Another great session at Tomorrow 2012 – the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. This time, it was Peter Beinart in a specially arranged session for bloggers.
Peter Beinart has written a book called The Crisis of Zionism. When I agree with the New York Times, you know something is amazing. Here‘s what was written about his book in the NY Times:
He [Beinart] sets out to save the country by labeling many of its leaders racist, denouncing many of its American supporters as Holocaust-obsessed enablers and advocating a boycott of people and products from beyond Israel’s 1967 eastern border.
I’ll start by saying I haven’t read it – maybe Mr. Beinart wants to send me a complimentary copy? Probably not. So let me write about what he said, and not what he wrote. Perhaps had I read the book, I’d have been more prepared. I wasn’t.
He began with a justification for an argument that I’ve had with myself for many years, even before I moved to Israel. If it isn’t your son on the border of Israel, do you have the right to criticize, to advise, and perhaps even to condemn Israel for what it does to survive and thrive in this area of the world. This touches on information from a second session that I don’t want to write about here. I want to focus on Beinart.
I’ll start by saying he was charming and he is clearly a great thinker. He spoke of his Egyptian-born grandmother (who disagrees with his politics and thinks, as I do, that he is painfully naive). He’s a man with an opinion, that is clear and he’s stubborn. Facts are unlikely to sway him. Interestingly enough, he touched not just on Israel, but on American Jewry and there his views come close to mine. I’ll explain that one in a second.
First, about Israel.
He has built a mountain on shifting sands; an argument on facts that simply are inaccurate. He said, “what legitimizes Israel is its democracy.” What an absurd statement. First, why does Israel need to be legitimized? When was the last time anyone asked what right the US had to exist? Wait, the US is a democracy. Okay, when was the last time someone asked what right North Korea has a right to exist or what legitimacy it has?
Then, Peter Beinart decided to play a game – an insulting one and one of the many reasons why he does not have a right to think his opinion should mean anything here – until it is his son on our borders. He has decided that it is acceptable to boycott products from the West Bank but he encourages purchasing products from what he inaccurately and annoyingly refers to as “democratic” Israel. Here again is the latest form of idol worship that plagues Beinart and many left-wing American Jews – democracy. It is not God who determines the future, the present, the right and wrong of things – it is the idol known as democracy, that Beinart worships.
I’m all for democracy. I would vote for it anytime. But Israel is greater than our democracy. Our democracy is a sign of our humanity, our freedom, and who we are – it is not what we are.
I wanted to ask Beinart if he was a Zionist and if he had answered that he was, I would have asked him to define Zionism because I do not believe you can be a Zionist and at the same time support a path that could so easily lead to our destruction. His path for our future involves our taking all the risks at a time when we have no peace partner. I wanted to ask him who our peace partners are – these non-existent dreamers that he trusts them with our future and security but he had already quickly dismissed security as “another argument” in this intellectual game. And to a large extent, that’s what Israel is to him and to others who came to the conference to share their opinions with us – an intellectual game, an academic exercise. As Beinart was talking, almost literally, Israel was being hit by rockets. Nine today, and the day is still young; and only one day after Israel was hit with almost 70 rockets.
When the conversation finally turned to American Jewry, Beinart was not optimistic about its future. His best line was clearly, “We’ve built better Holocaust memorials than we’ve built Jewish schools.” I agree.
His discussion reminded me of something Yaakov Kirschen of Dry Bones said years ago – almost 30 years ago to be exact. He said to a rather shocked and disbelieving crowd of young college students at Columbia University (paraphrased slightly): in another few generations, there will be no Jews in America. I asked him did he really believe that all American Jews were going to make aliyah? I said it in the voice of the doubter, as if I was so smart, and he so stupid. I thought he was impossibly naive and though I shared his pro-aliyah (moving to Israel) dream, I really wanted him to wake up to reality. And then he looked at me and I realized it wasn’t him being naive and I certainly wasn’t the smart one in the conversation. And quietly, slowly, he responded “I didn’t say that.”
Years later, I would learn an interesting fact of history – when the Jews left Egypt…not all the Jews left. According to most sources, 4 our of 5, 80% never left. The first time I heard this, I thought of American Jews – 80%, I would guess, will never come to Israel – will be lost. It fits with what remains of my family in America.
I don’t know what the future of American Jewry will be – if my family there is a measure, American Jewry is in deep trouble (in one case, one uncle’s children are running at 75% having married non-Jews). I do know that Peter Beinart’s naive, academic and decidedly inaccurate view does indeed damage Israel – because he gives others the false idea that peace is within our hands and to achieve it, we must take risks that he, from the safety of his American shores, suggests for my sons.
When it is your sons on the borders of Israel, Mr. Beinart, let’s talk. Till then, maybe your next book should be, The Crisis of American Jewry. At least that book, you have the knowledge and the right to write.