Beinart is not our wicked son

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Jonathan Freed­land

YOU’RE PROB­A­BLY ex­hausted. At­tend­ing, let alone host­ing, two Seders will do that to a per­son. You’ve packed away the Hag­gadot by now and won’t be in the mood for a re­minder. But for­give one more men­tion of the Four Sons (or Four Chil­dren, for those whose Seder is a tad more right-on). The lead char­ac­ters are the Wise and Wicked Sons, sep­a­rated by a sim­ple point of gram­mar. The Wise Son asks his ques­tion in the first per­son plu­ral. To para­phrase, “Why do we do this?” The Wicked Son, mean­while, uses the sec­ond per­son: “Why are you do­ing this?” That’s the dif­fer­ence: we ver­sus you. One asks his ques­tion as an out­sider, the other from the in­side. The ques­tion it­self barely changes, but on that sim­ple dis­tinc­tion — out­side or in­side — rests the dif­fer­ence be­tween wis­dom and wicked­ness.

I’ve been think­ing about the Four Sons as I’ve fol­lowed the con­tro­versy stirred by Peter Beinart, whose new book, The Cri­sis of Zion­ism, ar­gues that the lead­er­ship of Amer­i­can Jewry is mak­ing a fate­ful mis­take in its in­dul­gence of Is­rael’s near 45-year long oc­cu­pa­tion, a sit­u­a­tion that makes im­pos­si­ble Is­rael’s sta­tus as both a Jewish and demo­cratic state.

Beinart has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of a pre­dictable mud­slide of abuse. One piece in the Al­ge­meiner com­pared him to a black mem­ber of the Ku Klux Klan, declar­ing him to be “a shame to the Jewish com­mu­nity — a self-hat­ing Jew.” A wicked son.

Beinart tells me he has re­ceived dozens of emails mak­ing the same charge of self­ha­tred. Bizarre, but no less hurt­ful, was the at­tack on him from Marty Peretz, his one­time pa­tron at the New Repub­lic, where he served as ed­i­tor. Peretz sug­gested that Beinart’s mother was to blame for rais­ing such a pam­pered, vain child.

And yet, ev­ery­thing about both Beinart and his book should put him on the right side of the Hag­gadah’s line dis­tin­guish­ing wise from wicked.

He is a com­mit­ted Zion­ist, whose ef­fec­tive­ness as an ad­vo­cate for Is­rael earned him a reg­u­lar place on the Ai­pac lec­ture cir­cuit. He sends his chil­dren to Jewish schools; he goes to syn­a­gogue ev­ery week, to an Ortho­dox shul no less. His son calls him Abba, the He­brew word for fa­ther, and has an Is­raeli flag up in his room. To call a man who lives this way a self-hat­ing Jew is to empty lan­guage of all mean­ing.

More­over, his book is writ­ten en­tirely from within, not with­out, the Jewish fam­ily, couched in the first per­son plu­ral: it springs from deep con­cern for us, the Jewish peo­ple.

Of course, there is much to crit­i­cise. I’m not sure I can en­dorse Beinart’s slo­gan of “Zion­ist BDS”, sug­gest­ing Jews ap­ply a pol­icy of boy­cott, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions to the Jewish set­tle­ments of the West Bank. Not be­cause I fault ei­ther his logic dis­tin­guish­ing demo­cratic, pre-1967 Is­rael from the post-1967 ter­ri­to­ries or his goal of si­mul­ta­ne­ously “dele­git­imis­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion and le­git­imis­ing Is­rael” — all for the sake of se­cur­ing Is­rael’s own fu­ture. I just worry that boy­cott is too prob­lem­atic a tac­tic, given the wider cam­paign to boy­cott Is­rael it­self.

But this is a small dis­agree­ment next to Beinart’s larger the­sis, which I be­lieve is right. Oth­ers will dis­agree with ev­ery word. But they should be able to do so with­out cast­ing Beinart out, with­out brand­ing him an apos­tate, a self-hater, an en­emy.

He is a con­cerned Jew rais­ing a truly pro­found ques­tion: can Jews, pow­er­less for so long, now ex­er­cise power and stay true to their high­est eth­i­cal ideals? Pe­sach is all about ques­tions and Beinart has asked the most im­por­tant one of our age. In my book, that makes him one of our peo­ple’s wise sons. Jonathan Freed­land is a colum­nist for the Guardian

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