March 23, 2012
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AIPAC’s tradition is to strengthen Israel-American ties. So it pushed – against the wishes of the ZOA and many congresspeople – for withdrawal from Gaza when that was the Israel government’s policy. Unsurprisingly but also unfortunately, this stand against the right wing agenda is unmentioned in the book.
In his zeal to indict AIPAC with ideological rigidity, Beinart sometimes stoops to an unbecoming level of innuendo: “At a rooftop reception during the Democratic National Convention in August, one party official accused AIPAC staffers of disseminating anti-Obama material.” This unsourced charge is based on a single official accusing unnamed staffers. It is not worthy to appear in a reporter’s book.
Such sporadic carelessness mars an otherwise carefully sourced book. For example, Beinart cites Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman’s praise of American diplomat Dennis Ross as being a result of Ross’ “excessive deference” to the Israeli government. Not only did his source (The Forward) say no such thing, but his choice to belittle Ross, an able man who has managed to serve Presidents on both sides of the aisle, suggests that Beinart cannot appreciate even a balanced advocate for Israel’s cause.
A large part of the book is written to establish President Obama’s bona fides as a man who has always been close to Jews and the Jewish community. About that there can be little doubt. In Chicago and ever since, Obama has been close to a large number of Jews. After all, his chief of staff, Jacob Lew, is an Orthodox Jew, and probably the only high executive official in American history who cannot regularly eat in the White House mess because it isn’t kosher. The President’s cause is not helped, however, with sentences like this, Beinart’s only reference to the egregious Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
“Obama gravitated toward Reverend Wright’s Trinity Church, partly because of the church’s deep commitment to social justice, partly because it offered him the authentic African-American experienced he craved, and partly because it provided him a potential power base in Chicago.” Even for someone who believes, as I do, that the President cares about Israel, this will not do to clarify his attachment to Wright, a man with a long history of inflammatory statements, who in a speech in June of 2011 called the State of Israel “illegal” and “genocidal.”
When dealing with the American Jewish community, Beinart once again makes a powerful case abetted by overlooking certain inconvenient facts. In talking about the disaffection of American Jews, he might at least acknowledge that statistics are tricky. According to the AJC polling which has tracked attitudes for years, there is virtually no change in the numbers of American Jews who express themselves as being “close” or “very close” to Israel – in 2001 it was 72 percent, 2010, 74 percent. The drop-off maintained in the book may seem anecdotally compelling, but doesn’t fit the facts. Similarly, against Beinart’s contentions, a recent CAMERA poll found that more than 75 percent of American Jews blame the Palestinians for the peace deadlock, and not the Israeli government.
Beinart makes an eloquent argument at the close of his book that attachment to Israel is ultimately a result of serious Jewish education. The book ends with a paean to Jewish education in general and day schools in particular. These words warm any Rabbi’s heart. Beinart’s recognition of the increasing radicalism of some Israelis (those for example, who odiously sanctify Baruch Goldstein), the destructive impact of some of the settlements and the importance of Jewish education – these are important and worthy points. But they are embedded in a narrative that is unreliably one-sided. Sometimes the language is inflammatory to the point of offense, as when he speaks of Israel’s alternately procedural and military operations in the West Bank as: “for every act of law, a little pogrom.” The use here of “pogrom,” apart from being a-historical and irksome, is sticking his thumb in the establishment’s eye.
Perhaps no single sentiment better illustrates the perceptual gulf than this: “The main reason Israel generates disproportionate criticism from the leftist academics, artists, and labor unionists, not to mention the General Assembly of the United Nations, is not because it’s a Jewish state, but because it’s perceived as a Western one.”
Were the British not Western when they used brutal methods to undermine the IRA? Never mind the Middle East or Africa, and where was the repeated worldwide condemnation for the brutality of Latin American dictatorships, or the Russians when they obliterated Chechnya? Why did none of these regimes merit the constant, unrelenting, pounding condemnations of the world? If you don’t see the specter of anti-Semitism it is not because of its absence; it is because you are either not looking or you refuse to see.
When people ask what keeps the conflict going, I invite them to imagine that tomorrow the Palestinians had the firepower of the Israelis and the Israelis the firepower of the Palestinians. Do you think the Jews would be subject to occasional harassments, resource depletion and roadblocks? Or do you suspect, do you know somewhere deep down, that the world would witness a terrible massacre? And if you think the second, how gingerly would you conduct negotiations toward statehood?
The word “Iran” is mentioned just once in this book called “The Crisis of Zionism.” Here is the sentence: “Between them, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have missiles that can hit every inch of Israel.” This demonstrates, writes Beinart, since the threat is rockets, a state on the West Bank is, like these threats, a question of maintaining an adequate deterrent. During the cold war, when all of America was within range of Russian missiles, I wonder if anyone would have considered it an acceptable additional threat to American security to have Fidel Castro establish a state in Texas.
Beinart’s argument for two states has tremendous support in the U.S. and in Israel, including among Israel’s military specialists who agree that getting to a two state solution is essential both demographically and humanely. But we will not get there by whitewashing the unremitting hostility of Israel’s neighbors, or deriding the American Jewish groups that have succeeded in attaining a position of influence through knowledge, hard work and cogent argumentation.
So why the self-lacerating blame? Perhaps this is the true legacy of victimization – you think you must be at fault when things don’t go right. It is not always so, no matter what your grandmother says.
David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at facebook.com/RabbiWolpe.
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