Joshua Teitelbaum
Historian of the modern Middle East, activist, Jew, Israeli, American

So Who Needs Another Article on Peter Beinart?

Why would you want to read another blog post on Peter Beinart and his Jews-Don’t-Need-a-State-Israel-Should-Turn-Into-Lebanon-and-Syria-So-I-Can-Feel-Good rant? After all, both Daniel Gordis and Shmuel Rosner have delivered a “fitting Zionist response” (tshuva tziyonit holemet) to this As-A-Jew Jew on behalf of those of us who actually do the heavy lifting and live here. So I’m going to share just one thought that has been on my mind ever since Bernie Sanders tried to become president.

When Sanders described himself as the “son of a Polish immigrant,” I knew something was off. No Pole would have considered Bernie’s dad a Pole. Jews and Poles didn’t get along, to say the least, and no Jew I know would ever describe themselves this way, including me. (My great-grandparents were from Wielopole. They were shot in the head and thrown in a ditch in 1942.) Sanders tended to downplay his Jewish roots for much of the campaign, but Larry David could always remind him where he came from.

But then it hit me. There was something oddly familiar about Sanders’ mien. Was he a court Jew? Kind of, but not exactly. Then alongs comes As-A-Jew Jew Beinart, and I think, here’s another one. And then in discussing Gordis’ response Rabbi Matt Futterman mentioned an article in The Village Voice from—1969. The article, by M Jay Rosenberg, was titled “To Uncle Tom and Other Such Jews.” (part 1; part 2). The times were different, to be sure (just check out the ads and the male-only pronouns!). Then it was black liberation and today it is #blm, but this is what Rosenberg called a Jew who would abandon Israel for the sake of New Left approval. “He find the idea of Jewish nationalism, Israel notwithstanding, laughable. The leftist Jewish student is today’s Uncle Tom…. The Jew can be an ally of the black liberation movement, and he should be,” writes Rosenberg.

But first he must find himself. He must realize that his own struggle for liberation is a continuing one, that he too has much to fear and also much of which to be proud. The miracle of Israel, a national liberation deferred for 2000 years, should be his inspiration. The Jew did it alone, as the black knows he must, and he did it with guns…. He can learn this much from the Jewish experience. When they slaughtered six million of us, the good people offered us sympathy, and nothing else. It was when the fighting Jew arose from the blood and ashes of Europe that we began to lose our friends…. The issue is one of Jewish pride…. The Mark Rudds [his father was born Jacob Shmuel Rudnitsky —JT] who are prepared to die for the Vietnamese, the Biafrans, the Greeks, and the Czechs yet who reject Israel—these are our Uncle Toms (let’s call them ‘Uncle Jakes’) and our shame.

Today’s New Left are the so-called progressives, those virtue-signaling intersectionalists for whom Beinart wishes us Israeli Jews to sacrifice ourselves so he can feel good—as a Jew, of course.

I didn’t vote for Netanyahu and I don’t support annexation. But I do support a Jewish and democratic state. I also support a Palestinian state. And just because that has not yet been achieved—and yes, both sides are to blame—does not mean we have to give up what we have built through such sacrifice, our vibrant Jewish and Hebrew culture, our progress, our achievements, our contribution to the world—just so conflicted As-A-Jew Jews can feel good about themselves. I fear Beinart is simply another iteration of those Jews made uncomfortable by empowered Jews, those who prefer the simple, uncomplicated powerlessness of the Diaspora to the complex responsibilities of empowered Jews in their homeland.

His solution—for our own good, you understand—is to turn us into a multi-national/ethnic state. Jews should give up all we have gained by virtue of our self-determination to become such multi-ethnic success stories as Yugoslavia, or, closer to home, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq? Although my heart goes out to Beinart as he struggles, we’re not going to become Lebanon or Syria so Beinart can resolve his angsted-out “oy vey!” about Jewish political self-determination and liberal values.  These struggles, and they are real struggles, are best resolved in Israel, and we would welcome him along with all our Jewish sisters and brothers who wish to be a part of this amazing experiment in Jewishness and Jewish sovereignty which we call home.

About the Author
Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum teaches modern Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University and a Visiting Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, he moved to Israel in 1981.
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