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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bret Stephens demolishes Beinart

Bret Stephens reviews - and destroys - Peter Beinart's new book.
The Sasson study was to Beinart’s thesis approximately what Fat Man was to the city of Nagasaki. A whopping 82 percent of American Jews feel that U.S. support for Israel is either “just about right” or “not supportive enough”—and that’s just among those Jews who describe themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Among those calling themselves “middle of the road,” the figure rises to 94 percent. Regarding the settlements, just 26 percent of even liberal Jews think Israel should dismantle all of them; among moderates, the figure drops to 10 percent. Generationally speaking, there even seems to be a rightward tilt among younger Jews. Consider Jerusalem: 58 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 oppose re-dividing it. Just 51 percent of their parents and grandparents feel the same way.

“Political differences on the liberal-to-conservative continuum were unrelated to measures of attachment to Israel,” Sasson and his colleagues noted dryly, adding that these attitudes have pretty much held steady over 24 years of polling. Liberal as American Jews might be when it comes to domestic U.S. politics, on Israel their views tend to be fairly conservative.

To anyone reasonably familiar with the sensibilities of mainstream American Jewry, this finding probably comes as no surprise. How would Beinart deal with it in his book, I wondered? Would the Sasson data at least force him to tone down the thunder of denunciation he had hurled at a “failed” American Jewish establishment that, to outsiders at least, appears to be remarkably (some would say excessively) diverse, robust, well-financed and influential? Would he dial back a little on the notion that an American Jewry that usually votes Democratic is also ripe to adopt the “progressive” line on Israel, too?

Yet Beinart would not be toned down. Findings such as Sasson’s, he wrote, “are misleading because they include only those Jews who identify by religion, and a growing number of the least Israel-attached young American Jews identify only culturally.” (My emphasis.)

Interesting if true. Except it isn’t true. Reviewing the original Sasson study’s statement on methodology, one comes across the following:

“Jewish respondents were initially identified by a question about religion. In addition, two items were asked of panel members of no religion in March 2010: whether respondents considered themselves Jewish for any reason and whether they had a Jewish mother or father. … In total, the sample eligible for analysis consisted of 1,243 respondents, of whom 1,089 were Jewish by religion and 154 were Jewish by other criteria.”

If Beinart wants to argue that the Sasson study should have sampled a greater number of “cultural Jews,” fine. That’s a discussion worth having. But to use the word “only” when he means “mostly” should alert readers that no assertion of fact in The Crisis of Zionism can be taken at face value.

Beinart’s habit of what is either inexplicable sloppiness or extreme interpretative elasticity turns out to be one of the defining characteristics of The Crisis of Zionism. In fact, one of the challenges of reviewing the book is that it practically demands a typology. Consider a few examples:
Read the whole thing.

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