American Jews have always been addicted to interfaith dialogue. Jewish groups jump at any opportunity to engage in interfaith programs to foster alliances with other minorities. When applied to dialogue between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, dialogue programs, which are usually sponsored by groups that are critical of Israel, are generally even less productive than other kinds. All too often, they involve Arabs complaining bitterly about Israel and the Jews agreeing with them. While these engagements are well-intended and praised for their idealism, they often do more harm than good since they can serve to reinforce the unwillingness of Palestinians to give up their demented fantasies about the demolition of the Jewish state.
But now we’ve been given an example of a form of Jewish-Arab dialogue that goes well beyond that. The newest model that is being tried involves bringing American Jewish students together with people who are openly anti-Zionists, bent on Israel’s destruction to make them better informed about the Palestinian narrative.
That’s the conceit of a program launched by Ezra Beinart, a high school junior living in New York City who has been recruiting fellow teens to learn more about the Palestinian side in the conflict. And they are certainly getting that in the series of Zoom programs he’s led that have featured, among others, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a vicious opponent of the Jewish state and a supporter of the antisemitic BDS movement.
If his last name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the son of journalist Peter Beinart, whose well-chronicled personal and ideological journey began as a neo-liberal hawk, then a left-wing dove and self-proclaimed liberal Zionist to his current guise as an outspoken anti-Zionist who supports the elimination of the Jewish state, a position he advocates in publications like The New York Times and as a commentator on CNN.
I have often criticized Beinart’s work. And I debated him once in person several years ago when he was still playing the role of liberal Zionist. That was before he abandoned the cause of Jewish self-determination because, to his surprise, the people of Israel stubbornly refused to listen to his advice to make suicidal concessions to those who plot their destruction.
But while I make no secret of my disdain for his writing and statements—and am appalled at the way he uses his Jewish identity to give undeserved credibility to his attacks on Israel—I bear neither him nor his family any personal ill will. And under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t think of publicizing, let alone publicly criticizing, his son’s high school projects.
The younger Beinart, however, has not only promoted them himself but was also the subject of a fawning 2,000-word article published by JTA. The piece lionized the teenager, including incorporating just a single voice raising a gentle concern about his work and none taking him to task for what is, at best, a highly questionable endeavor.
That the once-authoritative outlet of Jewish journalism would choose to engage in puffery of this sort is disappointing. But this story does raise some serious questions—not so much about the Beinarts, but about what it is that American Jewish students are being taught and what they know.
A false narrative on Jewish discourse
The premise of both the younger Beinart’s project and the JTA article is that young Jews are drowning in pro-Israel propaganda that is giving them a one-sided and inaccurate account of the conflict in the Middle East. This is much like the complaints made by critics of Israel who claim that the organized Jewish world shuts down everyone except apologists for the Jewish state and that there are few voices protesting its policies that are allowed to be heard in community forums or in the media.
With respect to the general debate about Israel among Jews or the secular media, this claim has always been utterly disingenuous. American Jews are awash in critiques of Israel and its policies. Those who bash it have no difficulty finding places where they can lament its supposed crimes and the plight of its opponents.
While some liberal rabbis have claimed that they fear speaking out against Israel, that has never seemed to prevent most of them from doing so and for being praised for their “courage” in echoing opinions that are fashionable on the political left. In the Conservative and Reform movements, it is those rabbis who remain steadfast Zionists that have found themselves increasingly isolated.
That is even more the case with respect to the corporate media and popular secular liberal outlets, such as those where the elder Beinart is featured. Anti-Zionist columnists, including those who speak against it “as a Jew,” abound at The New York Times. Articles defending Israel or a critique of Palestinian conduct there, and in most other liberal media, remain few and far between.
So young Jews have no shortage of places to go if they want to read or watch attacks on Israel. But what about their schools?
The sad truth is that the majority of Jewish kids get little or no education about their heritage or faith. Just as discouraging is that those who get at least some Jewish learning often wind up with very little instruction in Jewish history, Zionism and the story of the conflict in the Middle East. Of course, some nationwide day schools—the best possible Jewish education available in the United States—send students to study in Israel for a semester or for a class trip. But even many of those provide only minimal learning that would prepare them for the avalanche of anti-Zionist propaganda that their graduates will be bombarded with once they get to college.
How many of even those who are in the best Jewish elementary or secondary schools are taught the facts about what happened in 1948, 1967, 1993, 2000, 2006, 2014 (or the events since then) in a way that could give them a firm grounding in the subject? Do many of them know that more Mizrachi Jews were forced out of their homes in the Arab and Muslim world after 1948 than the total number of Palestinians who became refugees after the failed Arab war to destroy the newborn State of Israel? Are they aware of how many times Palestinians turned down compromise peace offers because they will accept no solution to the conflict except one that refuses to accept a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.
The younger Beinart, who spent a summer working as an intern at the pro-Palestinian Jerusalem Fund think tank in Washington, and his enablers assume that the real gap in their knowledge is their lack of indoctrination in the hateful Palestinian nakba narrative. The Arabic word meaning “disaster” or “catastrophe” (referring to modern-day Israel’s establishment), pushes the idea that Zionism and Jewish self-determination in their ancient homeland is considered a crime that must be expiated for justice to be done.
Mainstreaming Tlaib’s antisemitism
To that end, Ezra Beinart brings students together with figures like Tlaib. Her antisemitic campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state is gaining influence among progressive Democrats who buy into intersectional myths about Israel being a “white” oppressor state, as well as the lie that the century-old Palestinian war against Zionism is akin to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Engaging with Tlaib to allow her to pose as a friend of the Jews while seeking Israel’s destruction is aiding and abetting a propaganda campaign that targets Jews and their rights.
The point of these efforts is not so much educational as it is to mainstream the notion that denying Jews rights that no one would think of denying to anyone else—like the right to sovereignty and self-defense in their ancient homeland—is not a form of prejudice. It is a dangerous falsehood, as is the assertion of both Beinarts that a “binational state” would protect the rights and lives of Jews. They neglect to note that eliminating Israel against the will of its people and replacing it with such a state could only happen as the result of the genocidal war that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad dream about. Anti-Zionism is the most prevalent contemporary form of antisemitism—and that is true even if those who promote it are Jewish.
So, rather than praise this project or accept the false premise that it is helping to give young Jews a more well-rounded view of the world, we need to recognize it as part of the deluge of anti-Zionist propaganda that is flooding American public forums. American high school students won’t decide the fate of Israel, and no one should personally abuse even one who works against the survival of the Jewish state. Still, at a time when antisemitism is on the rise and young Jews need to learn more about the justice of Zionism and Israel’s cause, those aiding efforts to promote its destruction are not performing a legitimate educational purpose. They are undermining Jewish rights and Jewish security.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.