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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Daniel Gordis: Beinart's right: There is a crisis between American Jews and Israel

Daniel Gordis writes that Peter Beinart (pictured) is right: There is a crisis between American Jews and Israel. But not quite the one Beinart thinks there is (Hat Tip: Ricky G).
Beinart’s problem, most fundamentally, is that the American liberalism with which he is so infatuated does not comfortably have a place for Jewish ethnic nationalism.

Throughout the book, the words “liberal” or “democratic” are always positives. And what means “negative” or “shameful”? In Beinart’s book, the word is “tribal.” Every time he uses the word “tribal,” he means “distasteful.” “Liberalism was out,” he laments early in the book, and “tribalism was in.” Or “ethically, the ADL and AJC are caught between the liberalism that defined organized American Jewish life before 1967 and the tribalism that has dominated it since.” “Among younger non-Orthodox Jews,” he later says smugly, “tribalism is in steep decline.” What is wrong with the settlers is that they have “tribal privilege” much “like the British in India, Serbs in Kosovo, and whites in the segregated South.”

Really? Israel, in which Beduin women graduate from medical school, is like the segregated South? Surely Beinart knows better. So why the relentless attack?

BEINART’S PROBLEM isn’t really with Israel. It’s with Judaism. Bottom line, what troubles Beinart isn’t what’s happened to Zionism. What troubles him is the dimension of Jewish life that he can’t abide, but of which Zionism insists on reminding him. And that element is the undeniable fact that Judaism is tribal.


Beinart’s real problem is that Israel is not, and was never meant to be, a felafel-eating, Hebrew speaking version of the United States. It is not ethnic-neutral. It was created, and our children die for it, not simply so there can be another democracy in the Middle East. Is one more democracy worth my soldier son’s risking his life? No, it’s not. Israel is about the revitalization of the Jewish people. It is, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “of the Jews, by the Jews and for the Jews,” all while protecting and honoring those who are not Jewish. Are we perfect? Hardly. But do we aspire to America’s ideal of a democracy? Not at all. We’re about something very different.

As Beinart himself admits, his cadre of mostly young American Jews is essentially Jewishly illiterate. They know nothing of Judaism’s intellectual depth, can say nothing about the classical Jewish canon, have no sense of what great ideas Judaism has brought to the world. They are thus utterly incapable of articulating what a Jewish state not committed to America’s ideals might be about. Confused and disappointed, they grow ashamed of us. For us to fit their universalistic world, in which nothing Jewish is of supreme value, they need us to be perfect. When we’re not, they cannot abide us.


It is no accident that Beinart’s book is among the most discussed – and reviled – in recent memory. For the book is not really about Israel. It is about the unsustainable new Judaism of which he is a selfappointed prophet, and to which, sadly, many young American Jews seem to be attracted, its self-consuming malignant core notwithstanding.
Read the whole thing. I think Gordis has nailed it.

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