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June 17th, 2010
05:31 AM ET

Essay fuels American Jewish debate over U.S-Israel relationship

From CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter:

Debate among American Jews about the proper relationship between the United States and Israel is often reasoned but often impolite. E-mail traffic and online comments can be venomous, rejecting the idea that an American Jew can support Israel while being critical of its actions or policies.

This is an intramural debate with ramifications beyond its participants. Israel counts on American Jews to help maintain U.S. support for Israel politically and—through foreign aid programs—a military edge over its potential foreign foes.

An event such as the Israeli raid on the Gaza flotilla becomes a subject of disagreement. Gal Beckerman of The Forward, a Jewish-American newspaper, wrote: "Here was one more Rorschach test for an American Jewry that has become increasingly factionalized when it comes to Israel, viewing every situation through its various preconceptions on the left and right."

So when an article appears questioning the future of American Jewish support for Israel, that "Rorschach test" is applied anew.

The forum was The New York Review of Books. The author was Peter Beinart, who writes for the The Daily Beast, teaches at City University of New York and is a fellow at the New America Foundation. The title was "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment."

This excerpt exemplifies Beinart's argument:

Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster-indeed, have actively opposed-a Zionism that challenges Israel's behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism's door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Beinart's piece, which was rooted in the results of a 2003 survey of Jewish college students, is being batted back-and-forth in numerous forums, including on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS.

David Suissa is the founder of http://www.olam.org and a columnist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. In a rebuttal titled "Beinart's Failure," Suissa wrote: "Tough love is one thing, but showing tough love for Israel to those who have no love for Israel in the first place isn't tough love. It's just pouring oil on the fire."

Noah Pollak of Commentary magazine found no bravery in Beinart's position:

The sad truth is that Peter Beinart isn't any kind of trailblazer or whistleblower, and he most certainly has not earned himself any trouble by coming out as an Israel-basher. He is someone who has rather belatedly fallen completely and predictably into line with the demands his ideological compatriots make for orthodoxy when it comes to their increasingly passionate interest in assaulting Israel and championing the Palestinian cause. In Beinart's work, we are not witnessing an act of courage but rather a spectacle of conformity.

Elsewhere, Beinart stands accused of allowing personal political allegiances to influence his conclusions, misreading survey data and ignoring contrary evidence. The authors of this criticism do allow this:

The tension between American Jewish liberalism and the policies of the current Israeli government is real, and the prospect of substantial alienation in the future cannot be dismissed. It should be remembered, however, that American Jews have had plenty of experience with U.S. administrations they did not support politically. For the foreseeable future, diverse personal connections, alongside a basic belief in the need for a Jewish state, will help the next generation of American Jews remain committed to Israel even in the face of distressing political developments.

Beinart is well aware of the fire he's taking for his article:

The American Jewish organizations don't just say that they love Israel because it's a Jewish state. If you look at their websites, what they say is that they love Israel because it shares certain values that they believe are Jewish values and American values – free speech, human rights, the search for peace and all these things. So my article said that if you believe that, then you have to be willing to be critical when you think that the Israeli government is doing things that are not consistent with those values.

Some American Jews consider it a shanda (Yiddish for a shame or a scandal) to air such a family squabble in public. There are those who muzzle their opinions to avoid recriminations. Others feel the louder the better. Ultimately, it's not just their connection to Israel that's at stake but the degree to which Israel's supporters can leverage that relationship to influence U.S. policy.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Rachel Golem

    In a few months, Iraq will be on fire with a huge civil war in which millions will die.

    And already in Europe, people are afraid to put their children on a bus, train or airplane.

    They have already figured out that Israel is not the problem.

    And it is true. There are no gay people in Iran. They kill them all.

    And the so called "Peace movement" will repeat their mantra that, "It's just a SMALL MINORITY OF JEWS WHO ARE RUINING THE WORLD" And that Americans don't like people crashing planes into their tall buildings because they are brainwashed by the "Zionist controlled media".

    But it won't work. Because Americans and Europeans are too busy trying to earn a living and paying their bills.

    December 31, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  2. dina

    Where will this author go when the right wing Americans come after him in their racist race. Israel is the safe haven for Jews and needs to be supported by all Jews. Israel does what it has to do to survive. This country is leaning so far to the right and minorities are in danger, so if you don't suport Israel, where will you go Mr. Beinart if you are Jewish. The Arab world hates Israel and wants it to disappear along with all the other Jews in the world.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  3. Eric de Great

    Finally, someone pointing out the rift between Zionists and the rest of the Jews. World Jewry is done no favors by the Israeli regime. If anything, Israel's actions breed anti-semitism the rest of the world's Jews have to deal with. I have met Jews who support and others who do not support Israel and what I hear most often is that Jews are kind of guilted or coerced into at least verbally supporting Israel even if their personal conviction is different. I am surprised this story saw the light of day to be honest.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  4. jeru0455

    What if we (America) just payed the government of Kazahkastan some x number of billions of dollars to take the Palestinians and stick them in some remote portion of their underpopulated Muslim country. That would be a lot easier (and cheaper) than trying to reshape the middle east into some distinct model that we have in mind but that no one else seems interested in.

    June 21, 2010 at 1:47 am |
  5. Gekko

    @Zak from Israel – Why not just have one state – Israel – where Jews, Christians, and Muslims all live together, just like here in America? I support a One State Solution.

    June 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  6. zaza

    Reading history you will find that Zionists let their own Jewish children and families die in order for Israel to exist, they were given options for a time and always chose taking Palestine over anything else.

    June 19, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  7. Zak from Israel

    No country would willingly yield a part of its established territory for no good reason.

    It's silly to mention the Bible or the Qoran because 40% of Israelis don't even believe in God. It's not about religion. It's about a place to call Home for both people.

    And it's silly to say the jews came uninvited to palestine because they came in a time it was the norm. Colonialism.
    The Jews are now here (Israel) and they aren't going anywhere so any discussion is moot.

    We should concentrate our effort on creating a viable and prosperous Palestinian land instead of bring up the aburd arguments about religion or the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

    June 19, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  8. Progress

    I think it s time for the united states and england to own up to creating this monster that is Israel. Put REAL pressure on them to be HUMAN beings. Stop killing and taking land in the name of religeon on BOTH sides. If GOD did exist do you really think a smart omnipotent all knowing entity would want sensless death and cruelity in his name?? boot out all foreign special interest groups from american and english politics and then we can start thinking for ourselves instead of supporting Israel so they can finiance that pricey election campain. D4MN it! Can't we all just get ALONG.

    June 19, 2010 at 4:26 am |
  9. Kevin

    If we don't protect Israel, no one will. So it's basis as a state is irrelevant. Human lives are the stakes and don't ever tell anyone you're willing to gamble those away.

    When protecting lives gets slanderous left-wing assaults, I'm compelled to vomit.

    June 18, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      How many generations of Americans have to protect the Jewish state of Israel? IS there ever a point where junior moves out of the basement?

      June 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  10. Reality

    Umme Omar, we await your translations of the referenced koranic passages. Based on the 24/7 terrorist activities of Muslims, the passages so noted are currently being practiced. These and analogous passages are based on the mythical meeting of mythical Gabriel with the womanizing, warmongering, long-dead Arab named Mohammed making Islam one of the greatest con jobs ever carried out against humankind.

    June 18, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Reality

      We are still waiting for all those translations.

      June 21, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  11. Eric G.

    Umme Omar: I think you are very close to understanding many peoples position on religion in general. In your response you stated "you are quoting them out of context". Anyone who reads a religious text develops their own interpretation of the words within it. Their interpretation must be considered as valid as any other. The problem starts when someone claims that their personal interpretation is more valid than another persons. The only way to have true harmony within different religious beliefs is to first acknowledge that they are all fiction. With this admission, all religious knowledge and understanding become pure speculation.

    June 18, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  12. Umme Omar

    Everybody knows the reality about you, you are Anti Islam who is trying to distract us from the real subject These verses that you are translating are all in Arabic and you are quoting them out of context and your translation is also not correct. Anybody who wants to learn about Quran, should either read it in its original Arabic text or at least read translation of a true scholar of both Islam and Arabic.

    June 18, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  13. Steve

    American Jews see themselves as increasingly disconnected from Israel. American Jews desire integration into American society, therefore they disavow Israel's actions. However, American Jews are naive to believe that the world has changed since 1945. Jeremy's post below ("jews have only themselves to blame, as as in europe") shows that ignorance and anti-Semitism is alive and well. What American Jews fail to understand is that there is no "safe" haven. It is only the existence of Israel that secures their lives, though they are ashamed to admit it.

    June 18, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Tels

      And perhaps, it's the existence and influence of the Jewish diaspora in the U.S., which potentially secures the existence and influence of Israel. You see the vicious circle?

      July 9, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  14. jeremy

    the t-party movement vows to end "aipac bought congress" and elect "AMERICA FIRSTERS" I cant wait for the wave of nationalism to spread as t-party candidates keep winning, jews will have only themselves to blame same as in europe

    June 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  15. jeremy

    this piece is pure propaganda to attempt to portray the jews as divided,thats a lie , when did you ever see jews calling out jews fot manipulating congress or for media controll?? never because the truth is they are happy with jewish influence over our country. this game where we have to hope some good jew of conscious will finally put an end to jewish influence on our country is absurd,time for americans to boycott not israeli goods but every JEWISH OWNED SHOP IN THEIR COMMUNITIES!

    June 17, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      One person is Rabbi Learner who came out earlier this year. There is a growing minority of USA jews who are not blindly supporting israel anymore. They are a minority right now but it is going to change one day. We should NOT boycott every Jewish Owned shop in our communities. It is stereotyping.

      June 17, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
    • Phil11514

      How very wonderfully Nazi of you, JEREMY. What's next? Smashing the windows of Jewish-owned shops and staging your own Kristalnacht ? You're welcome to try it and see what happens to you. In 1938, Jews didn't fight back when their shops and stores were smashed and burned. Today, Jews stand up for themselves and defend themselves, their homes, their families, their businesses and their property

      June 20, 2010 at 5:04 am |
  16. aria

    i think beinart got it right. there is no such thing as liberal zionism anymore, if it ever existed in the first place. "zionism" nowadays does not refer to "the self-determination of the jewish people", it means "defending israel at every turn, no matter how wrong and/or illegal its actions are". liberalism cannot coexist with such a system (and i'm referring to moral liberalism, ie the doctrine of freedom, not political liberalism). israel is becoming more and more religious–a recent poll says that 65% of israeli jews think that american jewish groups should ALWAYS (no exceptions) support israel's governmental policies. i used to be a zionist, but not anymore. it's all hogwash, fighting over land and silly myths.

    June 17, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  17. Umme Omar

    What do american Muslims have to do with this article? Muslims do not hate Jews and they did not carry out Holocost. I did not know about it until I watched the movie Schindler's List.

    Quran was sent down 1400 years ago and state of Israel came into being in 1948. The Passages in Quran are not about the state of israel. They are about the Children of Israel (Prophet Jacob and his 12 sons' tribes). At the time of Moses (PBUH) they were the belivers and they stayed believers until Jesus (PBUH)'s miraculous birth. These passages do not teach us hatred but they teach us that we should always follow Quran and Prophets (PBUT)and not be like the children of Israel who almost always let down Moses (PBUH), After reading these passages, my heart just fills with love for Moses (PBUH), Jesus (PBUH) and all the other Prophets of children of Israel.

    If the people of palestine have problems with Israel, its because they came to their land uninvited. American Muslims came to USA legally on valid visas. Most were born here and others are converts. I know many Jews who are very nice people and they do not support Israel blindly. Guess they are liberals according to this article.

    June 17, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
    • Phil11514

      Muslims DO hate Jews the world over, and they DID help carry out the Holocaust.

      The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, was infamous for stirring up Muslim hatreds of Jews in Palestine and personally led anti-Jewish riots in which many Palestinian Jew were savagely murdered. This occurred in the 1920s and 1930s – almost two decades BEFORE Israel even existed. The Grand Mufti was also infamous for his fervent support of Hitler and the "Final Solution" and asked Hitler to come to Palestine and help the arabdo toJews in then-Palestine what the Nazis weredoing to Jews in Europe - carrying out mass murders and exterminations.

      Al-Husseini represented newly emerging proponents of militant, Palestinian Arab nationalism, a previously unknown concept. Once he was in power, he began a campaign of terror and intimidation against anyone opposed to his rule and policies. He killed Jews at every opportunity, but also eliminated Arabs who did not support his campaign of violence. Husseini was not willing to negotiate or make any kind of compromise for the sake of peace.

      In 1929, major Arab riots were instigated against the Jews of Palestine. They began when al-Husseini falsely accused Jews of defiling and endangering local mosques, including al-Aqsa. The call went out to the Arab masses: "Izbah Al-Yahud!" — "Slaughter the Jews!" After the killing of Jews in Hebron, the Mufti disseminated photographs of slaughtered Jews with the claim that the dead were Arabs killed by Jews.

      In April, 1936 six prominent Arab leaders formed the Arab Higher Committee, with the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini as head of the organization, joining forces to protest British support of Zionist progress in Palestine. In the same month, riots broke out in Jaffa commencing a three-year period of violence and civil strife in Palestine that is known as the Arab Revolt. The Arab Higher Committee led the campaign of terrorism against Jewish and British targets.

      Using the turmoil of the Arab Revolt as cover, al-Husseini consolidated his control over the Palestinian Arabs with a campaign of murder against Jews and non-compliant Arabs, the recruitment of armed militias, and the raising of funds from around the Muslim world using anti-Jewish propaganda. In 1937 the Grand Mufti expressed his solidarity with Germany, asking the Nazi Third Reich to oppose establishment of a Jewish state, stop Jewish immigration to Palestine, and provide arms to the Arab population.

      According to documentation from the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the Nazi Germany SS helped finance al-Husseini's efforts in the 1936-39 revolt in Palestine. Adolf Eichmann actually visited Palestine and met with al-Husseini at that time and subsequently maintained regular contact with him later in Berlin.

      While in Baghdad, Syria al-Husseini aided the pro-Nazi revolt of 1941. He then spent the rest of World War II as Hitler's special guest in Berlin, advocating the extermination of Jews in radio broadcasts back to the Middle East and recruiting Balkan Muslims for infamous SS "mountain divisions" that tried to wipe out Jewish communities throughout the region.

      From Egypt al-Husseini was among the sponsors of the 1948 war against the new State of Israel. Spurned by the Jordanian monarch, who gave the position of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem to someone else, Haj Amin al-Husseini arranged King Abdullah's assassination in 1951, while still living in exile in Egypt. King Tallal followed Abdullah as king of Jordan, and he refused to give permission to Amin al-Husseini to come into Jordanian Jerusalem. After one year, King Tallal was declared incompetent; the new King Hussein also refused to give al-Husseini permission to enter Jerusalem. King Hussein recognized that the former Grand Mufti would only stir up trouble and was a danger to peace in the region.

      June 20, 2010 at 5:00 am |
    • Phil11514

      Muslims DO hate Jews around the world and Muslims DID help cause the Holocaust.

      June 20, 2010 at 5:06 am |
    • Zak

      Yes, we arabs do hate israelies aka Zionists just like they hate us. But saying that arabs had something to do with the holocaust is the funniest thing ever. Get the hell over the Holocaust !! you are not the only people in this world that have been committed genocide against. STop using it as an excuse to commit your own atrocities against the palestinian people !! i'm so sick and tired of hearing the holocaust everywhere i go. it's like you cannot be critizied or brought sanction against just because you went through the holocaust, as if it's the WORLD'S FAULT !!!

      October 18, 2010 at 7:57 am |
  18. Abd al-Latif

    Have you ever read the Torah, the Jewish Bible? There are passages therein that advocate true genocide–destroying even small children because they are non-Jews. There is NOTHING remotely like that in the Holy Qur'an. Rather, the Holy Qur'an just says that we are obligated to defend ourselves from oppression–that's all.

    June 17, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • Reality

      Islam’s Koran and World Domination

      Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”

      Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa,

      June 19, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • richard

      How about the Islamic/Arab states – where women are treated as second class citizens at best, many basic freedoms denied and democracy non existant . How about the fact that most moslems in the world are murdered by fellow moslems – month after month, year after year, in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in Pakistan hundreds of innocent Moslems are murdered by other Moslems in suicide bombings and other terror attacks. The murder and oppression of moslems by other moslems dwarfs anything Israel has ever done yet few moslems ever speak out about it. I guess it is just easier to blame 'the zionists' for everything...

      June 22, 2010 at 3:43 am |
  19. Abd al-Latif

    Well, no, I guess I'm guilty as charged: I have no "love for Israel." I have love only for God first, and for my fellow human beings second. I couldn't care less about some nation-state, let alone a racist nation-state that's bent on oppression, dispossession, and gradual extermination of all non-Jews. To thinking Jews: the Zionists are telling you that their pet nation-state should come before God and the compassion that God expects of us. Don't believe them. Don't buy the idea that we are "the Enemy." Most people can live in peace if we will just stop listening to the extremists and expose them for the hateful would-be murderers that they are.

    June 17, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      I agree with you brother. But please don't take me wrong. There are many jews who are already aware of these facts. We should not be confusing Zionists with Jews. Every Jew is not a Zionist nor does he/she support Israel blindly. Just like every Muslim is not a Jihadist. call me gullible or stupid, but I do not stereotype people.

      June 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Zak from Israel

      Don't go comparing Jihad and Zionism.
      Zionism means a peace of land on this earth for Jews. and THIS is supported by at leat 99% of the jews (except for those who think it's blesphemy)
      Zionism is not against arab nor does it look to disposses them (look at the arab Israelis)
      but Israel does experience belligerence in the middle east which led to the occupation in the first place (WAR)
      now Israel finds itself in a hard position... it cannot annex the west bank because it'd cease to be a democracy
      and it cannot give palestinians independece (yet) because there is no responsible body to take it or otherwise, no terms that are acceptable on both parties can be reached.

      You're filled with hate towards zionists which forms the greater majority of the jewish people. Instead you should try and look at the situation more rationally and less emotionally.
      It won't help anyone to bring up dead children because there are hundreds of those on BOTH sides.

      June 19, 2010 at 7:59 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.