Friday, May 21, 2010

Forgetting the Fundamentals

The relationship between the Secular Left and the Religious Right often resembles a battlefield. And the Left needs to know when to call a cease-fire and recognize opportunities for alliance-building, not ideological warfare.
This came to mind on an issue that is bitterly contested between American liberals and conservatives: The Israel-Palestine conflict. The Left has shown a tendency to demonize its opponents without realizing that some of those foes might actually share liberal goals.
Last week, in the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart bemoaned that young liberal American Jews have lost their parents' identification with Israel and Zionism. Yet this became an unfair jeremiad against young American Jews whose identification with Israel and Zionism is strong: the Orthodox, who tend to be more right-wing.
Beinart's description of liberal young'uns shows his bias. "Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism," he writes. "Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake." The assumption is that only young liberals can be so perceptive, so discerning.
Of course, Beinart ignores the fact that Israeli conservatives have worked quite well on occasion in forging peace deals with their Mideast neighbors. It was, after all, the former Irgun terrorist/prime minister Menachem Begin who signed the historic accord with Egypt ... and the former Lebanon warmonger/prime minister Ariel Sharon who got the settlers out of Gaza.
Yes, current prospects on the right, whether in Israel or the US, do not look terribly appetizing, especially with unsavory characters like Avigdor Lieberman holding power in Israel. If young liberal American Jews turn away from Israel and Zionism as a result, and the leadership vacuum is filled with more bellicose voices, then what could result is Beinart's nightmare scenario of "an American Zionist movement that does not even feign concern for Palestinian dignity and a broader American Jewish population that does not even feign concern for Israel."
If the liberal movements in both the US and Israel want to reverse this trend, they should stop demonizing the right-wingers and seek common ground with them toward a peaceful future. If Begin and Sharon found paths to peace, there is no reason why today's right-wingers can't do the same. Here's a thought: Maybe whoever buys the wine for Orthodox services in Israel and the US could get it from Cremisan Cellars, a winery located on the border between Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such small yet significant steps could help move both Left and Right in the direction of a peaceful future.

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