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Every now and then the left discovers someone who tells them what they already think, but puts a glossier edge on it, and elevates him to the status of “Serious Thinker.” This is the office for which Peter Beinart has been briefly nominated.
The chief prerequisite for becoming a serious thinker on the left is to state what is obvious to the left without actually seriously considering its obviousness. This is what Peter Beinart delivers in his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, by providing an indulgence for leftist Israel bashing by telling the bashers that they aren’t bad Jews, it’s the Israelis who are bad Jews, bad Democrats and bad people all around.
As ideas go, this is about as original as old lefties reassuring each other that all the Kulaks had it coming or Bund members telling themselves that the Jews brought this on themselves. It’s the feeble mutterings of bad people trying to convince themselves that they are good people because their victims have it coming. And what’s a few more dead Jews in Toulouse, when Peter Beinart has a book deal.
There are two basic ways to resolve the “crisis” of liberal Zionism. One is to question liberalism, the other to question Zionism. The people most likely to screech “Israel Firster” at dinner parties and op-ed pieces have chosen their side. “Israel Firster” isn’t their denunciation of disloyalty to America, but disloyalty to progressive ideals. It’s an old charge delivered by Lenin and repeated by the left in its long crusade against Zionism.
Is there really a crisis of liberal Zionism? Beinart insists that there is a split between a conservative and liberal Zionism. It would be more accurate to say that there is a split within liberalism between the left and more traditional liberals. There is no crisis of liberal Zionism; there is a civil war among liberals, particularly Jewish liberal who are being edged out by the radical anti-Jewish left.
There is no crisis of liberal Zionism. There is a crisis of Jewish leftist Islamism, that horrible chimerical beast which insists that cheerleading for the Muslim terrorists is somehow the essence of Jewish values, while supporting Israel is a betrayal of those values. That is the crisis which is being articulated by serious Jewish liberal thinkers. That is the crisis that Peter Beinart is covering up under a cloud of Israel bashing.
The left rejected the Jewish national project before the modern state was even created. The Beinarts can pretend that the latest round of their rejection is somehow premised on settlements and civil rights, but that’s a shameless lie. The left’s rejection was based on a constellation of reasons, some of them anti-Semitic, some anti-nationalist, but that rejection did not derive from Palestinian rights cooked up much later in Moscow by the machinery of the same Communist state which had outlawed Zionism.
The liberal Zionists believed that Israel had a right to exist and defend itself, as they also believed that America had a right to exist and defend itself. They saw Islam and Communism as totalitarian ideologies. There was no contradiction between liberalism and Zionism, because they measured both Jews and Arab Muslims by the same standard, and chose between the two.
They did not agree with everything that Israel did, but they saw it in a larger context. This larger context does not exist in Beinart’s screeds, which recycle all the usual attacks on Israel with a feigned tone of sadness teetering into outrage, without any of the context at all. The reason there is no context is that there is a Crisis of Leftist Islamism.
There is no contradiction between traditional liberalism and Zionism. There is a contradiction between the left and Islamism. But that contradiction is never addressed, instead it is funneled into more denunciations of America and Israel.
Is there more of a contradiction between a liberal cheering on the IDF, or the left standing together with the Muslim Brotherhood? That is a question which genuinely serious thinkers on the left like Nick Cohen have addressed. But that question would demand genuine soul searching, rather than Beinart’s shoddy mainstreamed propaganda, which hasn’t altered much from its original sources in the copy boys of the Arab League and its strutting whores in the American Council for Judaism.
If the modern left really opposed Israel because they oppose colonialism, checkpoints, settlements and all the rest of the 99 theses that the Martin Luther Pipkins keep nailing to the synagogue while pounding their sunken chests and beaming for the cameras, then they would be at least as outraged at Turkey or China. But it isn’t Israel’s deeds that outrage it is — it is its existence.
There is nothing Israel could do that would appease its enemies, and I don’t mean the House of Saud, Hamas or Abbas — I mean its leftist Jewish enemies like Norman Finkelstein, George Soros or Peter Beinart.
Their enmity toward Israel is not uniquely Jewish, but their Jewishness gives it an edge. They are “Left Fisters” who are perpetually shamed by the Zionist Entity and its resistive form of Jewish identity. Unitarian, Presbyterian and Jewish leftists hate Israel for the same basic reasons that they hate America, but the Jewish leftist uniquely experiences both leftist guilt and Jewish guilt over Israel, and kills one to appease the other.
Peter Beinart isn’t a liberal Zionist. He’s a leftist anti-Zionist. In a better and more honest world, he would own up to that and make his argument. But the midden camp of the leftist anti-Zionists is oversaturated and there aren’t nearly as many book deals to be picked up by rehashing the same old bashing as if it were new.
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