I write about Israel-Palestine issues only occasionally, because the onslaught of e-mails and comments calling me a self-hating Jew can be emotionally overwhelming. It’s also difficult to weather the respectful but strident disagreement from some friends and members of my family, who consider me insufficiently pro-Israel because I support the international community moving with deliberate speed to pressure the Netanyahu administration to end the occupation and create a viable Palestinian state. (This position, I might add, is a relatively centrist one common among Jewish Israeli writers and activists; many well intentioned folks further to the left support a “single-state solution” that would soon make Jews a minority within Israel.)
This debate can get nasty. So I am somewhat in awe of my colleague* Peter Beinart, who seems to be made of stronger stuff than I am. I can only imagine what Beinart has experienced over the past few weeks, as the New York Times published his op-ed in favor of what he terms “Zionist BDS”—a boycott movement targeting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank; the Daily Beast launched Open Zion, Beinart’s new group blog featuring voices who oppose the occupation; and Times Books published his bracing new polemic, The Crisis of Zionism.
Beinart attends an Orthodox synagogue and sends his children to Jewish day school. Even the most cursory reading of his work reveals his critique of Israeli policy is motivated not by antipathy toward the Jewish state, but by an unwavering commitment to liberal Zionism: the belief that Israel should protect minority rights and conduct itself according to Jewish social justice values. Indeed, Beinart has been criticized from the left for opposing the occupation too much because it threatens Israel’s liberal, democratic character, and not being outraged enough about the displacement and subsequent statelessness of Palestinians. I disagree with this critique; Beinart writes unflinchingly about the massacres of Palestinian Arabs that accompanied Israel’s founding. His identification with Fadel Jaber, a Palestinian father unjustly arrested for “stealing water,” frames the entire book, and The Crisis of Zionism concludes with a call for liberal Jews to ally themselves with the Palestinian nonviolence movement. But it’s worth noting Beinart is hearing pushback from all sides.