5/27/2010

Critiques of Beinart in a Nutshell

I’ve spent a week reading more by and about Beinart than I really care to. In my earlier post on the issue, I focused on some details he got wrong. A deeper critique of his entire framing is called for - and has largely been delivered. Here is a summary:
  • His failure to really contextualize Israel’s shift toward the right wing as having to do with Hamas and Hizbollah (aside from a couple of “to be sure”s). One could easily argue that general sympathy and identification with Israel begets an understanding of (if not agreement with) its current policies, and that the claim that the disaffection of the young generation is due to Israel’s misdeeds, real or perceived, places the cart before the horse. They’re critical of Israel because they don’t feel a connection to it, not the other way around.
  • His failure to contextualize the turn of American Jews away from Zionism as part of the larger trend of American Jews turning away from Judaism. To be sure, there are disaffected Jews who are strong Zionists and engaged Jews who are not Zionists, but Beinart’s talking about major trends, so we will, too. The people who tend to be engaged in Judaism tend to be Zionist. The people who tend to be disaffected from Judaism tend to have antipathy toward Zionism. Beinart basically acknowledges this but then fails or refuses to connect the dots. Instead of “the Orthodox are Zionist because they are strongly connected to Judaism, and Zionism, or the love of and desire to live in the Land of Israel, is a core Jewish value” you get “the Orthodox are Zionist because they’re a bunch of obscurantist fascists.” Ever heard of Ockham’s razor? He does not address the Jewishly engaged non-Orthodox, but I suspect you’d find a lot of proud liberal Zionists there.
  • His failure to contextualize the alleged polarization of liberal Zionists into liberals and Zionists as part of the general polarization of American politics, i.e., part of the problem people have with Israel is that it’s a “red state.” I would imagine that the overwhelming majority of the people Beinart sympathizes with are to be found among the 78% of Jews who voted Democrat. That’s fine. But note that the rhetoric that’s been coming out of the Democratic grassroots lately – Republicans, too, by the way – is really very marginalizing. Israel’s government is by no means more conservative than the one that ran the US for 8 years in recent memory. However, the rhetoric in the US has reached such a fever pitch that people have begun to feel a dissonance between support for a state that elected a conservative government and their own liberalism. Israel's shift to the right has been far more mild than Beinart makes it out to be. The problem is that in the minds of many American liberals, being a conservative has become a crime of the highest order.
  • He oversimplifies the Israeli political spectrum as being Yvette Lieberman vs. Zeev Sternhell. In a follow up piece, he referred to “Israel’s domestic struggle between democrats and authoritarians.” Man, oh man. I wish politics were that simple around here.
  • His failure to note that Israel’s political system works off of proportional representation, not regional first-past-the-post election. In PR parliaments, you get many nuttier and more extreme parties with representation. Israel has what, 18 parties in the current Knesset? (That’s a hell of a lot for a non-democracy.) America has 2 parties. Israel’s largest 2 parties control less than half of the Knesset. To put it in perspective, if the US had a PR system, all of a sudden Rev. Al Sharpton and Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader and who knows who else control major chunks of Congress, and the Dems or GOPers would have to get into bed with SOMEBODY in order to create a governing coalition. It could get unwieldy, I’d imagine. Perhaps Israel needs electoral reform (i.e., perhaps it could use a bit LESS democracy and find a way to limit all but a handful of major parties); that’s a very different issue than suggesting Israel has more of a racist or extremist element than any other country, US included, that would justify such antipathy.
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