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David Brooks seeks to reframe Zionism

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When David Brooks puts forth a definition of Zionism, it merits our attention. Brooks is talented and sometimes incisive, but his main gift may be his acute sense of where Commentary leaves off and the ideological mainstream begins. There he parks, on the often shifting line between the two: kind of a neocon but not, understand, the frothing kind. It’s a slot he shares with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, sometimes described here as the most important Jewish journalist in America, and given the current configuration of power and opinion, a central one.

So in a seeming aside to his column praising Jewish over-representation in the world of intellect (should pro-Iraq-war media figures be quantified as well?) Brooks writes:

“Israel’s technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.”

Perhaps also sensing that Americans need a refresher course in the purpose of Zionism, Jeffrey Goldberg immediately reproduced the above paragraph on his blog, appreciating that Brooks “frames Zionism in a completely different way than the news pages do” and “writes smartly about the competition between tribal and worldly Zionism”.

There is a tale in these carefully crafted sentences. David Brooks’s settlers are “stray”—as if some overly enthusiastic campers missed their trail, only to put down their rucksacks in Hebron—and not, as is actually the case, a well-financed salient backed by the American tax code, the Israeli government, and overseen by the IDF. (I’m reminded of the time, many years ago, when Leon Wieseltier explained to my wife that the Israeli army ended up on the outskirts of Beirut because they had misread their maps and got lost.)

Note too the passivity Brooks attributes to them. They don’t occupy, or build, or settle, or agitate. They “sit” –surrounded by “angry Palestinians.”

One wonders whether David Brooks, after five hundred or so NY Times columns, has considered what would happen if he devoted just one to depicting the actual situation in Hebron. Not the stray settlers who “sit” –but the settlers who throw stones at Palestinian children on their way to school, throw garbage and feces at the Palestinian markets, who scrawl “gas the Arabs” on Palestinian homes,

Photo from Hebron by Doug Whitmore, Christian Peacemakers

cut apart olive trees belonging to the remaining Palestinians–all under the watchful protection of the Israeli army. Hebron is probably the closest thing to pure apartheid that exists anywhere in the world right now: Arab residents are barred from even walking on certain sidewalks in the old city. Many Israelis surely find it distasteful, but not enough to use their democracy to stop the army from protecting the settlers, not enough to terminate the state funds which build the settler roads and maintain infrastructure. Most Americans are oblivious; it’s not as if their mainstream media report from Hebron. So if David Brooks wrote a column about Hebron, it would multiply public awareness of what goes on there many times, and might be a huge step towards rectifying the situation.

But he doesn’t and probably never will. He is pleased to let us know that he finds the settlers a little bit infra dig, and that when Americans think of Israel they should think of software geniuses. It’s a skilled performance, but one almost prefers the forthrightness  of the neocons who make no pretense of desiring  a just settlement with the Palestinians, asserting instead that we should support Israel more than we do any other country in the world because it "shares our values."

Scott McConnell
About Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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