I just finished reading Peter Beinart’s new book, The Crisis of Zionism, and it has enraged me to the point of writing about it. Beinart's compelling case managed to keep me angry for all 196 pages as he detailed the injustice that is being done in the name of Jews everywhere by a radically right wing minority that does not represent what the actual population of average American Jews believe.
Beinart, a self-proclaimed Zionist Jew, has had it with the way his own identity is being portrayed by the hard right constituency of the Israel lobby and the rabidly racist politics of the Likud party in Israel. Page after page, Beinart details how Zionism was originally a liberal idea that was meant to establish an all-inclusive Jewish State regardless of religion, race, politics, or sex. But what it has become in both Israel and America is a dangerous mutation of what it once was for the sole purpose of political influence and xenophobic hysteria.
The facts laid out in the book are impossible to ignore. From Bibi Netanyahu’s despicably racist antics, to the propagation of the “never again” mindset to fill AIPAC coffers, to President Obama’s tragic failure to stop the hard-right Zionist machine, Beinart makes point after point about how Zionism, the future of Jewry in America and Israel, and any hope for a Palestinian state are nearing crisis. In stunningly concise prose, Beinart systematically lists all the lies, propaganda, and hogwash that both the Israel lobby in America and Likud party in Israel use to push forth their agendas, and tears them to shreds with brilliant clarity.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with a young Jewish girl at a café I frequent. Whenever I pull the book out to read it, its title catches both glares and stares of intrigue. She was no different, and asked me what it was about. We spoke for over an hour about how she feels so disconnected to her own identity as a Jewish American that she doesn’t consider Israel a Jewish state nor a true democracy. She is disheartened by what she feels is the denigration of her own faith by those who claim the same creed. Beinart typifies her perfectly, and I was shocked at the accuracy of his description.
According to him, there is a growing number of young Jewish Americans like her that care deeply about being Jewish and precisely because they do find Israel’s policies that equate Palestinians and other Arabs everywhere as a lesser people, “agonizing.” He sees these Jews as leading the American diaspora into the future. These young people love their faith and their culture, but are disenchanted with what is has become. They are sick of being taught more about the Holocaust and the perpetual “threat” of annihilation than about their heritage, values, and identity as a people. They are creating their own form of Judaism, and they are on the rise.
However, if this group fails to see a truly democratic Jewish state in Israel as the foundation of their own identity as liberal, tolerant Jews, and instead leave the interpretation of Zionist ideology to the likes of AIPAC or the Anti-Defamation League, then Israel will never be truly democratic and their efforts to reclaim their identity will be in vein. At this 11thhour, as the possibility of a Palestinian state is less likely than ever, liberal Jews must not give up on Israel.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence pledges to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” and to pursue “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the Hebrew prophets.” Jews and gentiles alike should share the responsibility of making that a reality.