The “Liberal Zionist” Assault on Birthright Betrays the Irrationality of Progressive Jewish Hostility toward Israel

Jan. 10 2019

Recently, the organization If Not Now, whose stated goal is to end U.S. Jewry’s “support for the occupation,” has made the Birthright program—which gives young American Jews free trips to Israel—a target of its invective. They have now been joined by the somewhat more moderate voice of the journalist Peter Beinart, who argued in a column this week that Birthright is morally suspect unless it starts bringing participants to meet Palestinians living in the West Bank. Daniel Gordis, a friend and regular sparring partner of Beinart, dissects his argument, and what lies behind it:

Which Palestinians does Peter think Birthright participants ought to meet? Palestinians in the West Bank are no more monolithic than Israelis or American Jews. Does he want them to hear from Palestinians who will tell them that they’d much rather live under Israeli occupation than under the corrupt Palestinian Authority (there are, indeed, such people), or Palestinians who will tell them that ending the occupation is but the first step on their drive to ending the state of Israel? Or does he want them to hear from Palestinians who insist on ending the occupation but have no desire to destroy Israel? What percentage of Palestinians are those people? How does Peter know? On what basis of what would Beinart have Birthright choose? Those who represent the majority? Or those who mirror Beinart’s progressive yet “Zionist” values? . . .

How are we to explain the intellectual sloppiness? Perhaps it’s because American Jewish progressives, with If Not Now at their helm, have decided to destroy Birthright, and Beinart would rather join the crowd than try to lead them back to a responsible position. Or perhaps (as he notes) it’s because he finds Sheldon Adelson so distasteful that he wants any program that Adelson funds taken down? [I]s that reason enough to destroy a program that has brought hundreds of thousands of young American Jews to have a meaningful engagement with Israel? Instead of destroying Birthright, why don’t Beinart, If Not Now, and others raise the tens of millions of dollars it would cost to run an alternative program? . . . The reason has to do with the particular form of Zionism characteristic of much of the American Jewish left.

At the heart of this brand of Zionism, writes Gordis, is the conceit that it is the duty of American Jews to save Israel from itself:

If 82 percent of Israelis now define themselves as center-to-right-wing, [as a recent study suggests], how can American liberal Jews save Israel without subverting the will of Israel’s majority? At the same time, though, how can American Jews both boast about Israel’s robust democracy and also decide to override it in the name of their American, suburban, progressive ethos? . . . Is Israel’s democracy not sacred? Or is it simply less sacred than the moral comfort of American Jewish progressives? . . .

[As for the] young American Jewish progressives [of If Not Now]: do they believe that they are more moral than the Israeli left? . . . Or, more likely, is it that they care about their progressive credentials much more than they care about Israel?

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: American Jewry, Anti-Zionism, Birthright, Israel & Zionism, Liberal Zionism

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy