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General News    H3'ed 5/22/12

Airing Jewish Dirty Linen: A Review of "The Crisis of Zionism by Peter Beinart

Message Herbert Calhoun
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As a practicing Zionist, Peter Beinart, the author of this book, "The Crisis of Zionism," sees a desperate need to revise the old narrative, if not devise an entirely new Zionist story: one based on a more honest "Zionist project" that takes into account contemporary Jewish realities, realities that Beinart claims do not exactly square with the current disingenuous "grand drama of Jewish victimhood" being peddled purposefully by the neo-conservative Zionist faction.  As he sees it, the latest Jewish narrative -- a mostly jerry-rigged story pasted together by newly galvanized conservative forces in the aftermath of the Six-Day War -- fails all the tests of Jewish power that one can possibly devise, including those set forth in the old testament -- tests that connect the Jewish right to sovereignty tightly to Jewish moral behavior in the land of Israel. 
Arguably, one could also add to this list of failed tests, the "laugh test." Because although in most Western societies Jews are doing so well that they hold in their hands the equivalent of a "societal straight flush" (and as the author notes, privately they revel in their successes), publicly in the name of neo-conservative Zionism, they continue to "play (hard and badly) the holocaust victimhood trump card," and are playing it so hard and so badly that, as this book suggests in one of its main themes, they are now losing young Jews and young Zionists to indifference and interracial marriage. To their great alarm, both young Jews and young Zionists see a very different kind of Jewish reality than that portrayed by those who speak on their behalf. The youth see something other than the Zionist grand narrative of Jewish holocaust victimhood that is being sold to them by the current neo-conservative Zionist leadership.  
Beinart sees these new Zionists living out a double tragedy, one in which the holocaust remains very much alive in there rearview mirrors, while a kind of mindless and meaningless Judaic tribalism bordering on racism is being projected and played out as the future savior of ethnic Judaism. According to the author, this failed "Zionist project" has moral bankruptcy written all over it, and uses holocaust victimology as a ruthless tool to hijack what was once a vibrant liberal and humanistic version of Judaism, one that was as concerned about the human and democratic rights of others in the world as it is now about Israel and Jewish victims of the holocaust. This original brand of liberal Zionism has been tossed into the dustbin of history replaced by a newer less honest, more militantly ethnic version that at the same time that it plays the holocaust victim card repeatedly, denies that Jews now have sufficient power and political clout to shape their own tribal destiny.
As the author points out in a nuanced rendition of some very sensitive arguments, even in areas where anti-Semitism has been reduced to the noise level -- such as in the U.S. for example -- neo-conservative Zionist forces still feel the need to use their power like a blunt instrument: ruthlessly bullying those in the American political and foreign policy processes, all in the name and fear of the next holocaust boogeyman, one that is constantly lurking just around the corner. Those of the last generations now use these scare tactics reflexively, without much conscious thought beyond fund raising and further attempts to project Jewish power. They do it with such single-mindedness, and with such an axiomatic purpose that they have managed to distort the political and foreign processes in both the U.S. and Israel; and have in the process, threatened to undermine, the democratic processes of both countries. The author tells us that young Jews no longer feel obligated to support this kind of "Jewish party line" and are insulted that older Zionist Jews would expect them to do so uncritically.
Referring to Barack Obama as "the First Jewish President," owing primarily to the fact that it was Jews who tutored him while he was "cutting his political teeth" in Chicago, and due to the fact that it was primarily a Jewish vanguard that sheparded and managed his campaign to election success, then helped managed his presidency so far, the author gives vivid examples of how heavy handed conservative Zionist lobbying has placed both the Executive and the Congressional branches of the U.S. government in a political death grip, as well as how it has repeatedly sabotaged the Middle East Peace process, embarrassing American leaders, diplomats,  and Mr. Obama himself. Moreover, he shows clearly that Jewish power in America does not end just with the manipulation of the Executive and the Congress. Beinart notes in passing that Jews are the only ethnic/religious group that have three justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, a number that is greater than even Protestants who make up over 60% of the U.S. religious population.  
The upshot of all this, according to the author, is that due to heavy handed Zionist influence, the U.S. increasingly is being seen effectively as a satellite of Israel. And despite this, the conservative Zionists have no intention of letting up on the flexing of their own economic and political muscle -- as well as on Israel's hegemonic military power. 
Even though their children no longer see the need for this kind of ruthless wielding of Jewish power, the hardliners themselves will take no amount of Jewish success as a sign of victory. Everything is viewed as a hedge against the possibility of a future holocaust. As but one of many such hedges against the future, they have bought and paid for the U.S. Congress: through lobbying, political campaign contributions, and vicious bullying tactics spearheaded by AIPAC. As is well known by any American, AIPAC has a standing threat to unseat any Congressman who does not toe the strictest Zionist line. The latest and most contradictory hedge is the unsteady coalition that the neo-conservative Zionists have recently forged with the fundamentalist Christian Zionists as well as with the religious far right, more generally. 
Likewise, even though they have bought and paid for the Executive Branch in the same kind of hedging of bets made with the Congress -- that is through political campaigns contributions, intense lobbying and high-level appointments that help maintain a policy stranglehold that vastly over represents Zionists' interests in the policymaking process -- they still feel the need to peddle the story of Jewish persecution and a desperate need for Israeli security as the motive for the need to gain, usurp and wield ever moreover-reaching Jewish power. 
Equating any who oppose Israeli policies with being anti-Semitic, and pushing the increasingly hard to swallow fear that Israel (with its 200 plus thermonuclear weapons), will soon be pushed into the sea by its hostile Arab neighbors, the author suggests that even young Jews who know little about the events of WW-II, or even the Six-Day War, no longer are buying into these tribally-based tactics. And due in large part to the incessant but contradictory harping on holocaust themes (while they at the same time flaunt their economic and political power, and treat the Palestinians as the South Africans once treated Africans during the worse days of Apartheid), is making these young Jews question those who speak for Judaism in their name. As a result, some are now even beginning to experience mild forms of "holocaust fatigue."
Finally, there is the issue of Israel itself and how it is treating its Arab neighbors, especially the Palestinians within and beyond its borders. This is a sordid affair by all unbiased accounts, a perpetual embarrassment to all decent Jews. It is a topic that most Jews would prefer not to discuss. However, discuss it this author does. And again, he does not pull his punches. In fact, arguably, he falls just short of suggesting that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the "occupied territories," is the moral equivalent of what the Nazis did to Jews in Europe during WW-II. 
It is a most serious and perplexing phenomenon. By repeatedly engaging in behavior designed to maim and kill men, women and children, destroy homes, businesses, and infrastructure, destroy crops and water supplies, and most of all designed to degrade and humiliate, behavior that the whole world can see on the 24-hour news cycle, Israel can be seen flouting international laws as well as laws against humanity. But as this author points out, just as importantly, they also can be seen violating the sacred texts of Jewish scriptures, any one of these behaviors would unarguably bring dishonor on the memory of those Jews who actually died in the holocaust. 
The old equation between Jewish morality and liberalism, and the new conservative Zionists' need to have a strong and powerful Jewish homeland, cannot, it seems, be "squared" within the confines of the current "Zionist Project," that is, under the current Jewish leadership -- either in the U.S. or in Israel. This author tells us that something has gone terribly awry within the Jewish tribal family; and as a result, something has to give. 
As the author notes on page 32, we now live in an age not of Jewish weakness, but of Jewish strength and power. Yet, as Golda Meir is quoted as saying in the movie Munich,  "Just because Jews were victims of the holocaust, does not make them decent." The way this author makes the same point is on page 33 where he says that "without moral vigilance, Jews will abuse power as hideously as anyone else" -- so much so that Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians has now completely eclipsed any sympathy the world once had for Israel, and has served to isolate Israel within the international community.  I know that this is true from personal experience because I worked in the UN as a U.S. delegate for more than two decades and it was painful for the U.S. delegation, as Israel's number one ally, to stand by and watch that struggling little nation repeatedly shoot itself in the foot by constantly flouting the rules of international law, all the while claiming to be a victim of anti-Semitism and the Nazi holocaust. At much expense to its own international reputation, the U.S. repeatedly was forced to swallow its pride and come to Israel's defense, even when it was clear that Israel was wrong. And only rarely did we privately believe that our Middle-Eastern little brother was right in its actions or in its causes.
This book thus is a clarion call from one Zionist to all the others. But is also a well-crafted narrative for the rest of the world to be voyeurs and see and hear this inner tribal conversation. At the end of the day, all Mr. Beinart is suggesting is simply that the current disingenuous neo-conservative Zionist narrative, which amounts to little more than "stereotypical money backed bullying," coupled with disgraceful Nazi-like behavior used against the Palestinians, must give way to a new Zionist project, one in which the narrative is more consonant with longstanding liberal Jewish traditions and with traditional Jewish religious history, as well as with existing international treaties and the realities of contemporary Jewish life, both in the diaspora and in Israel. 
Otherwise, not only will the neo-conservative Zionist activists have to be held accountable for crimes against humanity in Palestine, but also for fomenting a new cycle of anti-Semitism; and more importantly, for the continuing lost of young Jews and young Zionists who feel no connection to the actions and voices of those who speak on their behalf. It is these young Jews who are turning away from Judaism in droves.
Thus this is a sober and a brave appeal that has received a great deal of flack from within Jewish tribal ranks. However, although the author has been viciously attacked, most of it has been ad hominem and fails to challenge his main thesis. Instead, his critics take him to task for having the gall to "air Jewish dirty linen" publicly. It is an appeal to Jews and Zionists everywhere to wake up and look at the long-term damage that the handful of very rich neo-Conservative Zionists are doing to the overall Jewish cause and then to take back the mantle of liberal Jewish humanism from them.
Despite the flack the author has received, he still believes that the best way out of this trap is for Zionists in the U.S. as well as in Israel, to look back to Jewish traditions for guidance and not just for instructions on how to endure the hardships of being victimized. The real lessons of Jewish traditions and culture, lie in the moral instructions on how powerful Jews are to rule over others when they are strong. It is a lesson these rich neo-conservative Zionists apparently missed.
Thus altogether, this is a very timely and thought-provoking read. I hope that someone within the Black tribe will have the same courage as Mr. Beinart to be as honest about the self-destructive things we Blacks are doing to sabotage our own success and existence as the neo-conservative Zionists have sabotaged and undermined Jewish honor and Jewish causes. This book sets forth a fine model for intra-tribal critiques. Five stars
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Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more...)
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