May 28, 2010
Israel and America's JewsBy Richard Baehr
After 16 months of effort, there is now the possibility of weak sanctions that will be passed by the UN Security Council to address Iran's nuclear program. Some new Congressional sanctions will follow, though for now they are being delayed by the Administration until the UN has acted, so Obama can first bask in his multilateral triumph, achieved by bribes to Russia, and lowering the bar on what was achieved.
In essence, the Iranian nuclear problem remains alive, kicking and expanding. The threat to Israel from Iran's principal proxy army Hezb'allah, with its 40,000 rockets, has become more severe, and soon Hezb'allah may have Iran's nuclear umbrella to back its provocations. Syria has slammed back the Obama outreach effort, and the Palestinians, while waiting for Obama to deliver Israel concessions, continue to take pot shots at Israel in every international venue. Even the supposedly moderate Salam Fayyad worked overtime to keep Israel from accession to the OECD.
Into this maelstrom enters Peter Beinart, who has rarely written about Israel in recent years, and chooses the New York Review of Books (the US version of the Guardian as far as its politics on Israel), to launch an attack on the organized pro-Israel Jewish community for its failure to win the hearts and minds of his young liberal Jewish brothers and sisters. Beinart says these young Jews refuse to check their passion for human rights at the door of allegiance to Israel, given how badly Israel treats the Palestinians. How courageous for Beinart to stand up for this aggrieved class of younger Jews. Already Jeremy Ben Ami of J-Street and Steven Walt can be seen leading the ovation.
There are many explanations for why younger Jews do not feel the same way about Israel as earlier generations. For one thing, young liberal Jews today are increasingly the product of secular parents, mixed marriages, and homes devoid of serious attachment to not only Israel, but God and Judaism. Secular Jews have become increasingly suburban and affluent and there is little sense of struggle or threat in the lives of the younger generation (other than whether they can get into an Ivy League college or professional school and make their parents proud).
These young liberal Jews know very little or nothing of World War 2, Jewish life in Europe, the Holocaust, the 48 War, the 6 Day War, the Yom Kippur War, or even the scud attacks in the ‘91 Gulf war. They are comfortable. And since most of the people they come into contact with on campus, or in their new professional lives are liberals, they do not want to cross swords with them by backing Israel (the politically incorrect stronger party) against the Palestinians (the weaker party). It is hard to defend Israel, and not lose points earned for all one's good deeds -- attacking capitalism, greedy Wall Street bankers, George Bush, Sarah Palin, Christian conservatives, and Tea party bigots, and backing all the noble causes: abortion rights, ending global warming, raising taxes on the rich, making health care cheap, accessible and high quality through a public option, saving Darfur, and did I mention abortion rights? How can one be for all these noble and moral causes and not also fight for human rights in Gaza and the West Bank?
Blaming AIPAC or the Conference of Presidents for young liberal Jews' lack of enthusiasm for Israel is absurd. This is like blaming the schools as the principal reason for the performance gap between African American kids and Asian kids. I would cast my vote for the differences in the home environment. I think the near 80% black illegitimacy rate, and Asian parents' obsession with educational performance are a lot bigger deal than the public schools in explaining the performance gap, even with all the obvious problems with the union dominated school system, and the effects of tenure in 3 years, protection of incompetents, and teachers' low expectations of minority kids.
The Jewish organizations Beinart attacks are pretty much all that is left in the Jewish community to defend the Jewish state. Such defense will not come from the Reform movement, or the Rabbis fasting for Gaza, or Rabbis for J-street, or Rabbis for Obama, or Jews for Peace and Justice, or the NJDC or Peter Beinart. Does Beinart believe no one should defend the Jewish state? Or would he leave it to the editorial pages of the New York Times to find out the level of support that is acceptable?
Beinart is offended by settlements. Is he so ignorant as to be unaware that on several occasions since Oslo, Israel offered a near complete withdrawal from all but a few settlements near the green line, with territories in pre 67 Israel to be exchanged for any settlements that remained, as well as a shared Jerusalem for two capital cities? Is he unaware that every offer was rejected out of hand, with the Palestinians generally responding by launching new violent attacks ? How does one get the Palestinians to peace? By unilateral withdrawal? Well, sorry but Israel tried that in south Lebanon, and Gaza, and the results do not recommend further attempts.
Beinart admits that the Jewish world in America is changing. I agree, and am all for it. He claims that Orthodox Jews are now 34% of all Jews between ages 18 and 24, though only 12 % of all Jews over age 60. I know enough math and have seen enough demographic studies to suspect that both estimates are probably too high, particularly the 34% figure. Maybe math is another of Beinart's short suits. But in any case, the trend line is toward an American Jewish community that is more Orthodox, more Jewish and less liberal.
Sorry, but Judaism is not the same as social action. That is liberalism. And it is not Judaism that made Jews liberal, but a long history of bad treatment as a minority group in country after country. That is thankfully not the Jewish experience in America. Judaism kept Jews together in difficult times in many countries over many centuries. But in America, assimilation has triumphed, and Judaism (and God and Israel) seem so archaic, so narrow, so rigid, so limiting.
Secularism and liberalism are easy. And one can even pretend to remain faithfully Jewish by cherry picking passages from the Torah to suggest God really wanted us to fight global warming and save Darfur. But defending Israel is just too parochial an interest, and serves to separate and create conflict between good liberals and other good liberals.
No! I do not think it is time to make it easier for liberal Jews to be pro-Israel, by having the pro-Israel groups abandon support for Israel and become a greater J-Street. If liberal Jews are uncomfortable defending Israel in the faculty lounge, or around the water cooler at the Washington Post, so be it. I recommend a spine transplant, or something really unusual: learning Israel's history so one has the tools to make the case.
Maybe Beinart should read some books by Alan Dershowitz, who is not as intellectually lazy as Beinart about making the case for Israel. The 25,000 Israeli Jews killed defending the county since the modern state was born in 1948 (equivalent to over a million Americans), as well as all those wounded, and all the others who fought and served, had a lot tougher struggle and time of it than having to make the case for Israel to squishy young liberal Jews in America. Without the real sacrifice many Israelis have made, the enemies of the Jews in the Middle East would have by now gladly murdered or expelled all the Jews in Israel. That is their version of human rights.
Our President gave up two days this week to campaign for Barbara Boxer, but will pass on celebrating the sacrifices of America's war dead on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. When you think of it, what has America's military accomplished other than winning independence, saving the union, and helping save the free world? Why should it be it a surprise, then, that Beinart and other Obama acolytes on the Jewish left, express their dismay over Israel, and its militarism, and its imperfections, and ignore the state of siege in which Israel has existed for 60 plus years and which continues today? There were terrorist attacks and wars to eliminate Israel before there were West Bank settlements. Israel's struggle has always been for existence and acceptance, not about maintaining settlements.
If Beinart and his liberal friends are lost to the cause, it is really not such a great concern. The loss is not that great. Americans continue to overwhelmingly support Israel in its struggle with the Palestinians, as they have for decades. The young liberal Jews, who in many cases are unpersuadable about Israel, and are signing up for J-Street, or groups even more hostile to Israel, matter far less to the effort to retain strong support for Israel in America, than the tens of millions of evangelicals, who can see through the smokescreen of media misrepresentation, and understand the ties that bind between the only democratic (small d) state in the Middle East and the United States.
On the topic, see also:
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.