Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jews Debate What's Next

Hello Friend,

There's huge debate going on in American and Israeli Jewry over the occupation and what it has done and is doing to "Jewish democracy".

Peter Beinart is at the center of the debate, stirring things up with his book, THE CRISIS OF ZIONISM. There are countless pieces out there, pro and con. This is an op-ed in the NY Times (via Nicolas Kristof)

Now, he speaks out, and I think summarizes the debate up to the moment. If you read nothing else, read only the last three paragraphs, in bold. These are the dying gasps of the "Two-State Solution". Whether One State or Two, unless there is a willingness to look at root causes and treat each other with respect, the future looks grim and grimmer. (Giving "cover" to the settlement expansion continues to marginalize Palestinians, even though the Israeli Supreme Court has declared certain settlements must desist).

And remember to pray for me/us in the class at Christ Memorial Church for three weeks, starting this Sunday, in the Chapel (far E of the campus), 10:15 - 11:15 a.m., as we hear Palestinian Christians ask for understanding and support. JRK

Beinart Fires Back
The day my book, The Crisis of Zionism, hit the shelves I gave a speech at the University of Maryland. During question and answer session, an older Jewish man–grim-faced, teeth-clenched—demanded to know how I could criticize Israel for occupying the West Bank when most West Bank Palestinians effectively govern themselves, and when the Palestinians have shown themselves unwilling to live at peace. I responded that while Palestinians do indeed bear part of the blame for the lack of a Palestinian state, Israel’s policy of subsidizing Jews to move to settlements—including settlements deep in the West Bank—only strengthens the most militant forces in Palestinian society. He rose again in protest, then sat down and glared.

Then a college student got up. He said he’d enjoyed my talk, but as an American Jew who believed in separation of church and state, he didn’t understand why we need a Jewish state at all.The two of you, I said, gesturing to the student and the older man, really need to talk.

Generationally, I’m halfway between my two interlocutors. Like the college student, I’m too young to have seen the terrifying wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973, when Arab armies threatened to vanquish the Jewish state. I’ve never known an Israel that didn’t occupy the West Bank. But like the older man, I’ve seen whole communities of Jews take refuge in Israel. Among my formative memories of the Jewish state are the pictures of Anatoly Sharansky, fresh from a Soviet jail, descending onto the tarmac at Ben-Gurion airport and the images of nearly destitute Ethiopian Jews, separated from the rest of our people since the days when the Temple stood, entering the planes that the Jewish state had sent to take them home.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that my book argues that Jews need a state for self-protection and cultural expression, but worries that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank menaces the democratic ideals upon which the state was founded. Some in the organized American Jewish community think this places me on the left. I disagree. I actually occupy a shrinking center of American Jews fiercely committed to Israel’s existence but profoundly troubled by its current course. Our most high-profile critics sound like the man at my University of Maryland talk, unwilling to confront any contradiction between a nation whose declaration of independence promises “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of race, religion and sex” and an occupation that has held millions of Palestinians as non-citizens for more than forty years.

But more quietly, there is a growing cadre of younger American Jews with deep questions about the very notion of a Jewish state. According to a 2007 survey by the researchers Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman, while over 80 percent of American Jews over the age of 65 embrace the idea of a Jewish state, among those under the age of 35, the figure drops to just over 50 percent.

Zionism has not always been a consensus position in American Jewish life. Before Israel’s creation, and even to some degree before 1967, substantial elements within American Jewry questioned the notion of Jewish sovereignty.

I fear that unless something changes, those earlier divisions will reemerge in the years to come. The more permanent Israel’s occupation of the West Bank becomes, the more American Jews will be forced to choose between a Jewish state that is not fully democratic and a binational state that loses its Jewish character. And faced with that choice, a great chasm will divide American Jewry: with most older American Jews on one side, and many non-Orthodox, younger American Jews on the other.

Saving Israel as a democratic Jewish state and preserving the Zionist consensus in American Jewish life are two sides of the same struggle. Since my book came out, I’ve sometimes been called a controversial, polarizing figure in the American Jewish community. The accusation makes me sigh. I’ve seen enough questioners like that those at the University of Maryland to realize that if the two state solution dies, the real polarization will be yet to come.

Peter Beinart is the editor of Open Zion and author of The Crisis of Zionism.