I can only laugh at the idea of dilettante Peter Beinart and J Street as leader of the anti-Israel (oops, I meant save-Israel-from-itself) movement. After all, imagine people parading as self-defined heroes while peddling ideas that have absolutely nothing to do with reality. But behind the stupid ideas is a very poisonous hidden agenda.
We live in an age of intellectual absurdity in which a book by someone who has no notion of Israeli reality and who is, at best, decades (I’d say three) out of date is treated as if he could possibly be of some relevance. Or an organization that has literally never made a single pro-Israel initiative claims to be the country’s best friends.
Contrary to the title of Beinart’s book, there is no crisis of Zionism, certainly not in the way he and similarly thinking American Jews believe. The crisis is simply that Israel has become an actually existing country that is defined by an Israel-Jewish patriotism based on a historical Zionism. In fact, regarding Israel itself, Zionism has been so successful that it simply isn’t needed in the same way as it was in 1947.
Regarding American Jews, the problem is that of the left-wing — almost always people who consciously know they are on the other side and their tool of choice on Israel is a sledgehammer — and those liberals they have fooled, not Zionism. This “new” approach is based on the debate of the 1970s and 1980s, more specifically the 1974-1992 era.
At that time, there were three points of contention that Beinart and others try to revive in a totally different world:
- Continuation of the occupation endangered Israel’s soul and society through hubris, brutalization, fanatical religiosity, and ambitious nationalism.
- If Israel didn’t make peace and get rid of the territories as fast as possible it would be destroyed by…well, it isn’t exactly clear by whom, since its enemies had failed so continually and were weaker than they’d been in the past. But this meant that Israel had to rush to make peace at any price.
- There was a wonderful opportunity to achieve a stable, just, and lasting peace. Merely offer the Palestinians and Arabs a reasonable settlement—particularly a Palestinian state—and a peace agreement would quickly follow.
This way of thinking has long since been discredited by the experiences of the failed peace process and radicalized regional politics. First, Israel withdrew from large portions of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, putting virtually all Palestinians under self-rule. Later, it pulled out of the Gaza Strip completely. There was no more “occupation” as there had been in the 1967-1993 period.
Second, we discovered that the Palestinians and Syria weren’t eager for peace. During the peace process era, the hardline propaganda, hate, and intransigence continued virtually uninterrupted on the other side. It became clear that Israel was not threatened by a refusal to take big risks and make concessions, rather the threat came from making deadly arrangements out of good intentions or even a dangerously bad “peace” deal that would leave the country worse off.
Third, most Israelis concluded that they didn’t want most of the territory captured in 1967. There was an Israeli consensus to keep much of east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and some small areas of the West Bank along the border. But in exchange for real peace, they were ready to give up a lot, something like 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 95 plus percent of the West Bank.
The same new thinking applied to accepting a two-state solution. Let the Palestinians have their state, even let Fatah or the PLO rule it if they only left us alone and ended the conflict. But that wasn’t going to happen. There was no intransigence or “Greater Israel” ambition to poison Israel. The experience and these changes left Israel with a clear conscience, not the “clear conscience” of those so distant that these issues were a mere abstraction but that of people who knew they sometimes made mistakes and had to take tough decisions to survive.
Fourth, the West generally broke its promises to Israel, showing that it was not dependable. The understanding was for Israel to make big concessions and take big risks knowing that if that failed, the West would acknowledge Israel as the good guys and back it fully. Yet Israelis saw that the more risks Israel took, concessions it gave, and casualties it suffered, the more it was slandered and delegitimized in large parts of the West (including by the very people who pretend to save it from itself). The supposed winning formula — pull back, turn over, concede and you will be secure and happy–didn’t work. The Obama administration fully proved this reality.
Fifth, the 2000-2005 terrorist-based intifada and the radical response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza reinforced these lessons, as did the growing Islamism that openly advocated war, terrorism, and genocide against Israel.