Judaism Unbound Episode 117: Israel and American Jews Today - Peter Beinart

As we launch a new series considering the role that Israel might or might not play in the future of American Judaism, Dan and Lex are joined by writer and commentator Peter Beinart, a Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York. [1] Beinart is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and a senior columnist for The Forward. His 2010 article in The New York Review of Books predicted a widening gap between Israel and young American Jews, and his framing has shaped the American Jewish community's discussion ever since. In this episode, we explore generational differences in Jewish life, denominational differences within generations, and the ever-present tension between universalism and particularism. 

Image Credit: Liu Institute for Global Issues

Image Credit: Liu Institute for Global Issues

(0:01 - 14:48): To begin the episode, Beinart looks back on a landmark article he published in The New York Review of Books in 2010, entitled "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," [2] reflecting on and expanding his discussion of whether and how young Jews reconcile or do not reconcile Liberalism and Zionism. Carrying that frame forward, Beinart explores more broadly the generational differences in American-Jewish life, especially as they relate to Israel, particularism, and universalism. 

(14:49 - 27:31): Beinart outlines how polarization around Israel connects to broader forms of polarization between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. He then looks at the broader American political landscape, [3] marked by growth of self-identified radicals, a group that challenges the traditional framing of Liberal vs. Conservative that has held sway in recent American discourse. Beinart looks at how that phenomenon relates to nationalism (including Zionism -- as a form of nationalism), and has an impact on how millennials contextualize the question of Israel and Palestine. [4]

(27:32 - 44:11): Looking back on the late 1800s and early 1900s, Beinart broadens the conversation about what Zionism is. He shines a light on forms of Zionism that were not focused on building a political nation-state, including Ahad Ha'am's cultural Zionism. [5] He then looks at how ideas of church-state separation are starkly different in the Israeli and American contexts. In particular, Beinart explores the ways in which many American-Jewish institutions, and individual Jews, are willing to question Israel's shortcomings surrounding religious pluralism in ways that they do not generally criticize its treatment of Palestinians. To close the episode, Beinart revisits the issue of universalism and particularism, asking how the tension between the two may be something that unifies Jews across generational lines. [6]

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[1] Click here to access Peter Beinart's bio, and click here to order a copy of The Crisis of Zionism.

[2] Read "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment", featured in The New York Review of Booksby clicking here.  For a follow-up piece that Beinart wrote in the same publication three years later, see "The American Jewish Cocoon."

[3] For articles by Beinart on a wide variety of American and international political topics, see his author pages on The Atlantic and The Forward websites. For a piece he wrote regarding recent events in Gaza, see "American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza -- And The Truth."

[4] For an article about the evolving relationship of many millennials to the idea of nationalism, see this piece in HuffPost South Africa, entitled "Millennials: 'We're Global Citizens. Nationalism's Outdated.'"

[5] Learn more about Ahad Ha'am's philosophy of cultural Zionism by clicking here.

[6] For a May 2018 interview of Beinart by Lara Friedman, of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, click here. For a variety of other video interviews featuring Beinart, click here. Listen to his podcast, co-hosted by Daniel Gordis and entitled Fault Lines, by clicking here.