New York Times columnist Roger Cohen calls it “important and timely for the future of Israel.” A Jerusalem Post writer says it is “banal” and “brooding,” and “merely parroting a well-known critique.” And the just-named next Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times is already in trouble among some in the Jewish community for praising it.
Peter Beinart’s much-anticipated new book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” is not due out until the end of March, but not surprisingly it is receiving pre-publication accolades and condemnations. (The author is not giving interviews until the book comes out.)
Most of the responses, pro and con, are predictable along political lines since the former New Republic editor is an outspoken critic of current Israeli policy, particularly regarding its treatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
He set off a major debate in the Jewish community nearly two years ago with his New York Review of Books article, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” asserting that young non-Orthodox American Jews, forced to choose between their democratic values and support for Israel, are abandoning the Jewish state.
His new book, to be published by Times Books and launched at the annual national convention of the dovish J Street later this month, goes deeper and further, asserting that the end of “American liberal Zionism” appears near, that “Israel is a democracy only within the Green Line” and that American Jews should call for “delegitimizing Israel’s occupation while legitimizing Israel itself.”
At the center of the book are extended analyses of Barack Obama, whom Beinart calls America’s “first Jewish president,” deeply influenced in his Chicago years by a number of liberal Jewish friends, and Benjamin Netanyahu, described as “Israel’s monist prime minister,” believing in nationalism over morality. In the clash between the two leaders, Beinart maintains that Obama backed down from his efforts to press Israel toward a peace agreement, essentially caving to political concerns.
Perhaps the most eloquent, and stinging, critique of the book comes from Rabbi David Wolpe, who took Beinart to task for “a strutting lack of humility.”
Writing in The Jewish Journal, the rabbi said that while he himself is “no fan of the settlements” and acknowledges that Israel has done “bad, misguided, even terrible things” to the Palestinians, he was outraged at Beinart’s e-mail to J Street members, which the rabbi calls a “parade of self-confident sophistries.” He cites as examples the comparison of the civil rights movement in America with the Palestinian cause, and calling Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — not Iran’s threat to annihilate the Jewish state — the “great Jewish question of the age.”
Upset with Beinart’s certainty, the rabbi asks, “Is there no room for honest dissent?” He accuses the journalist of “demagoguery” and says the e-mail to J Streeters “represents what is wrong with the debate: it is smug in its dismissal of Israel’s leadership and grandiose in presenting one view as the sole salvation of that beleaguered nation’s honor.”
And the book isn’t even out yet.