Peter Beinart's Complaint Against the Imaginary Establishment

Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York, wrote a provocative essay for the New York Review of Books, proclaiming, "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment."

There has been a lot of discussion in blogs and newspapers about Beinart's misplaced complaints. And that is what they are.

He speaks of sweeping generalities in imprecise terms like how much "deep devotion" do we US Jews have to Israel, or how "very close" US Orthodox Jews "feel" to Israel. Two representative clips from the essay:
...Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included...

...The same AJC study found that while only 16 percent of non-Orthodox adult Jews under the age of forty feel “very close to Israel,” among the Orthodox the figure is 79 percent....
We just don't know what Beinart is talking about. His categorization of US Jews is crude and broad and his terms of analysis are soft and vapid.

This is an impressionistic essay sprinkled with random demographics and sports-section descriptions of just how intensely are US Jews fans of Israel.

And then he goes on to place the blame for the dilution of an undefined ideal, something that may or may not be the case, on "American Jewish Establishment." OK, listen up because this is important. You can and should teach your children to love and support Israel by yourself, in your home, in your family, with your immediate friends, in your synagogue, in your schools by passing on to them intellectual, spiritual, social, political and even mystical content. You give substance about the value of supporting Israel to your children in every way you can. That is how it works.

We don't know what the "American Jewish Establishment" is, and we don't care for this kind of carping and we sure do not fathom its claims about specifically what should be the case, what in fact is not the case, and who is to blame.

And yes, this article will be waved about by rich people who wish to justify why they will cut their donations to "establishment" Jewish agencies. 


Unknown said...

A couple of comments:

The questions used by the AJC study Beinart references are no more vague than most other surveys on other topics, which ask respondents whether they "approve" of the President's job performance or how "sympathetic" they are to illegal immigrants. In any case, as Beinart pointed out elsewhere, the question has been studied rigorously (for instance, by Cohen and Kelman, who control for life-cycle effects), and their results seem to be consistent with what Beinart describes. Maybe he could be less "impressionistic" in conveying these data to a general audience, but it would be nice to see some concrete suggestions how, rather than magisterial pronouncements that he's being vague.

I should've thought it was obvious which groups Beinart is talking about when he refers to the "American Jewish establishment"; he specifically mentions AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations as examples. In fact, you seem to know who he's referring to as well: they're the organizations to which the rich people will be reducing their donations.

I don't see how the antepenultimate paragraph contradicts anything Beinart says. He mentioned on Jeffrey Goldberg's blog and elsewhere that he intends to inculcate love of Israel in his children, and in fact that his essay was sparked by that intention.

The specific reason for the undeniable disenchantment many younger Jews feel is certainly open to debate -- besides Beinart's suggestion, supported by Luntz's focus groups, that they dislike AIPAC's refusal to side against the less liberal factions in Israeli politics, there are plenty of other plausible causes. But I really don't get the criticisms you're trying to make. They have more to do with how you feel about the essay than the actual content of the piece itself. (You don't care for his kind of carping? What kind of carping do you care for?)

Finally, why is this post tagged with "islam"?

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Yes, the post is about our reaction to the essay. We think he is wrong to criticize an artificially imagined establishment of a few self appointed professional lobbyists and pols for the tenuous affiliation of mainly young American Jews to the state of Israel. The transmission of lasting cultural values is a far cry from the manipulation of voters in a given election. We kinda hope that Beinart is concerned with the former more than the latter. But his ill expressed views don't convey that to us and hence our unease over the op-Ed.