Why Open Zion is Closing


Peter Beinart in Open Zion:

I’m not saying that American Jews who criticize Israel are persecuted, or that doing so requires any great bravery. It doesn’t. But there’s an inevitable tension between being part of a close-knit community and challenging what that community believes. As I began writing critically about Israel, I began to feel it. When I asked one friend to comment on the manuscript of my book, he at first replied that for the sake of our friendship, he would rather not. At the kosher for Passover resort where I had been a speaker for many years (and no longer am), one guest told the proprietors that he wanted a room that would allow him to walk to and from meals without ever laying eyes on me. One Saturday morning when I was walking to synagogue, a man asked me if I was Peter Beinart. When I said yes, he announced—loud enough for his kids and mine to hear—that “I think your politics are shit.”

I’d been expecting some of that. What I hadn’t expected was something else: The yeshiva student in Brooklyn who emailed me because he felt that his school’s depiction of Arabs was inhumane. The middle-aged employee of a right-wing Jewish group who told me she had grown so disturbed by the way her organization depicted Muslims that she began, literally, cold calling local Muslims so she could see for herself if they were as pathological as she had been told. The college student and Birthright alum who almost began to cry at a panel sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America as she described feeling “betrayed” because what “I’ve been told growing up [about Israel]…a lot of it has not been honest and not been true.”

As these unusual experiences mounted, I began to wonder whether it might be possible to build a different sort of community, a group blog infused with Jewish commitment yet dedicated to a radically open conversation that included Palestinians. When I proposed calling the blog “Zion Square,” which later became “Open Zion,” some supporters said it was too parochial. But that was exactly the point. I didn’t want a purely universalist space, devoid of tribal commitment. I wanted to show that asking the hardest, most painful, questions about Israel could be a Jewish, even Zionist, act.

More here.