising — Beinart encapsulates the J Street / Obama Administration (they are joined at the hip) position nicely.
In a nutshell — as it were — here’s Beinart’s thesis:
American Jewish students (at least the non-Orthodox majority), according to Beinart,
…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.
The Jewish establishment — AIPAC, ADL, etc. — on the other hand, “defend… virtually anything any Israeli government does.” And Beinart devotes the major part of his essay to tying to show that the current Israeli government is dominated by fascist, racist, anti-democratic religious fundamentalist settler-lovers.
Israel, he says, used to be the liberal democratic state that the Jewish establishment presents it to be. But recently, thanks to
…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…
it has become something else. And to prove it he quotes Shulamit Aloni, Avram Burg, Yaron Ezrachi and Ze’ev Sternhell. I’ll come back to them.
He also misrepresents the position of that punching bag for the left wing, Avigdor Lieberman, as well as that of PM Benyamin Netanyahu, whom he accuses of arguing that Israel should not make more concessions to the Palestinians because Israel has given up its right to Jordan!
Yes, it is true that over the years Israel has changed. Let’s look at how and why.
Israel’s government was a monopoly of the Labor party until 1977, when Menachem Begin of the Likud was elected. This happened in part because many Mizrachi Jews felt that Labor represented the Ashkenazi establishment that had treated them badly, because of scandals and official corruption, and because of the traumatic failure to anticipate the Yom Kippur war. Begin was followed by another right-wing PM, Yitzhak Shamir, and then several unity governments. In 1992, however, Itzhak Rabin took the reins and led the country into the era of the Oslo ‘peace process’.
Begin’s ‘revolution’ had shocked the left-wing establishment, but by 1992 its policy to negotiate a two-state settlement with the Palestinian Arabs was firmly ensconced. But another political earthquake occurred in 2000, when the Barak-Clinton proposals were summarily rejected by Yasser Arafat and the peace process morphed into violent war. In 2001 this resulted in the election of Ariel Sharon, anathema to the Left. Another blow to what remained of the ‘peace process’ occurred in 2007 when Hamas took control of Gaza and lobbed thousands of rockets into Israel.
These events crushed the Labor party and other left-wing parties because moderate and centrist Israeli voters drew the conclusion that it was not possible to negotiate a viable two-state solution with the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority (not to mention the explicitly genocidal Hamas). They moved in droves to the Likud, electing Binyamin Netanyahu. At the same time Netanyahu moved closer to the center, agreeing in principle to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, what remained of the Left became more extreme. Many have become anti-Zionist (like the four quoted by Beinart), opposing the Jewish state and calling for a single secular ‘democratic’ state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, something which in practice would set off a bloody civil war. Israeli academics like Ezrachi and Sternhell have been in the forefront of this anti-Zionist movement, which in many cases has crossed the line from dissent to treason.
It is this extreme anti-Zionist — you could even say anti-Israeli — element with whom Beinart identifies. He paints a picture of an Israel dominated by a fascist cabal of right-wing extremists, but actually the majority of Israelis support Netanyahu’s policy. Polls have shown that a majority of Israelis would happily approve of a negotiated two-state solution, but they see that today there is no partner that can or will deliver this.
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.
But “Liberal Zionism” is already dead, killed by the suicide bombers of the Intifada and the Qassams of Hamas. Israeli voters, who have experienced these first-hand, know this and have elected a government which above all is politically pragmatic and understands the security challenges the state faces. Certainly there are right-wing extremists in Israel, but they are not setting the tone of the Netanyahu government as Beinart and the left-wing extremists he quotes want us to think.
Beinart — like J Street — is doing the dirty work of the Obama Administration, which would like to see Netanyahu’s coalition replaced by a more pliant one which would acquiesce more easily to the artificial two-state solution that the administration wishes to impose. Such a ‘solution’ is not a solution and will not bring peace. Americans who actually care about Israel should follow the lead of the majority of Israelis and realize this.
The American Jewish establishment does have a problem relating to young Jewish people, but it’s not because they are anti-Zionist. See Ami Isseroff’s take on this here.