Peter Beinart’s must-read takedown of the American Jewish establishment in the New York Review of Books has the potential to create an intellectual earthquake. The former editor of the New Republic and liberal hawk who supported the Iraq war may very well rock the Jewish world with his well-argued, fact-laden essay laying out how the American Jewish establishment has been complicit in creating an Israel that is an anti-democratic, racist state — and that in the process, has contributed to the decline and impending death of liberal Zionism.
That the “establishment” (Beinart’s word choice, I suppose, to avoid the dreaded “Israel lobby” usage) is complicit in this atrocity is bad enough. But as Beinart so eloquently lays out, and which any sentient American Jew no doubt can see for themselves, this is done all while promoting a mythical — and deceptive — vision of Israel as the Middle East’s only democracy and the land of milk and honey, and playing the victim card whenever any criticism is leveled at it.
From the piece:
Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
But instead of opening a dialogue with this generation, Beinart details how the establishment is reflexively defensive of everything Israel does, and scolds anyone who dares criticize it as being anti-Israel:
The result is a terrible irony. In theory, mainstream American Jewish organizations still hew to a liberal vision of Zionism. On its website, AIPAC celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” The Conference of Presidents declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” These groups would never say, as do some in Netanyahu’s coalition, that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire.
I would add that this attack on democratic values and human rights is aided and abetted by Israel’s (and the American Jewish establishment’s) strong ties with the American evangelical right (which isn’t exactly supportive of democratic values here at home). I have long reported on the close ties between these organizations and the apocalyptic wing of the American evangelical world — and the American Jewish establishment bears blame for glorifying that relationship, as well as for its role in the destruction of democracy in Israel, and of liberal Zionism. (For example, I have reported on two of the organizations Beinart discusses, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations hosting or appearing with John Hagee.)
Increasingly, this alliance has not only created a larger constituency that reflexively defends the Israeli government’s policies, but it is actively promoting the idea that the conflict there is not over land or politics, but is a clash of civilizations and religions. “Freedom” is not about human rights for all; it’s about Christianity ascendant. At the Freedom Federation Summit in Lynchburg, Virginia, last month, an entire session was devoted to “Israel, the Middle East, and Military Readiness.” (The event as a whole was designed to bring more African-American and Latino conservatives into the fold of the religious right, but racial justifications for the Israeli occupation abounded in the Israel session.) One common thread among all the speakers there: they had gone recently on a trip to Israel with one-time presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and the singer Pat Boone, had met with Israeli government officials, who sought their assurances that America still “stood” with Israel.
Appearing by video from Israel, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (who, Beinart notes, called the “anti-occupation group Peace Now a ‘virus,'”) described these American evangelicals as Israel’s “best friend.” Danny Danon, a Likud Party member of the Knesset and Chairman of World Likud who recently likened President Obama to Pharaoh, added that “we know you love us and want to commend you for unconditional support for state of Israel,” maintaining that “Christians and Jews share the same future.” That future Danon envisions is one where Christians and Jews destroy their common enemy: Islam.
The Jewish establishment has gotten heat for cavorting with the evangelicals over concerns about proselytization. But that’s a red herring — the problem is not that the evangelical right wants to convert all the Jews (although, Hagee’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, they do. At the Freedom Federation, they showcased Maurice Sklar, a fine violinist and Messainic Jew). The problem is that the evangelical right portrays Islam and Muslims as the mortal enemies of Israel, Christianity, and western civilization that must be destroyed. How can Israel ever make peace if its government’s best friend is a movement that claims Islam is of the devil?
“Ex-Muslims” like Ergun Caner — the president of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary now under investigation by the university for allegedly fabricating details of his biography as a converted jihadist — is held up as an example of how Christianity can save Muslims from a life of evil. Following the Ya’alon and Danon videos, Caner took the stage — or rather, pulpit — at Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and claimed that his Muslim upbringing taught him to hate the Jews. Now, as a Christian, he sees the light. “We fight not just against theology,” he intoned, “we fight against global racism.”
For Caner, Jews and Christians are alike, they share a common heritage and a common future. “As one who was raised to hate them,” he continued, “I say without hesitation, we are tied to the Jewish people. We are theologicaly tied, we are socially tied, we must stand with those with whom we tied; we are theologically and eschatalogically tied.” The final touch — the one that the Jewish right continually and conveniently dismisses as a harmless evangelical fantasy — “peace will never come to Israel until the prince of peace takes his throne.” Translation: peace means vanquishing the non-Christians, or converting them.
No, the problem with the Jewish-evangelical alliance is not that the evangelicals want to convert the Jews, or even that they glorify a bloody end of the world for the return of Christ. It’s that in the here and now they sow the religious hatred that’s utterly contrary to Jewish (and for that matter, Christian) values, and fuels oppression, not freedom, and violence, not peace.