Israel and the perverse paradox of Jewish ‘liberals’

Israel should be a source of pride for all Jews—but particularly for Jews who espouse liberal values of tolerance and pluralism, of individual liberty and of human advancement.

Journalist and author Peter Beinart, June 21, 2012. Photo by Flash90.
Journalist and author Peter Beinart, June 21, 2012. Photo by Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

The notion that the state created by the sacrifice, blood, guts and brains of millions of courageous Israelis should be trashed because it doesn’t measure up to the hopes of one presumptuous intellectual living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan is something so silly that you’d have to be an idiot (or an editor at The New York Times) to believe it. Jonathan_S. Tobin, JNS, July 8, 2020. 

Our brothers in Africa have begged, pleaded, requested–DEMANDED the recognition and realization of our inborn right to live in peace under our own sovereignty in our own country. How easy it should be, for anyone who holds dear this inalienable right of all mankind, to understand and support the right of the Jewish People to live in their ancient Land of Israel. All men of good will exult in the fulfillment of God’s promise, that his People should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land. This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less. Attributed to Martin Luther King (1929-1968). 

Zionism is nothing more–but also nothing less–than the Jewish people’s sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name. It is also the instrument whereby the Jewish nation seeks an authentic fulfillment of itself… – Abba Eban, former Foreign Minister of Israel (1915-2002).

Last week, Jonathan Tobin, editor-in-chief of JNS, penned an insightful and incisive article—interspersed liberally (in the quantitative sense rather than the political), with some delightfully apt, if caustic barbs, entitled “Understanding the collapse of liberal Zionism.” In it, he focuses on the growing detachment of Left-wing (a.k.a. “liberal”) US Jewry from Israel…and from reality.

Beinart as a prism

Tobin focuses his attention on two recent pieces by Peter Beinart, a well-known self-professed liberal Zionist (see here and here), who for almost a decade has been one of the most persistent and pernicious critics of Israel and its policy towards the Palestinian Arabs—as well as one of most relentless supporters of Palestinian statehood. Indeed, Tobin holds Beinart up as a prism, through which to view “the failures of [the liberal] American Jewish organized world,which he sees asdrenched in ignorance and Jewish illiteracy [and] suffering both a demographic implosion and a crisis of faith.”

Discouraged by the outcome of the continual collision between the recalcitrant realities of the Mideast, and his “lofty vision” of two states living side-by-side in idyllic tranquility and thriving prosperity, Beinart has decided to jettison his previously professed principles. Thus, in The New York Times—never adverse to anti-Zionist screeds—he posted a piece, headlined “I no Longer Believe in a Jewish State,” which was essentially a synopsis of an 8,000-word piece in the distinctly left-leaning Jewish Current, whose origins can be traced to the American Communist Party.

Thus, Tobin concludes his essay with these telling words: “The surrender of the self-described leading exponent of liberal Zionism speaks volumes about the failures of American Jewry.”

Beinart waxes delusional

Taking the non sequitur to rarely attained heights, he asserts that the Jewish state cannot—indeed, should not—exist if a Palestinian one does not, claiming: “Only Palestinian freedom—a precondition for true peace in Israel-Palestine—can make Jews whole,” leaving one to puzzle over how Jews might have attained “wholeness” prior to 1964—when the “Palestinians” invented themselves—or were invented by others? 

Indeed, the fact that, at this time, not a single Palestinian Arab or a single square centimeter of “Palestine” was under Israeli administration did not prevent Ahmad Shukeiry, Yasser Arafat’s predecessor as head of the PLO, from declaring—on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War: “D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation… This is a fight for the homeland—it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive…. We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors—if there are any—the boats are ready to deport them.”

But beyond Beinart’s shoddy historical references, it would be intriguing to learn whether he proposes that the existence of any other nation-state on the face of the globe is existentially dependent on the establishment of another—never mind vehemently hostile—nation-state.

Moreover, in his Jewish Currents piece, Beinart waxes delusional: “For generations, Jews have seen a Jewish state as a tikkun, a repair, a way of overcoming the legacy of the Holocaust… But it hasn’t worked.”

Concocting history

Indeed, reading Beinart, one might get the impression Zionism was a movement that began somewhere in the early 1930s, after the Nazis took control of Germany and instigated the persecution of Jews that was the precursor to the Holocaust. This, of course, ignores the inconvenient fact that Theodor Herzl, recognized almost universally as the founder of the Zionist ideal, published his seminal Jewish State (Der Juden Staat) in 1896, four decades before any thought of the Holocaust was even relevant. In it, he calls for a Jewish state—not a Jewish community in a multi/bi-national state—and in the very first sentence in the preface, Herzl writes: “The idea which I have developed in this pamphlet is … the restoration of the Jewish State [sic].”

He concludes the preface with words that might have been specifically directed at Beinart: “If the present generation is too dull to understand it rightly, a future, finer and a better generation will arise to understand it. The Jews who wish for a State shall have it, and they will deserve to have it.”

Just to put beyond doubt the fact that a Jewish state was the foundational fulcrum of Zionism, from its inception more than a century and quarter ago, Herzl ends his seminal pamphlet thus: “Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes… And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”

Zionism: A noble vision fulfilled 

In a recent article, “Beinart’s final-solution,” Alan Dershowitz exposes the moronic mendacity of Beinart’s claim that generations of Zionist endeavor “hasn’t worked—and underscores just how Herzl’s prediction that the establishment of a Jewish state would prove “powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity,” has been dramatically fulfilled.

He writes: “Despite its imperfections, Israel is a wonder to the world. It has given more to humankind—scientifically, medically, technologically, literarily and in so many other areas—in the 72 years of its existence than have the overwhelming majority of far-older countries throughout their entire histories.”

On Israel’s commitment to human rights and the rule of law—for Jews and non-Jews, for Israelis and non-Israeli—he underscores:No nation faced with the threats comparable to those faced by Israel—including terrorism, rocket and terror tunnels attacks as well as Iranian aggression—has ever had a better record of human rights, compliance with the rule of law and concern for enemy civilians than has Israel.”

Indeed, as a failure, Israel and Zionism have been spectacular successes. After all, it is difficult to think of any movement of national liberation that emerged from the dissolution of Great Empires in the earlier 20th century that has provided the same degree of economic welfare, individual freedom and national sovereignty for its people as have Zionism and Israel for the Jewish people.

Indeed, as Dershowitz points out, even far older and more established countries have not equaled Israel’s overall performance as a nation, in terms of economic development, military power, scientific prowess, technological advancement, cultural achievement social cohesion…

All this, achieved in the face of almost impossible odds, Beinart tells us, represents abject failure—no longer worthy of preserving. Go figure.

Orwellian Beinart 

Clearly, then, by any criterion of empirical truth and/or common sense, Beinart’s political diagnoses are preposterous and aptly fit the wry dictum, widely attributed (according to some, misattributed) to George Orwell: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

Indeed, invoking an Orwellian analogy in any critique of Beinart’s political prescriptions (and by implication, those of the wider “progressive” U.S. Jewish Establishment, for which he purports to speak) is compelling. For, they appear in perfect step with the oxymoronic rhetoric tradition in Orwell’s Newspeak of war is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength” in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. 

After all, what Beinart is, in effect, telling us is that Israel’s success is Israel’s failure—or, in Beinartian/Orwellian Newspeak: “Success is failure.”

But that is not the end of the self-contradictory “nostrums” that Beinart and the progressive U.S .Jewish Establishment have embraced. Another might well be “Tyranny is democracy.”

Thus, for decades they have embraced the idea of two-statism as the only enlightened resolution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs, somehow blithely ignoring that they were promoting the establishment of an entity that would embody the diametric antithesis of the very values they were invoking for its establishment!!!

Touting tyranny … in the name of democracy

There can, of course, be little reason to doubt that a prospective Palestinian state, in any conceivably plausible configuration, will be anything but what all other Arab states are, in some form or another: A homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny—whose hallmarks would be gender discrimination against girls and women, persecution of homosexuals, religious intolerance against all non-Muslims and oppression of political dissidents.

This is particularly pertinent given what has transpired in Gaza—perhaps the ultimate indictment of two-statism—where Palestinians were first given a shot at self-governance and which has become a bastion and safe-haven for jihadi terror.

Indeed, there is scant cause to believe that what was in the past will not be again in the future—and even the most fervent two-state enthusiast has yet to offer up a persuasive argument why the envisioned Palestinian state would not quickly emerge as the said homophobic, misogynistic tyranny.

Accordingly, it is difficult to conjure up anything more perverse and paradoxical than liberal American Jewry support of the establishment of a political entity that will not only gravely imperil the democratic nation-state of their Jewish kinfolk, but comprises the utter negation of all they profess to cherish.

This is clearly—and perplexingly—an element that has not been adequately thrust to the fore by Israel in the on-going debate.

Embarrassing examples 

True, Beinart has now relinquished his support of two-statism, not because the detrimental ramifications of this have finally dawned on him, but because he gauges, correctly, that it is no longer feasible. However, his response to this belated realization, is not to admit that he was wrong and retreat, chastened, to analyze the error of his ways, but to discard the idea of a Jewish nation-state altogether in favor of a bi-national state—Israel-Palestine—in which Israeli-Jews and Palestinian-Arabs would have equal national rights.

From his perch in the hallucinatory parallel universe, which he apparently inhabits, he asks us to imagine Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, linked arm-in-arm, commemorating together both the victims of the Holocaust and sorrow over the Nakba—as if the two were in anyway even remotely comparable.

In trying to justify his new one-state credo, he offers two examples both embarrassing inappropriate. Thus, as allegedly illustrative instances in which once hostile ethnic groups have set aside violence to live harmoniously in a single state, he cites South Africa and Northern Ireland.

South Africa is a particularly incongruous example to cite. The conflict there was not remotely similar to that between Israel and the Palestinians, involving a massive disenfranchised black majority against the monopoly of power by a small white minority on the basis of racial identity not national enmity.

Embarrassing (cont.)

However egregious one might consider the apartheid regime, it is difficult to deny that, since the end of white minority rule, the country has hardly been a glowing success story—either economically or societally.

Thus, despite its copious natural wealth, the county is teetering on the brink of economic meltdown. Its government bonds have recently been downgraded to junk. The unemployment rate was 30 percent prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is now wreaking further socioeconomic havoc. The country is facing a grave energy crisis, with the economy plagued by frequent countrywide power outages. Even before the current pandemic, South Africa was wracked by disease and crime, suffering one of the world’s highest rates of HIV and rape, with sexual violence appallingly prevalent across the country. Neither has the end of apartheid heralded the onset of idyllic racial harmony, with frequent racial violence and incitement still disturbingly prevalent (particularly against White farmers) and a steep decline in the white population, which is dwindling at a rapid rate—now considerably less than half the proportion it was of the total population in the late 1980s, just prior to the end of apartheid.

Today, whites comprise slightly more than 7 percent of the total population—which leaves us to puzzle over why he considers South Africa a persuasive example to cite as endorsing his one-state-for-two-people concept.

Intellectual gobbledygook

The case of Northern Ireland is hardly more apposite.

After all, it was far more an intra-ethnic than an inter-ethnic conflict, with the divide being one of different belief systems (within Christianity) and political allegiance (regarding ties to Britain), within an otherwise largely similar ethnic group. This is much more along the lines of the American Civil War than a classic ethnic conflict between rivalrous groups with very distinct linguistic systems, cultural roots and societal norms as the one between Jew and Arab for control of the Holy Land.

Of course, Beinart totally omits any mention of a myriad of one-state experiences–either: (a) those in which conflict has been resolved by the slaughter/subjugation of one ethnic group by the other—as in Katanga, Biafra or Rwanda, in which millions lost their lives; or (b) those in multi-ethnic states, which split because of irreconcilable differences between rivalrous ethnic factions—either with violent bloodshed, and attendant atrocities—as in post-Tito Balkans—or peaceably, as in Czechoslovakia, in the 1993 “Velvet Divorce.”

Unsurprisingly, Beinart studiously avoids any reference to these and other inconvenient examples of multi-ethnic state internal turmoil (such as Lebanon) or dissolution (such as Sudan). But, perhaps even more pertinent, it would be intriguing to pressure Beinart to identify any example where a sizable Muslim community has been conduced into the kind of durable egalitarian power-sharing arrangement of governance that he suggests—even in far more amenable conditions than those that prevail in the tumultuous conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

For all these reasons—and more—Beinart’s diatribe against a Jewish state is little more than intellectual gibberish and should be treated for what it is: A load of gibberish that is as pompous as it is worthless.

The puzzling paradox of liberal Jewry

The story of the Zionist endeavor and the establishment and evolution of Israel is one of the most stirring epics in the annals of modern history. It is one of endurance and accomplishment against all odds; of improbable survival and equally improbable success in the face of daunting threats, without imperiling the democratic nature of its system of governance.

Indeed, as Dershowitz pointed out: “Israel is a wonder to the world. It has given more to humankind … in the 72 years of its existence than have the overwhelming majority of far-older countries throughout their entire histories… No nation faced with the threats comparable to those faced by Israel … has ever had a better record of human rights, compliance with the rule of law.”

As such, it should be a source of pride for all Jews—but particularly for Jews who espouse liberal values of tolerance and pluralism, of individual liberty and human advancement.

Yet this not the case. This is the puzzling and perturbing paradox of liberal Jewry.

How it can be confronted, countered and adequately contended with will be the focus of upcoming articles.

Martin Sherman is the founder & executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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