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Pub Date: April 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9412-1
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

An American journalist offers an elegant, deeply honest look at the failure of Jewish liberalism in forging Israel as a democratic state.

Founded in the spirit of Jewish liberalism, Israel promised in its declaration of independence to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Yet successive wars stripped not only rights but basic humanity from much of its population, namely the Palestinians, creating a terrible irony for Zionists, especially in America. Daily Beast senior political writer Beinart (Journalism and Political Science/City Univ. of New York; The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, 2010, etc.) represents a liberal, non-Orthodox tradition among fairly young Jews for whom Judaism and social justice go hand in hand, and who no longer buy the line of Jewish “victimhood” that helped cohere their parents’ generation of postwar Holocaust survivors. Unlike their parents, who saw anti-Semitism lurking everywhere, younger liberal Jews recognize Jewish power and the need for ethical responsibility in exercising that power. Violence, occupation and racism have eroded the good Zionist soul, Beinart writes, yet the powerful Jewish organizations in America often deny these ills. For example, AIPAC, today’s most powerful Jewish lobby, did not find its financial legs until the elections of Menachem Begin and Ronald Reagan, using Israel’s entrenched sense of being a “victim-state” as its fundraising card. As these organizations moved away from their roots in civil liberties and turned toward a solipsistic tribalism, political pressure in Washington moved the same way, as evinced by the retreat by President Obama—whom Beinart considers a leader in the true Jewish liberal tradition—on West Bank settlements and Palestinian statehood. Is the occupation Israel’s fault, and should American Jews criticize Israel? Beinart delves into the hypocritical waffling and rhetorical absurdities.

Straight talk by a clear-thinking intellectual with his heart in the right place.