Hecht: A critique of the anti-Israel establishment

Peter Beinart ’93 visited campus Wednesday as a guest of the Joseph Slifka Center and J Street U, the campus outreach arm of J Street, a Washington lobby group that describes itself as an advocate for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. J Street has been especially critical of the current Israeli administration. Beinart argues that tensions between Zionism and liberalism are driving a wedge between the Jewish state and American Jews.

Beinart is wrong about the relationship between American liberals and Israel, though he is correct that there is a force trying to drive a wedge between them — J Street and Peter Beinart.

J Street has been duplicitous about its initial funding from George Soros, a man who takes the ridiculous position of blaming anti-Semitism on the state of Israel and the American government, and it is equally manipulative about its agenda. While its co-founder, Daniel Levy, was caught on tape calling the establishment of Israel a “mistake,” the group publicly represents its anti-Israel sentiment as pro-Israel activism. J Street proponents’ consistent attempts to weaken the U.S.-Israeli relationship and to embolden anti-Israel forces in the Middle East, who believe the Jewish state is a settlement to be dismantled, reveal their true intentions.

Meanwhile, Beinart’s writing has focused exclusively on the downside of the power that protects the Middle East’s only secular, liberal democracy. Both his first and most recent books — “The Good Fight” and “The Icarus Complex” — are meditations on the misuse of American might. They warn that dire consequences will befall America and her allies should that power assert its will on the rest of the world, even to foster our democratic allies. While the idea might be philosophically interesting and help assuage liberal guilt, Beinart ignores a brutal reality: Israel has no choice but to remain powerful. In a region in which many dangerous forces, within and without, would seek to destroy the Jewish state, Israel must be equipped to defend itself. Whatever Beinart’s dreams and ideals may tell him, international law and the good will of American Jews will not sufficiently protect Israel or the Jewish people from existential danger.

Israel’s government sees daily criticism, which the Beinarts of the world feel it deserves. That criticism is levied within its own Knesset, which includes Arab members, in its free press, much of which caters to writers of the J Street sentiment, as well as in its universities.

Naturally, some Jewish-American students will be turned off by Israel. Jewish-American leaders and writers like Beinart convince these young minds that their first mission is to serve as perpetual critics of a beleaguered country for which criticism of its politics is often a synonym for completely rejecting its basic right to exist.

If Jewish-American students need to reassess Israel, it is, in my opinion, important to ask why they are made to feel guilty for admiring a Jewish democracy, one of the first countries in the Middle East to give Muslim women the right to vote. Perhaps it is time for Peter Beinart to pursue a career that actually defends liberal values, for both Jews and Muslims, and doesn’t attack them.

Shmully Hecht is the co-founder and rabbinical advisor of Eliezer, the Jewish society at Yale.

Correction: October 29, 2010

An earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to Israel as “the first country in the Middle East to give Muslim women to the right to vote.” The first country to do so was Turkey, in 1930.


  • SY10

    Perhaps the author, with his concern for Jewish-American students, should consider whether telling those among them who are critical of Israeli policies (possibly a majority, certainly a large minority) that they are in league with anti-Semites and implying that they are abetting the destruction of Israel is really a good way to deal with disagreement over how the Israeli government approaches Palestine. Telling people that they are wrong to support Israel’s actions in the West Bank seems far less destructive than telling them that they are self-hating and complicit in the attempted genocide of their own people simply because they believe that the Israeli government could and should treat Palestinian Arabs better. I understand why people like the author are so concerned for Israel’s survival, and I respect that opinion. What I don’t respect is being told that my more critical attitude toward Israel makes me little better than those who wish to wipe that country of the face of the earth. Many Jewish-Americans, and even many Israelis, believe that Israel should be held to a higher standard than its neighbors, that the values of Judaism require complete commitment to universal human rights, regardless of how the rest of the world behaves. Few, including Peter Beinart, believe that their “first mission” is to criticize Israel, but that doesn’t mean supporting Israeli actions when those actions conflict with values more important than Likud’s policy agenda (which, for the record, plenty of Israelis oppose).

  • The Anti-Yale

    Why are we so hypnotozed by these issues? If it weren’t for sacred texts and oil no one would pay attention to the mideast at all.

  • River Tam

    > Why are we so hypnotozed by these issues? If it weren’t for sacred texts and oil no one would pay attention to the mideast at all.

    I think you underestimate the Jewish people and their instinct for, I dunno, survival?

  • silliwin01

    The point being America cares for Israel partially because of the Israel lobby but also because Israeli power in the Middle East benefits US interests there. Take a IR class; it isn’t an especially complicated concept.

    Reading the first post makes me realize that everyone should take as many IR classes as they can, in honesty.

  • Arafat

    SY 10 writes, “Many Jewish-Americans, and even many Israelis, believe that Israel should be held to a higher standard than its neighbors, that the values of Judaism require complete commitment to universal human rights, regardless of how the rest of the world behaves.”

    Implied in SY10’s comment is that Israel does not uphold higher standards when, in fact, the opposite is true.


  • benalter
  • The Anti-Yale

    I was being facetious, somehwat. You can call it “IR” if you want. I call it “nuclear intimidation”. Sacred texts and oil don’t mix.

    Hear the last message (below) of the great mathematician and philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell on the Middle East. At age 98 he convened the International Wolrd Court and tried the U.S. for war crimes.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Trying the embedded link ( below) again for Bertrand Russell’s last message to the world.

  • Yishai

    With all due respect to Rabbi Hecht, he might have been better off if he had actually attended the event. (I did, and so can say authoritatively that he did not.) Peter Beinart was immensely reasonable last night. I disagree with him strongly on some things – his blanket statements about “the settlements” without distinguishing between Gush Etzion and some hill-top somewhere is more than a bit problematic – but he came off as strong supporter of Israel legitimately worried by certain policies and trends within Israeli democracy. He was speaking at Slifka to an audience of people who can understand nuance and were not interested in further excuses to smear Israel, and as such, his talk and his criticism were immensely appropriate and actually may serve to make Zionists on campus to become more involved in various causes in Israel. Rabbi Hecht does us all a disservice by using a positive Yale J Street activity as an opportunity to attack the national organization.

    This is not to say that his criticisms of national J Street are not accurate; I think many of them are. Daniel Levy is an especially problematic personality. But Peter Beinart is the J Street that supporters of Israel should welcome, and a figure that even those of us who disagree with him should be thankful is a part of the conversation. Rabbi Hecht wrote from a position of ignorance about Beinart and in his conflation of Beinart, Levy and everyone associated with J Street, he has helped to confirm part of Beinart’s thesis. And in doing that, he is alienating others. One word: chaval.

  • bervis

    I was at the event last night, and the charges leveled here are absurd. Hecht’s pretense that criticizing Israeli policies amounts to denying Israel’s fundamental right to exist, or attacking the foundations of democracy, smacks of ignorance of what Beinart spoke about. Last night was a rare coming together of pro-Israel students to talk about how to defend democracy in the only Jewish state on the planet.

    I do admire Israeli democracy. But that democracy is being challenged right now, not only by the radicals in Hamas and Hezbollah, but by serious looming internal threats. In fact, if we don’t get to a two-state solution soon, the very possibility of a Jewish and democratic state will be gone. American Jews have every right and every obligation to stand up in defense of those democratic values.

  • The Anti-Yale


    Lord Bertrand Russell’s last message to the world. Age 98: Chief Justice of the International War Court which he convened to try the United States for War Crimes. Verdict? Guilty.

  • Arafat

    Leaves one wondering who Russell did like:

    “Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam…. Marx has taught that Communism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahommet…. Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism, rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.” —Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) Liberal icon

  • The Anti-Yale

    Here’s what Russell believes, and seldom has anyone written with such a diamond cutter’s precison


    From Wikipedia,”Why I Am Not a Christian” is a 1927 essay by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell hailed by The Independent as “devastating in its use of cold logic”,[1] and listed in the New York Public Library’s list of the most influential books of the 20th century.[2]


  • Arafat

    Wow, he sounds like a politician. Excellent at talking out of both sides of his mouth.

    Russell wrote, “Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation.”

    I don’t know. Which Russell should I beilieve?

    It’s big of Russell to harshly judge religion from a 20th century man’s position. He sounds like a very consistent, fair-minded person. Exactly the sort I imagined you’d be drawn to.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Ralph Waldo Emerson. 1803-1882.

    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines

  • RexMottram08

    The fruits of Russell’s philosophy ripened in the gulags.

  • The Anti-Yale


    “The Voltaire of his time” : Obituary for Bertrand Russell

  • Yaman