I was hoping to see fresh reporting in the book, including conversations with young American Jews on campus and in communities around the country. Instead, we are presented with the findings of various surveys and polls on Jewish attitudes promoting Beinart's positions. The book is a lengthy extension of his thesis that, as he writes at the outset, "if Israel fails" in the "struggle" between Zionism and liberal democracy, "it will either cease being a Jewish state or cease being a democratic one. Today it is failing," he maintains, "and American Jews are helping it fail."Sol Stern takes a hard look at Peter's title:
His concern is well taken. Anyone who cares about Israel worries about the tension between its Jewish mission and its commitment to democracy. Some tend to overlook this argument, though, insisting that the onus for progress is on the Palestinians who have rejected Israeli peace offers without proposing any of their own, and who, many fear, are committed to a Mideast without a Jewish state.
But what is so frustrating is that Beinart, too, talks past the issue. He seems to view the Mideast crisis through the prism of the settlements as front and center -- the very core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has little to say about the very real concerns of Israelis or about the history and context of a problem that goes back decades, if not centuries.
Beinart worries about raising children in America who will take pride in the Israeli flag, but where is his empathy for Israeli children surrounded by very real enemies and too often the victim of Arab hatred?
What is wrong with Beinart's book is contained within its title, The Crisis of Zionism. Zionism itself is not in crisis. The liberal Zionism Beinart espouses is, because Beinart and others like him have decided to condition their belief in a Jewish national homeland on its pursuit of policies that make them feel good. They prefer an Israel of social-democratic fantasy--an Israel that need not take account of the behavior of its Palestinian interlocutors, that need not take account of the safety and security of its own population, and an Israel that need not take account of the views and wishes of its own electorate--to the real thing. In locating the ideal form of Zionism in the perspective of Stephen Wise, who died less than a year after the founding of the Jewish state, Beinart wishes to return Israel to its uncomplicated days of glory, circa 1949.
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