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Peter Beinart’s End Zone Dance

The day he published his 2010 essay in the New York Review of Books castigating the American Jewish establishment for too-strong support of Israel, Peter Beinart tweeted that it was the “hardest thing I’ve ever written.” As Noah Pollak noted at the time, there was nothing easier than Beinart’s criticism; there was already a wide market for it within the media.

Beinart subsequently received a book deal from Times Books, the publishing arm of the New York Times, and the book will be published next month. Last week, he circulated an email that Rabbi David Wolpe describes as “an end zone dance, a strutting lack of humility.” Here is the beginning of Beinart’s email:

Sometimes you get lucky.
I’ve spent the last year writing a new book, The Crisis of Zionism. It tells the story of how a young Barack Obama fell in love with the Jewish social justice tradition, only to discover the deep chasm between that tradition and the American Jewish Establishment when it comes to Israel.
It tells the story of an Israeli Prime Minister who rejects the very tradition that Obama reveres.
Finally, it offers an agenda for what American Jews — especially young American Jews — must do if we don’t want to be the generation that watches the dream of a democratic Jewish state die.
And that’s where I get lucky. Because by a wonderful convergence of events, the book will be released at this year’s J Street National Conference. …

The assertion that the Israeli prime minister (along with the American Jewish establishment) “rejects” the Jewish social justice tradition that Barack Obama “reveres” (ever since he “fell in love” with it at summer camp) lacks a certain nuance and subtlety. And the email goes on from there.

Rabbi Wolpe provides a substantive rebuttal of the email – particularly its invocation of the American civil rights movement as an analogy for those who rain rockets on children in Sderot – and offers some rabbinic wisdom for Beinart’s “smug dismissal” of Israel’s democratic leadership. He describes the email as “demagoguery” and suggests that Beinart is “better than this.”

It is a fairly low bar. But if the email is any indication, the coming book will exhibit the same lack of proportionality that Jeffrey Goldberg suggested in his 2010 interview of Beinart. Goldberg noted “the unseemly interest the left takes in Israel’s moral failings,” which ignores the fact that no other country does “a better job of protecting individual rights and freedoms while at war with a foe that seeks its physical elimination,” and he pressed Beinart to put the criticisms in his essay in context:

Are Israel’s failings, in fact, so terrible, especially given the line-up of enemies Israel is facing? I’m asking you to confront reality, not your utopian vision of what a Jewish country should be. The reality is that there are organizations and countries trying to physically eliminate the Jewish state. Even with this existential problem, Israel still manages to be the freest and most democratic state in the Middle East, and one that even grants its Muslim citizens the right to build minarets and wear burqas, unlike many countries in Europe. Again, I’m asking about proportionality. … [V]ery little (the settlements, etc.) is actually that different than it was five or ten years ago, except that Israel removed its settlements from Gaza and got rockets in return. …

[Muslim extremists] are pointing 40,000 rockets at Israel from Lebanon right now — and they are not pointing these rockets at Israel in order to bring about the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. They are seeking the physical destruction of 5.5 million Jews in their historic homeland. I take this seriously, and I think you should take it seriously, as well. …You don’t have to be an Israeli extremist to believe that the Arab side is not especially enamored with the ideas of peace and compromise, despite the existence of Salam Fayyad and other Palestinian moderates. Perhaps we here in America should take these Israeli concerns more seriously, and have more respect for the hard-earned experience of Israelis.

Beinart’s email suggests he has gotten over his hand-wringing about the “hardest thing I’ve ever written.” He is positively giddy about the book-length version. What luck.



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