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Peter Beinart’s Cocoon

October 2, 2013 10:20 am 6 comments

"Open Zion" Editor Peter Beinart. Photo:

Peter Beinart’s newest screed in The New York Review of Books (“The American Jewish Cocoon,” September 26) offers variations on a familiar theme. It sharply criticizes the American Jewish community, especially “the American Jewish establishment,” for its insularity from legitimate Palestinian grievances against Israel and its distorted perception of Palestinians as “a faceless, frightening, undifferentiated mass.”

At the top of Beinart’s agenda is the necessity of talking to Palestinians. “Our isolation from Palestinians,” Beinart admonishes, “keeps us dumb.” He faults American Jews, especially community leaders, for their lack of empathy.  Encountering Palestinians would combat “American Jewish ignorance” and “American Jewish hatred.” Yet even he concedes: “Virtually every Palestinian I’ve ever met considers Zionism to be colonialist, imperialist, and racist.” What, then, is the point of closer communication?

Beinart’s indictment is a reprise of his previous New York Review critique (June 10, 2010). Then, echoing Palestinians, he castigated Jewish leaders for supporting the Israeli “occupation” of “Palestinian” territories. Expanded into The Crisis of Zionism, and further refined in a New York Times op-ed, he effectively pledged allegiance to the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which reframes traditional anti-Semitic tropes in the currently fashionable delegitimization of Israel. Advocating a “Zionist B.D.S.” movement, he proposed a boycott on products from “nondemocratic” Israel i.e. Jewish settlements. Even far-left lobby group J Street rejected his proposal.

As if to demonstrate its irrelevance, Beinart’s current New York Review essay coincided with the publication of a Pew Research Center survey revealing a far more ominous development within the American Jewish community than any disinclination to communicate with Palestinians.

The “changing nature” of American Jewish identity reveals a sharply declining religious identification (except among the Orthodox), long the defining attribute of Jewish identity. One in five American Jews has no religious identification. Nearly two-thirds identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture, not religion. Among them, an equivalent proportion is not raising their children Jewish or partially Jewish. The rate of Jewish intermarriage is approaching 60 percent, above 70 percent among non-Orthodox Jews.

The lack of attachment of American Jews to Israel is equally worrisome. Only one-third of Jews who identify by religion are “very attached”; barely ten percent of non-religious Jews feel bound to Israel. Nearly one-quarter of the former have little or no attachment; more than half the Jews of no religion are completely detached from the Jewish state.

As good liberals (like Beinart), barely one-third of American Jews believe that Israel is making “a sincere effort to establish peace with the Palestinians.” Nearly half believe that settlement construction is harmful to Israel’s security interests. But only twelve percent believe that Palestinian leaders are sincere in seeking peace with Israel.

The “American Jewish Cocoon” that Beinart laments entirely misses the point. Any unwillingness of American Jews to communicate with Palestinians is dwarfed in significance by their exodus from Jewish identity. Embracing the great wide wonderful world of assimilation, the theology of liberalism grows ever stronger as their prevailing faith. More than double the percentage of American Jews who feel attachment to Israel, according to the Pew findings, are concerned with discrimination against gays, lesbians, Muslims and African Americans.

Beinart chastises American Jewish organizations for avoiding encounters with Palestinians. Birthright, for example, does not take its Diaspora participants to Palestinian towns and cities – nor, however, does it cross the “Green Line” to visit Jewish settlements. He complains that Hillel has issued guidelines urging local chapters not to host speakers who “delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel,” which sounds like an eminently reasonable policy. Even Beinart concedes that the BDS movement “is based on a dangerous and inaccurate analogy” between Israel and apartheid South Africa.

Beinart complains that the organized American Jewish community is a “closed intellectual space.” But no one seems to inhabit a more tightly closed intellectual space than Peter Beinart.

Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming Jewish State/Pariah State: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy, to be published by Quid Pro Books.


  • David Cutler

    F*** Peter Beinart

  • The only question in my mind is this: Are these leftists fools or deceivers or both? Have they forgotten the decades of terror (ongoing and growing) and war and extremism that is part of the Islamic conquest focused primarily on Israel but also the USA, Europe and the rest of the world? Does Beinart, cocooned in his protected leftist shell, not read or view the media? Does he not care about the fate of the Jewish people and the Western world? Does he see it as an advantage to give “Palestinians” a new country in place of Israel that never existed before, just to satisfy the demands of totalitarian Islam? Does he not see that Islamic countries have done nothing to offer citizenship to their own refugees, opting to make them into jihadists for their sick causes? Does Beinart have something to gain when the Islamists, with help from and legitimized by the Obama administration, are so mainstream that they will dictate to him what he must believe, how his wife and children dress, the respect and funds he gives for Mosques (through taxes) that preach and teach hate; as they degrade his beliefs, values and freedoms and perhaps kills non-believers as they do today in many countries? Does Beinart want a Middle East where Iran has nuclear bombs and all must be terrorized by the mullahs? Has Beinart seen that Arab refugees are very well fed and does he not understand that their lives would be much better were they not under the Islamist fists of their own dictators? Starving people have no time to engage in endless intifada and draw fake pictures in UNRWA propaganda camps. Starving people do not do jihad and force sharia on the world – a pool of oil and an endless line of leftists have empowered evil.

  • The big lie. It was invented by the Nazis. It is used blatantly by the bds, and other overtly anti-Semitic movements.

    There is a big lie in the US as well. George Orwell wrote very convincingly of using language to manipulate meaning. Nowhere is this more apparent than the shameful application of the word liberal to people who are as liberal as Hitler. Those who use double standards cannot be liberal. Those who are closed to people are not liberal. Those who are blatantly bigoted are not liberal. Liberal means tolerant, flexible, understanding,welcoming of diversity. A liberal will give people the benefit of the doubt, ALL PEOPLE not just ‘protected’ minorities. A liberal wants government to smooth out the roughness of a capitalist society. A liberal wants for people to strive for the best, and to be given the best opportunity possible. A liberal wants minimal amounts of laws effecting peoples’ rights to express themselves, comport themselves, and be themselves. Dictionaries are not rare or difficult to access. The definitions of liberal are available to all who wish to explore their meanings.

    The politically-coerced censorship crowd is as liberal as Hitler, with a somewhat different focus on some issues. In today’s world, they are aggressively, enthusiastically, determinadly anti-Semitic. The combination of 2,000 years of vicious Western anti-Semitism is combined with a misplaced outlook (excuse?) of looking after the downtrodden. But these ‘people’ go way beyond a concern for a people in misery. They project the big lie far and wide, and nothing will shake their devotion. There is nothing liberal about such people. They do not care about anything other than their bigoted ideas. In point of fact, these ‘people’ would throw the Palestinians under the bus in a heartbeat if Jews simply ceased to exist.

    Countering the big lie with another big lie is no answer. There are those of us out here who ARE liberal. We can be criticized, and certainly expect to be. But we are NOT to be confused with the fascistic cohort of the politically-coerced censorship. THEY ARE NOT LIBERAL.

  • We don’t like you, don’t want to hear your worthless opinions and prefer you get real and just admit you wish you weren’t a Jew.

  • Edward Alexander

    Congratulations to Auerbach for this scintillating piece on the pretentions of Beinart, the chief claimant to the presidency of “Zionists Against Israel.”

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