‘Peter Beinart’s offense against liberalism’ and the spiritual crisis Zionism has wrought

US Politics
on 45 Comments

One could not ask for a more perfect museum quality specimen of the spiritual crisis and degradation that Zionism has wrought.  It is one thing for the Michael Walzer-Paul Berman-Alan Dershowitz school of masturbatory meditation on the “ethics” of war and occupation in the name of “liberalism” to be the basis of one’s politics. But for such political discourses to be the basis of a religious discourse is the moral monstrosity that has characterized most non-Orthodox Judaism for the last 70 years.  

It is worth noting that this particular rabbi has been one of the chief ideologues of Reform Zionism in the last generation and, in saying he is “worried about Reform rabbis and rabbinical students” makes a point of identifying himself with the protestations of Daniel Gordis. “What does it say about the future of liberalism,” the good rabbi asks “if in less than a decade Peter Beinart has gone from hawkish liberalism to calling for a boycott of Israelis?” What indeed.

The avalanche of neocon hysteria that has rained down against Beinart even before the official release date of his book is frightening and unprecedented. It is the living confirmation of what I was always told by my elders that the people Norman Podhoretz most wanted to see shackled in a gulag were his progressive Zionist former friends.  What was once said of the expelled American Communist leader Earl Browder can thus now be said of Peter Beinart – there, but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse!

About Jack Ross

Other posts by .


Posted In:

45 Responses

  1. rensanceman
    March 27, 2012, 1:25 pm

    The rabbi inadvertently states the truth that Israel launched a pre-emptive strike in 1967 when four sentences before stated that it was attacked in a war of extermination by its Arab neighbors. Pre-emptive wars launched by Israel have worked well as it has added much valuable territory to its hegemonic quest to be a superpower in its neighborhood. However being an aggressor does not perpetuate the commonly repeated narrative of the small David battling the mighty Goliaths surrounding it.

  2. Don
    March 27, 2012, 1:41 pm

    It is always fascinating to read your posts, Jack.

    When he comments (at about 4:45) about “the disease of assimilation”…wow. ..kind of leaves me (almost) speechless.

    • Philip Weiss
      March 27, 2012, 3:05 pm

      i caught that too Dan. stunning. these guys are really on a rendezvous with destiny, to nowheresville

      • Mooser
        March 27, 2012, 3:18 pm

        Phil, I sometimes find your phraseology confusing. Are you saying destiny will rid again?

      • Don
        March 27, 2012, 4:23 pm

        I unfortunately agree with you, Phil. I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but it is my impression the Rabbi has not the slightest idea of the unpleasant implications of calling assimilation a disease, and those implications are probably not his intent…but are there none the less.

      • Bumblebye
        March 27, 2012, 5:14 pm

        Phil, you have to pounce on this from +972 – it’s a real corker!
        One of Israel’s Big Brother residents dares to say all the things that country so desperately needs to hear:
        link to 972mag.com
        Way braver than Beinart.

      • Don
        March 27, 2012, 9:06 pm

        Excellent link Bumblebye…this young man…Saar Szekely…says Israel is on the brink of catastrophe. I think Phil and his friends have also said as much, in different ways.
        And yes, very gutsy guy.

      • NorthOfFortyNine
        March 28, 2012, 12:16 am

        >> Excellent link Bumblebye…this young man…Saar Szekely

        That was great. Saar Szekely. Wow. That guy can sell. -N49.

  3. Citizen
    March 27, 2012, 2:22 pm

    They just keep piling on Beinart merely for saying limited BDS is the way to go to save Israel from itself: link to online.wsj.com

    Here’s another one: link to tabletmag.com

    And they never incorporate what US support for the occupation has done to America’s good standing in the world, and how it makes us vulnerable. Beiden & Petraeus & Freeman & Mitchell all said so, for example. Ron Paul points out the financial cost to our broke nation. None of that is even part of the conversation by all those Jewish Americans piling on Beinart merely because he was concerned about the long-term negative impact on Israel of following AIPAC’s status quo. We, non-Jewish Americans are just proverbial 98% chopped liver even though Israel can only do what it does with our support in blood and treasure and it’s been so for decades.

    • pabelmont
      March 27, 2012, 5:27 pm

      Hey! lighten up, you guys. This guy (for me the video has disappeared) appears to be talking — as so many Zionists do — WITHIN THE TRIBE, so his purpose is nothing to do with America, nothing. Ignore America! This is about Jews, man! And, from his viewpoint (not mine! I married a Quaker Christian Palestinian, so there!), intermarriage is some sort of a sin.

      The sooner this is over, the quicker.

      • Keith
        March 27, 2012, 9:17 pm

        PABELMONT- “And, from his viewpoint (not mine! I married a Quaker Christian Palestinian, so there!), intermarriage is some sort of a sin.”

        Assimilation and intermarriage are not the same thing. It is hardly necessary to intermarry to abandon tribalism for universalism. The Rabbi is strongly opposed to any weakening of the Jewish tribe, whether or not it involves intermarriage. From his perspective, support for Israel and birthright tours are good things because they reinforce Jewish solidarity, the essence of Jewish-ness.

      • Without Walls
        March 27, 2012, 10:24 pm

        “From his perspective, support for Israel and birthright tours are good things because they reinforce Jewish solidarity, the essence of Jewish-ness.”

        In talks just 6 months ago Beinart was saying precisely the same thing, plus —
        Beinart said American Jews should support birthright tours, support Zionism, and establish more Hebrew/Jewish day schools in the US.

  4. DICKERSON3870
    March 27, 2012, 2:55 pm

    RE: “The avalanche of neocon hysteria that has rained down against Beinart even before the official release date of his book is frightening and unprecedented.” ~ Jack Ross

    ALSO SEE – Dear liberal American Jews: Please don’t betray Israel, by Dahlia Scheindlin, +972 Magazine, 2/14/12:

    (excerpts). . . After two weeks in America visiting family and friends, two observations struck me powerfully. First, the understanding that Israel is committing terrible deeds that are destroying itself and its neighbors, has penetrated among you…
    …On this trip, I was stunned to learn that now you don’t even really want to visit Israel because you can’t face what you’re increasingly coming to see as a brutal occupying entity flirting with fascist notions. . .
    …My second observation is that because of your fear – not of the goyim or the anti-Semites, but of yourselves! – you are keeping a low public profile. On this trip, I suddenly realized how naïve it was to imagine that J Street had sufficiently opened the door for anyone who cares critically for Israel to speak out. I underestimated how deep and terrible the intimidation has become and that one political lobby group is far from enough.
    I do understand: those of you who still call the Jewish community home, are afraid of the onslaught that you will receive from your (our) very own people.
    I hold no illusions about how vicious the attacks might be. We Jews, not the goyim, will call you the most painful names, will threaten in various ways to label you as beyond the pale of your people, should you voice your critique.
    You might be chastised in your professional community. You will be hit not only by shadowy bloggers but by the very cherished and established groups you have loyally, even automatically, supported over the years. The anger might come from your friends and it might even come from your family…
    . . . Here’s how that made me feel: abandoned, by the liberal Jews of America. You were swept away by Ruth Wisse’s thesis that liberals betrayed the Jewish cause by believing too much in rational universalism [e.g. universal human rights] and failing to acknowledge the unique, everlasting threat of anti-Semitism…

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to 972mag.com

  5. Chu
    March 27, 2012, 3:23 pm

    Rabbi: “Israel fortifies the American Jews with the vitamin of Jewish collective meaning… and purpose… and history… and destiny.”

    And as Zionism becomes more desperate, rabbis are going to echo this desperation through their sermon. His message, about Israel being even ‘more’ democratic than America was laughable and sounds like the words of a politician than a holy man. The tide is rising for these message makers, and they’re becoming trapped by the failing state of Israel, as is their congregation.

    • piotr
      March 27, 2012, 6:13 pm

      collective meaning, purpose, history, destiny — this is beautiful!

    • RoHa
      March 27, 2012, 7:43 pm

      “Israel fortifies the American Jews with the vitamin of Jewish collective meaning… and purpose… and history… and destiny.”

      The vitamin of American collective meaning… and purpose… and history… and destiny isn’t good enough?

      • piotr
        March 27, 2012, 10:19 pm

        Have you heard about vitamin complex?

        Anyway, what is epic of American collective meaning etc? Ethnics can dance polka and celebrate Kielbasa festival, but as Jon Stewart put it, where is the zazz?

      • Mooser
        March 28, 2012, 11:19 am

        “Have you heard about vitamin complex?”

        You mean like the “vitamin B-12″ injections that were mostly Methedrine?
        If they want to call Ziocaine a “vitamin” I guess they can.

  6. Kathleen
    March 27, 2012, 3:47 pm

    “What was once said of the expelled American Communist leader Earl Browder can thus now be said of Peter Beinart – there, but for an accident of geography, stands a corpse!” There has been movement.

  7. atime forpeace
    March 27, 2012, 5:02 pm

    It is a beautiful thing having to see these men of such great humanitarian concern and religious tender mercies to come out in defense of—–nope not the killing of innocent palestinians but of the murderous state of Israel-the pride of world jewry.

    This guy is so funny on so many levels, boycott he says is the language to delegitimize israel yet does he realize that boycott has been the language of the jews to silence anyone who tries to do anything they find displeasing. The list can be long for anyone wishing to see one.

    Would he like to pull a Chrystallnacht on Beinarts book? I will venture to say that if not for Walt and Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, and the many others who have been smeared and attempts at censoring their speech were made to keep their words in the dark had not come prior to Beinarts book, that Beinarts book would not have been allowed to be released in this country. This episode reminds me of Ariel Toafs book in Italy, which he had to walk back into the closet because “the community” would not allow it to come to the light of the world.

    How about the part about the Knesset and Israeli society being boisterously democratic…while in the same breath just prior he speaks about silencing Beinart basically by saying he has crossed a redline and should be relegated to the netherworld- basically a place where the community of the wise does not allow words to escape from.

    His arguments were salted with inconsistent juxtapositions.

  8. LeaNder
    March 27, 2012, 6:08 pm

    Thanks Jack, amazingly bad orator. Theoretically he could make a good demagogue, he just needs a good teacher to show him how to make his emotions sound more real and raise his voice slightly less affectedly.

    Brave new world – the new liberalism:

    “It is fashinonable in some liberal quarters today to bash Israel as the latest litmus test of liberalism. … It is actually the opposite, Israel is the ultimate test of liberalism. The testing ground of theory and practise. Can we develop a liberalism that relates to the world as it is. Not as we would want it to be. Do we offer a compelling theory of the future or just stale liberation theories? Are we prepared to make hard moral choices, or satisfied with easy moralizing slogans? In our new world, were democracies are are engaging insurgents who hide among civilian populations and use them as shields, when terrorists store weapons in and fire from hospitals, houses of worship, ambulances and universities? Can we develop a liberalism that fights injustice justly.”

    “In our new world”: Pointing his finger at himself, I guess what follows is meant for the world at large in the near future? And Israel is only a testing ground for the new liberalism for us all in the near future?

  9. Mooser
    March 27, 2012, 6:47 pm

    Whooo boy! That tallit with that tie? Well, there’ goes the very last smidgin of my Jewish exceptionalism. From schmattes we should know, already.

    • LeaNder
      March 27, 2012, 8:01 pm

      The Yiddish dictionary links you gave us, don’t help with “smidgin” or “schmattes”, Moose.

      But isn’t it really disappointing too that there is no trace of an eminent Rabbis’ wisdom, or at least a Jewish writer’s or thinker’s, but no, only a little Orwell and less Shakespeare, only a trace, to be true, but both non-Jews anyway. That’s disappointingly “un-exceptionalistic”, isn’t it? He cites the same people everybody else would?.

      What do you think. Will Beinart recant? When will he crawl back on his knees and ask the “tied & tallited” Rabbi to please grant forgiveness?

      I won’t tell what I thought, when people laughed about the Orwell joke though. The absolutely only trace of the audience. Symptomatic …?

      • piotr
        March 27, 2012, 10:21 pm

        Shmattes = rags?

      • LeaNder
        March 28, 2012, 6:58 am

        Yes, I should pay more attention, he didn’t use italics for smidgen after all. Quite a useful word to keep in mind after all.

      • Mooser
        March 28, 2012, 11:23 am

        “Yes, I should pay more attention”

        You said it, not me. I try not to ask people to do things that aren’t good for them. If you don’t get it, pass over it. I’m pretty sure they’ll be another in a few minutes.
        Schmattes means, literally “rags” but can be used to mean clothes generally.
        I shouldn’t criticise. Maybe the tie cheers him up. Whenever I’m down in the dumps I get a new tie.

  10. mjrosenberg
    March 27, 2012, 7:04 pm

    This rabbi should star in the sequel to “A Serious Man” as Rabbi Sy Abelman.

    • MarkF
      March 28, 2012, 8:45 am

      Hahaha, good one. I enjoyed that movie. Awesome scene when the Rabbi recites Jefferson Airplane. Or was that Starship? I could never get that straight – so to speak..

  11. pabelmont
    March 27, 2012, 7:15 pm

    Rabbi Hirsch is quoted as saying:

    The call to boycott Israel – even the lame effort to distinguish between boycotting Israel within the Green Line and boycotting Israel beyond the Green Line – is troubling, in and of itself.

    It is also hopelessly naïve. How one would actually mount such a boycott; how one could limit it to products beyond the Green Line; how it would end at the Green Line and not become a boycott of Israel – these are interesting questions for an academic thesis. It is hardly a serious political proposal.

    ,

    I agree! Will someone please tell this to Peter Beinart? No, the good rabbi is absolutely right, and the only thing to do is to PROMOTE a FULL-ISRAEL BOYCOTT — with a full explanation of why and what is demanded.

    (Can you imagine someone trying to get the USA’s attention by boycotting products of Rhode Island only? [apologies to R.I.])

    • yourstruly
      March 27, 2012, 8:29 pm

      you’re right about the seemingly insignificance of merely boycotting a west bank product, except for the fact that even this drives them (the zionists) mad, which has to mean that beinart has struck a tender zionist nerve and they’re yelling ouch. not quite “no mas, no mas,” but a move towards that blessed moment.

  12. yourstruly
    March 27, 2012, 8:11 pm

    while the economic boycott gets most of our attention based on the south african experience, the cultural boycott could be equally or even more decisive. if, that is, the sanctions that prevented south africa’s rugby team from participating in the first two world cup rugby competitions in 1987 & 1991 were crucial in finishing off its apartheid system in 1991.

  13. Sin Nombre
    March 27, 2012, 8:54 pm

    Jack Ross wrote:

    “But for such political discourses to be the basis of a religious discourse is the moral monstrosity that has characterized most non-Orthodox Judaism for the last 70 years.”

    “Moral monstrosity”?

    Oh come on Mr. Ross. This is, after all, the exact same sort of language as used by those on the far other side always pretending to sit upon some moral Olympus hurling down unquestionable thunderbolts of judgments upon this or that person or issue. Those on the other side, that is, who are much further there than the rabbi in this video who one certainly can disagree with but who one can hardly call a moral monster.

    For what it’s worth I liked the guy. Yes I think he’s very wrong in any number of ways, but he’s manifestly a humane man and not an evil one, liking violence or being indifferent to human suffering. And while his world-view is most definitely not the universalist one of Mr. Ross’, neither, I would tenderly point out, would that seem to be the world view of most of humanity at this point.

    In any event what I at least found to be the most fundamental and hence instructive thing he said was at about 4:50: “Israel reminds us that at the core of Judaism we do not speak about the individual and our Maker as religion is commonly understood in the West. Rather, Judaism is about community.”

    This, it seems to me, is a very deep statement, providing an absolute ton of explanatory power across a very wide spectrum.

    • LeaNder
      March 28, 2012, 8:35 am

      For what it’s worth I liked the guy.

      Well, yes he doesn’t look mean or evil, so what. Methinks he screams to much. He does nothing but teach the Bushies Good versus Evil theology, and you think that is a good thing to do? Watching it again, I noticed he does cite an Israeli author after all in the end to drive that point home at the end. I am firmly with Jack on this.

      “Peter Beinart was once at the vanguard of this school of liberalism that is so desperately needed today. But observing his dash towards the extremes of liberal theory over the last decade, I worry about us. (hand to heart, patting his chest) If in less than a decade Peter Beinart moved from hawkish liberalism to calling for a boycott of Israelis, what does that portend to so many others in our camp? And what does that say about the future of liberalism in the United States and in the Jewish community?

      am reminded of the poem of Natan Alterman, one of Israel’s greatest poets, who was troubled by our propensity for excessive self-criticism of Israel. He wrote:
      Then Satan said: How can I subdue him?
      For he has the courage and the ability,
      The weapons, the resourcefulness and the wisdom.
      And he said: I will not weaken him,
      Nor curb nor bridle him,
      Nor inspire fear in him,
      Nor soften him as in days gone by.
      I will only do this:
      I will dull his mind,
      And he will forget that his is the just cause.

      He serves what we saw during the last decade the central–we the good versus them the evil –in a liberalism light fashion. Not that this is unusual. The use of devil for the other is not unusual either, not even in the halls of devotion. It’s also not unusual to connect religion and politics.

      I wouldn’t have needed to transcribe the lecture, I realized too late, this is what he squeezed in between Beinart and Alterman in the written “sermon” (?), by leaving it out he allows a direct association of Beinart with the supporter of satan or evil:

      Peter Beinart’s counter-offensive is morally offensive. Israel is a noisy, argumentative, thrillingly pluralistic society, an oasis of liberty within the unrelenting desert of Middle East oppression. It is not a perfect democracy. There are many fissures and unresolved constitutional questions that need to be addressed. But Israel is a thriving democracy, conceived and developing under the most adversarial conditions of war.

      Have we become so befuddled in liberal circles that of all the authoritarian regimes and brutally anti-democratic groups operating in the Middle East, we should single out the one Western democracy – Israel – as a target of economic boycott?

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 11:33 am

      “This, it seems to me, is a very deep statement, providing an absolute ton of explanatory power across a very wide spectrum.”

      Sounds like nothing more than an excuse for “moral montrosity” to me. And, BTW, he’s wrong as hell.

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 11:43 am

      “Rather, Judaism is about community.”

      Do what I say or I will convince your parents to re-write their will.

      The misuse, the deliberate, completely a-historical, minipulative, self-serving and patently false misuse of the words “Jewish community” is really starting to bother me. A ghetto is not a “Jewish community”. And we Jews are no longer (except in Israel, of course) herded by decree or fear into “communities”. We live as individuals. Now, I’m perfectly aware there are many Jews (and non-Jews) who for several reasons, would prefer the old arrangement, mostly because they profit by being the intermediaries between the Gentile and Jewish “communities”.
      But I doubt the ghetto, or its standards for “community” is coming back.

      I wish those more qualified than me (and that could be almost anybody who made it through high school) would look into this, and blow that whole “Jewish community” myth to smithereens once and for all.

      First question: if the “Jewish community” is such a good thing, so good we should kill for it, why did the huge majority of Jews flee any kind of control by Jews as soon as they could?
      If the “Jewish community” is so good, tell me, what has it done for us? Something so good we should disregard our own welfare and morality for it?

      And gee, why are we always being urged to the “Jewish community” by those that make a living off it?

      And why on earth would I ever listen to a guy that could wear that tie?

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 11:49 am

      “Oh come on Mr. Ross. This is, after all, the exact same sort of language as used by those on the far other side always pretending to sit upon some moral Olympus hurling down unquestionable thunderbolts of judgments upon this or that person or issue. Those on the other side, that is, who are much further there than the rabbi in this video who one certainly can disagree with but who one can hardly call a moral monster.”

      As usual, I’m overwhelmed by your citations and examples. You name names and quote quotes.

  14. Les
    March 27, 2012, 9:04 pm

    Apparently there are theologians who believe in collective Judaism.

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 11:50 am

      “Apparently there are theologians who believe in collective Judaism.”

      Well, I guess you could call Chirstian Zionists “theologians”. It’s up to you.

  15. Kathleen
    March 27, 2012, 9:06 pm

    Have been handing Pro Palestinian,Council for the National Interest material on college campuses in Ohio and Colorado for about 8 years. The last five or so handing out lots of material from If Americans Knew, talks with Professors, students. Was on Univ of Colorado’s campus today (many times before). Many great conversations. Far more people aware about the reality on the ground for Palestinians.

    Heard .numerous folks refer to Israel as an apartheid state. Movement in awareness.

  16. Elliot
    March 28, 2012, 12:13 am

    I liked the calculated snub to BDS “cult-like extremists.” This from a man who spent twelve years as head of an outfit devoted to turn liberal American Jews into Zionists.

    Everything about him was anachronistic: the arguments that Israel is ahead of America; the sense of being under attack; the notion that civilization itself is under threat and the quote from Natan Alterman, who was one of the State of Israel’s national poets sixty years ago and died forty years ago.

    Even the name of the rabbi’s synagogue is a blast from the past: “the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue”. Stephen Wise was the great evangelizer of Zionism in Reform Judaism seventy years ago. Back then, the “Free” part was about, being free from the traditional doctrine of anti-Zionism in the Reform movement. Nowadays, it appears that this synagogue is anything but free. Free today, would mean the freedom to support BDS and be anti-Zionist in a synagogue community. “Freedom”, per Rabbi Hirsch’s Orwellian lexicon means orthodoxy.

  17. Elliot
    March 28, 2012, 8:38 am

    This from the Wikipedia article on Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch:

    “Hirsch spent his high school years in Israel,[5] serving in the IDF as a tank commander.”

    Hirsch is not just an American Zionist. He is an Israeli-American Zionist.

    What’s he doing in New York?

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 1:34 pm

      “Hirsch spent his high school years in Israel,[5] serving in the IDF as a tank commander.”

      Well, if he wants to drive a tank…..

  18. MHughes976
    March 28, 2012, 10:05 am

    R. Hirsch’s argument doesn’t seem particularly religious in character, more an odd essay in philosophy. By ‘liberalism’ he seems to mean ‘belief in equal human rights’ and then seems to be astonished that any liberal should find fault with the inequality of rights that is basic to Zionism – only Jewish people having, according to Zionism, birthrights in the Holy Land, Palestinians lacking them despite it’s being the place of their birth. Surely there is no consistent form of liberalism that would ever have taken any other view.
    Beinart does seem to grasp this point, though he is notorious for introducing arbitrary limitations on liberalism so as to make exceptions in Israel’s favour.
    Hirsch goes on to suggest that liberals should agree to restrict human rights in the face of terrorism and atrocity. Locke long ago argued that emergency powers were essential in a liberal society and I don’t think that Beinart would have a problem in agreeing with that. Not, of course, that there is any justification for creating a permanent emergency by suppressing genuine rights or establishing minority rule, such as we find from river to sea in the Holy Land. Not that minority rule and mass disfranchisement are justified, as Hirsch seems to suppose, by the fact that the political rights of the enfranchised subset are just fine.

    • Mooser
      March 28, 2012, 12:00 pm

      Oh what on earth are you going on about? Get with it man, it’s a “community”. You do what you’re told. All that other stuff about morals and ethics is taken care of by people way above your pay grade. You do what you’re told, and the “leaders of the Jewish community” square it with the Gentiles, or not, as the case may be.
      Or turn you, or your “community” over to the gentiles if things don’t work out.

      As Shmuel once said “Judaism is a “oui” thing” He should know better than me. I’m a “lone wolf”, and he runs with the pack.

      So, you wanna wait until the “leaders of the Jewish community”, the very people who most depend on the present situation change their minds, and tell us, the nebbishes and zeligs what to do? Just to respect the dynamics of ”
      the Jewish community”?
      Why not really please the leaders of the Jewish community and put us back in ghettos. They would love that. And if you can’t, don’t worry, they do pretty good preying on the memories of it.

Leave a Reply