The Crisis of Zionism (Review)

July 15, 2013

Book cover for "The Crisis of Zionism" by Peter Beinart.Title: The Crisis of Zionism

Author: Peter Beinart

Narrator: Lloyd James

Publication Year: 2012

Pages: 304 (audio length: 7 hours 40 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

A dramatic shift is taking place in Israel and America. In Israel, the deepening occupation of the West Bank is putting Israeli democracy at risk. In the United States, the refusal of major Jewish organizations to defend democracy in the Jewish state is alienating many young liberal Jews from Zionism itself. In the next generation, the liberal Zionist dream – the dream of a state that safeguards the Jewish people and cherishes democratic ideals – may die.

In The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart lays out in chilling detail the looming danger to Israeli democracy and the American Jewish establishment’s refusal to confront it. And he offers a fascinating, groundbreaking portrait of the two leaders at the center of the crisis: Barack Obama, America’s first “Jewish president”, a man steeped in the liberalism he learned from his many Jewish friends and mentors in Chicago; and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who considers liberalism the Jewish people’s special curse. These two men embody fundamentally different visions, not just of American and Israeli national interests but of the mission of the Jewish people itself.

Beinart concludes with provocative proposals for how the relationship between American Jews and Israel must change, and with an eloquent and moving appeal for American Jews to defend the dream of a democratic Jewish state before it is too late.

I wasn’t sure about this book, from the title or the cover, but it was probably one of the better books I’ve read about the conflict in the Middle East so far. Beinart approaches the topic from the perspective of American Jews, arguing that what they – and the Israeli government – are doing in Israel/Palestine is hurting their cause and is going to destroy the idea of the Zionist homeland where Jews will be able to live and govern themselves in peace. He specifically links the problems in Israel/Palestine to the American civil rights movement and shows clearly where the Zionist lobby is going wrong and what they need to do to improve.

One of the things I found interesting about The Crisis of Zionism was that Beinart really addressed the issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians within its borders, something that a lot of mainstream Jews and Jewish organizations don’t really do. He addressed the ever-present idea that anything said against Israel or the Jews who live there is anti-Semitic:

There is, of course, real anti-Semitism in today’s Middle East. But, by too often ascribing criticism of Israel to a primordial hatred of Jews, American Jewish leaders fail to grapple with Israel’s own role in its mounting isolation. And by ignoring the fact that Jews today enjoy far more power to define their relationships with their neighbours than did Jews in the past, they imply that the “Jewish condition” has not fundamentally changed. Accepting that the “Jewish condition” has fundamentally changed requires looking at our tradition for guidance about how Jews should treat the people we rule, not just how we should endure treatment from the people who rule us.

Beinart went into detail about the policies – both official and unofficial – that are in place and continue to cause strife between Israelis and Palestinians. He described the Apartheid-style state that exists in modern day Israel/Palestine, particularly in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. An example given was an official US government trip, where the Israeli guides generally avoided talking about Palestinians or going near the Occupied Territories:

As they sped through the West Bank, passing boulders that blocked Palestinian villages from accessing settler-dominated bypass roads, the Americans became palpably uncomfortable. “There was a kind of silence, and people were careful,” remembers one former senior State Department official. “But it was like, my God, you crossed that border, and it was apartheid.”

If you’re looking for a book that discusses the crisis in the Middle East from a Jewish point of view, but which is unbiased, The Crisis of Zionism is definitely the way to go.

Rating:


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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