Look Around Before You Herald


Peter Beinart's "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," printed last year in the New York Review of Books, was one of the most astonishingly ungrounded articles I've read. He used the piece as a platform to mock the au courant foe of the liberal academic establishment: international Zionism and Israeli right-wing political parties.

In his doomsday scenario, Beinart prophesized the end of the status quo in the contemporary American Jewish community based on simplistic analysis.

One of the most puzzling aspects to his piece is his frequent reference to the "organized American Jewish community," otherwise called the "American Jewish establishment."

Eager to learn more, I did a quick Google search and came up with a Wikipedia page titled "Jewish-American organized crime."

Other searches came up with more mundane results, but none that even came close to defining our multifaceted, diverse community.

Mr. Beinart, there is no organized U.S. Jewish community. If there was, I and just about any other Jewish individual can assure you it would only be organized for a day. The old joke comes to mind: two Jews, three synagogues. Strike one.

Secondly, Beinart quotes innocuous or irrelevant statements by Frank Luntz, the pollster, as research-based facts, rather than the opinion-orientated tool it actually was. Luntz asserts that in a particular study, "Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel. Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted."

No way! If you bring a bunch of students together, you mean they aren't going to immediately discuss Israel? Somehow that seems highly unlikely, even if it's the topic they're expected to cover.

Unfortunately, these generalizations continue: "Non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders." Are we then to assume that Orthodox youth feel singularly connected? There is no single orientation of the "young Orthodox," especially not in reference to their approach to Israel.

Finally, Beinart asserts: "Young Jews desperately want peace." Aren't we safe in assuming that young people, like everyone else, generally want peace?

The chief problem, however, is with Beinart's misplaced interpretation of the mindset and behavior of younger Jews. He cites Luntz's assertion that "these young Jews resist anything they see as 'group think.' " They want an "open and frank" discussion of Israel and its flaws.

But that isn't what I see. Students — Jewish or not — tend to conform to group think. While many teens do enjoy serious discussions on various topics, most do not frequently seek an "open and frank" conversation about their heritage or about Israel. Yes, it comes up from time to time, but young adults will act as they act; social life supersedes political topics.

Beinart further claims that "for several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism's door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead."

That is absolutely wrong! Liberal, anti-Zionistic Jews were often liberals first, then came their anti-Zionism, which was created in large part by the media. Often, this liberal ideology was a result of their families, universities or television, rather than a close examination of the issues.

As someone who just spent a year in Israel touring and studying Judaism, I believe that the real issue is not whether Jewish students feel comfortable with the so-called establishment, but whether, as Beinart seems to believe, the Palestinians are capable of peace in the near future.

If peace is a near reality, why was I on the street just a few months ago as a bomb detonated? Why was an innocent family of parents, children and even their baby in Itamar recently slaughtered?

If you want to know why young Jews put their faith, heritage or community on the backburner, point to the kids themselves, their parents, and in some cases, their local synagogues or surrounding communities. Don't blame some mythical entity that makes young Jews not care about Israel and its place in their lives.

Alexander Kornhauser of Lower Merion spent the year in Israel. He will enter the University of Pennsylvania this fall.


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