The fate of Israel

The fate of Israel will be decided in New York — at least that’s what quite a few people in New York seem to think.

From this vantage point, the American Jewish community is the umbilical chord that keeps baby Zionism alive. And for Peter Beinart, this life-support system appears in jeopardy of raising a monster.

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age.

Like many missions of salvation, there is a large measure of grandiosity in Beinart’s perspective.

As Jerry Haber points out at The Magnes Zionist:

The truth is that Israel never really needed the American Jewish community, as long as it could have the US government. One of the great successes of Israeli Zionism was to convince American Jews that Israel was an American style democracy, instead of a Eastern European ethnocracy with some of the trappings of a liberal democracy. It was founded by Russians, and for the most part, Russians and their descendants have run it. And now with the Russian aliyah, it will be even more Russian. True, Bibi has always thrown in a few Americans, Oren, Gold, etc., as this generation’s Abba Ebans. But there is nothing in common between the ethnic democracy of Israel and the liberal democracy of America. Beinart doesn’t get this; he thinks that the shift rightward is a shift away from Israeli style democracy.

Ross Douthat points out that the trend Beinart is observing has as much to do with the evaporation of the Jewishness of liberal American Jews as it has with Israel’s rightward tilt.

One reason, and perhaps the major reason, that young liberal Jews are less attached to Israel is that Israel has become less liberal. But they also may be less attached to the Jewish homeland because they themselves are simply less Jewish.

In an email exchange, Jeffrey Goldberg asks Beinart whether he considers himself a Zionist (a strange question given that Beinart’s essay clearly presents itself as a passionate defense of liberal Zionism) and Beinart responds:

My grandmother was born in Alexandria, Egypt, then moved as a girl to Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) Congo, now she lives in a third dying Jewish community (albeit the most beautiful in the world) in Cape Town, South Africa. So I really believe that Jews–if not perhaps American Jews—need a Jewish state to go to in time of need. Whenever I waxed too patriotic about America, my grandmother used to say, “the Jews are like rats,” we leave the sinking ship. So yes, I’m a Zionist. I’m close enough to people who still have their bags packed.

And when the sinking ship turns out to be Israel? What then?

For Beinart and his fellow liberal Zionists the one idea that is so unpalatable that it doesn’t even get discussed is that Israel’s rightward shift, far from being an aberration, is, on the contrary, the logical expression of the contradiction inherent in the idea that a state can both support a form of ethnic supremacy and at the same time practice genuine democracy.

Israel’s challenge now as from the day of its creation is whether it wants to be a Jewish state or a democracy. For 62 years it has been perfectly evident that it cannot be both.

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5 thoughts on “The fate of Israel

  1. pabelmont

    “And when the sinking ship turns out to be Israel? What then?”

    This is an odd question. No-one imagines that Israel will cease to exist, or even that the name Israel will cease to be applied to a chair at the UN. those Israelis who wish, from time to time, to live in Israel will, at such time, continue to do so.

    A more interesting question is this: does Israel’s deep-sea fascist/colonial/totalitarian/militarist current, apparently rather abruptly strengthened since 2008 (like the 2010 oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico which has now entered a major ocean current and will spread faster and more disastrously) change the conditions of life within Israel for Israeli Jews to the point that — for a significant number of these Jews — life outside Israel beckons more persuasively than life within?

    That is, whether you think the Israeli ship of state is “sinking” depends on your values (and the condition of your digestion). The settlers seem delighted. Many orthodox, who may still not admit the propriety of a Jewish state in Palestine, may also be delighted. Those who can remember “liberal values” — or the Germany of the 1930s — may feel the ship sinking.

    There seem to be few of these “liberal Zionists” left in Israel (not that they’ve left — they’ve changed). People adapt. (Look at Los Angelinos getting used to smog in the fine old days!) The stories about “good Germans” have not filtered through into their consciousness to the point that they can imagine opposing the actions of their State. But, happy day, the protests at places like Sheikh Jarrah are growing and Israeli participation is growing, so maybe “liberal Zionism” even if it seems impossible (in light of all that has happened) is nevertheless a path that people can follow.

    In that case, the growth of “liberal Zionism” within Israel may be the event that marks the sinking of the ship of the State of Israel and the rebirth of something else, something I’d call better, whatever name it is called by.

  2. DICKERSON3870

    RE: “…the American Jewish community is the umbilical chord that keeps baby Zionism alive…” – Woodward
    MY COMMENT: I wish Dr. Nancy Snyderman (of NBC) would give us an update on “Baby Israel” (the Haitian one).

    Video: ‘Israel’ Born in Haiti after IDF Delivers Healthy Baby [00.56] –
    MSNBC Report on Israeli Field Hospital in Haiti [02:42] –

  3. DE Teodoru

    Not long ago I asked a former recent US ambassador to Israel, a leading Zionist, why the United States must give $billions to Israel as the HOMELAND of the Jews instead of as the HOMELAND of the Israelis. His answer was: because every American President since Truman chose as a matter of policy to consider it that way. I found this quite strange as the fact is that the World Jewish Congress, an organization of extremely rich Zionists who became that in the Diaspora and have no intentions whatever of moving to Israel because of its tax policy, have been buying influence with Western governments in order to get them to consider Israel the homeland of the Jews—75% of whom would never live there either– instead of that of Israelis living there. In some cases (Rich, Madoff and others) Israel became the HOMELAND only of their ill begotten funds or refuge for themselves to escape extradition. It is a principle of the current Israeli Govt. that any Jew who engages in espionage for Israel– like Pollard, for example–must be set free because it can never be a crime for a Jew to steal documents that Israel then gave to the Soviets in exchange for Jewish nuclear specialists Israel could use in its nuclear weapons development. In fact, Israel is working on legislation to hamper departure from Israel of citizens abroad, just as the Soviets had done with its high-tech Jews. In declaring himself a Zionist Beinhart is not only admitting to the “HAVE MULTIPLE PASSPORTS WILL TRAVEL” thesis but wants also to be considered a pundit with America’s best interest at heart. Fortunately his logical internal contradiction was totally resolved by the neocon declaration: IF IT’S GOOD FOR ISRAEL IT **CANNOT** BE ANYTHING BUT GOOD FOR AMERICA…or anywhere else that is NOT anti-Semitic.

    There is parasite that gets into rats and alters the chemistry of their brain’s amygdala so they no longer fear cats. As a result, these rats get eaten and the parasite establishes itself in the gut of the cat, the ultimate home where it is meant to undergo its life cycle. Beinhart is skidding awfully close to analogizing Zionism with that parasite.

  4. Ian Clark

    Interesting how Zionism has transmuted from Socialist Idealism to Pragmatic Realtpolitik.

    Zionism became the hopeful and logical answer to the most awful pogroms and prejudice, but has fallen foul of history. It has become the oppressor of a brother tribe. The kibbutz dream has given way to the pragmatism of a modern, slightly undemocratic, state.

    It’s time to talk.

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