This is interesting. Peter Beinart is now getting criticized by a member of his own camp, another liberal Zionist. Shaul Magid is famous in Jewish circles. He was on the J Street rabbinical board (in his Beinart review he says he felt betrayed by J Street’s capitulation), he is a scholar of Jewish history at Indiana University. He writes in Religion Dispatches that Beinart ignores the fact that the settlements are directed, authorized, and approved by Israelis. This point has been made before but Magid is very clear:
The settlements are not distinct from the state, they are an integral part of it.
Israel is a legislative democracy (its flaws notwithstanding), so its elected officials must be viewed as representing the majority of the population. This may be more complex in a parliamentary democracy but it is still the foundation upon which we call something a democracy. Israelis elected a parliament that supports the settlements. Polls indicate that if elections were held in Israel tomorrow the coalition would be even more rightist. Israeli high school mock elections held in 2009 gave present Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, a settler and vocal advocate of the settlement movement, a clear victory as Prime Minister.
Given that, whatever polls say regarding a majority of Israelis’ “willingness” to end the occupation, when they go to ballot box as a collective, they indicate otherwise. American Jews need to take seriously the real likelihood that Israelis (not just Netanyahu) simply do not want to end the occupation for all kinds of reasons. For many American Jews this causes cognitive dissonance—but they may have to deal with it.
This raises the issue of why American Jews simply don’t throw in the towel on the Jewish state and say, Let’s have what we like over here: democracy!! (Shaul Magid, what’s the answer to that challenge?)
Then Magid goes on to hammer Beinart’s segregationist views as the views of his grandmother’s generation. (As I’ve said before, Beinart is the kind of young person old people love). What’s fascinating about this argument is that Magid, who is a really smart guy, sought to segregate his own children, and then discovered when his son was grown up that he’d missed out on diversity. Wasn’t that obvious?
Second, when Beinart speaks of intermarriage he speaks as if he’s from his grandmother’s generation. Intermarriage is a reality American Jews will have to deal with. It’s not going away nor, I would argue, should it. American Jews intermarry at a rate commensurate with many other minority populations in America (excluding blacks and Latinos), so is Beinart suggesting ethnic groups should only marry one another? Or is he saying that intermarriage between a Polish Catholic and a Korean Presbyterian is fine but that Jews should only marry other Jews? It may be that the intermarried Jew cares less about Israel, but rectifying this reality by making an exceptionalist claim about the Jews, making them “anomalous” (a label with ominous anti-Semitic coattails) is not the answer.
…the case Beinart makes for more Jewish education should make those on the left a little uncomfortable….
Having sent three children through a Jewish school system in Boston (modern Orthodox, Conservative, and non-denominational) I can personally attest that one of the real deficiencies in the otherwise laudable effort to make young Jews literate in the tradition is that they grow up interacting almost exclusively with Jews, have only Jewish friends, and know about the world around them primarily through a Jewish lens. You can have all the classes you want in global community, tolerance, liberalism, etc., but when it’s a classroom of Jews being taught by a Jew using mostly Jewish resources (and on vacation many of these children go to… Jewish summer camps!), that message may not resonate very far, whatever the noble intensions.
My son, now 28, recently told me he didn’t have a non-Jewish friend until he was in 12th grade when he first attended a public high school. Non-Jews were simply the “other.” … Beinart’s strong advocacy of sending one’s children to schools where everyone is the same in order to teach them how to be generous to those who are different requires a bit more scrutiny. Would he advocate a society where all ethnic groups only went to school with their own? This is the case in Israel and it has contributed to the creation of a society filled with alienation and hatred on both sides, precisely the kind of society Beinart rightly criticizes in the book.
…sequestering young Jews so that they only learn with one another, marry one another and have children who will do the same is hardly the way to create a liberal humanistic society that can offer a viable alternative to the problems contemporary Jews face.
Beautiful argument. Though I do find it remarkable that a Jewish scholar would be so immured in a Jewish world as to wake up to this truth only after he’d segregated his own children. Wasn’t this a truth we learned in the ’70s? The Jewish discourse is actually somewhat primitive on this score. And given our power and status in U.S. society, the conversation is actually unseemly.
The essence of Dana’s critique is the problem posed to Beinart by Joseph Dana himself– a good Jewish intellectual who loves Jewish history and culture but who sees Jewish renewal in a commitment to democracy, not exclusivity. Dana:
Perhaps the actual crisis of Zionism is the fact that liberal Zionist writers, who deeply care for Israel, are unable or unwilling to accept that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is increasingly being defined as a battle over rights and equality between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians are coalescing around nonviolent boycotts targeting Israel’s system of inequality while Israel is destroying its own democratic foundations in an attempt to protect its ideology of exclusion. Rigorous critique of Zionism, not Israeli settlements, is the first step towards safeguarding Israel as a haven for Jews while preventing the country from sliding deeper into moral bankruptcy.
This is a wonderful insight because it gets at the undemocratic nature of Beinart’s discourse. He seems to want to limit the Israel conversation to Jews attached to a Jewish homeland. But Palestinians and leftwingers have a very different discourse. Isn’t it actually democratic to let them speak?
Dana also takes this jab:
Evidently not strong enough for him to emigrate from New York to Jerusalem, Beinart has a deeply emotional relationship with Zionism…
I love this argument. Why don’t people make it more often? The truth is that Beinart is as useful to the Jewish state here as he is in Israel, maybe more useful because Israel has always been dependent on world powers. It does not have the consent of its neighbors or subjects. So it must grapple the U.S. to its soul with hoops of steel.