It’s finally happening. The great slumbering and privileged body of integrated American Jews is lifting its head and saying, Wait, you are doing what in my name? Peter Beinart is giving them a doorway. Paul Krugman went through it a week back. Rick Perlstein at Rolling Stone now enters. An accomplished historian/journalist, Perlstein avoided this issue like the plague, he says.
Note in my excerpt his relentless focus on what Zionism has done to Jewish identity, note his focus on Jewish power. Oh and notice the writer who writes about everything admitting that he has been gutless on this question. He was intimidated, he admits. As Obama was intimidated by the lobby. Notice that Perlstein has glommed a statement in Beinart’s book that others have walked past: an Obama official saying it’s “apartheid” in the West Bank.
This is a real challenge to the Tablet Jews, tribal parochial Jews. The integrated Jews are waking up and asking, Where did my identity go?
Oh and notice the specious ’67 history, from a historian.
In the suburban Midwestern Reform Jewish world I was raised in, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, grown men built plastic scale models of Israeli tanks and F-15 jets and displayed them throughout the house, dangling the warplanes from bedroom ceilings with fishing line. My dad, who had a replica Uzi sub-machine gun on his office wall, wore a tiepin that read, in Hebrew letters, Zachor, which means “remember.” What was meant to be remembered was the “six million,” the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust, a number seared into all of our souls – at home, in Sunday school, at religious services, and at the Jewish Community Center summer camp in the Wisconsin North Woods, where we began each morning by raising the Israeli and American flags side by side.
…The one safe haven: Israel, whose formidable tanks and planes would hold the line against the eliminationist contempt in which most of the world held us. The message provided a kind of quasi-spiritual ballast to our acquisitive upper-middle-class lives; but as an morally precocious little dude I found it all so far from observable reality, it made me want to puke.
All of which background made Peter Beinart’s powerful new book The Crisis of Zionism read like autobiography to me, which felt uncanny, because I thought I had been alone.
…Beinart unearths a story of 1970s politics that was unknown to me – except as I so intimately lived it – showing that at the root of this sense of embattled tribalism was a transformation worked by the leaders of right-leaning American Jewish organizations, who traded in their founding (liberal) aspirations to universal justice for a wagon-circling parochalism.
I knew how the 1967 simultaneous Soviet-backed invasion of Israel by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, which put Israel’s very survival at stake, profoundly intensified American Jews’ emotional connection to the Jewish state.
But Rick they didn’t invade.
It follows that the actual world we kids inherited, in which Jews now serving on the Supreme Court outnumber Protestants three to zero and a Jew serves as House majority leader and the Jew who used to be the president’s chief of staff runs our third largest city, and in which Israel is a nuclear-armed regional superpower can really be only a mirage…
The deeply unsatisfying tribalism that marred the religious education of my youth laid an unpromising foundation; and though I respect the way in which many people I love have carved deeply satisfying spiritual lives for themselves in Judaism, many in the same independent minyanim movement Beinart so admires, my religious direction tended elsewhere. As for Israel, I don’t think of it much. Even in a career as a political writer given to disputation, the sheer viciousness (which you’ll see from the hate mail this piece produces: I plan to publish it) faced by those who criticize not merely Israel, but certain specific de rigeur formulations about Israel, turned me off the entire subject. Instead, and I’ve never admitted this publicly before, the deeply saturated irrationalism surrounding it as I was growing up was what made me fascinated with political irrationalism as such – and helps explain why I ended up a scholar of the American far-right.
That reflexive intimidation, in the end, is what most fascinates me about The Crisis of Zionism. I’d heard great things from friends about the book — but read almost nothing admiring about it in the public prints. People are cowed at the thought of taking on the shrieking Israel absolutists, the ones who imagine themselves every day saving six million lives and their critics as hastening the slaughter.
And here is his bit on Obama:
Another anonymous source [for Beinart] is a “senior State Department official,” who recently traveled with Secretary Clinton from Jerusalem to Ramallah in the West Bank: “There was a kind of silence and people were careful, but it was like, my God, you crossed that border and it was apartheid.” For the most prominent victim of this climate of intimidation, and the retreat from reason and empirical observation it enforces, is the president whose Chicago home sits across the street from a venerable synagogue where, Beinart argues, he learned from the Jewish community that embraced him a Zionism that was both deeply felt and opposed to settlement growth. But then Barack Obama moved into the White House, where he found it impossible to follow through on his convictions, thanks to “Jewish pressure,” as a revealing headline in Time magazine puts it.