In Defense of Peter Beinart

Please head over to The Nation to read my essay on Beinart's important new book, The Crisis of Zionism:

Beinart accurately diagnoses the central challenge for the 21st century international Jewish community: how to come to terms with “the shift from Jewish powerlessness to Jewish power.” In other words, if Jews do not learn to wield our newfound military, political, and economic strength ethically—showing the same concern for Palestinian and Arab-Israeli minority rights that we hope gentiles will show for Jews—then we, as a people, have failed to learn the painful lessons of Jewish history.

What I found most revelatory about The Crisis of Zionism was the way in which Beinart appeals not just to Jewish political liberalism, but also to our faith. The holy books of Judaism are filled with portents about what happens when Jews abuse power, Beinart notes. After Persia’s Jews toppled Haman, the anti-Semitic royal advisor, they slaughtered 75,000 people in retribution; our texts recount that both the Babylonian and Roman destructions of Jewish empires came in the wake of Jewish moral decadence. “Our tradition insists that physical collapse was preceded by ethical collapse,” Beinart writes.

Read the whole thing.

One thought on “In Defense of Peter Beinart

  1. Matthew Smith

    I read this on the Nation and then was sent here.

    Just want to pose a question: at what point do youngish Jews (like me) start to ask hard questions about Zionism itself?

    I realize that this is not something you want to go into, but your column raises the question of hubris. Isn’t there something hubristic about assuming that a 20th Century nation-state will last the hundreds – thousands? – of years that we hope that Judaism will last? Even absent anti-Jewish threats from without, there is no reason to believe that Jews are uniquely good at building a lasting political order around an ethnic/religious group. Such projects have, in the past, always failed. Why do we think Israel will last?

    If we accept that Israel, as a Jewish state at least, is transitory – at least as measured against the more than 2000 years of recorded Jewish history – then maybe we will break free of our linking of Judaism with the flourishing of a historically situated state.

    Just some thoughts…


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