I seem to have lost my copy of Peter Beinart's book in the subway. If you find it, let me know, there's a lot of great stuff in there. But Beinart makes two large spiritual errors. 1, he says, Our parents left us a beautiful Jewish democracy and we are giving our children a disastrous occupation that is destroying that democracy. And 2, he says, If we should lose Israel, our Jewish democracy, it will create a spiritual disaster we Jews will be sorting out for decades to come. He's wrong on both counts.
In the first instance, he is falsely elevating his parents' generation as only a good son can. The truth is that like all other parents, they lied to us. They gave us an ethnically cleansed land and said it was a land without a people for a people without a land. They said there was no Nakba. They said the Arabs started the Six Day War. They lied by saying that Arabs were animals and terrorists for resisting the fact that they had been thrown out of their homes. They denied that Israel was expansionist. I was raised with this kind of talk. Beinart should relate what his former close colleagues Marty Peretz and Leon Wieseltier, two community leaders, said about Israel and Palestinians back in the 1970s-- a pack of lies.
The spiritual lesson is, We need to sort out our parents' fictions to try and make a better world, as good Jews (and good Muslims and Christians and pagans too) do...
The second error is more serious. While Beinart is unquestionably right to say that the end of Israel would produce a spiritual crisis for Jews that the community will be sorting out for decades, the fact is that that spiritual damage is happening right now, it is not prospective. When you have the entire leadership of a religious community, mine, signing off on the Gaza onslaught in which 400 children are obliterated in 22 days, and signing off on religious settlers, and signing against a Palestinian state-- the damage is happening right now. Years ago John Mearsheimer said to me, Phil you have to explain to me how the smartest most liberal group in 20th century America ended up supporting apartheid. (Or words to that effect.) He was right. When videos like the one above, the little boy being chased by a soldier with an automatic rifle, are all over the internet, and no one in official Jewish life has one goddamned word to say about them-- that is tremendous spiritual damage. When you see Palestinian fishermen and farmers denied access to their land and their grandparents' olive trees cut down-- routinely, every day, and the rabbis and organization bosses are afraid to say a word lest they be seen by other bosses to be lending support to anti-Semites-- you understand that Zionism is the spiritual problem, not the end of Zionism.
When you see neoconservatives elevated in Jewish and American life, xenophobic parochial militants who pushed for the invasion of Baghdad, and my own brother says to me, I demonstrated against the Vietnam war, but my Jewish newspaper says that this war could be good for Israel-- that is the destruction.
These facts and the community's denial of them are creating havoc in sensitive young Jews' souls, right now, and the best of them, people like Jesse Lieberfeld, refuse to blind themselves to these human rights abuses and horrors, even as Lieberfeld's own father shrugs. Jacqueline Rose and Hannah Arendt and Marc Ellis have all written that Zionism is our Shabbetai Zevi, the false messiah of the 17th century whose movement consumed the large mass of Jewish life because of a spiritual need, our collective need to believe in social deliverance as a body. That is the spiritual destruction that is happening right now, and I can only pray for my people to come alive to it.
The sequel will involve a great accounting, as Beinart says. But the damage is done. Ask the Catholics who are waking up to the pedophilia scandal in their church about which form of spiritual damage is greater-- the abuse, or the discovery and recovery.