Netanyahu is not the problem

Is the Zionist foundation liberal American Jews so weak that a political disagreement completely topples support for the country?

netanyahu council for rel 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
netanyahu council for rel 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The Likud government is corroding the pro-Israel support of liberal American Jews on college campuses because of its oppressive policies toward Palestinians. At least according to New York University Professor Peter Beinart.
Last month, Beinart was interviewed on the Israeli nightly news to expose to an Israeli audience his thesis, which he most notably posited in a controversial article “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” in the New York Review of Books on June 10.
During the interview, the newscaster asked Beinart what Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu needs to do to recapture the lost support of this young, liberal cadre of American Jews.
His response: There is nothing Netanyahu can do because he is precisely the problem. In essence, it is the fault of Netanyahu that young, liberal American Jews are distancing themselves from the State of Israel.
This is where Beinart gets it wrong. The problem is not Netanyahu. The problem is the narrow and impersonal prism through which he and the Jewish students seek a connection to the State of Israel. In short, the Zionist foundation of these young, liberal American Jews is so weak that a disagreement in politics completely topples their support for the country.
This point is no more evident than in the opening paragraph of Beinart’s essay. In it, Beinart references a survey commissioned in 2003 by major Jewish philanthropists to discern the roots of American Jewish indifference to anti-Israel animus on college campuses. According to the article, the survey consistently found American Jewish college students to be indifferent toward Israel. The only time the topic of Israel surfaced, said Frank Luntz, the director of the focus groups, was when it was prompted.
It is no surprise then that liberal-minded American Jews with no prior connection to Israel would balk at supporting Israel when prompted to react to the Israeli occupation and a stateless Palestinian people. Undoubtedly, Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and the blockade on the Gaza Strip, among other polemical topics, are irreconcilable with liberal, progressive politics.
However, what Beinart and his subjects egregiously overlook is that Israel is more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although it dominates the headlines, this tragic conflict should not eclipse any and all of Israel’s prior achievements and its immeasurable import to worldwide Jewry. It is not the fault of Netanyahu, or even Avigdor Lieberman, that these young Jews were never imparted with an effectual Zionist education.
I am also a liberal-minded American Jew, and I also disagree with many of the policies of the current Likud government. However, my support and affinity for Israel has been built upon an unshakable foundation rooted in personal relationships with Israelis and a extensive knowledge of the origins and history of the state. This foundation cannot be eroded by a disagreement over politics because it is supported by multiple layers of appreciation and respect.
BEINART CLAIMS American Jews are dissuaded from “talking frankly” and encouraged to “averting our eyes” to the injustices in Israeli society. I am not advocating turning a blind eye to the injustices against Palestinians, but rather turning an open, sighted eye to the marvels of the Jewish state. For example, learn about the history of Zionism and how Theodore Herzl, also a secular Jew, realized the essentiality of a Jewish State in light of the Dreyfus Affair, an incident in the early 1900s that epitomized European anti-Semitism.
For more current affairs, open Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s popular book, Start-up Nation, to discover the unparalleled Israeli ingenuity and preeminence in the hi-tech industry. Watch CNN and observe how expeditious and effective the IDF was in saving lives in Haiti after the deadly earthquake in January. For a more personal connection, come to Israel for free for 10 days on Taglit- Birthright and put faces and names to the polemical topics of news headlines and campus demonstrations.
Beinart, although mischaracterizing the source of the problem, highlights an alarming phenomenon sweeping colleges campuses in America: support for Israel on college campuses among liberal American Jews is evaporating.
The solution to this problem is not for Netanyahu and his Likud government to jettison his rightwing faction from his coalition or to withdraw immediately from the West Bank. Political parties and their ideologies come and go just like in America. Republicans do not forsake the United States because they disagree with policies of the Obama administration.
American Jews, not just the liberal cadre, need to adopt a similar attitude toward Israel and to realize that just as America is not singularly defined by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel too is not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The writer is a freelance journalist currently studying for a master’s degree at Hebrew University in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies. He is a former AIPAC employee.