Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Beinert gestures toward "the liberal forces in Israel"

One of the most common criticisms of Peter Beinert's seismic essay taking the United States Jewish community to task for unconditional support of all Israeli government actions was that Beinert selectively surveyed recent Israeli history to present a portrait of the country that overemphasized its rightward swing and alleged growing rejection of liberal democratic values.  Jonathan Chait, for example, wrote:
In the same vein, Peter now paints Israel as falling almost inexorably into the grip of the far right. “The Netanyahu coalition,” he writes, “is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society.” There is certainly some truth to this – Russian immigration and the higher Orthodox birthrate have altered the face of the Israeli electorate. On the other hand, it was not that long ago that left-of-center parties governed Israel. Demography does not work that rapidly. Though he concedes that Israeli government can move in and out of power quickly, the tone of his essay has the same two-minutes-to-midnight urgency.

I myself wrote, "Beinert overemphasizes the repressive and aggressive elements in Israeli society," adding, "But the one-sidedness of Beinart's characterization of Israel does not negate his argument. His purpose is to warn; his argument is not that Israel is wholly given over to repression and oppression but that it is trending the wrong way, and that the American Jewish establishment is enabling its worst tendencies and so alienating young American Jews...In short, Beinert's is a family argument."

In an interview with Haaretz published today, Beinert seems to acknowledge the point -- that his purpose was, as Chait put it, "to grab the American Jewish leadership by the lapels and shake some sense into it," and that the seizure required a certain selectivity:

But you're wrote [sic] they [American Jews] love a state that no longer exists.

"It seems to me [you have] on the one hand a very good development, a liberal trend. On the other hand you have this very illiberal trend. I think there are a lot of good things in Israel, but I want American Jews to ally themselves with what I think are the liberal forces in Israel, against the illiberal forces. Just as they try to do when the Anti-Defamation League fights against the law in Arizona, I would say that if those are your values in Arizona, then you have to think about what your values are in Israel. They should be the same values."

Do we look that bad from outside?

"I was thinking mostly about trying to describe reality that exists in the Jewish American community among the younger Jews that maybe Israel is not aware of and maybe even the organized Jewish American leaders are not aware of. Which is they might not know all the details, but a series of things happened that led many young American Jews to be disturbed by Israeli policy, and I think particularly intense was the election of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the rise of Avigdor Lieberman."
I would imagine, too, that yesterday's flotilla debacle would seem to Beinert to vindicate his portrait of "illiberal" Israel.

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