Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” has generated considerable attention and controversy within the American Jewish community. I can recall few articles that have so quickly stimulated such vehement praise and criticism.
Despite all the attention this article has engendered, I fear it has become something akin to de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: commonly cited, yet few have actually read it and even fewer understand it. For upon inspection, Beinart’s piece is little more than the common progressive assault on Zionism:
If only Israel would embrace more democracy, be more concerned about the rights of the Palestinians, and give back all of the West Bank, then we could enter a new era where Zionism would be a beacon to our children. A new, invigorated progressive Zionism would be embraced by alienated, young liberal and progressive Jews on our campuses and make peace not only a possibility but also a reality. Soon we will be dancing in the streets with Hamas, Hizbollah, and the Al Asqa Martyrs’ Brigades. Alienated Palestinian-Israelis (as they now prefer to call themselves) will rush out and sing HaTikvah instead of meeting with Hamas, spying for Hizbollah, and covering themselves in sack cloth and ashes on Israel Independence Day.
For Beinart, the younger generation is not embracing Zionism because Zionism has become a monolith controlled by an authoritarian AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and a right-wing Jewish-American establishment. From Beinart’s perspective: there is no dialogue on Zionism; no criticism of Israel is permitted.
Beinart is simply Walt and Mearsheimer circumcised. Beinart’s conclusion about the Jewish establishment astonishes those of us who constantly run up against the actual Jewish establishment, whose vision of Zionism is to the left of even his.
Indeed, the real failure of the Jewish establishment has been its embrace of and commitment to something even more extreme than Beinart’s naïve progressive vision.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the Jewish Film Festival showcases anti-Israel propaganda; Berkeley Hillel sponsors Kesher Enoshi to promote divestiture from Israel and partner with the rabidly anti-Zionist Students for Justice in Palestine; the New Israel Fund sponsors speakers who are unrestrained in their Israel bashing; progressive congregations will not show Obsession because it is too pro-Israel; and a Berkeley Jewish congregation actively debates whether news of Israel should be omitted from its newsletter because it offends its progressive members.
The generation of young Jews on campus is not controlled by AIPAC’s alleged Zionist monolith, but is immersed in an environment dominated by progressive Jews who are as anti-Israel as they are anti-American.