The Crisis of Zionism
by Peter Beinart
Times Books, 304 pp., $26
Peter Beinart's new book belongs to an as-yet-unnamed but increasingly common genre: the volumes that publishers commission and rush into print after the hullabaloo generated by a controversial article. Sometimes, these productions consist of little more than the original article, writ long. But sometimes, a book comes along that shows that its author has learned something from the heady—if brief—experience of being discussed everywhere. The Crisis of Zionism falls into the latter category, but just barely.
In his essay "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," published in The New York Review of Books in May 2010, Beinart argued that young, liberal American Jews are disengaging from Zionism because they detest much of what Israel does. These people, he wrote, could only support a Zionism "that challenges Israel's behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens." Because the major Jewish organizations have actively opposed this stance and continued to back Israel no matter what, "Zionism is dying among America's secular Jewish young."
Critics of Beinart's piece rightly complained about its disregard for the security dilemmas facing the Jewish state. They highlighted the fact that in an article charging Israel with responsibility for ending the occupation, Beinart mentioned the threat of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran exactly once. His overall argument inflamed much of the Jewish world, prompting trans-Atlantic hand wringing about the future of the relationship between American Jewry and Israel. It also provided a rallying cry for many young, liberal American Jews—at Columbia University, where I was an undergraduate at the time, as well as at many other universities.