169 of 206 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
Two kinds of people will hate this book. The first is the political right which supports the occupation and believes it can be sustained forever.
The other is people who despise the very idea of Israel.
Peter Beinart is a Zionist. He opposes the occupation primarily (although not exclusively) because he believes it is destroying Israel. If there is one message that comes through in this book (I read a review copy)it is that Beinart wants the Israel he grew up on (one that he understands was far from perfect) to be there for his children.
He thinks that the continued occupation will ultimately either destroy Israel's soul or even its physical existence.
Those fears clearly drove him to write this book.
Reading it, I kept thinking of my father-in-law who survived the Holocaust and how much he worried that Israel's leaders would let it be destroyed.
He used to say, "These Jews from Poland and Russia figured out how to create a Jewish country from nothing. What did they know? But sitting in Warsaw and Lodz, they figured out how you create ministries and embassies and a whole government. They figured out how to build an army. But I'm afraid that their children aren't so smart. They take it for granted. They will lose it all unless they get smart."
That is what Beinart thinks too. An old Jewish soul in a young American man.
This book can change history. That is why it is creating such a ruckus. The noise you hear are the moans of those who are devoted to the status quo and worry that Beinart is challenging it.
It's a great book and a pleasure to read.
Not to sound too much like the late 1960's person I am, Beinart's plea reminds me of the quote Bobby Kennedy always invoked. I think it's Tennyson.
"Some people see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask "why not."
That is what Beinart is doing.
72 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2012
Peter Beinart knows a lot about Zionism in America.
He knows little about Israel and Israelis.
I don't oppose his argument that the settlements should be reigned in. Nor do I argue with his portrayal of Bibi.
What I protest is his unfamiliarity with Israelis' DNA.
The review of his book in the NYRB added much needed details of the cruelty of the occupation. For example: "In mid-January the civil administration sent its bulldozers...to demolish the ramshackle hut of Halima Ahmad al-Hadhalin, a Palestinian widow with nine orphaned children living in the deeply impoverished site of Umm al-Kheir, adjacent to the large and constantly expanding settlement of Carmel in the south Hebron hills. The bureaucrats claimed that the shack was built without a permit, which is no doubt true; Palestinians living in the West Bank 'Area C,' i.e., under full Israeli control, only very rarely receive a permit to build from the committee, largely composed of settlers, that oversees such requests."
Such stories are totally lacking in Beinart's book. How can anyone write about "The Crisis of Zionism" without writing about Israel? I just don't understand that.
If he knew anything about Israel, Beinart would have known that, as NYRB states, "[buried] somewhere inside all this is a bad Israeli conscience about the treatment of Palestinians since 1948--a conscience repressed but still somehow alive..." This is one of the most prescient comments about Israelis. They used to talk (in cafes, around the dinner table, in lectures) about the political situation--non-stop. That was the conversation of the day, punctuated by hourly news announcements that could be heard even on buses. They don't talk so much about politics these days--at least not in Tel Aviv. Confusion and apathy have taken over, perhaps despair. Furthermore, Israelis are not very introspective; they rarely talk about feelings. My hunch (perhaps no more than a hunch) is that they fear that introspection might lead them to what they cannot talk about, or even admit to themselves, the evils of the occupation. I suspect that Israelis fear that introspection, even of personal feelings far removed from politics, would land them right in the midst of a smoldering national conscience, and they simply won't know how to deal with it. One needs to understand, or at least try to understand, the Israeli psyche before writing about the crisis of Zionism. What Israelis say is not at all what they feel, or think, in the depth of their being. And I suspect they themselves don't know what they think or feel. Of course there are exceptions, but those exceptions live perhaps in the newspaper "Haaretz," which is the only humanist paper that managed to survive in Israel. Read Ma'ariv or Yediot Achronot and you'll see what I mean.
My credentials? I was born in Israel, eighth generation in Eretz Yisrael. I left for America in 1980. I know Israel and I know America, as much as anyone can know a country. But I do know, or sense, when a country goes off the moral rails. And, sadly, both America and Israel are doing it now.
109 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Mr. Beinart's thesis is that Israel's deepening occupation of the West Bank is putting Israeli democracy at risk. Palestinians in the West Bank are subjects, not citizens; this has gone on for 44 years and it is to be expected that they react violently. Turkey only began shunning the Jewish state after Israel's 2009 war in Gaza and after Israeli troops killed 8 Turkish militants who tried to break Israel's blockade of the strip in 2010. Egypt's new leaders are not generally calling for Israel's destruction, but are angry that 30 years after the Camp David accords which called for Israel to grant Palestinians full autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel still directly controls most of the West Bank and has subsidized hundreds of thousands of its people to move there.
Israel's founders in their May 1948 'Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel' promised 'complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.' Israeli forces, however, then proceeded to pillage Arab houses and killed protesting residents. About 700,000 Arabs left Palestine either voluntarily or were forced out, and they aren't allowed back in.
Israel's Arab citizens do have freedom of speech, assembly, and worship, sit in its Parliament, the Knesset, and on its Supreme Court. Arabs own less than 4% of Israel's land, but constitute 20% of the population. Soon they will outnumber the Israeli Jewish population. Israel spend 1/3 more per Jewish Israeli student than Arab Israeli student, and its flag obviously conflicts with Muslim religion. West Bank Palestinians are denied access to East Jerusalem, large parts of the West Bank, and the rest of Israel without a hard to obtain permit. Palestinians who violate Israeli law go before military courts where they are often held months or even years before trial, and less than 1% are found innocent.
Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territories are common - vandalizing Palestinian homes, burning their fields, beating the men. Few than 10% of these attacks result in even indictments. Palestinian attacks, on the other hand, result in massive manhunts, frequent village-wide curfews, sometimes bulldozing of homes - in addition to jailing.
A 2010 poll found 44% of Jewish Israelis believe Jews should not rent apartments to Arabs. Russian immigrants are particularly prone to anti-Arab racism - 77% of recent immigrants from the former USSR support encouraging Arabs to leave Israel, vs. 53% of Jewish Israelis. Young Jewish Israelis are more intolerant than their elders. A member of Netanyahu's government has proposed ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank.Others want to revoke the citizenship of Israel Arabs who won't swear loyalty to the Jewish state. Netanyahu has repeatedly equated the Palestinian bid for statehood with Nazism. Thirty-nine percent of Israelis consider Obama a Muslim.
In America, studies have revealed that non-Orthodox younger Jews, on average, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders. The rationale per Frank Lutz's work, is that they desperately want peace and see flaws in Israel. At the same time, AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson (multi-million political donor) work to undermine support for Palestine in the U.S. and also undermine the world's most respected international human rights groups that criticize Israel.
Bottom-Line: Mr. Beinhart's work is courageous and deserves close attention. It also makes it clear why the U.S. is so despised for its support of Israel.
73 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
Ive always liked Beinarts books. I first read "The Icarus Syndrome" and was impressed by that book. I have read Crisis of Zionism and enjoyed it as well. The fundamental problem with Israeli policy, is the Government tends to be more Right Wing and Hawkish than the average Israeli cares to be. American Foreign Policy towards Israel tends to be even more right wing and hawkish as well. Peter Beinart wants to have a philosophical and moral discussion in this book and it delivers. Although close minded fundamentalists will automatically denounce the book and begin the slander against Mr. Beinart (waiting for the self hating Jew comments),sometimes people need to be dragged into reality kicking and screaming. This book won't fundamentally change Zionism in the short term but Losing battles still need to be fought.
42 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2012
Preparing to write my review of Crisis of Zionism, I saw the Open Letter to Peter Beinart by Carlo Strenger (Haaretz of 03/28/12). While I am not in complete agreement with the Letter (I am not too fond of Israeli lefties), my own assessment of the situation is fairly similar. My writing skills, however, are not as nearly good as that of the experienced Israeli journalist. In firm desire to spare the patience of the reading public from my own dull writing, I propose the Open Letter by Carlo Strenger in hope that I am doing the right thing.
Open Letter to Peter Beinart: Boycotting the settlements will not save the two-state solution
We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines as long as Hamas will not radically change its views, and this is not likely to happen soon.
By Carlo Strenger
Dear Peter Beinart, I read your book The Crisis of Zionism with as much interest as I read your New York Review of Books Essay two years ago. Both struck a deep chord in me, because you and I share a set of basic values: ethical universalism and a firm belief that the lesson of Jewish history and Jewish suffering is that only an uncompromising defense of human rights for everybody, anywhere, can prevent the type of horrors that the Jewish people went through.
Furthermore I share your feeling that Obama is, as you say in the book, the first `Jewish' President. He reflects Jewish-progressive ethical universalism in his identity, his worldview and in his modus operandi. I also agree with you that the chasm between Obama and Netanyahu is not just about personalities: it is about two utterly different conceptions of history in general and Jewish history in particular. Obama believes in creating win-win situations; Netanyahu believes that only power will make the good (as he understands it) triumph over the bad - a worldview embodied for him in the way he (in the tradition of Jabotinsky and his own father, Benzion Netanyahu) conceives of the Arabs.
But pitching Obama against Netanyahu creates the wrong impression that the current situation is a showdown between two personalities, whereas it reflects the mindset of Israel's mainstream, including the moderate left. Most Israelis don't like the occupation. Two thirds of Israeli citizens would leave the West Bank tomorrow if they thought they would get peace in return. But the combination between the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel has made Israelis unwilling to take further risks for peace. They think that Palestinians cannot be trusted to maintain the safety of Israel, particularly since Hamas continues to be officially committed to Israel's destruction.
As you very well know, unlike Netanyahu, I do not say this to justify Israel's occupation of the West Bank or the settlements. I think that the settlement project is Israel's historical catastrophe: it contradicts everything I stand for as a human being and as a Jew and it has shattered the liberal Zionist vision to which both you and I are committed.
Nevertheless, I think you make two mistakes. The first is that, even though you acknowledge the security implications of the second intifada in your book, you underestimate its impact and that of the shelling of southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on mainstream Israelis. In your interview with Chemi Shalev you compare the traumata of 9/11 and the second intifada. Israel's experience of the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel from Gaza is very different from the American experience of 9/11. The latter was a terrible trauma and it shattered the American experience of invulnerability; but Americans never thought that the existence of their home country was in danger or felt that terror would become part of their daily lives. As opposed to this the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel made Israelis question how Israel can survive in an environment that, at least in part, doesn't accept Israel's existence and keeps returning to violence.
Secondly you perpetuate the mistake that has led Israel's electorate to vote the peace-camp out of the Knesset. We used two arguments to push for a quick implementation of the two-state solution. The first was that Israel's ethical fiber was being harmed irrevocably by the occupation. The second was that the longer we wait, the lower chances of still finding a moderate Palestinian leadership willing to even talk about the two-state solution. Israel's electorate didn't buy our line - they said, "If moderate Palestinians are so weak, if we can get Hamas any time soon again, we would be crazy to take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders. We'll worry about ethical ideals after security is guaranteed."
The reason for this is, as I have argued, Hamas. Some Israelis appreciate the tremendous work that Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayyad have put into Palestinian state building. But they have a simple question: how can anybody guarantee that Hamas will not return to power, as it did in the Palestinian 2006 elections? And if Hamas takes power, how can anybody guarantee that rockets will not keep falling on Tel Aviv, Netanya and Ra'anana?
The truth is that nobody can guarantee this. And Israelis' fears that life will become impossible in Israel if it is attacked from within the 1967 borders are not paranoid, just pessimistic. So Israelis say: if the choice is between continuing the occupation for the time being and the possibility that Israel's population centers will be under fire, they choose the former. I think it is difficult to reject these concerns of mainstream Israelis as overblown. Let us not forget that even Olmert required long-term security arrangements that Mahmoud Abbas accepted.
The problem is that the settler movement has capitalized on these fears skillfully: in the shadow of the justifiable security concerns of Israelis, the settlement project has continued to grow, gradually making the two state solution impossible.
Netanyahu doesn't believe in a viable Palestinian state; and he is deftly manipulating public opinion by paying lip-service to the two state solution while doing everything to make it impossible in the long run.
Where does this leave us now? You have suggested both in the book and in your recent NYT op-ed, to boycott the settlements under title `boycott the settlements to save Israel's democracy'. I wonder whether you actually mean this as a move of realpolitik, or whether this is motivated by your need to justify towards your children that you did what you could to defend the liberal Zionist dream, as you told Chemi Shalev.
I think that such a boycott is no more than a symbolic expression of your - in itself justified - rejection of the settlement project. It will sharpen the debate within U.S. Jewry, but it will only embitter mainstream Israelis. They will say that it is easy for you to pitch lofty ideals against their security, and that they do not need U.S. Jews to take care of Israel's democracy, but of its security. So your move will neither have any real impact on Israeli policy, nor do anything to strengthen Israel's democracy.
This brings me to the final point of disagreement. You hope to save the two state solution. But I think you try to save spilt milk. You probably know the wisdom of every investment advisor. It is profoundly wrong to handle your investment portfolio reacting to previous losses. You need to look at it as if you were creating it now.
There is little use for us to decry the folly of Israel's policy of the last forty years. We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines as long as Hamas will not radically change its views, and this, researchers familiar with the movement tell me, is not likely to happen soon.
The problem is that the longer the status quo continues, the more impossible the two state solution will become. In fact, it may already be dead. Hence the real question for liberal Jews and gentile friends of Israel is where we need to aim now.
A year ago philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, a leading Palestinian peace activist for three decades, published a profoundly disturbing book entitled What is a Palestinian State Worth? Nusseibeh argues that on the basis of the Jewish traumatization by the holocaust and the Israeli traumas from the 1948 war to the second intifada it is not to be realistically expected that Israel will return to the 1967 borders and relinquish control over the Jordan valley. Nor, he says, will Israelis accept in the near future that the state will be bi-national.
In a profound philosophical meditation on the nature of the state, he argues that the founder of modern political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes, correctly described the most basic function of the state. It is to guarantee the safety and basic well being of its population. Nusseibeh claims that the expressive function of the state, i.e. national self-determination, is secondary.
He therefore calls upon his Palestinian compatriots to renounce the dream of a Palestinian state; and in no case should they return to armed resistance, because it will create terrible suffering for them. For the time being, he says, Palestinians should acquiesce with a status quo in which they will not have political rights. They should focus on improving on their human rights situation, quality of life and freedom of movement.
At first I rejected its argument completely, and I refused to accept his reasoning. I felt that the status quo must not continue. Like you I was appalled by the idea of caving in to the settler movement. It has taken me some time to realize the depth of its pessimistic realism and to come to the conclusion that Nusseibeh is probably right: Israelis will not take further risks for peace in the current constellation. All polls indicate that Netanyahu will gain a further term, and by the end of this term, the two state solution will be history.
I think we liberal Zionists need to accept Nousseibeh's advice, too. For the time being, in addition to safeguarding Israel's civic institutions, the most important thing is to make every effort for Palestinians to live in dignity. We must focus on demanding that Israel should retreat as far as possible from Palestinian population centers to minimize interference with their lives, and that ways be found to allow Palestinians to travel abroad without having to go through the humiliating procedures today.
Where will all this lead? I have argued against the one state solution time and again; both in the version of the greater Land of Israel propagated by Israel's right, and in the version advocated by many Palestinian intellectuals and activists and some Jewish intellectuals on the far left. I didn't see how such a state could conceivably function, and I thought the two state solution, imperfect as it is, was preferable to all alternatives. But history has moved on, and the two state solution is nothing but a mirage of the past.
We will have to think deeply and creatively about the future. Let me just give one pointer: I have argued a number of times that even within Israel's Jewish population there is at this point no consensus about fundamental questions, particularly on the relation between religion and state. It might well be that Israel will have to move towards a confederative structure to avoid growing tensions between ultra-orthodoxy, national-religious and secular Jews. If cantons or states (in the U.S. sense) will have growing autonomy, this might in the long run also provide Palestinians with the political self-determination they seek.
F.Brauer adds the following: Despite my sharp disagreement with Peter Beinart, I gave 5 stars to The Crisis of Zionism, since the book kindles the fires of continuously ongoing discussion in Israel and the Jewish communities of USA and the rest of the world.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2014
One of the first books I read about Zionism and the Israel/Palestinian conflict, The Crisis of Zionism was recommended to me by a professor at the University of Miami. At the time I enjoyed it a lot. However, I now think that its argument is basically a simplified (one might say, simplistic) version of Gershom Gorenberg's The Unmaking of Israel, a far more sophisticated polemic and progressive guide to Israel's complicated political history. Whereas Beinart draws a black-and-white distinction between the "bad," illiberal Israel of the post-1967 settlement in Gaza and the West Bank and the "good" Green Line pre-1967 Israel, a liberal democratic paradise, Gorenberg shows how the seeds of '67 were sown by short-sighted political decisions made by politicians during and immediately after Israel's founding. He is also very clear that the process of settlement has been aided and abetted by both major secular parties that have held power since 1967, Labor and Likud. Finally, Gorenberg is not blind to the gross mistreatment of Arab Israeli *citizens* as well as Arabs in the occupied zones. That said, both Beinart and Gorenberg believe the greatest threat to Israel comes from the radical religious right and its settlement movement, and both recommend addressing the Arab grievances from 1967 by creating a Palestinian state while eliding the 1948 grievances, including, most crucially, the right of return for Palestinian refugees. One may argue about whether this is a good trade from the Palestinian point of view (for an example of an Israeli Jewish intellectual advocating a "consociational democratic," or binational, solution, see Yehouda Shenhav's "Beyond the Two State Solution: a Jewish Political Essay.")
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2014
Beinart presents a solid case against the policies and practices of the current government of Israel and its supporters.. Seeing little hope for internal reform, he pleads for a change in external Jewish support. He should have directed his plea to the U.S. public as well as to the Jewish community in the U.S.. After all, it's our tax money that buys all that sophisticated military hardware.
The very concept of liberal Zionism is problematic. There is little that is liberal about the ethnic cleansing of the Arab Palestinian population that began at least as early as 1948. What Beinart regards as the golden period of liberalism in Israel strikes me as the initial period of the stratified ethnocracy that has developed into today's Israel.
Beinart also misses other other crises facing Israel, viz., the effects of global warming upon an already water-challenged area. Israel is currently a water-short area and is likely to become more so. Moreover, population growth in an increasingly arid area will likely lead to food shortages.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2012
Peter Beinart deserves much credit for this courageous and thoroughly documented book about Zionism and its supporters in the United States. He constrasts a humanitarian and democratic Zionism with the one that is currently practiced in Israel by its political right and supported in America by a handful of extremely wealthy and influential Jews. He is concerned, as are many Americans, with Israel's slide into apartheid due to its never ending occupation and expansion of settlements. The clarity of his writing and strength of reasoning is compelling, even if one does not agree with all of his conclusions. It is a must read for all Americans, Jew, Gentile and Muslim.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2012
With his usual sharp analysis, Peter Beinart identifies several reasons why young American Jews tend to avoid pro-Israel activism. They may not be deeply committed to or involved in Judaism in the first place, and they may resent being expected to express agreement with every policy of the Israeli government. In The Crisis of Zionism, Beinart gives special elucidation to one interesting reason: for people born 30, 40, or 50 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, who have grown up in a United States where Jews have a higher level of social integration than ever before, a "victimhood narrative" about Judaism does not personally resonate. This means they are confused or put off by much of the discussion of Israel that depicts Jews as victims - including within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is not solely a generational gap. As American Jews of all ages increasingly avail themselves of new opportunities to express their values through organizations that are not specifically Jewish, Beinart argues, the demographic that remains active in traditional Jewish organizations is more likely to subscribe to the old narrative of Jewish victimhood and survival against all odds. The establishment is increasingly "indifferent to whether democratic values" are maintained in the US and in Israel and is out of touch with the political opinions of the majority of American Jews. This has led former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to question whether Israel might become an "apartheid" state if the status quo continues.
The solution, as Beinart and many others see it, is the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. "Binationalism barely works in placid countries like Canada and Belgium," he writes. In Israel, he says, a binational, one-state solution would soon lead to civil war. A two-state solution stands a better chance of success: it has been the subject of Israeli/Palestinian negotiations before and has been endorsed by many external parties, including the current U.S. President and the Arab League.
Beinart convincingly argues that American Jews who wish to help Israel must acknowledge that power is not only something that can be used to survive victimization, but unfortunately is something that can be abused. The rich tradition of Jewish ethics can be embraced as a guide for a Jewish nation that has now achieved its own power.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2012
I found Beinart's "The Crisis of Zionism" to be right on target. For Jews, this can be a most difficult subject. Most Jews are quite liberal, and yet, most American Jews lean pretty far right when it comes to Israel. Beinart masterfully discusses this schizophrenic behavior. If you REALLY care about the future of Israel, then this book is for you. If you just blindly go along with anything and everything the Israeli government does, then this book will make your blood boil.
Kudos to Beinart for this insightful and brave intellectual achievement.