Sunday May 19, 2013
Has Zionism Betrayed Its Ideals - Or Was It Flawed at Its Inception?Submitted by Allan Brownfeld for Salem-News.com
From Issues of the American Council for Judaism' - Spring-Summer 2012
(ARLINGTON, VA) - In the book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart, a prominent liberal, former editor of The New Republic, Orthodox Jew and self-declared Zionist, argues that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank poses a serious threat to that country’s liberal democratic ideals.
He argues that the American Jewish establishment has closed its eyes to the disintegration of Israel’s higher ideals while lobbying Congress and the administration for whatever the Israeli government of the moment desires. Writing in The New York Times, Beinart argues that, “... we should call the West Bank.
The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based non-democracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.”
In Beinart’s view, “When Israel’s founders wrote the country’s declaration of independence, which calls for a Jewish state that ‘ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, raceor sex’ they understood that Zionism and democracy were not only compatible, the two were inseparable.”
“Undemocratic” Israel Many others have joined Beinart’s campaign against “undemocratic” Israel. New Yorker editor David Remnick writes that, “Herzl envisioned a pluralist Zionism in which rabbis would enjoy ‘no privileged voice in the state.’
These days, emboldened fundamentalists flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism. There are sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on schoolgirls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses ... Dov Lior, the head of an important West Bank rabbinical council, has called Baruch Goldstein — who, in 1994, machine-gunned 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron — ‘holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.’ Lior endorsed a book that discussed when it is right and proper to murder an Arab, and he and a group of kindred rabbis issued a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting land to non-Jews.”
Peter Beinart calls himself a “liberal Zionist,” and argues that “there is a legitimacy to the idea of the Jewish state because the history of the Jewish experience in exile suggests that Jews have a right to a state as a refuge and in order to create a fully Jewish culture. But it’s also that the creation of the state is not an end in itself, that the state was meant to reflect certain liberal ideals based on Jewish tradition ... To me being a liberal Zionist is the effort to help Israel be a Jewish state that lives out its own liberal democratic founding ideals.”
In Beinart’s view, “Jewish tradition offers no simple lessons on how to wield power, and the lessons it does teach can sometimes be hard for modern liberals to stomach. But it is striking that when describing the previous two times that Jewish sovereignty failed — the Kingdom of Judah’s destruction by the Babylonian empire around 586 BCE and the Hasmonean Dynasty’s destruction by the Romans more than 500 years later — our tradition insists that physical collapse was preceded by ethical collapse. Again and again, Jewish texts connect the right to Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel to Jewish behavior in the Land of Israel. In the words of Jeremiah, ‘If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave your fathers, for ever and ever.’”
Jews as “Victims”
While the American Jewish establishment persists in viewing, Jews as “victims” and in defending whatever Israel does as necessary for its “survival,” Beinart views the modern world in entirely different terms.
“At the core of the tragedy,” he writes, “lies the refusal to accept that in both America and Israel we live in an age not of Jewish weakness, but of Jewish power, and that without moral vigilance, Jews will abuse power just as hideously as anyone else. By discussing power only as a means of survival, the American Jewish establishment implicitly denies that Jews can use power for anything but survival. They deny that Jews, like all human beings, canuse power not merely to survive but to destroy.Afew years ago, a journalist reported that Malcolm Hoenlein, the influential executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, had a photo in his conference room of Israeli F-15s flying over Auschwitz. It is a photo of a fantasy. Israeli jets have never bombed Auschwitz and never will.
What they have bombed, in recent years, is the Gaza Strip, a fenced-in, hideously overcrowded, desperately poor slum from which terrorist groups sometimes shell Israel. Hoenlein, in other words, has decorated his conference room not with an image of the reality that he helps perpetuate, but with an image of the fantasy he superimposes on that reality. In this way, he embodies the American Jewish establishment, which, by superimposing the Jewish past on the Jewish present, is failing the challenge of a new age.” (A review of The Crisis in Zionism by Peter Beinart will appear in the Fall 2012 Issues.)
Peter Beinart is, of course correct in his analysis of what he calls “undemocratic Israel.” That he wishes Israel to adhere to democratic principles is a welcome departure from those strident voices that see fit to defend Israeli actions, whatever they may be. Still, those who have embraced Beinart’s thesis are, it seems, animated by a belief in their own kind of Zionism, Jewish nationalism, the idea that Jews are an ethnic group rather than adherents of a religion of universal values, and that Israel is the “homeland” of all Jews.
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