J.J. Goldberg

The Moral Crisis of American Zionism, Seen Through the Eyes of a Recovering New Republic-nik

By J.J. Goldberg

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If you haven’t yet read Peter Beinart’s new piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” check it out here. It’s must reading.

It’s a long argument, but here’s the heart of it:

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster — indeed, have actively opposed — a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States — so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel — is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students [participants in a Frank Luntz-led focus group — JJG] wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.

Beinart is an assistant professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Alert readers may remember him as a former editor of The New Republic. He’s come a long way since his Marty Peretz days.


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