For and against binary reasoning – Global Jewish Forum III

May 21, 2012 by

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Okay, so first of all I have to admit that I have read Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism.

I’m not talking about the reviews of it (though I’ve read a lot of them, too) I read the actual book.

After reading the book and the reviews and the responses by Beinart and co, I can say that I have learned a few things:

  1. I wish Peter Beinart had taken another year to complete the book. Judging by his consequent articles and appearances, I think The Crisis of Zionism would have been clearer in its intentions and stronger as a book had it had time to cook around Beinart’s head and environs for longer.
  2. The unfavorable reviews of his book were mostly attacks. Not that they had an axe to grind, but that they had a ready-sharpened axe to use. Many reviews mostly critiqued Beinart for what he didn’t write and should have, rather than for what he did write and shouldn’t. Other reviews were almost like politicians in an interview, insisting that the real question was not the question Beinart had chosen to define as key, but that an entirely different question was key (on which the reviewer invariably had a book coming out).
  3. I don’t know enough about Revisionist Zionism. My working assumption has always been that Israel’s actions vis a vis the Palestinians have been those of a sometimes-inefficient mostly-overwhelmed well-meaning liberal whose hands have been tied by a complex reality. But Beinart suggests that what he sees as the ills of Israeli foreign policy are not unintended failures of left-wing policy, but the deliberate strategy of a right-wing hegemony. I realized I know next to nothing about the ideology of the secular right wing in Israel. In Habonim they always taught you that A.D. Gordon was messiah and Jabotinsky was a crazy demon. Time to grow up, I think.
  4. I still can’t think of a more unfortunately-worded concept than “Zionist BDS”. Guaranteed to alienate both non-Zionist boycotters and Zionist non-boycotters. Who does he have left?
  5. Placing the emphasis on democracy rather than occupancy may prove to be the most interesting contribution. Beinart suggests the problem is not Israel’s occupation of disputed lands. After all, which country does not occupy once-disputed lands? The issue is down to the lack of democratic rights offered to the residents of those lands. Jews do indeed have a right to live in Hebron, or anywhere on land liberated in 1967. But ever since then we have deprived the indigenous population of their democratic rights. What do we intend to do about that, as we approach the end of our fifth decade in this situation? Disappointingly enough, I didn’t find one review of the book that addressed this question.

Among the team at Makom we probably don’t agree on any of my above points. But we do all agree that the presentation of any crucial issue about Israel must be multi-vocal and not binary.

The way in which the debate about Israel’s Jewish and Democratic future has been reduced to a fight between two sides of a book is nothing less than an intellectual and moral disgrace.

This confrontational (and overwhelmingly male!) representation of the issues will only mark our differences with clearer and more indelible ink. Indelible ink very rarely allows for development, creativity, and learning.

As Makom begins to gear up for our third Global Jewish Forum, this time on Liberalism and Zionism, we hope to offer an exploration that is deeper, broader, and more creative than a boxing match.

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