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Feeling The Funk

There is going to be alot of talk about Peter Beinart's article on the decline of Zionism among young, secular, liberal Jews.  One thing struck me.  Beinart wrote that Zionism was declining among young, secular, liberal Jews due to Israeli policies and the failure of American Jewish organization to criticize those policies.  By Zionism, I take Beinart to mean the belief in the legitimacy of Israel as a majority Jewish state.  I wonder if the actions of Palestinian groups like Hamas causes these same young, secular, liberals to question the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood? Probably not.

I think one way to look at the article is to take the word Jewish out and look how a group of young, secular liberals react to the reality of an American ally under persistent attack and especially the slow delegitimizing and abandonment of that ally.  Several familiar tropes come up:

1.  The relentless focus on (and distortion of) the worst and least attractive elements of the American ally's society.  The article tells you alot about Effi Eitam, but never gets around to mentioning that the current Israeli Prime Minister endorsed a two-state solution (though granted of a problematic kind, though we should keep in mind that the nature of an independent Palestinian state would be a product of negotiation and Netanyahu would not have started with the best offer.)

2.  Shifting the focus away from the nature and tactics of the regimes or groups that are attacking the American ally and focusing on the suffering of a group of civilians with the blame for the suffering placed on the American ally.  Beinart mentions the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in an article that is a critique of Israeli policy and Israeli defenders, but does not mention what kind of regime Hamas runs in Gaza and how this contributes to the suffering of Palestinians.  This distorts the nature of the crisis and gives no sense of the kind of trade-offs Israel has to make in dealing with a Hamas-run Gaza regime that is formally committed to the destruction of Israel and has targeted Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians.  Maybe the particular trade-offs Israel is making are mistaken, but quoting a college professor comparing Israeli political leaders to General Franco, and talking about Palestinian suffering in a decontexualized way, and quoting the sentiments of presently marginal politicians like Avraham Burg (with no mention of how events led to his marginalzation), creates the impression of (without explicitly asserting), an upside down world in which the Israeli government is fascist, the Palestinians are innocent victims, the real security concerns of Israel are absent or afterthoughts and the internal saviors of Israel are politicians that have been rejected by the Israeli public for no good reason that the reader could possibly discern from reading Beinart's article.

Beinart posits saving Zionism among young, secular, liberal Jews, by crafting a kind of Zionism that is much more critical of Israeli policy.  By all means, let us have fair, realistic criticism of Israeli governance.  But Israel will not be saved by the kind of one-sided criticism on display in Beinart's article or by the strategic deployment of double standards and a propagandistic selection of facts that is merely the preliminary step to abandoning a US ally.



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Discussions - 2 Comments

Beinart, Beinart, alas. He caves to the prejudices of those he's reporting on. There's no fighting faith there, religious or secular. His is a caving faith.

Pete, there is this problem though with talking about Israel as an "American ally," as if it is one case amid many of these. Conservatives often talk about Israel as our "ally" and as the "one democracy" in the Middle East, as if these facts nearly settle the argument, but this way of talking seems to weirdly avoid mentioning the special nature of the case. The only salient point made by (the at times truly nauseating and always nauseatingly predictable) get-tough-with-Israel-crowd is that our alliance with Israel quite plausibly harms our other interests in the Middle-East. By a crudely realist calculus, we should have abandoned Israel long ago.

Israel is thus not a typical ally.

And its being democratic has if anything given anti-democratic Arabs and Muslims a convenient excuse not to become democratic. That is, Israel being a democracy in the ME is not an obvious plus for the U.S. (or for the cause of democracy simply) the way Australia, Chile, and India being democracies in their regions are.

The universal case we should pose to your young secular anybodies is this: how would it not harm the future maintenance and pursuit of world peace for the world to acquiese in a small state being bullied out of existence? For that is what the dominant ones amid the Palestinians in fact seek.

And the particular case we must make primarily concerns the repeated injustices attempted by first the Arab nations, and then by the Palestinians. What happened at Oslo, what allowed Hamas to take power, what they do teach in their schools, these are the relevant particulars. Hamiltonian/Washingtonian realism would not countenance the ignoble abandonment of a small people we did have treaties with struggling against a long train of aggressions and bad-bargainings. Such full-bodied realism knows that honor and justice and avoiding a reputation for pliability count for something. Were our own nation's existence put at risk due to Israel, we well might abandon it in the name of such realism--but a U.S. so weak as to be in such a position would not at all be the U.S. we know.

Oh, and there's this major ethnic group in our nation called the Jews. And this book called the Bible.

Carl, I appreciate your fair description of what is usually called realism and associate myself with your far better realism. But the folks that Beinart described were not realists in either of those senses.

Even though Israel is in some was a unique case, the orientation that Beinart describes and associates himself with isn't. Beinart himself argues that the "liberalism" of the group is winning out over its Zionism. I don't think that this liberalism (and it is a subtype of American liberalism rather than a clearly dominant strain) manifests itself under several conditions.

1. An American ally (whether the alliance is formal or not and whether the ally is democratic or not) is under attack from seemingly implacable forces.

2. The conflict is protracted to the point where the conflict seems endless.

These kinds of liberals usually turn against the American ally by highlighting the worst elements of the society and politics of the American ally (often with exaggeration) and usually downplays both the nature, tactics and goals of the groups opposed to the American ally (your second to last paragraph contained more on the security situation that Israel faces than is contained in Beinart's whole article). The suffering in the conflict is, with varying degrees of subtlety placed squarely on the shoulders of the American ally. A reader could be forgiven for reading the article and concluding that the suffering in Gaza is entirely the result of Israeli policy, even though that conclusion is nowhere asserted. The loss of perspective is total. The American ally is corrupt and fascistic. There is a suffering population and the suffering is (if only by implication) the fault of the government of the American ally. All of this is preliminary to abandonment of the ally as too morally compromised to be worth supporting. I saw quite a bit of that among some of the noncommunist opponents of US aid to Latin American governments that faced major communist insurgencies. I expect we will see more and more of it in Afghanistan and there is no reason to expect that the same powers of rationalization will not be turned to American military operations.

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