Much of the response to Peter Beinart’s provocative book has been more revealing of the growing vacuum in American Jewish life than the fading dignity of Israeli democracy, a vacuum Beinart himself has been trying to come to grips with. American Jewish critics who’ve denounced Beinart for a lack of “Zionist” constancy are, he is right to imply, the disease that presume themselves the cure. They cut the history of Zionism to fit a very American debate about the justice of Israeli policy, the prejudices of “Modern Orthodoxy,” and the need for continuing American support.
Yet even Beinart, understandibly, perhaps, gives us only the account of Zionism American progressives can use. What’s getting increasingly lost in this discussion is the Zionism that actually built the country: the Hebrew cultural revolution that attracted young Jews (including myself) to Israel as the state was taking shape; the Zionism whose historic foil was rabbinic orthodoxy, not—or not mainly—anti-Semites.
I have just written a lengthy review essay in The Nation that takes up the controversy over Beinart’s book in this context. Think of it as an appeal to understand what Zionism was about—and the political innovations it may yet open up—from the point of view of Israeli progressives, not just American ones. I invite comments on Open Zion.
Yaakov Katz on what the delivery of advanced Russian missiles would mean for Israel.