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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The education of Peter Beinart

Remember Peter Beinart, the Leftist who wrote that essay last month that said that he 'loves' Israel except that it's becoming too Jewish for him? Steve Rosen, formerly of AIPAC, took Beinart to school on NPR last week (Hat Tip: Noah Pollak). Here's an excerpt from the transcript.
PETER BEINART: Not to single out AIPAC, but all of the major pro-Israel organizations say very explicitly that their support for Israel, their love of Israel is not only because they are Jews and Israel is a Jewish state, but because Jews have created in Israel a liberal democratic Jewish state. But if you say that’s why you admire Israel, then it seems to me you have a responsibility to fight for those values, for Israel as a liberal democracy. And I think there are forces in Israel today, in the settlement movement, in Shas, the ultra Orthodox Mizrahi Party, that are hostile to liberal democratic values. And I think we who love Israel as a liberal democracy have to defend them.

STEVEN ROSEN: But the problem here is there’s only one actual Israel. When a person says, I'm pro-Israel but I don't like the Israel that exists, there’s this Israel in my mind that if only they would do all of the things that I say they should do, and then I will love them, they're talking about an imaginary world. There’s an actual Israel, the only Israel, and that Israel is surrounded by enemies. And you’re either going to try to help protect it or you’re going to jump on the bandwagon of those who are trying to harm it. There’s only two camps here.

And it’s true that you could go to Israel and try to meet with the members of the Israeli government and persuade them to pursue the course of action that you think is appropriate, but you’re arguing that that debate should be held in the United States Congress.

The United States is Israel’s only reliable ally. When you drive a wedge between the United States and Israel, you’re weakening Israel; you’re causing Israel profound harm.


PETER BEINART: I see in what Steven is saying a reflection partly of the generational divide that I was talking about in my piece. And I say this with great respect, but I just do not identify with this vision that he seems to have in which the entire world is destined to hate Israel and Jews, regardless of what Israel does, that it’s basically somehow just in the soil, that we should assume that everybody who criticizes Israel, particularly every non-Jew, is doing so from a position of ill will.

There’s a bleakness, a pessimism to that, that I think is not in what I think of as the best Jewish traditions that animate me in my life. Many people who criticize Israel, they believe, understandably, in a post-colonial world, that it is not just to keep control of large numbers of people who you don't give the right to vote. Rather than seeing those people as eternally hostile to Jews and Israel, we should be willing to listen to their criticisms. But the blanket assertion that everybody hates Israel and everybody always will, I think, is part of a bunker mentality that is making it harder for Israel to live out its best traditions.

STEVEN ROSEN: Perhaps you haven't paid attention that in the last 25 years, since this older generation has faded, you've seen the growth of Islamic extremism on a global scale, much of it aimed at Israel. And they are not so much interested in the territories, as such. They are interested in the very existence of Israel, as they openly state. So I don't see how you can dismiss the sea of hostility. It’s in front of your face every day. It’s not the professors at the Sorbonne and it’s not The New York Review of Books that we're talking about. It’s Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran and Syria and Islamic extremists from one end of the globe to the other.

So you’re talking about a very deeply threatened country. It’s not threatened because of one policy or another or the personality of Bibi Netanyahu or any other single thing. The pro-Israel organizations – I worked for one, AIPAC, for 23 years, I ought to know – see themselves as part of an activist effort to fight against that tidal wave.
Read it all.


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