Jews and Islam Judaism and the Middle East (Peter Beinart)

middle east map

In a recent article, Peter Beinart makes the strong point that American Jews cannot understand the conflict over Israel and Palestine, and that we cannot care properly about Israel without taking Palestine into account. Beinart’s point is to think outside the bubble in which the Jewish establishment so often puts itself in relation to the conflict. Beinart himself understand that the kind of open-ended encounters proposed by him may not always lead to sympathy and concord. But it’s always a good thing to broaden one’s perspective, to look at things you don’t like, including the face of the other, or your own ugly face in the mirror, and to listen to other people, even if you don’t have to accept everything they have to say about you to you.

I would only want to make Beinart’s point even bigger. It might very well be the case, it probably is, that it is impossible to understand modern Jewish life not just in Israel but even outside Israel as a world-citizen today without Islam. By this I mean two things: [1] the place of Arabs and Islam, indeed, the place of Palestine in Israel, which is Beinart’s point, and [2] the place occupied by the Jewish people, by Jewish history and Jewish cultural geography, and by Israeli politics in the larger Islamic and Arabic worlds. To not be able to grasp this is to lose a world and a sense of worldliness that was supposed to be a hallmark of the modern Jewish condition, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

At the same time and conversely, this might also mean coming to a better understanding of Islam and Arab political currents, and the way Jews, Judaism, and Israel have nothing to do with what’s happening in Egypt, Tunisia, and Syria. It’s always important “to know one’s place” in the world. Sometimes, yes, Israel is not at the center of the universe, even in the Middle East. This is all predicated on what might be the false assumption that the relation between Israel and the Arab and Islamic worlds need not always be zero-sum, at least not forever like it still appears to be the case now in the eyes of many, often paranoiacs and/or polemicists, both inside and outside the region on both sides of what still remains a cultural and political divide between Islam and Judaism.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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