The detention of Peter Beinart for an hour of political questioning at Ben Gurion airport yesterday as he and his family arrived to attend a bat mitzvah is roiling the Jewish world today. Beinart is a strong Zionist. And today the Prime Minister himself rushed out an unusual statement in English saying he had "immediately" looked into Beinart's detention. ("He was told it was an administrative mistake. Israel is an open society which welcomes all -- critics and supporters alike.")
Of course detentions are nothing new at Israeli ports, and we have reported on countless incidents in which Palestinian activists have been deported. Here a young American schoolteacher denied entry for arbitrary reasons. Last year a young skateboarder was interrogated aggressively for eight hours before being deported.
But Beinart is a Zionist Jewish writer who has become more and more critical of Israel in the last 10 years, and his detention is causing alarm in American Zionist circles about the political culture of the country they love. "This is crazy,"writes a prominent neoconservative. J Street says the Beinart treatment is part of an Israeli government pattern of targeting American Jews, which is politically dangerous for Zionism:
"...the Israeli government is shamefully signaling its contempt for the beliefs of progressive American Jews and for the norms of liberal democracy. As with the recently passed nation-state law, they are alienating supporters of Israel around the world."
Daniel Gordis, a conservative Zionist, shares the concern that Israel is alienating Jewish opinion:
"Although it is hard to know exactly who is issuing directives to the security services on this issue, the clumsiness leads one to suspect there is an unstated goal. It seems likely that Netanyahu has decided to stoke the embers of 'Zionists versus Israel's enemies' discourse, which will win him points with the right-wing factions of Israeli society he needs to win the next elections."- Advertisement -
Gershom Gorenberg, a liberal Zionist writer, is also alarmed by the detentions of Jews:
"Mr. Netanyahu, you are keeping lists of people whose opinions you don't like. Seriously, Mr. Netanyahu, I have lived here for 41 years, raised 3 children here, and I love my country. But you are not making me or people with my concerns about your government feel welcome."
The alleged pattern includes a few earlier Jewish detentions. On August 5, Simone Zimmerman of IfNotNow and the Sanders campaign tweeted that she and her friend Abby Kirschbaum were detained for four hours at the Taba crossing from Egypt, and were asked about their political actions.
"We are being questioned solely about our political opinions and activities vis-a-vis Palestinians esp in the occupied territories... [Later] We're out. That was four hours of rounds of interrogation, waiting and mostly attempted intimidation centering on our connections to Palestinians."
The Times of Israel quoted the Shin Bet security service defending the action. The questioning related to "their involvement in violent protest against Israeli security forces in Judea and Samaria."
Before that, it was author Moriel Rothman Zecker, who was detained and questioned over his actions in the territories with Breaking the Silence and All That's Left, and told by a security official that his grilling was a "warning." ("Just listen to my warning. Make sure not to go down the slippery slope. You can go now.") Rothman-Zecher was plainly disturbed by the treatment, and sees a pattern of targeting dissent.
A month ago it was Myer Koplow, a leading American donor to Israel who is on establishment boards, because he had a copy of This Week in Palestine in his luggage. He'd just been on a liberal Zionist tour that included the territories. Times of Israel: