The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

The Left, the Jews and Defenders of Israel

Great new review piece by Joel Beinin on Beinart, Ben-Ami and Wistrich (authors of recent books on the relationship between American Jews and Israel) — and a killer opening:

When Menachem Begin first visited the United States in December 1948, a host of Jewish notables including Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Irma Lindheim (former president of Hadassah), Seymour Melman (former president of the Student Zionist Federation) and the biblical scholar Harry Orlinsky wrote to the New York Times to issue a warning about the Herut (Freedom) Party that Begin led. Herut, they wrote, was “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.” 

This opinion was not on the fringe. When the Irgun set off a bomb in a Haifa market killing dozens of Arabs in 1938, the future prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, could not believe that Jews would commit such a heinous act. He believed Nazi agents were responsible.

That was then. Now, both American Jews and Israel are far more secure and powerful than they were in 1948. But influential American Jewish community leaders, in alliance with prominent neo-conservatives (William Kristol, Rachel Abrams and the Emergency Committee for Israel), evangelical Protestants (Gary Bauer, John Hagee and Christians United for Israel), academics in Jewish studies (Edward Alexander, Alvin Rosenfeld, Ruth Wisse) and their Israeli partners, believe that global anti-Semitism is rampant and that Israel is in existential danger. And it is unlikely that prominent American Zionists would so sharply and publicly condemn the leader of Israel’s Likud party -- the organizational and spiritual heir of Herut and the Irgun -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.