The Conspiracy

J Street U: Endorsing Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”

http://newvoices.org/2010/05/24/j-street-u-endorsing-peter-beinarts-the-failure-of-the-american-jewish-establishment/

Crossposted from J Street U.

Welcome to seventh grade Hebrew School class: the unit is Israel awareness. The teacher stands at the front of the room, and stresses the purity of Israel’s cause, the danger of our enemies – Nazis and Palestinians alike – and the need to support Israel unquestioningly. We are young, and we believe everything we are told. But Hebrew School is not our only source of information, especially once we go on to college. Maybe we take a course on the Politics of the Middle East, maybe we meet Palestinians who do not hate Jews or want to blow up buses, maybe we start reading news analyses and opinions, or maybe we go and see for ourselves. Our thoughts then turn back to our formal education about Israel, and something seems off:

We were told that Arabs living in Israel are granted full and equal rights, but we hear bills proposed suggesting that Arabs undergo loyalty tests or be stripped of their citizenship, and we see Arabs being evicted from their houses in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan to make room for Jews. We were raised to be proud of the prominent Jewish role in the Civil Rights movement, but we are called traitors and self-haters when we protest the same type of racism within Israel.

We were told that Israel wants peace, and that it is the Palestinians who oppose it, but we see Netanyahu and Lieberman dragging their feet, and haughtily scorning our President, who we helped bring into office and continue to stand behind because we, too, believe in change. We were raised to believe in the value of liberalism, humanism and of progress: perhaps we missed the disclaimer which stated that the same values do not apply to in the land of Zion.

We were told that Israel supports freedom of speech, but see the 81 year-old Noam Chomsky barred from entry into Israel and the Occupied Territories, simply because the Israeli government “does not like what he has to say.” Neither do many of us like what Chomsky has to say, but we are far more afraid of a Jewish state that decides arbitrarily what can or cannot be said than we are of the words of any knee-jerk professor of linguistics.

We were told that Israel’s army is the most ethical army in the world, but we see Israel’s army, especially in Gaza 2009, behaving in the same brutal and bellicose manner as the armies of other powerful states. And when we turn to our parents’ generation, whom we so admire for their brave and unwavering protests against the American war in Vietnam, we are met with silence, with archaic interpretations of Islam and Arab culture or with muttered proclamations of “necessary for security.” Such contradictions- between what we were told and what is- abound. Perhaps, then, were we also lied to about the validity of the Jewish state, about Zionism, about Israel’s right to exist?

Peter Beinart, in his stunning and devastating piece “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” argues that an increasing amount of liberal Jewish students are becoming alienated from Israel and from Zionism, largely due to the way in which the American Jewish Establishment has asked them – us – to view Israel and to be Zionists.

I believe that what conventional Jewish organizations are ultimately trying to do is both necessary and good. At the core of their agenda, I believe they are truly trying to work to ensure that the Jewish state of Israel is safe and supported, for the sake of the entire Jewish people. However, it is in their messaging and their methodologies that they go wrong, in large part due their simplistic nature, and to their black-and-white formulations. We are told: Israel is good, and thus all of its actions and policies are good, defensive and moral, with perhaps a few unfortunate side effects here and there. But for those of us who have come of age knowing only a post-Oslo Israel that embraces retributive violence and hardline, nationalist politics, such statements are next to impossible to believe and reconcile with reality. When the agenda reads as follows: “Israel’s war on Gaza was just, Israel’s settlement policy is just, Israel’s Jerusalem policy is just, Israel’s existence is just,” those of us whose liberalism, humanism, and Jewish moral values do not allow us to swallow, at least in such uncompromising terms, the first three statements may very well, as Beinart warned, be inclined to disregard also the fourth.

Ross Douthat challenges Beinart on his assertion that we, the American Jewish youth, are distancing ourselves from Zionism because of Israeli policy, asserting instead that chances are, it has nothing to do with Israeli policy or actions, but rather is because we are “simply less Jewish.” Maybe indeed there are some young Jews who are less connected to Zionism because they are less connected to Judaism, but to dismiss Beinart’s argument, and thus all of the Jewish youth who are finding themselves alienated by Zionism, is fallacious and wrongheaded. I will answer Douthat’s challenge by challenging the concluding point made by Beinart himself.

In the final paragraph of his piece, Beinart writes that “comfortable Zionism has become a moral abdication” and that what we need is an “uncomfortable Zionism, a Zionism angry at what Israel risks becoming, and in love with what it could still be.” Here, in responding to both, I take issue with the words “has become.” To write that comfortable Zionism “has become” a moral abdication implies that there was once a point in history in which it was not, in which it was fully moral to embrace a Zionism that saw everything done by Israel as good. While there may indeed have been times in which unquestioning support of certain elements Zionist project was necessary, there was never a point in which we could truly, in line with our Jewish values, from “treat thy neighbor as thyself” to “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof”, be fully comfortable with what Zionism was, nor will there be such a point, until the day in which Zionism no longer comes at the expense of the Palestinians, and on that day, “Zion shall be redeemed in justice.” Perhaps it is the relative security Israel is experiencing, coupled with its reactionary governing coalition and heavy-handed, settler-friendly military policies that has awakened us, the liberal, American Jewish youth to the fact that comfortable Zionism, the Zionism that has been fed to us by the American Jewish establishment, is a moral abdication.

But we Jews, all of us, being a people of complexity, of challenges and of questions, must know that there can be no comfortable Zionism until there is peace. And to the American Jewish Establishment, Beinart is correct in warning that unless you start speaking to us in ways that recognize that, we are liable to stop listening.

Moriel Rothman was born in Jerusalem, Israel, is a rising Senior at Middlebury College in Vermont and is a candidate for President of the J Street U National Student Board.

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8 Older Responses to “J Street U: Endorsing Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment””

  1. George Morgenstern
    May 25, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Cool. Another JStreet looney.

    Israel and her citizens defend their society the best way they know how. To fight “bus bombings” and other violence is to take the war to the Arab streets in No-Mans Land. Until a peace settlement is reached, Israel will take the fight into Mohamad’s front yard, not on the streets of Jerusalem. See what the US is doing in Afganistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc…better to fight there then clean up the mess in NYC.

    Bienard and Moriel Rothman give the Israelis dreck advice, not asked for and not needed…..The US government will and always has acted in their interest, not Israels. Tough to believe!!!!!

    Whatever Israel doe: good, bad, morally correct, or otherwise, is her business…

    American Jews are walking away from Judaism because they want to, for their own reasons……

    I support Israel because I want to….those who chose not to, do so because they do not want to…..but please, spare us the psychobabble!

  2. Mayer Jacobovits
    May 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    Dear Moriel and Sam
    You said “But we Jews, all of us, being a people of complexity, of challenges and of questions, must know that there can be no comfortable Zionism until there is peace.” Well, I am jewish and a Zionist and VERY confortable with my Zionism. Sorry, that you are not! I wish peace would come tomorrow, but it is not likely to come for a long time, and so I am sorry that you are going to be unconfortable for a long time.

    Please do not be stuck on your 7’th grade Hebrew School. Yes, for 7’th graders we provide simplistic views but for college students we provide more complex issues. It seems that when we provided the views of the other side, you got stuck there. How do I know that? Because you use their words, without even realizing that they are out to your destruction. Here are some of the words “reactionary governing coalition”, “Zionism is moral abdication”, “until the day in which Zionism no longer comes at the expense of the Palestinians”, and so on.

    Another sign that you have bought our enemies’ lines is that you claim as facts their lies. How do I know that? Here are some examples;
    1. “We were told that Israel’s army is the most ethical army in the world, but we see Israel’s army, especially in Gaza 2009, behaving in the same brutal and bellicose manner as the armies of other powerful states.” Do you know of another example where the attacking army dropped leaflets and called cell phones announcing an attack? The IDF is the most ethical army in the world. Not perfect but nothing better exists!
    2. “We were told that Arabs living in Israel are granted full and equal rights, but we hear bills proposed suggesting that Arabs undergo loyalty tests or be stripped of their citizenship..” Do you know of any other place in the Middle East where Arabs have as many rights as in Israel. How about the rights of the Jews living in Arab countries? And by the way, the law is for Arab members of the Knesset!
    3. “We were told that Israel wants peace, and that it is the Palestinians who oppose it, but we see Netanyahu and Lieberman dragging their feet, and haughtily scorning our President, who we helped bring into office and continue to stand behind because we, too, believe in change. We were raised to believe in the value of liberalism, humanism and of progress: perhaps we missed the disclaimer which stated that the same values do not apply to in the land of Zion.” This is the most damnable lie. It is the Palestinians who do not even want to come to the negotiating table. And why shoud they, since our President does the negotiation for them. The Israeli leaders did not drag their feat or scorn our President, but our President scorned the Israeli prime-minster on his visit to Wasington. Finally, you consider yourselves “liberalism, humanism and of progress”, well – you voted and ended up with a 20 year bench presser of Reverent Wright’s church.
    4. I am not even going to bother, about allowing Chomsky to visit the PA!

    Now, I am going to ask you a few questions! Why is it that Jews cannot continue to live in Palestinian State and enjoy the same rights as Arabs in the Jewish state. Judenrein is a Nazi goal!. Why do we not insist that the Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism seen in the Arab media and school books stop?

    I am directing you to Nathan Sharanky’s defintion of anti-Semitism, the 3 D’s; 1. Double Standard when it comes to Jews and Israel. 2. Deligitimization of Israel and 3. Demonization of Jews and Israel.

    Well, YOU ARE GUILTY OF NR. 1, FALLING WITHOUT REALIZING IN NR. 2, THANK GOD, YOU ARE NOT YET AT NR. 3.

  3. Yisrael Medad
    July 21, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    Forget 7th grade. The knowledge and outlook expressed above seem to be from the typical phenomenon of American Jewry: “my-Jewish-education-stopped-right-after-my-Bar/Bat-Mitzva”. Our students and young people find themselves in the colleges and universities up against peer group pressure more inculcated with the story/narrative of the ‘other side’ which fits in more closely with the general liberal and even progressive perspective which is the general norm. Of course this framework clashes with Israel’s story. But it doesn’t mean that Israel is evil, wrong or at fault. We have another handle on how things worked out, were supposed to work out and why they didn’t work out to the satisfaction of Arabs who wanted to kill us and eradicate our state, or the satsfaction of extreme left-wing cosmopolitan radicals who deny nationalism or the satisfaction of closet or out-of-the-closet anti-semites whose Judeaphobia is their only raison d’etre, poor things. Under-informed, under pressure of the social type, under pressure from radical professors, – a good number post-Zionist israeli these past two decades – our students and young people simply either cave in, fear for their physical safety (Concordia), fear for the grades (Columbia) and are woefully under-supported by the organizations whose job it is to do so: from Hillel (a la Chaim Feder) to now J Street.

  4. SoCal Mother
    July 21, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    I am the mother of a young man who is about to graduate high school. I really hope that when he gets to university he won’t have his grades lowered because he can’t spew out J-Street style propaganda. I will advise him to avoid courses in the Near East Studies dept if that’s the best they can do. And no, he won’t attend Middlebury. They don’t even have a kosher meal plan!!

  5. Elihu
    July 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    “Welcome to seventh grade Hebrew School class: the unit is Israel awareness. The teacher stands at the front of the room, and stresses the purity of Israel’s cause, the danger of our enemies – Nazis and Palestinians alike – and the need to support Israel unquestioningly”??? I’m not sure what Hebrew School denied you a Jewish education, but I spent 7th grade at what you would undoubtedly deride as a right-wing Yeshiva – and nobody there would even dream of teaching us to support _anything_ unquestioningly. Critical thinking is what Jewish education is all about. That, and cultivating a truly profound understanding of Jewish values through rigorous study of fundamental texts. That understanding of Jewish values that goes much, much deeper than the bizarre, Godless, notion of “Tikun Olam” that seems to suffuse every putative discussion of Jewish values, today. Indeed, the current idea of Tikun Olam is so far removed from the original import of the phrase that it remains hardly Jewish any longer. Jewish values are quite often at direct odds with the soppish, relativist claptrap that so often passes for moral reasoning on today’s campuses.

    You set up a ridiculous straw man by implying that Zionism equates to an unquestioning support of Israel. At the university level, you should be engaging ideas with which you are uncomfortable in a much more thoughtful and forthright way. You think that because war is morally complicated that there can no such thing as Truth or Justice? You think that because there exist conflicting or “competing” narratives that one cannot hopelessly outstrip another in terms of veracity and legitimacy? Look closely and critically at those narratives, doffing the glasses post-modernism. Compare both the best and the worst expositors of those narratives on both sides of the divide. Yes, there are Palestinians who do not want to blow up Jews – but they are not running the Palestinian enterprise. Not by a long shot. Hamas, as we are constantly reminded, was elected in fair and free elections (before Hamas cemented its landslide victory by throwing PA rivals off of rooftops). The PA,erstwhile liberals, engage in the most vicious incitement imaginable. Read both the PLO charter and Hamas’. Take an honest look at Jewish history in this land and reflect on what happened to Jews here before a single settlement existed – indeed before the Jewish State existed.

    For some reason, every generation seems to think that it was the first to have discovered sex – and works mightily to disabuse their forbears of their antiquated prudish notions. This generation now seems that it has discovered true morality and must work to jettison all notions of nationality, religious particularism, instead of examining them with the care they demand. No one is asking you to accept anything without question. But subject all your current notions to the same standards of truth that you have demanded since moving beyond the 7th grade.

  6. Hawkeye
    July 22, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    Another stunning example of just why J-Street is anything but pro-Israel.

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