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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Peter Beinart

Our Lunch and Learn discussion group read his bomb-throwing essay from last summer in the NY Review of Books.  In it, he suggests that the established Jewish organizations in America are making a grave mistake by uncritically supporting Israel, for two major reasons.  One is that Israel has changed significanly since its inception, and it no longer reflects "liberal democratic values."  For that reason and others, young American Jews feel a great deal less commitment and connection to Israel, compared to older generations.  Secondly, by ignoring the priorities of young Jews (most notably, social justice), the "establishment" is exacerbating their disconnect with Israel.

I'm sure Rabbi Fellman chose the article, which is 9 months old, because Beinart came to lecture at SU last night, which I attended (though he said almost nothing that wasn't in the article).  I bought one of his books, The Good Fight, mostly so that I could get an autograph.  I was very surprised how supportive the audience was - I had been expecting strong objections to be voiced.  But I suppose the attendees had self selected, and those who object to his premise were not present.

Of course, I kept thinking about the point-counterpoint event I attended shortly after I moved to Philadelphia, where a representative of a Zionist organization "debated" with a local college professor who expressed views slightly less dogmatic than the organizational rep, and was repeatedly booed by the audience of well dressed, middle aged Jews.  Quite an eye-opening experience for me.

My question to Beinart was - how do you have a conversation with this generation of Jews (like my mother-in-law) who completely reject the value of American Jews objecting to anything the Israeli government says or does.  The very next speaker, Syd, made my point perfectly, by expressing exactly that view.

Beinart was so calm and reasonable and well-informed (and ridiculously good looking, though I digress), I really admired him.  Though to be fair, he's apparently had lots of practice, including with his own family members (one aunt no longer speaks to him!)

As always, it's so soothing to me to hear well-spoken and intelligent people express views that match my own, because I'm so often made to feel like a freak for my passionate views on political issues (expressing passionate views about TV shows or sports teams is encouraged and supported, but passion over politics, culture and society is suspect at best and more often overtly belittled and denigrated).



Blogger Marie said...

Sounds like a very thought-provoking lecture. Israel is a really difficult subject for everyone I think, and I've never understood the point of view of accepting everything the government does uncritically, especially given what can happen when people don't hold their leaders to the highest standards. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

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