March 21, 2012
A full scale tsunami has broken out within the Jewish community in response to Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed piece which appeared on Monday. Beinart argued that a way needed to be found so that the Government of Israel faces the reality of the consequences of its settlement policy. He suggested that were Israel to fail to withdraw from the occupied territories, any hope for a future democratic state will fall by the wayside. To hopefully force an alternative policy to break through, Beinart recommended a boycott by Jews of products produced on and by Jews living on the West Bank.
Beinart’s article followed on the heels of an important and insightful piece he wrote in June 2010 about the failures of the American Jewish establishment to provide appropriate leadership for American Jews; especially for young liberal Jews. In that article Beinart demonstrated the extent to which young American Jews have already become disconnected and even alienated from Israel. The consequence of this continued drift would be critical for a future Diaspora Jewish community and its relationship with Israel and the politics of the Government of Israel.
The folly and the incredible potential danger that his argument in favor a boycott( a Jewish BDS) have been countered already in numerous places, both in letters, in blogs. and in columns. The fact that the New York Times piece appeared approximately one week before the release of his new book on this larger subject, The Crisis of Zionism, produced a reaction that his timing was at least a self-serving book promotion. There were apparently so many advanced copies of the book circulating that his column was seen as merely a restatement of the book’s conclusions and recommendation. In addition, some the responders to his column used the opportunity to raise much historical and factual criticism of the book as well.
The problem with all this tumult is that Beinart struck another nerve which truly needs to be addressed, beyond the continuing Israeli Government’s settlement policy. Jews in American cannot have a respectful conversation about Israel and its politics; certainly not if there seek to challenge or disagree. Jews who disagree are demonized, marginalized, and attacked personally.
It is time to understand that within the family, good Zionists do not need to agree that whatever Israel does is acceptable. This dialogue and interaction has broken down completely. Family members now stigmatize each other. J Street on the left and the ZOA on the right may or may not understand issues correctly; but they need to be able to have a conversation and not a screaming match.
At the same time, Diaspora Jews today cannot have a serious conversation with Israelis, if they criticize Israel. There are many Israelis—probably over 65%--who disapprove of the Government’s settlement policy. There are probably even more American Jews who do so as well; but Israeli leaders believe the Jews in the Diaspora need to support the Government of Israel settlement policy, regardless of their own point of view.
The killings in Toulose confirmed again that there will always be anti-Semitism. That does not mean that efforts at a dialogue with Muslims should not continue or that their joint march scheduled for Sunday in Paris is not extremely important. Similarly, Israel always will face existential threats like it faces today from Iran. That does not mean that it ought to ignore the discussion of the future character and viability of democracy in Israel. That discussion must take place and include Jewish voices from the Diaspora.
The crisis about Israel for American Jews that perhaps Beinart’s work will open up is this conversation. His accomplishment may well not be in the political goals that he espouses or seeks to develop; but rather it may be in the demand from many places that Israelis need to respect serious loving Zionists who are now insisting on having this conversation and not being ignored because they disagree or being delegitimized because they do not toe the party line.