Monday, May 24, 2010

Peering Through the Fog

I had lunch today with a fellow who knows way more than I do about American Jewry (his alias is Goldblog, but I'm not authorized to disclose his real name). I learned all sorts of interesting things, but came away mostly with an enhanced recognition of how little I really know about the subject. This, in spite of having lived some of my years in the US and among its Jews; speaking their language; following some of their writings; visiting about once a year; and knowing some of them personally (cousins, nephews, colleagues, neighbors who split their time between both countries, etc.) It wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that some of my best friends are American Jews. (I also have friends who aren't American, or aren't Jews, or aren't any of all that - but that's a different story).

Seen from here, it's hard to know which of the following reports is more representative:

Fifth Avenue Salutes Israel, about a mass event in Manhattan that was deemed important enough to attract just about every New York politician who needs to be elected:
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in the Salute to Israel Parade on New York City's Fifth Avenue Sunday. Participants danced to the tunes of Hebrew music, waved Israeli and American flags, and carried heart warming posters in support of the Jewish state across the ocean.
Or perhaps this, from The Tablet:

...I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. (I understand that I may be the Jewish equivalent of all the twentysomething women I want to smack for saying, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.”) I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children. So, it was with a huge sense of identification and relief that I read Peter Beinart’s controversial essay in the New York Review of Books last week.

The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive, and there's nothing wrong with a large Jewish community having diverse and even contradictory positions or trends. Knowing the Jews, it would be impossible otherwise. My point is that seen from here, it's essentially impossible to figure out what's going on, who's got the upper hand, who is the face of the future and who not, and so on.

All of which is to wish that Peter Beinart and his many comrades in ignorance would pontificate a wee bit less about all the things that are wrong about Israel, even as his very choice of sources, not to mention his outlandish conclusions, speak volumes mostly to his lack of information.

Yesterday he followed up his previous piece with one called Why Israel has to do Better, which mostly left me scratching my head in perplexity. It contains ideas such as that the Palestinian leaders since Arafat are eager to reach a two-state solution but Israel isn't (Ehud Olmert, anyone?); settlements are ever encroaching on Palestinian land and pulling them out will cause civil war (Gaza, anyone? - Not to mention that the myth of the encroaching is true only if you cast the facts in a very specific way); Hamas and Fatah would have created a unity government amenable to negotiating with Israel in 2007, but Israel and America thwarted them (How, exactly, did they manage, and how come it was never reported in any knowledgeable media outlet I've seen, not even Haaretz?); Israel is at least partially to blame for the Hamas rockets from Gaza - he actually does say that. And so on. He has also allowed Edit Zertal and Akiva Eldar to convince him that the settlers are a cancer in the Israeli polity, and someone has convinced him that the Haredim have taken over Jerusalem (Nir Barkat, anyone?).

I'll allow him a pass about the cancer in the polity one. It's conceivable he's simply ignorant about the heritage and provenance of that term, though it's not an ignorance to be proud of.

At the end of his litany of myths, distortions, inventions and shabby propaganda, he gives us an insight about his motives, and they aren't a deep need to understand what Israel is about:

One last point. Leon, Jeff, Jon, Jamie, David and I are all Jews. In some sense, therefore, Israel’s crimes—unlike those of Hamas or Ahmedinejad—are committed in our name. We have a special obligation to expose and confront them. And we have a special obligation not to use the crimes of Israel’s enemies to excuse behavior that dishonors a Jewish state, and the Jewish ethical tradition that we all consider precious.

He's apologetic; Israel besmirches his name.

I bow to no one in matters of morality, which is a stronger word than ethics, but when Beinart cites our common tradition I'm not certain it really is. His version doesn't look all that much like the one I know about.


Anonymous said...

Both pieces you link to are, more than anything else, examples of narcissism. Neither Ingall nor Beinart really know much about the subject, yet they feel qualified not just to write about it, but to offer some kind of moral judgment. Doesn't consideration for your readers require you to know the subject that you write about rather than waste a reader's time with uninformed blather and a description about how something makes you feel.?

The only clarity I could find in each piece was the fact that Israel makes them uncomfortable because they are American Liberals and Jewish and Israel doesn't act the way an American Liberal would it to. But neither evidenced an understanding of what Israel is, why it exists or why it acts as it does.

Carrie said...

People like Beinert are moral cowards. Beinart chose to pass off Netanyahu's writings in his 17 year old book as his current views. At the time same time he would never try to pass off the gems in Abbas's Holocaust denial thesis as Abbas's current views. It is a shame that the bloggers critiquing his article did not expose this clear cut hypocrisy.

According to Beinart, Abbas is a moderate and Netanyahu is a radical rightist. Because of this and other lies he made that Yaakov pointed out, he is as immoral and dishonest as Chomsky.

It seems to me that he is an unknown Jew trying to cash in on the Jews who bash Israel brigade. No on ever heard of him last week and now the whole blogosphere knows his name. Soon he will be the new speaker on the anti-Israel circuit which currently employs Chomsky, Finkelstein and Walt + Mearshimer.

This Ingall character is just parroting Ayelet Waldman. Neither Beinart nor Ingall are original at all. I am so tired of these Jews who are "over israel." No one asked them to speak for American Jewry. If they don't support Israel, they don't have to and we don't care.

Anonymous said...

Goldblog quotes Beinart:

"I think there is something a little brave for a member of Congress or an administration official to criticize AIPAC or criticize Israel harshly because it could end their political career. "

Does he mean this a W&M sort of way, like Jewish money/lobbies control Congress? Or does he mean like Meade, that most Americans like Israel?


Barry Meislin said...

The part about Abbas (or any other Palestinian political leader) wanting peace with Israel and a two-state solution---if Beinart really said that---is sheer lunacy.

And it demonstrates how the constant, water-on-rock prevarication, distortion and perversion by the media regarding the I-P issue has become the narrative of those who ought to know better.

Another pathetic, low, dishonest decade (except that it seems destined to last a whole lot longer and may end up even worse than the first incarnation).

Anonymous said...

off the cuff and from very far outside

Carrie is spot on with this one:
"he is an unknown Jew trying to cash in on the Jews who bash Israel brigade"

because keep in mind that Beinart has a book to peddle and just this weekend I read a very good piece on what it entails these days to peddle a book (it was about Martin Amis "pregnant widow") i.e. even an author as established as a "celebrity" as Amis has to come up with all kinds of dubiousities to garner attention.

Now take Beinart sporting his overly teenish looking portrait at The Daily Beast hoping to cash in on a forthcoming book.

He has to solve the problem: How to become known?

Up there are two topics that might do it:
child abuse (if you yourself were abused you have to add drug-use) and Israel (which btw lets one comfortably discuss all kinds of Jewish topics which would otherwise emit quite an odour). His yesterday piece on demanding Obama to sound more "heroic" also fits quite well i.e. he writes alternatively as dove and as hawk, trying to come across as a deep-thinking contrarian. To me he is just a cruel kid, pulling out a fly's wings because nobody slaps his hands.

The more ill thought through inarticulate incoherent stuff he will write during the book launch it will secure that haters and (deluded) lovers alike will start to feel they will have to read the book to be able to stay in the discussion. (remember: only bad news is good news)

But before you pony up for the book re-read that NYbooks article and realize that he before everything else is a lousy writer who can't make a convincing argument. He is good at insinuating and implying and that's it but then he shies away from cashing in at the villainy.

Never forget that the piece was meant for the NYTimes which didn't take it and remember that M&W's first piece was meant for The Atlantic which didn't take it. Maybe both publications did it because they wanted to uphold some quality standards.

who wishes the conversation would also focus on Beinart being a lousy writer of incoherent arguments.

Anonymous said...

"endorsing the 2002 Arab League proposal that offered recognition in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 borders."

the Arab League has made a proposal that didn't include the "right of return"?

"slapped a brutal embargo on Gaza, one that has left its population overwhelmingly dependent on food aid"

there was an article somewhere that Gaza's shop owners are complaining about falling prices due to too much on offer i.e. the tunnel system is working too well. Question: if they would spend less on gadgets would they have more money for food (and feed their own poor?)

"One last point. Leon, Jeff, Jon, Jamie, David and I are all Jews"

the way he emphasizes familiarity here reads strange to an outsider i.e. non-intimates of US Jewish publishing celebrities (Beinart now one of them?) stay away!!!?

"the extent to which they are silent about the adversity that the writers of these texts were regularly experiencing"

and even if this a quote from Wieseltier I have my doubts that he gets the reasons right. In about 2006 I took a tour through the former East-German city of Naumburg where I had a peak (through heavy snowfall) into a Judengasse which was so different from all the other side streets we had passed before that I think it was not only ethics but very very worldly wisdom that kept them way back then from writing about the misdeeds of the majority around them.

Other than the Jews of the Judengasse in Naumburg Israelis have a real state and a very rightful claim to equal status which entitles them to counter the propaganda of their neighbours in no uncertain terms and does in no way oblige them to huddle down hoping that the next pogrom will leave them unharmed if only they do not offend.


Barry Meislin said...

Seems to me that Caroline Glick, echoing Orwell, has nailed it regarding the rot that has set in and how it has become so entrenched.

Here's the link

peterthehungarian said...

While in the Haaretz we can study the beautiful soul of an other American Jewish heroine and her extasy to meet with Carter and Tutu...

Barry Meislin said...

Well, the push-back must begin somewhere.

(Even if there is not a chance that it will be heeded.)

AKUS said...


"Tough Love
Attorney Emily Schaeffer immigrated to Israel to defend the rights of Palestinians in the West Bank. 'I guess most Israelis would view me as a traitor,' she says, 'but I don't intend to keep quiet just because I came from afar' "

Shouldn't she be in Arizona defending the interests of the Mexicans? Why do hypocrites like her feel they have the right to pop up in Israel - or America - to fix everything that they think is wrong with Israel?

I suppose the answer is - because they ARE hypocrites. But there seems to be a group of Western Jews who have a death wish.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Californian, and I can say among Leftist Jews saying "I'm ashamed to be a ____" is the most common pursuit ever. We're one of the most liberal states in the Union, but when we banned gay marriage everyone declared they were "ashamed to be a Californian." Similarly, when Bush was elected they were ashamed to be an American. Its only natural they'll say they're ashamed to be an Israeli.
There's also a very American disdain for process in favor of moral absolutes. So for an American, belonging to an organization does not imply a duty to work within it to reach a compromise, but is a rhetorical instrument to gain attention for their views.

RK said...

I don't see where he says that no Israeli leader after Barak has tried to pursue a two-state solution. His line, rather, is that Israel will end up foreclosing the option of a two-state solution, no matter how moderate the Palestinian leadership. (Yes, the center-right view is that the Gaza disengagement proves that we can stand up to the national religious when we want to, but Beinart's position here isn't exactly a fringe one.) With respect to Olmert, his view seems to be that he was too weak.

With respect to the the unity government, I'm confused. Beinart's clearly referring to the fact that from February 2007 (when the unity government was announced) to June 14 (when it was dissolved), Israel and the U.S. refused to deal with any of the ministers. So what's with this business about "Hamas and Fatah would have created a unity government"?

You're right that Beinart is totally wrong about the haredim in Jerusalem and about Netanyahu's stance on Oslo in 1996, though.

peterthehungarian said...

Shouldn't she be in Arizona defending the interests of the Mexicans?

In Arizona she couldn't meet with Carter and Tutu, they are busy in the Middle East

But there seems to be a group of Western Jews who have a death wish.

I don't think that these "as a" Jews wish to die, they prefer the Israelis die instead of them.

I'm sure the lady didn't throw away her US passport

Anonymous said...

Beinart was writing his piece in a mainstream medium which targets an everybody audience, and as I consider myself to be everybody I insist that it was a lousy pieceof writing an arguing because as an outsider I was as smart as before having taken the trouble of plowing through it.

There may have been a lot of intimations in it which may make sense to insiders but he wasn't writing for the house postille of the local rabbit breeders.

you are right
- to be really cynical about it, wouldn't it be lovely if something really bad happened (worse than war and Kassam and Katyushas and a kidnapped soldier)
- imagine all the teddy bears and flowers we could deposit at the Israeli embassy and all the tears we might shed of the "I never thought it would come to that" BS-category.

it really is a pity that living humans aren't as suitable for canonization as dead ones.


magmat said...

This guy is just a narcissistic sicko which has pleasure in self-flagellation.

Sergio said...

Sorry...I posted that, not "magmat". :)

RK said...

Oh, and here's another bit of pitiful self-flagellation:

The people of AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents are well-meaning. But what's needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel. [Obama] should be able to talk, in blunt terms, about the full range of dangers faced by Israel, including the danger Israel has brought upon itself. But this won't happen until AIPAC and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.

Oops, wait, that wasn't Beinart -- it was your esteemed lunch interlocutor two years ago. Further evidence that most of the internecine sniping in Israeli politics is just positioning. (One has to fulfill a quota of sniping at lefties to maintain one's good standing in the Centrists Club, after all.)

Carrie said...

I think Jeffrey Goldberg used to sound a lot like Beinart, until he realized his friends like Andrew Sullivan were enjoying his condescending attitude towards Israel, Israelis and other Jews a little too much.

Carrie said...

I want to add that I also dislike that Goldberg always feels he has to throw in qualifiers when making any (even mild) pro-Israel statement. It always seems like he is trying to please his anti-Israel leftist friends by bringing up that he is anti-settlement before making any pro-Israel statement, even if the issue he's discussing has nothing whatsoever to do with settlements.

I also thought his support of the NIF after their role in the Goldstone Report was revealed, was kind of sleazy. Goldberg's quote above, linked to by RK, gives legitimacy to the ridiculous argument that AIPAC and other Jewish groups (aka the Jewish Lobby) are silencing criticism of Israel.

Anonymous said...

I for one am having qualms about Goldberg for quite some time now because he is focusing almost exclusively on problems of demography and I have found again and again that disregarding geography is very dangerous
- in my book whoever leaves geography out of his or her musings is not to be trusted too much as advisor or presenter of facts. If you disregard that there is a double-wammy it is a lot easier to propose simple solutions, isn't it?

re Carrie
my general impression of Goldberg and a lot of other worth to read US-Americans is that they tend to be kind of lacking in gut feelings for what it means to live in areas where borders are everywhere and not just ones to the north and the south from which never devastating invasions have originated.

This applies in my perception even to Americans who seem to be as widely travelled and as multilingual and worldly wise like Goldberg. My theory is therefore that the knowledge that if you buddy up with one neighbour you may trigger lots of unintended consequences in the relations between your other neighbours is something one has to start imbibing subconsciously or consciously at pre-school age i.e. the danger implying undertone to the word Ausland (outland - abroad sounds much too benign) uttered by one's family.

I have found again and again that there are perceptions which a sympathetic other can only empathize with if he/she has a closeness to the experience itself and if one can't empathize because one lacks the touchstone one has to keep mum i.e. in my book Americans tend to lack severely in geography touchstones.


RK said...

Carrie: Interestingly, I feel the same way, in a mirror-image sort of way. Whenever people (like Beinart) make a criticism from the left, we hear shouts from all quarters that they should have included qualifiers about how dangerous Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran are, how their actions are much worse than Israel's, and how Israeli public opinion has been more favorable than Palestinian opinion to a two-state solution. Also, I read Goldberg's hedging (which you dislike), as a sort of rhetorical trope: "Even I, as someone who is against the settlements, agree with the Right on this issue."

As I said, it's all about positioning.

Carrie said...

Actually RK, the mirror image of the "condemn Hamas before you condemn Israel" qualifier is the "while acknowledging that most of the world's Muslims are in fact peaceful, there is a small tiny minority that holds violent beliefs."

When the left writes about Israel and says there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza (there isn't) and doesn't mention the rockets on Sderot that lead to the border closings, I think it's right for the right or any sane person to point that out. I don't think it's a qualifier to mention facts that are pertinent to the conversation.

My views are similar to Yaacov's. I do not agree with the settlement enterprise but I don't feel the need to bring it up if I am making a statement supportive of Israel, especially if it has nothing to do with the conversation.

You may be right about Goldberg, but I still suspect that he changed course when he realized that Walt + Mearshimer and Andrew Sullivan started running with some of his ideas.

Anonymous said...

let's say you live in an apartment block where your neighbour whenever he/she passes your door swings an AK 47 in what you perceive as menacing way at you. Would it not be understandable and even wise if you started to behave in ways that might increase your security but seem a bit not asked for to people living in a lot more serene surroundings?

i.e. to talk about Israel's actions while keeping the hostile and potentially hostile neighbours out of the picture is the real qualifier
- just as much as it is a qualifier if you don't mention that of two people lifting the same weight one is considerably lighter than the other.
- so maybe it's better to call not mentioning the murderous nuts across the border a (very willful) distorter instead of a qualifier.


Rabbi Tony Jutner said...

Beinart has realized what we in New Judaism have realized all along. Jews do not require a state. Todays modern Jews are no longer bound by tribal atavistic ties to land, but to the principles of NewJudaism, that decrees economic equality for all. The Palestinians have not evolved to this point, so we need to give them the land.

Anonymous said...


- if the state of Israel is useless for its people then presumably states are useless for all us?