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House Jew, Field Jew

The Daily Beast's new group blog, "Zion Square," and the sad saga of Peter Beinart.

by
Benjamin Kerstein

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March 23, 2012 - 12:00 am
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“I find very little interesting conversation about what Zionism is,” announced Peter Beinart to Tablet on Saturday. “The term has become so politicized and associated with the right that this is a moment where the question of what Zionism is and the variety of different Zionisms that can exist really needs to be discussed.”

One can’t help but agree with him. I for one long for an active discussion of the theories of Herzl, Nordau, Weizmann, Ehad Ha’am, Jabotinsky, Syrkin, Katznelson, Berdichevsky, Gordon, etc., etc.; and the myriad permutations of Zionism enacted by their various followers.

That is not, however, what Beinart has in mind; which is not surprising, since one doubts he has ever heard of any of the men mentioned above; with the exception of Herzl and, perhaps, Jabotinsky, with the recognition, no doubt, that he must despise the latter and regard the former with tentative and reserved respect, if only to note how lamentable is the failure of his followers to live up to his glorious dream.

What Beinart does have in mind has, in fact, almost nothing to do with Zionism: A group blog called “Zion Square” at the Daily Beast, in which various figures associated with the left in Israel and abroad will opine on Israel and the Middle East. “Through the blog,” says his director of editorial operations, described by Tablet as “excited,” “Peter will bring a lot of different viewpoints.”

Indeed he will, as is borne out to a point well beyond irony by the news that one of the participants, Yousef Munayyer, upon whom Beinart was particularly keen, had specially written to Tablet in order to emphasize that “he does not support a Jewish democratic state,” and is a “firm supporter of the Palestinian right to return, an end to the Israeli occupation and equal rights for all people living throughout the land regardless to religion, nationality or ethnic background.”

Given certain realities that hardly need mentioning, Munayyar supports an Arab supremacist state in place of Israel. Whatever this may be, it is most decidedly un-Zionist, leaving one to wonder why, exactly, Mr. Beinart was interested in, let alone keen on, including Mr. Munayyar among his contributors.

There is, of course, the possibility that Mr. Beinart is simply living in his own world, comfortably insulated from reality. He claims for example, that “one of the defining characteristics of the organized Jewish community’s discussion is the Palestinian voices rarely have a chance to be heard by a Jewish audience.” This may well be one of the most ludicrous statements ever uttered by a man with a pedigreed education. As anyone who has so much as glanced at a newspaper, the internet, or a TV news report in the last decade can tell you, Palestinian voices are ubiquitous. They are inescapably everywhere, blared from television and computer screens the world over on a daily basis, and are impossible for Jews to ignore even if we wanted to, and often violently imposed upon us by Palestinian supporters and apologists, especially on college campuses. I doubt there is an actively Zionist Jew at any of America’s major universities who has not been, at one point or another, physically threatened by a Palestinian voice.

What is also ubiquitous, inescapable, and everywhere, however, is Jews like Beinart, who have salvaged otherwise drifting careers and explained away otherwise troubling facts by adopting a stance toward Israel and Zionism — about which, in fact, they know very little — that is characterized by a studied ambivalence, a critical stance, ethical qualms, perhaps even a troubled relationship. For non-Jews who regard Israel and its supporters with little more than unabashedly racist contempt, this is all terribly gratifying, of course (it is, after all, the price of club membership), but it is neither — as its practitioners imagine it to be — particularly new or original. It amounts to little more, in the end, than your average public auto-da-fe, the ancient reality that Jews must always apologize for standing up for themselves; gentiles never do.

It is not particularly new in historical terms either. There have always been Jews willing to leap to the defense — or at least to listen to the voices — of those who would, if given half a chance, slit their and their children’s throats. The Russian pogroms, the 1929 Arab riots, the 1939 Arab riots, the terrorism and war of the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, 80s, ‘ 90s, the Crown Heights pogrom, the second intifada, suicide bombing, mass murder: all have had their Jewish defenders. Some so passionate that the Zionist Berl Katznelson, of whom Beinart has likely never heard, felt the need to rise and accuse and ask:

Is there another whose sons have become so intellectually and spiritually corrupted that everything their people does, all its creations and sufferings, are degraded and hated, and everything their people’s enemy does, every robbery and every murder and every rape fills their hearts with admiration and infatuation?

Of course, there may be, but I doubt they will be given a group blog on one of America’s premier web sites, or a book deal, or a lecture tour, or in fact anything. Indeed, one need only look at how pro-Israel Muslims are treated by the media. For all intents and purposes, they do not exist. Pro-Palestinian Jews, on the other hand, are a fetish so adored that they have become in the eyes of gentiles that worst of all possible totems: a credit to their race.

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