In a polemic published last month in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” the left-wing journalist Peter Beinart argued that American Jews, especially the younger generation, are turning their backs on Israel. In Beinart’s estimation, this is a most understandable and inevitable development. Beinart expounded on the points of his original essay during a recent lecture at Los Angeles’s Temple Beth. Just as in the original article, Beinart’s argument was profoundly flawed.
For anyone with a modicum of knowledge of Israeli society and the larger picture of the Middle East, the lecture was an astonishing display of ignorance and arrogance. The following analysis of the lowlights of his talk shows how Beinart, like other Israel-bashers, rides roughshod over the truth in an effort to portray Israel as violent and inhumane and deserving of the increasing suspicion in which it is held by American Jews.
The “Radical Settlers”
Beinart stated as a matter of fact: “The same radical settlers who used violence against Palestinians used violence against an Israeli prime minister [Rabin].”
Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin was not assassinated by a “radical settler,” but by a law student from Herzilya, a coastal town adjacent to Tel Aviv.
Beinart gave no evidence in this part of his talk that he knew what percentage of the settlers were involved in violence against Palestinians. Or who has been subject to greater and more lethal violence. Is it Palestinians by settlers? Or settlers by Palestinians?
Nor did he mention that Palestinian movements have proven all too ready to use violence. Not only is this violence directed toward “radical settlers” and innocent Israeli citizens, but Palestinians have also embarked on a frenzy of fratricidal fury against themselves.
The Eviction of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah Quarter in East Jerusalem
On this matter, Beinart posed this rhetorical question:
Is what is happening in Sheik Jarrah, where Palestinians who were living in their homes for 50 years were forcibly evicted and are now living in the street, “kosher”?
This mirrors his claim in his New York Review of Books article that:
[In] the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, … a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers.
In fact, the Palestinians’ eviction was not a politically motivated initiative to dispossess hapless, helpless Palestinians as Beinart implies, but the result of a court ruling.
The courts (including the Israeli Supreme Court, which often — indeed more often than not — rules against the “radical settlers”) determined that the property in which the Palestinians were living in fact belonged to Jewish owners. In 1967, the court awarded the Palestinian families “protected tenant” status, whose right to reside in the homes was guaranteed as long as they paid rent to the legal owners.
In 1982, the legal owners sued 23 families for nonpayment of rent. According to an agreement reached between the lawyer representing the Palestinian families and the authorized representatives of the owners, the Palestinian families were indeed recognized as “protected tenants” whose occupancy in the buildings was ensured as long as they paid rent. However, most of the families refused to do so.
Does Beinart believe that Israel would be looked on more favorably if the rule of law was flouted, and legal property rights violated because of the ethnic identity of those ruled against?
Pikuch Nefesh and Reverence for Life Over Land
One of the things that bothers me is [the undermining of] the great reverence for Pikuach Nefesh [preserving lives] and the recognition that it is acceptable to withdraw from land if it meant saving lives.
This is a statement that can only be explained by either total ignorance or total insincerity. For as anyone who follows the news or reads the papers must know, a dramatic inverse relationship exists between Pikuach Nefesh (preserving lives) and withdrawal from land.
Indeed, since the doctrine of “land-for-peace” was introduced into Israeli policy, fatalities have soared to unprecedented levels on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. To suggest otherwise reflects a massive deficit of either information or integrity.
Regarding the conduct of his like-minded Israel-basher peers, Beinart pontificated: “There is something frankly silly to me about a Jewish community that feels so self-confident in how our values apply in Bosnia, the former Soviet Union, and Darfur, but is so timid in talking about how our values apply in the place we care about most [presumably Israel].”
So Israel’s attempts to defend its people are morally comparable to the wholesale slaughter in Darfur, the widespread massacres in Bosnia, and the oppressive brutality of the Soviet regime?
What a windfall for the assorted collection of Jew-baiting anti-Semites, Judeo-phobic Israel-bashers, and other hate-driven villains such thinking is. What greater endorsement could they hope for than Beinart’s exhortation that his fellow Jews relate to the Jewish State as if it were governed by the genocidal Janjaweed militias in Sudan, or by the brutish guards in the Siberian gulags, or the murderous perpetrators of the bloody events in Srebrenica.
Double Standards II
Beinart endorses double standards when they work to Israel’s detriment, and only dismisses them when they do not.
When a challenge was raised regarding the application of these double standards, Beinart’s rather glib and unoriginal response was to claim that while Israel was “far morally superior to North Korea, Syria, Libya and Iran,” these were not relevant criteria he would expect from a Jewish state. According to Beinart, he should not have to “compromise [his expectations from Israel] just because North Korea is worse.”
Such an approach might have some merit if Israel was being censured less severely, or even equally severely, for violations of liberal-democratic values similar to those perpetrated by North Korea, Iran, etc. But what is happening is altogether different. Israel is being censured far more harshly and frequently for infringements much less notable than those glossed over by the international community when committed by other nations.
Moreover, it is not only in comparison to the tyrannies in Tehran and Tripoli and the dictatorships in Damascus and the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) that Israel is being held to a double standard. Indeed, widely divergent criteria are used to judge the actions of Israel and those of the leading democratic countries that comprise NATO. This is true both with respect to military action in the Balkans and the “War on Terror” in Afghanistan.
In the Balkans, high-altitude bombing by NATO, including the use of cluster bombs, inflicted hundreds of civilian Serbian casualties during a military campaign in which not one single civilian in a NATO nation was ever threatened.
In Afghanistan, where military action was undertaken in response to a single terror attack on a single NATO member, estimates of civilian deaths caused directly by NATO military action since 2001 are in the range of 5000-8000, with additional indirect fatalities estimated at up to 20,000.
Why should the victims of Israeli actions taken to defend their citizens elicit a far greater expression of moral outrage on the part of the international community than actions taken to perpetuate regimes in East Asia, Central Africa, or in the Middle East?
Why should several families evicted because of failure to pay rent, after being afforded due process by the Israeli legal system, be more troubling to liberal Jews than the millions of victims of gender apartheid, creed apartheid, and gay apartheid across the Islamic world?
Israel’s Right to Defend Itself
Beinart magnanimously agrees that “to ask Israel to be willing to not defend itself would be wrong,” but predictably goes on to ask – rhetorically — “is every military action…does every Israeli policy contribute to Israeli defense..?”
To be sure, with the benefit of hindsight, some Israeli security measures may be criticized for one reason or another. But in a situation of such uncertainty, what would Beinart recommend as Israel’s working security policy: To err on the side of sober caution? Or on the side of reckless optimism?
Nothing could imperil liberal democratic values more than trying to foist on Israel unattainable standards of liberal democratic ideals that make the defense of these ideals impossible. These standards are not demanded or expected of any other country, much less from one faced with such grave existential threats.
Of course no one is disputing Beinart’s right to criticize Israeli policy. However, as someone who has chosen not to share the burden of living in Israel, he would surely understand that when he states that “as a Jew, I have a certain set of expectations… as to what a Jewish state might be,” some might interpret his approach as being more than a little presumptuous.
Indeed, it would be interesting to know what kind of Israeli military actions Beinart would condone as not offensive to his liberal sensibilities. Would they include the construction of the much maligned separation barrier? Targeted killings (with the lowest level of collateral casualties in military history)? Large scale campaigns (such as “Cast Lead”) to quell rocket and mortar fire on civilian populations?
Blockades and Balance
Beinart asks: “How did the Gaza blockade which banned a vast, vast number of consumer products that had nothing to do with making rockets…help Israeli security?” He added, “It seems to me that all it did was lead to more and more and more hatred of Israel.”
Can Beinart really be unaware of the fact that the imposition of the blockade was a result of, not a reason for, Palestinian enmity; that it is a consequence, not a cause, of Palestinian hatred for Israel?
Is he really ignorant of the fact that whenever Israel has turned the other cheek, it has been resoundingly slapped by the Palestinians; that whenever Israel extended the hand of friendship, it has been brusquely brushed aside by the Palestinians?
Why should Israel be condemned by liberal democrats for imposing a blockade on Gaza, when the international community imposed a UN Security Council-sanctioned blockade against Iraq and its despotic ruler?
Why is the Gaza blockade more reprehensible than the U.S.-led, UN sanctioned Iraqi blockade that caused infant mortality to sky-rocket and banned importation of over 300 items – including painkillers, pencils, hearing aids, musical instruments, and shampoo?