David Chinitz

Beinart Takes the J St Bypass

Last week, in the can someone please help liberal Israel corner that Haaretz has allotted him, Peter Beinart expressed his lack of patience with Israelis in re-electing Bibi and said time has come for Jews in the US to pressure Obama to pressure Israel.

Not surprisingly, many responses were written. Some critiqued Beinart for being a self hating Jew. Some blamed him for claiming to love Israel, but not really understanding or identifying with Israelis. Rabbi Gidon Sylvester (Beinart’s Bullying and Boycott of Israel, Times of Israel March 24) chided Beinart for not understanding democracy and trying to replace the Israeli vox populi with outside pressure. All of this is just grist for Beinart’s mill. He, like all “give Israel tough love” pundits and organizations, loves to be able to claim that someone is trying to deny his right to speak and to criticize Israel. It gives them the energy of the repressed minority whose establishment threatening views just must be heard. Interesting that Haaretz has elected Beinart to speak for US Jewry, and not somebody of the stature of Ruth Wisse who contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal on Jewish and Israeli affairs. But he certainly can’t complain that he is being shut up.

We hear you Peter, but you, apparently, either don’t hear us, or have selective hearing.

Sylvester concluded his article by suggesting that Beinart should divert his misguided efforts at saving Israel to supporting organizations that are devoted to Aliya. Rabbi Sandy Bachman, in his blog Water Over Rocks, nailed the critics of Israel for not owning up to the fact that American Zionists have abandoned aliya. Joey Bendah, recent oleh, wrote “Overseas Jews on Israel’s elections: da’i, maspik, halas!” saying that those who are unhappy with the election results ought to shut up and move here (Times of Israel March 21) .

This author (J’accuse Times of Israel March 21) pointed to the disgusting Orwellian nature of US Jews who criticize Israel without even mentioning their own part in the story: failing to get enough US Jews here to make a difference. Let’s hear you on this, Peter. But first, to head off the usual knee jerk reactions, a number of preventive points: 1) The claim that one cannot expect aliya because so many Israelis have emigrated will not cut mustard because Israel’s emigration rate is normal for a country built on immigration and stands at 10% historically and cumulatively; 2)  The claim that Israel cannot expect Olim till it “changes for the better” (with all the problems I love it here) creates a Catch 22 that has to be eliminated: Israel was based on the idea of Aliya changing the country, as every massive aliya has so far, both economically and culturally; 3) Aliya is not conditional on Israel’s nature, but is, rather, a moral imperative for anybody who claims to support the State of Israel; 4) Every individual has the right to choose where to live, but nobody has the right not to openly face up to the consequences of the choice of people like Beinart, and, for that matter, the entire organized Jewish community in North America, to abandon mass aliya from the US as a project.

One the US respondents to my piece wrote: “Even the Zionist youth movements here (in the US) don’t specify Aliyah as a goal. Inertia? Fleshpots of Egypt?” This phenomenon may prove to be fatal to Israel and the Jewish people in the 21st century.

Beinart’s response to his critics in this week’s Haaretz, in typical fashion, focused on the red herrings of “freedom to speak”, “what’s not democratic about not agreeing with another country’s policy,” and “if I criticized George Wallace in Mississippi in the 1960s, I’m not going to criticize Israel now?” These are the inflated balloons that give Beinart and J Street life.

But on the question of aliya thrown at them in the wake of their fits about the Israeli election, they don’t have a word to say. Indeed, Israel’s defenders in the US don’t confront the issue either. And for that subject, there is no bypass, only an exit into the ignominious quarters of Jewish history.

About the Author
David Chinitz is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Braun School of Public Health, Hebrew University-Hadassah