The Cri­sis of Zionism

Peter Beinart
  • Review
By – April 23, 2012
Peter Beinart’s The Cri­sis of Zion­ism has received wide cov­er­age across the lit­er­ary, reli­gious, and his­tor­i­cal spec­trums. There are those who claim his com­men­tary is prophet­ic, and there are those who call him a self-hat­ing Jew. Beinart has writ­ten a polemic and, as with all polemics, some dimen­sions of the argu­ment are stronger and some are exag­ger­at­ed in order to make the point all the more poignant.

Regard­less of what you think about the con­clu­sions Beinart draws, his top­ic and his the­sis are extreme­ly impor­tant. As an author Beinart dis­sects issues and ham­mers home his point in the most read­able and friend­ly style. The Cri­sis of Zion­ism is mas­ter­ful­ly craft­ed and grace­ful­ly writ­ten.

Even when my blood boiled over because of a point he had made or when I laughed out loud at his exag­ger­at­ed prose, I remained enrap­tured by the sto­ry and by Beinart’s writ­ing style. For exam­ple, in the world accord­ing to Peter Beinart: It’s the Jew­ish lead­er­ship of Amer­i­ca were to meet with the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States… only one per­son in the Oval Office would reflect true Jew­ish and tra­di­tion­al Zion­ist val­ues…. and that would be Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma. Clever, con­vinc­ing and made the point clear­ly, but just as cer­tain­ly an exag­ger­a­tion of the point he wished to make.

Beinart is not a self-hat­ing Jew; he is a staunch­ly crit­i­cal Jew. He is a Jew who wants, through his cri­tique, to return Jew­ish lead­er­ship and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and Israel to its roots, roots found­ed, Beinart writes, on social jus­tice, free­dom, and equal­i­ty. For that rea­son he jux­ta­pos­es Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish lead­ers against U.S. Pres­i­dent Obama.

Oba­ma is a cham­pi­on of the cause of Israel’s left and of the vision of a Pales­tin­ian state in the con­text of a two-state solu­tion, the Pales­tin­ian state liv­ing side by side with Israel. Beinart sees that as the only just res­o­lu­tion to the con­flict.

In con­trast to Oba­ma, Beinart sees Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu as doing any­thing and every­thing to avoid that same two-state, side by side result. The Amer­i­can lead­ers who sup­port the Netanyahu point of view are paint­ed with the same broad brush as those who threat­en tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish and Zion­ist val­ues – the prin­ci­ples upon which Israel was founded.

Peter Beinart’s major strength is also his great­est flaw. His book is mar­velous­ly grace­ful but his argu­ment lacks nuance. There are right-wing tra­di­tion­al Zion­ists, although they are not to be found in The Cri­sis of Zion­ism, and their val­ues were and are evolv­ing. And the Prime Min­is­ter, in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary move, has rec­og­nized the right of Pales­tini­ans to have a state with­in the bound­aries of the 1967 armistice lines. Beinart also fails to acknowl­edge or even rec­og­nize that Israel has moved from a social­ist frame of ref­er­ence to a free mar­ket, moved from left to cen­ter to cen­ter-right, as have the vast major­i­ty of dias­po­ra Zionists.

A bet­ter book could not have been writ­ten, but a sec­ond book should attempt to con­vince those many Amer­i­can Jews who don’t care about Israel to care. Mak­ing Israel social­ist and more lib­er­al will not budge Amer­i­can Jew­ry from their apathy.
Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

Discussion Questions