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The Crisis of Zionism

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Beinart speaks eloquently about Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel, which he claims “imperils” Israeli democracy. To be sure, one wonders how long Israel must rule over the Palestinians for Beinart to say that the occupation is destroying – rather than merely imperiling – its democracy. But the author, a committed Zionist with a strong affinity for Israel, does not content himself with hand-wringing. He calls on American Jews to boycott West Bank Jewish settlements and their products while affirming support for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state, repeating others’ warning that: “If … Israel occupies the West Bank in perpetuity without granting citizenship to its Palestinian inhabitants, it will remain a Jewish state, but become an apartheid one.” 

In the author’s view, the problem started in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Noting that Israel’s victory over the Arabs had increased leftist hostility to it, and convinced that remaining sympathy for Israel stemmed from the Holocaust, some American Jewish activists decided to narrow their focus from social justice and civil rights to Israel advocacy and Jewish victimhood. The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League were reoriented accordingly, while organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – dedicated solely to strengthening US-Israeli ties – gained prominence.

Beinart decries this ongoing trend, which he argues derailed President Obama’s decidedly Jewish-liberal approach to Israel and the Palestinians. He urges liberal American Jews to deepen their commitment to the socially conscious Judaism that is their heritage. In his opinion, this will tether their affinity for Zionism and Israel to social justice. Otherwise, “the more they drift away, the more American Zionism will be dominated by Orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians: groups unlikely to maintain even the pretense that what makes Israel precious is its fidelity to liberal democratic ideals.”  

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