Self-blame is a dangerous game

By Geoffrey Alderman, March 29, 2012

This month has seen the publication of two remarkably identical statements that address the elusive quest for peace between Israel and its neighbours. One has been authored by a Liberal Jew, while the other has been written by a reported adherent of Orthodoxy. But no matter how similar these statements, their content should not blind us to the fact that the analyses that underpin them are deeply flawed.

The former appeared in This is not the way: Jews, Judaism and Israel, the latest monograph to fall from the pen of Rabbi David Goldberg, emeritus minister of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, in St John's Wood. It takes the form of a spirited gallop around several matters of moment in the Jewish world. For my present purposes, I shall concentrate on just one; namely, peacemaking in the Middle East.

Rabbi Goldberg believes that, while some of the blame must be apportioned to the Islamic and Arab worlds, and to the Palestinians in particular, a great measure of responsibility must be laid at the door of the Jews. The democratic and secular Zionism of Israel's founders, whose sublimated Judaism apparently found its expression in a benign quest for social justice, has been usurped by an oppressive creed that seeks glory through religious supremacy on the home front (the triumph of the ultra-Orthodox mindset) and through conquest (the "occupation" of Arab lands) in the international arena. He sees this "occupation" as a cancer, eating away at the democratic Israel he loves.

On March 19, the New York Times published a short essay by the American political scientist Peter Beinart, associate professor at New York's City University. To the best of my knowledge, Beinart has never said, explicitly, that he is an Orthodox Jew, but we know that he comes from an Orthodox background and, by his own admission, attends an Orthodox synagogue.

In 2010, in a controversial essay in the New York Review of Books, Beinart declared that young, politically liberal American Jews were being alienated from Zionism because of their revulsion at Israeli policy in the West Bank and the then recent military action against Gaza.

Peter Beinart’s proposal is a recipe for civil war

A monograph based on these arguments, entitled The Crisis of Zionism, was published in the US this week. As a trailer for this volume, the New York Times carried an opinion piece by Beinart provocatively entitled: To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements.

I have not read Beinart's forthcoming book, but I have read his 2010 essay and this, in which he characterised the West Bank as "non-democratic Israel", contrasting it with the "flawed but genuine democracy within the green line", and urged a boycott of goods produced by Jews in the West Bank and an end to charitable status for donations made to Jewish communities and initiatives in these neighbourhoods.

As a matter of fact, the assertion that American Jews (and in particular young Jews) are becoming alienated from Israel is strongly contested. Recent research by a number of highly regarded scholars suggests quite the opposite. But it's Beinart's call for a Jewish boycott of fellow Jews that strikes me as especially outrageous. I hold the unity of the Jewish people to be of paramount importance. Beinart's policy is a recipe for civil war. And it's a recipe based on an analysis that is partial and defective.

Palestinian hostility to Israel is grounded in the Islamic view of the Jew and of Judaism. In relation to the peace process (since, say, the Oslo Accords of 1993), Palestinian Arabs already enjoy a large measure of self-rule; the number of West Bank Palestinians currently living under Israeli control amounts to less than three per cent of all Palestinian Arabs.

To characterise this state of affairs as a danger to Israeli democracy is absurd. These individuals (numbering about 150,000 and dwelling in so-called Area C) could indeed be offered Israeli citizenship. But I doubt that this would satisfy the Palestinian leadership, or that it would assuage the emotions of Peter Beinart or Rabbi Goldberg.

What they want (it seems to me) is, rather, to feed and appease the protestations of victimhood that obsess the Palestinian psyche. The likelihood of this leading to a genuine peace is nil.

Last updated: 6:50pm, March 29 2012