I will remember My covenant with Jacob and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember, and I will remember the Land. (Lev. 26:42)
Before Abraham, before Moses, before the giving of Torah, there was the Land that G-d had blessed for a covenant and would give to our people for eternity. G-d told Abram to leave his father’s house and go to a Land where “I will make of you a great nation; and I will bless you and those who bless you, and curse those who curse you, and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Gen. 12:2-3) Two out of three, so far, isn’t bad.
In 2012, Peter Beinart published his book, The Crisis of Zionism. It flopped. Already aware of his agenda from his articles in Ha’aretz (Israel’s “Pravda”), I wasn’t going to spend almost thirty dollars on the book. But two years later, still curious, I purchased it online for $1.39 – hardcover, no less – rationalizing that it would still be cheaper than fireplace kindling. The book was actually interesting; but a more accurate title would have been “The Tragedy of Non-Orthodox Zionism.” An avowed liberal, Beinart brought to light a number of controversies from the liberal, non-Orthodox perspective as his whining alternated between his concern for the suffering and dignity of the (mythological) Palestinian people, and his “virtual” love and concern for Israel as a democratic and Jewish state—the usual leftist quandary. Nowhere in his 269 pages did he express equal concern for his fellow Jews who live in our Biblical communities of Hebron, Beit El, Shiloh, Tekoah, Efrat – the land where our patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob actually lived.
But that’s no surprise since most Jewish Americanized organizations also feel little concern for the 450,000 Jews who live in the Land of our Torah because, as Beinart points out, most non-Orthos have never bothered to read the Torah. Judging from his slavish praise for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his merry band of terrorists, a low-information reader might have taken them for a bunch of boy scouts out to earn merit badges, with the murder of Jews just collateral mishaps. Quoting Abbas, “We do not want to isolate Israel or to delegitimize it. On the contrary, we want to co-exist with it.” (The Crisis of Zionism, p. 52). I kid you not. Although other quotes are well footnoted, strangely enough this one isn’t. But I would contrast Beinart’s Abbas with a recent, less warm and fuzzy Facebook post, reported by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), in which Abbas’ Fatah affirms its commitment to violence and the use of weapons, posting a music video which threatens Israel – “the Zionist enemy and usurper” – with this serenade:
We are the members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. … We have prepared for you those [men] whose only desire is your destruction. (Facebook, “Fatah –The Main Page,” May 17, 2015)
The singing is a bit off-key, but it’s the lyrics that seem out of sync with Beinart’s kumbaya or “Don’t we all just want to get along.” It’s tough to take apologetic liberals seriously when Fatah’s Abbas reminds his people weekly that the objective is to destroy Israel.
When an author stoops to such easily refutable misrepresentations, it compromises his credibility while validating the reality-based arguments of the political Right. Beinart plays fast and loose with his “facts” to support his bias, but the background information is interesting. Quoting from Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech, he finds it “striking” that Netanyahu “devoted a full two paragraphs of the speech to the folly of territorial withdrawal.”
A great many people are telling us that withdrawal is the key to peace with the Palestinians. But the fact is that all our withdrawals were met by huge waves of suicide bombers. We tried withdrawal by agreement, withdrawal without an agreement; we tried partial withdrawal and full withdrawal. … The argument that withdrawal would bring peace closer did not stand up to the test of reality. (Ibid., p. 134)
Clouded by his “sensitivity” to the “feelings” of the Palestinians, Beinart clearly fails Netanyahu’s test of reality. Beinart’s professed concern for the Zionist adventure suggests a perplexed and bedeviled non-Orthodox aspirant of progressive Judaism based less on an embrace of Torah and more on his unabashed universalist liberalism. There were Canaanites, Jebusites and other “ites” in the Land 3800 years ago, but the Land was to be for an eternal covenant between the Creator and the Jewish people.
Yet as I read Beinart’s book, I was struck by the realization that American non-Orthodox Jews either don’t know the story, or their non-Orthodox rabbis reject it because it doesn’t comport with their neo- Judaism known as Liberalism. What Beinart’s book reveals is that non-Orthodox Americanized Jews and Israel’s Jews are moving away from one another. As Israel’s population is growing Jewishly, the Pew Report indicates that America’s non-Ortho Jewish population is assimilating and shrinking. Why then should Israel even bother to entertain ideas based on a liberal Americanized Judaism that appears headed for extinction? Beinart clearly recognizes the disconnect between American non-Orthodox Jewry and Israeli Jewry when he laments:
These increasingly assimilated American Jews may not like Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, but they are not especially angry about it because they are not especially connected to Israel. And they are not especially connected to Israel because they are not especially connected to being Jewish. … But the single biggest reason that American Jews care less about being Jewish is that we are more ignorant of Judaism. Perhaps no community in Jewish history has educated itself so well about the secular world and so poorly about its own tradition. (Ibid., pp. 182-183)
And so Beinart reminded me of two secular Israeli writers: Ari Shavit and A. B. Yehoshua, both ofwhom I like for their genuine love of Israel and their honesty. Shavit writes in My Promised Land:
What has happened to us [the Left]? First and foremost, we were blinded by political correctness. The politically correct discourse that reigned supreme over the last decade was disconnected from reality. It focused on the issue of occupation but did not address the fact that Israel is caught in an existential conflict fraught with religious and cultural land mines. It paid too much attention to Israel’s wrongdoing, and too little to the historical and geopolitical context within which Israel has to survive. … It is a Jewish state in an Arab world, a Western state in an Islamic world, and a democracy in a region of tyranny. It is at odds with its surroundings. (pp. 331-332)
It’s not the occupation – It’s the geography, while A. B. Yehoshua, also writing in Ha’aretz, focuses on the conflict between the Israeli personality and the liberal American Diasporite:
The word “Jew” refers to two distinct entities: the religious belief of the people of Israel and the experience of the Jews in the Diaspora; whereas the word “Israeli” marks the Jew (religious or secular) living in the totality of Jewish life, indicated by land, language and independent social framework.
While “Jew” always indicates a partial being (and therefore one can be allegedly a more intense or a less intense Jew) the Israeli existence is complete, locked in a binding framework, and just as it is impossible to be more French or less French, so one cannot be more Israeli or less Israeli. The word “Israeli” marks a total Jewish existence, which could contain or not contain a religious element. … Totality stems first of all from living in a defined territory, which is the main foundation of identity. … In the Diaspora, the Jew leads a partial life, even in religious matters. …Given that the deep and natural identification that a large portion of American Jewry once felt with Israeli life …for some years now, a slow process of disengagement of American Jewry has been intensifying.
Yehoshua explains that in the Diaspora of America our Jewishness is voluntary:
We in Israel live in a binding an inescapable relationship with one another… We are governed by Jews. We pay taxes to Jews, are judged in Jewish courts, are called up to serve in the Jewish army and compelled by Jews to defend settlements… Our economy is determined by Jews. Our social conditions are determined by Jews. And all the political, economic, cultural and social decisions craft and shape our identity. … While this entails pain and frustration, there is also the pleasure of the freedom of being in your own home. Thus, I cannot point to a single Israeli who is assimilated.
There is a growing divide between Israel and non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewry. For the latter, the issues are intermarriage and indifference leading to assimilation – two concepts that even secular Israelis cannot fathom. And so in an effort to vindicate America’s neo-Judaism known as Liberalism, Diaspora liberals invoke the issue of Israel as both democratic and Jewish.
I honestly believe Beinart is deeply concerned with the Jewish future he sees evolving in America; and he and I agree that the only possible answer is Jewish/Zionist education of the non-Orthodox Jewish community. But in his concluding chapter, Beinart blames his reality problem on the popular canard that “Jewish education is too expensive and requires government financial assistance.” Yet he acknowledges that liberal, non-Orthodox Jews vocally oppose school voucher programs in the belief that they erode the public school system. And it is true that Jewish private schools are expensive. Sadly, however, non- Orthodox Jews living in affluent Chicago neighborhoods or suburbs such as Glencoe or Highland Park can easily afford the tuition yet in most cases send their children not to private Jewish schools but to private secular schools, in preparation for a lucrative career. They want their children to mix with the Joneses yet are discomforted when their son takes Christine to the prom. Disappointed to be sure, but as loyal followers of America’s neo-Judaism known as Liberalism, they get over it. The grandparents don’t.
While Beinart frets about Israel’s democratic and Jewish character and losing non-Orthodox American Jewry, the Jewish/Zionist education of the non-Orthodox is reduced to a two-day-a-week Hebrew school at the end of a full day of public school, and maybe a Birthright trip to Israel. The future of America’s non-Orthodox Jewry doesn’t look promising, but there’s a “tough love” solution:
A man tells his friend, “You won’t believe what happened last night. My daughter walked into the living room and said, ‘Dad, don’t pay off my college tuition loan. Cancel my allowance, take my iPhone and laptop, donate my jewelry to Salvation Army, sell my car, lock me out of your house, disown me, and write me out of your will.’
“Wow,” replied the friend, “She actually said that?”
The father replied: “Well, she didn’t actually put it quite like that. What she said was, ‘Dad, meet my new boyfriend, Mohammed. We’re going to work together on Hillary’s 2016 election campaign.’ “
Shabbat Shalom, 07/03/2015 Jack “Yehoshua” Berger*
* Back issues are archived at The Times of Israel.com