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An Israeli Leftist Responds To Beinart

An Israeli Leftist Responds To Beinart

Associate Editor

Samuel J. Cohen, an Israeli writer in Herzliya, had this to say about Beinart’s piece in The New York Review of Books

Between Here and the Sea

Peter Beinart breaks a sweat about the Jewish American lobby and the decline of liberal Zionism, and I am bombarded by commentators on the commentator. MJ Rosenberg sends me his Huffington Posts contribution, signaling Beinart’ NYRB piece as “groundbreaking” and a “bombshell”. In Faster Times the headline asks Daniel Lubin’s question “ Does Israel need Liberal American Jews? “ (Why? Are they on sale? ) By Tuesday morning, the New Republic, the Guardian, and yes, the Jewish Week, had all weighed in.

If Bienart article’s had been limited to an attack on the Israeli leadership, on Netanyahu and Lieberman’s policy, it would have attracted little interest and broken no new ground in the NYRB. What has apparently attracted the sharks is the idea that current Israeli policy alienates liberal Americans Jews, and threatens to turn the American Jewish establishment over to the hands of the illiberal orthodox.

Writes Bienart: “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. “

From here, I am reminded of the hoary old joke: two Jews are sitting at a café in Jerusalem in the days after the coming of the Messiah. Itzhik says: “Isn’t this wonderful, the Messiah has come, and all the Jews are gathered together in Jerusalem.” Yossi` cautions: “No, I hear there are still some Zionist’s who are staying in New York.”

I am annoyed on two counts. From the American perspective, not intermarriage and assimilation, not Jewish education, not developing Jewish values or a rationale for Jewish life in the Diaspora, are seen as challenges, but “saving liberal Zionism.”

But to my Israeli ears, which are attached to a liberal Zionist Israeli head, Beinart’s concern are even more galling. Yes, Liberal Zionism is under stress in Israel, but we don’t feel in eminent need of being saved in this week’s NYRB. Yes, Naomi Chazan and the New Israel Fund were pressured, but the Israeli press and liberal public rallied to defend. (This, even though the NIF is seen much as an instrument of American liberal Zionism.) Yes, Shas, represents the most illiberal social and religious values, but tonight alternative Jewish study groups will hold Tikunim for Shavuot throughout the country. Yes, the Labor Party is self-destructing in Netanyahu’s coalition, but Tzipi Livne’s Kadima Party is waiting in the wings, and other political parties and NGO’s on the left are doing their work. Yes there is a right wing coalition in power now in Israel, and we don’t like it one bit. But to tell Israelis that the future of liberal Zionism – that ideology which (in case American Jews have forgotten) holds that Jews should actually immigrate to Israel – will be determined and buried by the AIPAC apologists in Washington, is bound to stir our ire.

I admit that I can understand where Beinart is coming from. Before I emigrated to Israel 33 years ago, I worked at AIPAC, and I actually believed that I was daily fighting in the front lines for the defense of Israel. A few years later, in the mud of the Golan, my sense of place improved.

-Samuel J. Cohen writes from Herzlyia. On a clear day, he can see from his porch the mountains of Shomron and the sea.

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