James Kirchick: Curing the Israel Estrangement Syndrome





[James Kirchick is a contributing editor to The New Republic. His blog appears at World Affairs Journal.]

Peter Beinart's recent essay denouncing the "American Jewish establishment" is drawing a great deal of controversy not for what it says -- attacks on the pro-Israel community in the New York Review of Books are a dime a dozen -- but for who wrote it. The New Republic, which Beinart used to edit, is not known for producing writers who pen harsh criticisms of the Israel lobby, much less ones claiming , "Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral."

Beinart's thesis is nothing new; liberal American Jews have long complained about what they claim is the right-wing bias of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel groups, only to see their own attempts at founding organizations to speak on behalf of the supposedly silent majority -- J Street being just the latest incarnation -- fail.

But Beinart has never been part of American Jewry's leftist faction; up until recently, he was a prominent spokesperson for the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party. That his piece appears in a publication that is typically the home of anti-Zionist or far-left polemics does not detract, however, from the significance of the essay to the intracommunal Jewish debate over Israel.

Beinart largely bases his claim of American liberal Jewish estrangement from Zionism on a two-year-old study completed by Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California, Davis, which found that "non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders." But that study contained numerous flaws, many of which were debunked in a paper released by researchers at Brandeis University. "As American Jews grow older, they tend to become more emotionally attached to Israel," concluded the Brandeis study, meaning that a static survey of young Jews is not necessarily indicative of future beliefs. It also found that "general political orientation on a continuum from 'extremely liberal' to 'extremely conservative' is not related to attachment to Israel." (Further problems with the original Cohen paper were highlighted at the time by the Jerusalem Post's Shmuel Rosner)....

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