Kenneth Jacobson

The New York Times Must Rethink Providing Peter Beinart a Platform for Anti-Zionism

Peter Beinart, in his New York Times piece, “The Great Rupture in American Jewish Life,” gets it wrong both regarding American Jews and the Middle East.

His regular pattern of only blaming Israel for the problems in the region is now mirrored in his blaming American Jews who support Israel in these difficult times.

To the contrary of Beinart, the American Jewish community has long supported both Zionism and liberalism.  These values are not at odds, despite Beinart’s claims.

Israel is not exactly like the United States, but it is the only democracy in a region that struggles with the idea of it and it upholds many of the key elements of liberalism such as freedom of expression, freedom to assemble, equality for all, and an independent judiciary. When American Jews largely supported liberal causes in America, they correctly saw no problem supporting Israel as a democratic society.

Beinart not only creates a straw man in trying to see contradictions in American Jewish support for Zionism, he also fails to take into account that in certain circles, it is liberalism that has changed and this has produced a gap between traditional liberal Jews and the new illiberalism.

It is liberalism in the United States that has seen a transformation, not across the board, but in significant spots, particularly on campus. What has replaced in too many places the historic liberal approach, which was good for America and good for its Jewish community, is an illiberalism which inevitably leads to anti-Israel and antisemitic outcomes. The vast majority of American Jews continue to support liberalism, its beliefs in equality, in civil liberties, in judging people by their individual behavior and in rejecting a priori categorical thinking. And in that vein, they continue to support Israel, even if they may disagree with some of its policies, because the legitimacy of the Jewish state is a fundamental belief of the Jewish community.

Beinart gets it wrong in his comments on Israel and the Palestinians. But his inclination to blame Israel alone for the conflict over the years when there’s plenty of blame to go around on all sides is typical of Beinart. Just as in the United States  where there are legitimate divisions over a whole range of issues which don’t result in anti-Americanism, so one can have different perspectives on Israeli policy without delegitimizing the Jewish state.

What is unstated in this piece but is critical for understanding it is that Beinart has become non-Zionist, specifically stating that he no longer believes in the legitimacy of a Jewish state. Seeing the conflict and the response of the American Jewish community, which has rallied behind Israel since October 7, through this prism goes a long way toward understanding Beinart’s views.

If Israel does not have the right to exist as an independent state, then one inevitably looks to exaggerate the dissension in the Jewish community from its support and one finds fault with those American Jews who continue to stand by Israel.

The problem here lies with Beinart’s disenchantment with the very concept of Jewish sovereignty. He is entitled to his perspective, no matter how abhorrent it is, but the reader of the article should be made aware that that is where Beinart is coming from.

More significantly, the Times decision to give so much space to an individual who supports the disappearance of the one Jewish state is disturbing to say the least. In no other case of delegitimizing an existing entity would the Times find  it acceptable to publish it.

Since October 7, this is not the first time that the Times has given major space to Israel deniers. In its February Sunday edition, it devoted its front-page magazine story to raising questions about Israel’s founding and whether all of today’s problems are the product of that questionable historic moment.

It seems that one significant lesson of October 7 for the Times is to reopen the question as to whether or not there should be a Jewish state.

Shame on the Times.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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