Peter Beinart has created a huge firestorm within many different circles in the Jewish community with his provocative piece in Jewish Currents, Yavne: A Jewish Case For Equality in Israel-Palestine, as well as in his op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times, I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State. Beginning with Daniel Gordis’ incisive rejoinder and the assorted attacks and pushbacks which the Beinart pieces rightfully are receiving, there is one very important subtext which emerges out of the Beinart discussion. Beinart is speaking to a portion of Jewish Americans who have been hungering for an anti-Zionist perspective which is packaged in their own progressive ideology within an academic patina. This is what Beinart has provided for them.
In his Jewish Currents article and then double-downed with the New York Times op-ed, Beinart has addressed precisely what a large portion of unaffiliated millennials, who are politically progressive, have long felt has been missing from the conversation about Israel. Beinart’s position has been extensively detailed by many of the critics. His presentation is a version of history which largely fits into their own anti-colonial narrative attack on Israel.
Sadly, this is portion of the Jewish community which has a very limited understanding of Judaism and of Jewish history. On a normative level this is a group which, at best, has a minimal Jewish education and for whom religious observance and comprehension of Jewish values is limited to ethics and social justice. Their lack of knowledge of Jewish peoplehood and the dangers in the pervasive increasing rate of inter-marriage among their peers and of the preceding generation, represent the gravest danger to the future of the Jewish people outside of Israel. Beinart gives these alienated younger Jews precisely the rationale that they are seeking to justify their growing anti-Netanyahu, anti-annexation movement, but carried to the extreme.
In the period following the Six-Day War deeply committed Jews mounted a major attack on the Jewish establishment. Young committed Jews of all religious denominations addressed the need for American Jews to do more than revel in Israel’s extraordinary victory, but to translate it into peace for the region. They also demanded that the Jewish establishment invest more in Jewish education and institutions at home.
There were Jewish Federation sit-ins, confrontations, and marches even prior to the time when so much energy was funneled into the Soviet Jewry Movement. (Much is forgotten that the genesis of the protest to gain release of the Jews from the former Soviet Union was created and sparked by center-left, anti-establishment, committed Jews who goaded the mainline Jewish community to champion this cause.)
Millennials and Gen-X’s today have the luxury of watching the highly sophisticated, economically dynamic, modern State of Israel grow dramatically with all the mistakes and conceits of any democratic government. As Diaspora Jews were always part of Israel’s struggle so too are they today. As a result, engaging the Netanyahu Government which has become a sycophant of the Trump Administration, which so many of these young progressive Jews abhor, has intensified their problems with Israel. Opting out of the debate, therefore, and jumping into bed with forces which are not friends of Israelis—as well as all Jews—is politically and intellectually lazy. Spending some time working on a kibbutz in your youth like Bernie Sanders or participating in Operation Birthright does not give one enough understanding of Judaism and Jewish history to wake up and support a bi-national state as the answer to Israel’s future.
Beinart gives young progressives an easy way out of any vestige of support even for a flawed Israeli Government. Occupation and annexation may be wrong but opting out of the struggle is to remove oneself from Jewish history. It only encourages those genuinely anti-Israel forces in the U.S. and throughout the world. As Consul General Dani Dayan said this week in his extensive closing interview with The New York Jewish Week and the Forward, it is the millennials and the unaffiliated Jews which he feels he did not succeed in reaching effectively during his tenure in New York.