It doesn’t matter if “dyed-in-the-wool Zionists” could prove that Peter Beinart is a non-Zionist or an anti-Zionist (or even a self-hating Jew), whatever any of these terms actually mean. I, for one, do not think that these terms mean very much at all.
Today, instead of actually critically analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of this policy or another, one can simply dismiss it as “anti-Zionist.” People seek to disenfranchise their political opponents through branding them anti-Zionists instead of actually engaging with their challenging ideas.
Such an act is demagogic, and similar to dismissing an opponent’s argument by responding, “It is the will of God.” It also does not matter whether If Not Now activists were in breach of contract for staging walk-offs from Birthright Israel programs two years ago, whether they were impertinent for broadcasting them on Facebook live, or whether they hijacked their groups.
And it is certainly irrelevant whether one of their activists couldn’t explain why there are Jewish settlers/residents in Hebron (as argued in a Jerusalem Post op-ed on July 17). Being unaware of this is as problematic as not realizing the connection between Jewish settlement in Hebron and the resultant human rights violations of Palestinian residents of H2 (Israeli-controlled Hebron).
However, this lack of awareness certainly doesn’t nullify the legitimacy of Diaspora activists from the Left or Right who suffer from a different knowledge deficit. If we used such a criterion of basic level of knowledge for determining eligibility to vote within Israel (or America, England, Australia or elsewhere, for that matter) many people from across the political spectrum would be stripped of their right to vote!
What is of utmost importance though, when considering the occupation, the proposed annexation plan and potential political solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the overwhelming majority of American Jewry.
American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat. They are not Orthodox, and they tend to embrace a more universalistic approach to their Jewish identity. Younger American Jews might consider their Judaism simply one of multiple identities. They might consider the ongoing Israeli occupation to be a moral blight, which is diametrically opposed to everything which their communities have taught them to believe Judaism represents.
ONE COULD respond by railing against a supposed liberal manipulation of the idea of tikkun olam bemalchut Shadai (“repairing the world in the majesty of the Almighty”). One could question and doubt others’ Jewish credentials. One could accuse Diaspora Jewish liberals of being “sell-outs” wanting to ingratiate themselves with non-Jewish liberals (as if they are not as sincere in their liberal views regarding Israel as they are in relation to their liberal views regarding their own countries). And one could even simply write off large swaths of the largest (Diaspora) Jewish community in the world.
But that won’t change a thing. Millions of American Jews who are deeply engaged with Israel see its actions as going against the essence of Judaism itself, against everything they learned as part of their Jewish education and in Jewish communal life. This is a most serious issue that won’t be resolved by name-calling, finger-pointing or by denigrating others who call us out for ongoing policies with which they disagree, and which they wouldn’t tolerate if they were being mirrored by their own Diaspora governments.
American Jews who have and will be influenced by Beinart, members of If Not Now, and others who fundamentally oppose Israeli policy, are flesh of our flesh. They are our sisters and our brothers. They are our students, our children and our campers, and they must be included when we talk about Jewish unity (including unity between Left and Right, and between Diaspora and Israeli Jewry).
This is especially true during, but not limited to, the days leading up to Tisha Be’av, which our sages teach marks, inter alia, the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, which was destroyed because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred). In any case, who is the tinok shenishba (captured infant) without an appreciation for Zionism and what Israel should be?
Is it the hyper-universalistic Jewish activist, deeply engaged with Israel, who cannot abide by certain Israeli policies, and seeks to reform Israel and its society? Or is it the particularistic Jew, who has embraced a certain type of hyper-nationalism, increasingly divorced from any universalistic context which was once part of the Zionist movement? The answer will, of course, depend on your politics, and most likely lies somewhere in between.
Israeli and Diaspora Jewry need to move forward in respectful partnership with one another, which must include a dialogue which has room for honest criticism.
The writer is a licensed Israel tour guide.