Commentary Magazine


Topic: Peter Beinart

The Problem with American Jewry

When it comes to either American politics or Israel, I find myself in constant disagreement with Peter Beinart. I find his approach to foreign policy absurd (his piece published yesterday in The Atlantic lamely criticizing Hillary Clinton’s apology for supporting the war in Iraq failed to mention his own muscular, if temporary backing for the same conflict) and his writings advocating that Americans save Israel from itself are utterly clueless about the reality of Palestinian rejectionism as well as the needs of the Jewish state. But when it comes to the question of Jewish education, his position is as well informed as it is correct. Indeed, his most recent piece in Haaretz in which he lamented the sorry state of American Jewry, especially when compared to the Australian Jewish community, is right on target.

Most of the organized Jewish community has reacted to the dismal statistics about assimilation and intermarriage to be found in the Pew Study A Portrait of Jewish Americans, which I discussed in the November issue of COMMENTARY, with complacence if not indifference. The fact that non-Orthodox Jewry in this country is rapidly intermarrying itself into communal oblivion is regarded by some of the leading figures of American Jewish life as inevitable and not worth complaining about. I wrote about the efforts of a group of Jewish academics, writers, and community activists led by the trio of Steven Cohen, Steven Bayme, and Jack Wertheimer, to come up with a response to this crisis that can help turn the tide or at least change the conversation about the situation in the April issue of COMMENTARY. But sadly, it has not gotten the support it deserves. At a recent meeting of the group, it was addressed by well-meaning officials from leading Jewish federations who bragged of their great programs but displayed little interest in sounding the alarm about a problem which is effectively dooming their donor base.

But in contrast to much of the American Jewish world, Beinart gets it and is quite correct when he writes today that the lack of funding for Jewish education in this country is abysmal.

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When it comes to either American politics or Israel, I find myself in constant disagreement with Peter Beinart. I find his approach to foreign policy absurd (his piece published yesterday in The Atlantic lamely criticizing Hillary Clinton’s apology for supporting the war in Iraq failed to mention his own muscular, if temporary backing for the same conflict) and his writings advocating that Americans save Israel from itself are utterly clueless about the reality of Palestinian rejectionism as well as the needs of the Jewish state. But when it comes to the question of Jewish education, his position is as well informed as it is correct. Indeed, his most recent piece in Haaretz in which he lamented the sorry state of American Jewry, especially when compared to the Australian Jewish community, is right on target.

Most of the organized Jewish community has reacted to the dismal statistics about assimilation and intermarriage to be found in the Pew Study A Portrait of Jewish Americans, which I discussed in the November issue of COMMENTARY, with complacence if not indifference. The fact that non-Orthodox Jewry in this country is rapidly intermarrying itself into communal oblivion is regarded by some of the leading figures of American Jewish life as inevitable and not worth complaining about. I wrote about the efforts of a group of Jewish academics, writers, and community activists led by the trio of Steven Cohen, Steven Bayme, and Jack Wertheimer, to come up with a response to this crisis that can help turn the tide or at least change the conversation about the situation in the April issue of COMMENTARY. But sadly, it has not gotten the support it deserves. At a recent meeting of the group, it was addressed by well-meaning officials from leading Jewish federations who bragged of their great programs but displayed little interest in sounding the alarm about a problem which is effectively dooming their donor base.

But in contrast to much of the American Jewish world, Beinart gets it and is quite correct when he writes today that the lack of funding for Jewish education in this country is abysmal.

Beinart writes principally about the contrast between the well-attended Jewish schools in Australia and the situation in the United States where middle-class parents are often forced to choose between day school tuition and paying their mortgages. Day schools remain the best form of Jewish education and a chance to at least provide kids with an informed choice about their decisions about embracing Jewish life. They are not a magic bullet against assimilation and intermarriage. Given the ingrained secularism of the majority of American Jews, many, if not most wouldn’t send their kids to a day school if it were free. But along with improved synagogue schools, Jewish camps, and trips to Israel, they all provide a comprehensive alternative to a population that is Jewishly illiterate.

As Beinart points out, there is certainly enough Jewish wealth in America to fund all of these programs in a manner that could actually make a dent in the Pew statistics if not completely change the future of a community that is rapidly shrinking. But instead of funding schools adequately, American Jews have funded vanity projects like museums while not doing what’s necessary so that, “American Jewish six-year-olds [can] read Hebrew and know Torah so that a Jewish tradition that has survived thousands of years of exile and persecution isn’t destroyed by affluent, easy-going ignorance.”

Beinart is wrong to lump Israel advocacy—which often struggles for support in much the same manner as education—with the money lavished by American Jews on secular universities and museums as examples of misallocated funds. That is a function of his feud with AIPAC, which he despises for its loyalty to the principle of backing Israel’s democratically elected government.

But I find myself sympathizing with Beinart’s joke about being a “self-hating American Jew” when he regards the complacent manner with which most of the community has reacted to Pew. The struggle to change our priorities in order to preserve non-Orthodox Jewish life in this country is an uphill slog and it’s easy to be discouraged about the foolish manner in which the Reform and Conservative movements as well as many federations have opted out of the fight. But at least this is one battle that needn’t divide us along the familiar lines of left and right.

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Blaming Kerry for Palestinian Rejectionism

Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

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Give left-wing author Peter Beinart some credit. He’s paying enough attention to the negotiations going on between Israel and the Palestinian Authority to understand that there’s almost no chance that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas will sign a peace deal. But whom does he blame for this in his latest cri de coeur about the peace process in Haaretz? Secretary of State John Kerry.

Of course, Beinart thinks Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is also at fault for insisting that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, which is to say that they renounce their dreams of destroying it. He also slams Netanyahu for asking for serious security guarantees in the event that an agreement is concluded as well as demanding that the U.S. make good on the promises made to Israel prior to the Gaza withdrawal about the major settlement blocs in the West Bank being retained. In carping about Netanyahu he’s essentially blaming the people of Israel for rejecting the policies of the left after the collapse of Oslo and the Gaza disaster. To his way of thinking, democracy is all well and good but since liberal intellectuals like himself know what’s best for the country, the results of the last two Knesset elections should be set aside in order to allow American pressure to dictate peace terms with the Palestinians. Most of all he refuses to give the Palestinians any agency in their decision to turn down peace again.

This is familiar territory for Beinart. But now that Kerry is in the midst of an all-out effort to get Israel and the PA to agree to a new framework to allow for further talks with the Israelis set to say yes and the Palestinians almost certain to say no again, he’s been forced to come up with a new set of justifications for the left’s perennial argument that the lack of peace is Israel’s fault. His answer is that the true villain of the moment is Kerry and the liberal Jews who have been cheering the secretary on in his efforts to pressure Israel into accepting the framework. Why? Because, according to Beinart, Kerry’s terms are too favorable to Israel.

This is, of course, the same secretary of state that pressured the Israelis to release over 100 terrorist murderers to bribe the PA to come back to the negotiating table after boycotting talks for years. And he’s the same guy who threatened Israel with a new intifada and with expanded boycotts and economic warfare if they didn’t agree to his framework, setting the stage for more violence and delegitimization of the Jewish state after his efforts failed.

But Beinart has a beef with Kerry because in coming up with his framework, he’s incorporated some of Israel’s key demands and left other elements up to negotiations between the two parties. According to Beinart, Kerry has deviated from the plans offered to the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in 2000 and 2001 and the one proposed by Ehud Olmert in 2008. The differences between those schemes and the one in Kerry’s framework are small but significant.

The first problem is that Kerry agrees with the Israelis that the Palestinians should swallow hard and say the two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify they are ending the conflict for all time rather than pausing it in order to resume it later under more favorable circumstances.

The second is agreeing to a phased transition in which Israeli troops would remain in the Jordan Valley for perhaps as long as 10 or 15 years. Beinart agrees with the Palestinians that that kind of a security guarantee, made all the more necessary in recent years because of the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad as well as the threats to Jordan from Iran and Syria, is unacceptable.

What else? Beinart is unhappy about Kerry’s terms for the division of Jerusalem. Kerry is leaving the details of how to partition it to the parties and said one of the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city could serve as the Palestinian capital. Beinart agrees with Abbas and wants all Arab neighborhoods in the city to be constituted as the new capital of Palestine.

Beinart is also in a huff about the fact that Kerry’s framework doesn’t pay even lip service to the Palestinian demand for a “right of return” that would allow them to flood Israel with the descendants of the 1948 refugees. While Olmert foolishly offered the Palestinians the right to bring as many as 15,000 into Israel, Kerry has wisely turned them down flat on this question.

These differences from the plans of 2000, 2001, and 2008 don’t change the fact that if the Palestinians are smart enough to say yes to the framework, they would get their independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and be compensated for the settlement blocs with equal amounts of Israeli territory. But in order to get it they have to agree to the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside their nation and they have to agree not to use their state to restart the conflict once Israel withdraws. Since its inception, Palestinian nationalism has been solely focused on denying Zionism’s legitimacy rather than on building a nation. That’s why Abbas is no more capable of agreeing to peace now than he was in 2008 when he fled from Olmert’s offer or Yasir Arafat was when he said no twice to Ehud Barak.

But Beinart prefers to ignore the truth about Abbas and the political culture of rejection to which he is both enabler and hostage. Instead, he blames Israel and Kerry for not giving even more.

Interestingly, Beinart’s plan of action to deal with the problem doesn’t involve efforts to beg the Palestinians not to say no to peace and independence for the fourth time since the summer of 2000. Instead, he wants his friends at J Street and other liberal Jewish backers of the Obama administration to turn their wrath on the secretary of state. He wants the left to “raise a stink” against Kerry and the administration in order to get them to change the framework to make it more acceptable to the Palestinians, including deleting references to the Jewish state and giving the green light for the refugees.

Such an effort on the part of J Street is as unlikely as it would be absurd. J Street is more pro-Obama than it is pro-peace or pro-Israel. It will never launch a campaign against Kerry’s efforts to broker a deal in order to tilt the playing field even more toward the Palestinians than the secretary has already done.

This difference between Beinart and Kerry illustrates, if nothing else, the secretary’s sincerity. Kerry’s chances of success were always near zero and his willingness to undertake this mission despite the very real chances that attempting it would cause more harm than good by encouraging terrorism and boycotts after the inevitable Palestinian refusal testifies both to his poor judgment and his hubris. But Kerry also understands that after the collapse of Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and the three Palestinian “no’s” to peace offers, Israelis need to be persuaded that this peace is genuine and will guarantee the Jewish state’s survival. And that is why Abbas will never sign any deal with anything like reasonable terms.

Beinart understands that this decision will, like the many Palestinian decisions to repeatedly reject peace throughout the last century, undermine his thesis about Israel being to blame. So in order to preserve his dubious narrative of the conflict, he must start setting up Kerry as the fall guy for Palestinian rejectionism. Reading Beinart’s piece, I almost felt sorry for Kerry. Almost. 

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Free Speech and the Left’s War on AIPAC

The failure of the Senate to pass a bill authorizing additional sanctions on Iran if the current nuclear negotiations fail has emboldened some critics of the pro-Israel community. The inability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to ensure the bill’s passage despite the support of a bipartisan coalition of 59 members of the U.S. Senate has some of the lobby’s detractors smelling blood even though it was unfair to expect it to prevail in the face of President Obama’s veto threats. Author and columnist Peter Beinart called last month for the administration to boycott the group’s annual conference next month and when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offended his liberal fan base by endorsing the group, the writer was among a host of left-wing celebrities who signed a joint letter warning the mayor that he risked their ire by aligning himself with AIPAC. That letter set off a controversy since two of those who joined with Beinart to denounce AIPAC were prominent Manhattan Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol. When some of their congregants at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun expressed their outrage at having their house of worship implicated in a scurrilous attack on AIPAC, Beinart, who mocked their support of Israeli democracy, in turn denounced them. Now Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former leader of the American Reform movement, has weighed in on the issue in an honorable attempt to try and put this matter in perspective in a Haaretz column and I believe his thoughtful article deserves a response.

According to Yoffie, both sides are well within their rights in this dispute. The rabbis were expressing a legitimate point of view and so were their congregants. While he sides with those who defend AIPAC, he took issue with my assertion that the claim that rabbis who wish to criticize Israel live in fear for their livelihoods is something of a myth. Yoffie believes such pressures exist and should be resisted. He wants all sides of the debate about Israel and AIPAC to speak up candidly for the sake of building a vibrant community where no one should fear to speak up. To a large extent I agree with that formulation. But the problem with the anti-AIPAC campaign as well as much of the efforts on the left to pressure or boycott Israel is that it is, at its heart, an attempt not to promote democratic discussion but to essentially disenfranchise Israeli voters and silence their American friends. That is why I must dispute Rabbi Yoffie’s effort to assign equal virtue to the positions of Beinart and the rabbis as well as to their critics.

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The failure of the Senate to pass a bill authorizing additional sanctions on Iran if the current nuclear negotiations fail has emboldened some critics of the pro-Israel community. The inability of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to ensure the bill’s passage despite the support of a bipartisan coalition of 59 members of the U.S. Senate has some of the lobby’s detractors smelling blood even though it was unfair to expect it to prevail in the face of President Obama’s veto threats. Author and columnist Peter Beinart called last month for the administration to boycott the group’s annual conference next month and when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio offended his liberal fan base by endorsing the group, the writer was among a host of left-wing celebrities who signed a joint letter warning the mayor that he risked their ire by aligning himself with AIPAC. That letter set off a controversy since two of those who joined with Beinart to denounce AIPAC were prominent Manhattan Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol. When some of their congregants at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun expressed their outrage at having their house of worship implicated in a scurrilous attack on AIPAC, Beinart, who mocked their support of Israeli democracy, in turn denounced them. Now Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former leader of the American Reform movement, has weighed in on the issue in an honorable attempt to try and put this matter in perspective in a Haaretz column and I believe his thoughtful article deserves a response.

According to Yoffie, both sides are well within their rights in this dispute. The rabbis were expressing a legitimate point of view and so were their congregants. While he sides with those who defend AIPAC, he took issue with my assertion that the claim that rabbis who wish to criticize Israel live in fear for their livelihoods is something of a myth. Yoffie believes such pressures exist and should be resisted. He wants all sides of the debate about Israel and AIPAC to speak up candidly for the sake of building a vibrant community where no one should fear to speak up. To a large extent I agree with that formulation. But the problem with the anti-AIPAC campaign as well as much of the efforts on the left to pressure or boycott Israel is that it is, at its heart, an attempt not to promote democratic discussion but to essentially disenfranchise Israeli voters and silence their American friends. That is why I must dispute Rabbi Yoffie’s effort to assign equal virtue to the positions of Beinart and the rabbis as well as to their critics.

Rabbi Yoffie is right that some liberal rabbis who criticize Israel may worry about offending some of their congregants as do others who are, as he notes, pressured from the left to disassociate themselves from the Jewish state. But my point was not to deny that such rabbis have their critics but to point out that efforts to restrain them are almost universally ineffective, as the continued tenure of the B’nai Jeshurun rabbis illustrates. Moreover, my point was not merely about the way rabbis use their pulpits to undermine Israel but to highlight the fact that, contrary to the myth promoted by the left, such figures, be they clerics or not, are generally richly rewarded by the praise of the secular mainstream media. For a Jew to speak out against Israel and/or AIPAC is to invite praise from a liberal media that is always eager to lionize such critics and to falsely portray them as courageous.

It should also be pointed out that the anti-AIPAC letter signed by Matalon, Sol, and Beinart was not about promoting diversity of views or a debate about the peace process so much as it was an attempt to shun and delegitimize AIPAC and its supporters. Though Rabbi Yoffie believes the signers crossed no “red lines” of offensive conduct, I would insist that by seeking to demonize AIPAC, those letter-writers were reinforcing the offensive and bigoted stereotype about the pro-Israel lobby promoted by those who see it as a conspiratorial group that doesn’t really speak for Jews and manipulates U.S. policy against American interests. No one is saying that AIPAC’s critics don’t have a right to voice their differences with the group, but what they want is not so much to debate it as to destroy it. Much as one would wish to bridge such differences, this is one argument where both sides are not right. One must either defend the right of the pro-Israel community to speak out on behalf of the democratically-elected government of the Jewish state as the BJ congregants have done or one joins with those who wish to isolate and pressure it, whether to save it from itself as Beinart thinks or to destroy it as the open anti-Zionists who signed the anti-AIPAC letter seem to want.

What is at stake here is not a right to speak up against Israel and AIPAC but the ability of the pro-Israel community to survive an all-out attack designed to silence it. As Rabbi Yoffie eloquently states:

I don’t agree with AIPAC on everything, but I agree with them most of the time; and the harsh dismissal of AIPAC by the signatories to the letter troubles me greatly. A Washington without AIPAC would not mean an Israel at peace; it would mean an Israel isolated and vulnerable, lacking the anchor that AIPAC has long provided and without which peace would be impossible.

Freedom of speech is not an issue in a community where dissent against Israel is widespread and generally rewarded with praise while supporters are often dismissed as stooges or hypocrites. Those who would destroy what Yoffie rightly called “Israel’s safety net” are not going to be silenced, but they should be held accountable.

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The Attack on Israeli Democracy and AIPAC

One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

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One of the most disgraceful conceits of American Jewish life is the pose of martyrdom adopted by critics of Israel. American Jews who publicly berate Israel’s government and those Americans who support the Jewish state never stop telling us that what they are doing is courageous. They claim the Jewish establishment seeks to silence them all the while freely shouting their message from the rooftops to the applause of the mainstream media. To disassociate oneself from Israel is a guarantee of a platform for your views on the op-ed pages of major newspapers like the New York Times if not a lucrative book contract. But if you dare to call out such persons, watch out. You stand a fair chance of being demonized or shunned by the chattering classes.

That’s the lesson to be learned from an exchange centering on the conduct of the rabbis at Manhattan’s Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. As I wrote on Monday, Rabbis Rolondo Matalon and Felicia Sol joined with other fashionable New York liberals last week to denounce New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his support for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The prominent letter writers were outraged at the ultra-liberal mayor’s willingness to embrace the umbrella pro-Israel group that they maliciously and falsely denounced as a right-wing group that does not speak for American Jews. This was too much for a group of BJ congregants who wrote a letter to their rabbis to express their pain at the spectacle of their synagogue’s spiritual leaders aligning themselves against an organization whose sole mission is to support the democratically-elected government of Israel. For their pains, the group was subjected to a scathing denunciation in today’s Haaretz by writer Peter Beinart, who was himself one of the signatories along with Matalon and Sol, of the letter to de Blasio.

Beinart’s diatribe against the BJ congregants is interesting for two reasons. One, it shows again that while blasting Israel and AIPAC wins you praise in the media, speaking up against such slanders can earn you the sort of opprobrium that can make you very unpopular, especially on New York’s Upper West Side. But just as important was the argument Beinart made. He claimed the congregants were employing Orwellian language when they said it was appropriate for American Jews to back the verdict of Israeli voters. As far as Beinart is concerned the fact that the West Bank is not a democracy renders that argument false. To speak of support for Israeli democracy is therefore in Beinart’s view emblematic of a culture of dishonesty and “euphemism” on which the pro-Israel lobby is built.

But in this case it is Beinart who is playing Orwellian tricks with language. In doing so, this self-proclaimed Zionist is not only seeking to delegitimize the majority of Israelis who have ignored his advice about what to do about the West Bank but also willfully misrepresents the nature of the conflict.

AIPAC’s position and that of the overwhelming majority of the American people is that Israel’s people have the right to govern themselves and not have solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians imposed on them from the outside. But in Beinart’s twisted reasoning, backing the verdict of the overwhelming majority of Israeli voters who elected the current government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu—and gave parties that share Beinart’s views only a small percentage of their votes—is somehow anti-democratic. Since Israelis believe they have no choice but to stay in the West Bank until the Palestinians are ready to make peace, Beinart has adopted the ludicrous and hypocritical position that they have no claim on the word democracy.

Attempts to create a Palestinian democracy faltered in the last decade. Gaza fell under the despotic rule of Hamas. In the West Bank, Israel’s supposed peace partner Fatah has as little interest in liberty as their Islamic rivals. Current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is serving the 10th year of the four-year term to which he was elected. None of this is Israel’s fault. Israel would welcome the creation of a real democracy as opposed to an Islamist dictatorship or a Fatah kleptocracy posing as one. But, as Beinart knows, that isn’t in the cards, whether or not Israel withdraws from the West Bank.

More to the point, three times in the last generation Israel has offered to withdraw from almost all of the West Bank and even a share of Jerusalem in order to create a Palestinian state. Three times they were turned down because Yasir Arafat and his successor Abbas could not bring themselves to sign a treaty that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn or to renounce the “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees. Even the supposed “right-wing government” that Beinart and his fellow letter-writers so despise is now negotiating with the PA and has reportedly expressed its willingness to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank and make territorial swaps to create a Palestinian state. No one, except perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, expects the Palestinian response to be positive. If Israeli voters have rejected Beinart’s pleas to withdraw from the West Bank regardless of the dangers, it is because they have been paying attention to the events of the last 20 years during which the Jewish state has continually sought to trade land for peace and received only terror in return.

The point here is not so much that Beinart is out of touch with both Israeli opinion and the reality of Palestinian intransigence, but that in order to justify his stand he is willing to trash the idea that Israeli democracy matters. The position of AIPAC is not that it seeks to justify perpetual Israeli rule in all of the West Bank. It is one of support for the right of Israel’s democratic government to wait until the Palestinians are ready to make a genuine peace before risking a repeat of what happened in Gaza when the Jewish state withdrew every settlement and soldier.

Rather than Israel’s defenders engaging in dishonesty, it is Beinart and his colleagues who have twisted the truth in this debate. The question in the Middle East is not whether Israel will let the West Bank become a democracy but whether the one true democracy in the region—Israel—will continue to exist. AIPAC and its supporters stand with the people of Israel in their efforts to defend their country. Those like Beinart, the BJ rabbis, and the assorted anti-Zionists who joined with them to denounce de Blasio have placed themselves in opposition not so much to AIPAC but the people of Israel and echoed the arguments of those in the BDS movement that wage economic war on the Jewish state. If they wish to truly renew and cleanse Jewish life as they claim, they should look in the mirror before casting aspersions on either Israel or its defenders.

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Liberals and False Charges of Anti-Semitism

The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.

Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.

In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.

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The notion that Jewish opponents of Israel are self-hating or anti-Semitic is the kind of thing we are used to hearing from the right. But recently it has become a theme increasingly heard from the Jewish left. Back in January, the Forward’s Gal Beckerman asserted the preposterous notion that Newt Gingrich, a longtime and ardent supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, was making a “dog whistle” argument to anti-Semites because he spoke about the philosophy and influence of left-wing activist Saul Alinsky. Now Peter Beinart has gotten into the act with his rants about Rupert Murdoch’s criticisms of Jews who publish newspapers that are hostile to Israel. I wrote on Sunday about Beinart’s argument with Murdoch that falsely asserts that what he — and pro-Israel activists — wants is for Jewish journalists and publishers to abandon their integrity for Israel’s sake when what they really want is just the opposite: for Jews in the media as well as everybody else to stop going in the tank for Israel’s foes.

Beinart has now doubled down on this argument in a new piece posted at the Daily Beast. He criticizes my piece on the subject, as well as an insightful contribution from the New York Sun that recalled the troubled history of the New York Times’s Jewish owners and their hostility to Zionism and reporting about the Holocaust. Though he begins his piece by asserting that he doesn’t believe Murdoch to be an anti-Semite, he spends the rest of the article contradicting himself and attempting to prove just that. He concludes by writing:

I don’t think anti-Semitism is widespread on the American right, any more than it is widespread on the American left. But when expressed, it should be publicly condemned. Whether it masks itself as hostility to Israel or support for Israel should make no difference at all.

In other words, Murdoch is an anti-Semite who is covering up his hate for Jews by supporting the Jewish state against its critics. While Beinart wonders why conservatives are bothering to defend Murdoch, a better question would be to ask why he is resorting to such convoluted and contradictory arguments? The answer is, of course, that Beinart’s real problem with Murdoch isn’t the patently false charge of anti-Semitism but the fact that he’s critical of publications that attack Israel.

Let’s get one thing cleared up. The idea that it is anti-Semitic for a Jew or non-Jew to note that some Jewish-owned publications have a history of being uncomfortable with Jewish subjects and especially Israel is simply absurd. The history of the New York Times on this subject is well documented. To assert that Murdoch’s tweet, ill-considered as it was, was evidence of either latent or overt anti-Semitism is the worst kind of slur and is exactly the sort of thing that would send Beinart over the edge if a right-winger said it about someone on the left.

Beinart also says that it is “nuts” for anyone to speak of the New York Times as being consistently critical of Israel. It is true that the Times supports Israel’s right to exist. But it has spent the last few decades blaming it for all the problems of the Middle East and blasting its measures of self-defense. Not all of its reporting is biased, but enough of it has been tilted against Israel to make it clear that most of what it presents as news, especially on its front page, amount to nothing more than thinly veiled op-eds. Its opinion pages are also disproportionately skewed against pro-Israel voices.

Since Beinart is himself a consistent critic of Israel, it’s little wonder that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with this, but to claim that those who disagree are crazy says more about his own bias than that of anyone else. As I wrote, Murdoch would have done better to have avoided mentioning the Jewish owners of publications like the Times since the phrase is problematic and it’s far from clear that the current generation in charge there even considers themselves to be Jews.

But the real issue here isn’t whether or not the Times is biased against Israel. It’s whether it’s OK to label political opponents of the left, like Murdoch, as anti-Semitic even though he has a long record of philo-Semitism and support for Israel.

The reason why some conservatives have pushed back against this smear is not so much for Murdoch’s sake — the media mogul can take care of himself — but because the goal of the Jewish left is to brand all conservatives as closet Jew-haters. Doing so appeals to many Jews since it confirms their liberal political prejudices as well as conjures up memories of the past when the right in this country really was anti-Semitic while in our own day, and contrary to Beinart’s false moral equivalence, it is the left that is the natural home for many anti-Zionists and Jew-haters.

One should be careful about labeling people anti-Semites. There is a difference between someone who is merely critical of Israel like Beinart and, for example, liberal church groups that seek to promote BDS measures or to cut off military aid to the Jewish state and make common ground with open Jew-haters to promote this cause. Unfortunately that is a distinction that liberals like Beinart are prepared to ignore in order to score bogus political points against easy targets like Murdoch.

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Murdoch, “Jewish-Owned Press” and Israel

It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

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It ended almost before it started, but the kerfuffle over Rupert Murdoch’s tweet about the way some publications cover Israel is still worth considering. The controversy was over something the media magnate posted on Twitter last night. The tweet, which has since been deleted, said the following: “Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” The response from some in the liberal media was instant and ferocious. Peter Beinart wrote this was an accusation that some Jewish publishers and journalists are nothing less than self-hating Jews because they express their Jewish identity via hostility to Israel. To him, that combined a lot of “idiocy and nastiness into 140 characters.”

Murdoch, clearly stung, deleted the tweet and then posted the following on Twitter:

Let’s specify that any references to the “Jewish owned press” in a public forum are unfortunate since that phrase smacks of anti-Semitic myths about the media being controlled by a Jewish cabal. That is true even if the person saying it is the living proof that non-Jews actually control a lot more of the media than any Jew. The generalization Murdoch used about such publications being “consistently anti-Israel” also has all the faults that are usually associated with any broad generalization in that it was imprecise. Not all Jewish-owned publications are anti-Israel, and even those that are not exactly friendly to the Jewish state cannot be said to be perfectly consistent in that stance. Even more to the point, the Jewish identity of some of Murdoch’s fellow media barons may be so tenuous that it is arguable that their biases have little to do with their ethnic and/or religious origins.

And yet it must still be said that there was enough of the truth in Murdoch’s poorly phrased tweet to make some of Israel’s Jewish media critics howl.

I imagine Beinart was not incorrect to assume that the primary “Jewish owned press” outlet that Murdoch was thinking of was the New York Times that yesterday led with a front-page op-ed masquerading as a news analysis that mischaracterized the reasons for Israel’s “toughness.” He might also have been thinking about the Jewish ties of the family that has long owned the Washington Post that published this front page the other day. In that context, it wasn’t unreasonable for the non-Jewish Murdoch to wonder why these papers as well as much of the liberal media are often so reflexively hostile to Israel’s cause even when it is clearly the aggrieved party, as it is this week after Hamas rocket attacks set off the current conflict.

In response, Beinart only sees a foolish observer assuming that Jewish publishers should sacrifice their journalistic integrity when covering Israel and assume the pose of Zionist cheerleaders.

But that is not what Murdoch or many other media critics are talking about. Quite the contrary; in the last 30 years we have often seen mainstream publications ditching their integrity to unfairly bash Israel.

Part of Beinart’s own pose as a Jewish critic of Israel is the claim that taking the position that the Jewish state must be saved from itself is so unpopular that it takes courage to stray from the AIPAC playbook. But anyone who has observed the way the media works knows that the opposite is true. The easiest way for any self-identified Jewish writer to get published on the op-ed page of the Times or to get prominent notice in most other mainstream publications is to attack Israel. Indeed, at times it seems the only papers that do regularly publish defenses of Israel against these unfair attacks are the ones Murdoch owns.

Let’s assume that all those who treat Israel unfairly or show bias against it are doing so with motives that are pure as the driven snow. Let us further assume, as we probably should, that all those Jews who do so are not self-hating Jews but just ignorant, blinded by ideology or just as misguided as Beinart.

But let’s not pretend that any journalist who takes such a stance, or a publisher who puts out a newspaper or magazine where Israel is harshly treated, is being brave. Far from it, running with the pack baying for Israel’s blood is the path of least resistance in mainstream media culture.

Under these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that many Jews as well as some non-Jews like Murdoch are given to wondering aloud about why so many Jews in the business are so little moved by Israel’s predicament and so inclined to rationalize the actions of the Jewish state’s foes.

As usual, Beinart has it backwards. Far from wanting Jews in journalism to jettison their professional obligations, what media critics want is for them to return to a position of integrity and to tell the story of the Middle East conflict more accurately. If they did, media bias against Israel wouldn’t be as much of a factor as it is today.

Though Murdoch expressed this sentiment poorly, he was a lot closer to the truth of the situation than the bile that Beinart directed at him.

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Can We Pray About Iran on Yom Kippur?

At sundown tonight, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of fasting and prayer as the ten Days of Awe, during which Jews account for their actions in the previous year and atone for their sins, come to a close. The point is to think seriously about our own behavior toward others and to our relationship with our Creator. Though it is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur’s significance is not just theological. As it is the religious service that more Jews attend than any other, it has also come to be a day of communal gathering. As such it is the day when synagogues appeal for funds to maintain themselves and the community. But it is also fitting that amid the traditional liturgy and prayers, attention should be paid to the dire threats that hang over Israel and the Jewish people.

It is in that spirit that the Orthodox Union and that movement’s Rabbinical Council of America issued a call for prayer on Yom Kippur for an end to threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. This seems to me to be an utterly unexceptionable request. Why wouldn’t Jews, be they members of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or even those who style themselves Secular Humanists and don’t even believe in God, not wish to devote a moment to calling for removing the threat of extermination from the State of Israel? Jews may disagree on every conceivable political question but surely there is nothing wrong with asking the Almighty to either soften the hearts of the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran or to strengthen the resolve of the rest of the world to stop them? But, believe it or not, some people don’t think such a prayer is a good idea. Peter Beinart, the author and blogger who fancies himself the conscience of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, thinks the rabbis are “disturbing his Yom Kippur” by injecting what he considers a political appeal onto a day that the OU says should be apolitical. Is he right?

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At sundown tonight, Jews around the world will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day of fasting and prayer as the ten Days of Awe, during which Jews account for their actions in the previous year and atone for their sins, come to a close. The point is to think seriously about our own behavior toward others and to our relationship with our Creator. Though it is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur’s significance is not just theological. As it is the religious service that more Jews attend than any other, it has also come to be a day of communal gathering. As such it is the day when synagogues appeal for funds to maintain themselves and the community. But it is also fitting that amid the traditional liturgy and prayers, attention should be paid to the dire threats that hang over Israel and the Jewish people.

It is in that spirit that the Orthodox Union and that movement’s Rabbinical Council of America issued a call for prayer on Yom Kippur for an end to threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon. This seems to me to be an utterly unexceptionable request. Why wouldn’t Jews, be they members of the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or even those who style themselves Secular Humanists and don’t even believe in God, not wish to devote a moment to calling for removing the threat of extermination from the State of Israel? Jews may disagree on every conceivable political question but surely there is nothing wrong with asking the Almighty to either soften the hearts of the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran or to strengthen the resolve of the rest of the world to stop them? But, believe it or not, some people don’t think such a prayer is a good idea. Peter Beinart, the author and blogger who fancies himself the conscience of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, thinks the rabbis are “disturbing his Yom Kippur” by injecting what he considers a political appeal onto a day that the OU says should be apolitical. Is he right?

Beinart has a point when he notes that liberal denominations have undermined their credibility by attempting to portray their secular political agenda as Jewish causes, to their detriment of purely religious pursuits. Rabbis, like clerics in other faiths, have often used their sermons to foist their personal political agendas on their captive congregations. But is removing the Iranian threat really a partisan issue?

Beinart thinks it is because of the dispute between the government of Israel and the Obama administration over the latter’s refusal to enunciate red lines that would trigger action against Iran rather than more empty rhetorical promises that only serve to help kick the can down the road until the point where it may be too late to do anything about the problem.

Reasonable persons may disagree about what should be done about Iran. But does that quarrel mean that any concern about Iran should be off limits in the synagogue. Beinart thinks so. While he doesn’t want us to think he doesn’t care about Iran, he does seem to mock the special concern about it by asking why this year rather than previous years and why the OU is not calling for prayer to solve other serious problems or potential calamities.

What he fears is that if Jews spend too much time worrying or praying about the possibility that a vicious, anti-Semitic regime will get a nuclear weapon they might not think poorly about Netanyahu’s insistence on action. They may also not regard the president’s stance with complacence. Thus, by definition it seems, prayer about the Iranian threat ought to be off limits.

In stating such a position, he seems to be telling us that he does not take President Obama at his word about his promise about refusing to “contain” Iran rather than preventing it from obtaining nuclear capability. But Jews and other people of good faith need not interpret the call for prayer about Iran as a partisan appeal. Indeed, Democrats may take it as an impetus to press the president to make good on his promises.

But parsing the words of the prayer isn’t the point. Contrary to Beinart’s point of view, there are some issues that transcend partisanship, politics and even religious issues. Preventing a nuclear attack on Israel from a regime that has vowed to eliminate it is one such topic. That Beinart wishes to treat it as being morally equivalent to a liberal appeal for more social welfare spending or conservative calls for support for their issues tells us more about him and his very public angst about Israel and Jewish peoplehood than it does about what is or is not an appropriate prayer on Yom Kippur.

We at COMMENTARY wish all of our readers who will observe Yom Kippur an easy fast. But we also ask them and other readers to read the OU prayer and to add their own amens to its appeal to our own. We’ll be back after the holiday.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Jews worldwide spend the day in fasting, prayer and repentance. Yom Kippur is not a day for politics.

But Yom Kippur 5773 is different.

On this Yom Kippur – the world faces an evil regime whose leaders have publicly committed themselves to destroying the State of Israel and to harming Jews worldwide; in addition, the Iranians are a threat to the global community.

On this Yom Kippur – the leader of that evil regime will address the United Nations General Assembly and again preach his hatred;

On this Yom Kippur – the words found in the High Holiday prayer book, “God determines which nations shall face war and which shall enjoy peace,” prompt us to contemplate with anxiety the fate of the State of Israel and her people, of Jews throughout the world and, indeed, of civilization as a whole.

The threat is dire and demands our attention on our holiest day. Therefore, we call upon all congregations to dedicate a specific moment during their services on the upcoming holy day of Yom Kippur to pray for an end to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

On Yom Kippur, may Israel and its people be sealed in the Book of Life for a year of life and peace.

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Did Romney Exploit a Jewish Holiday?

For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.

Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).

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For those who wish the Republican presidential candidate ill, there is really nothing he can do to avoid criticism. Case in point was Mitt Romney’s visit yesterday to Jerusalem. At the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg accuses him of being “vulgar” for showing up at the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. Predictably, Peter Beinart goes even further in the Daily Beast and accuses Romney of “misusing Judaism” to bolster his campaign.

Both are dead wrong. Nothing Romney did was in poor taste or in any way showed disrespect for Jewish sensibilities. In fact, the truth was quite the opposite. Their real problem with Romney is that what he said in Israel illustrated President Obama’s shortcomings. Romney rightly expressed a more realistic assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat than the Obama administration as well as reaffirmed his commitment to reverse the president’s policy in which the U.S. has distanced itself from Israel (at least in those years in which he is not running for re-election).

Goldberg’s post has an inflammatory headline, “Temple Mount Tackiness,” which seems to imply that Romney went up to the site of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which is now occupied by mosques. Any visit to the Temple Mount is fraught with symbolism and controversy (think Ariel Sharon’s 2000 stroll there which was falsely represented as the second intifada). Though the place is truly the most sacred spot in Judaism, Jews are forbidden to pray there lest Muslims think they are plotting to blow up or move the mosques. But Romney did not go up there. He merely joined the throngs praying at the Wall on the anniversary of the Temples’ destruction.

Goldberg seems to think it is wrong for a candidate to go there for a photo op on that day. Had Romney and his entourage barged in and disrupted prayer services, Goldberg might have had a point. But he did not. There was no service going on there at the time, just the usual milling crowds of tourists and the faithful who can be found there on any day. Romney’s behavior was exemplary. To speak of vulgarity is absurd and says more about Goldberg’s crush on Barack Obama than it does about Romney.

More to the point, the symbolism of an American politician going to the Wall on the day that Jews remember the tragedies that have befallen them throughout history is particularly apt. Given the existential threats that still face Israel, the reaffirmation of the U.S. alliance seems to be exactly the sort of thing Jews ought to welcome.

But, of course, that reaffirmation is exactly what troubles Beinart.

Beinart is offended by Romney’s belief the United States ought not to show any public daylight between its positions and Israel. Doing so, as President Obama has done, damages the already dim hopes for peace because such actions encourage the Palestinians to become even more intransigent. Obama’s pressure on Israel has led the Palestinians to believe they don’t have to negotiate with the Jewish state because they think the U.S. will hand them Israeli concessions on a silver platter without them having to give an inch.

But, of course, Beinart doesn’t want any politicians, be they Democrats or Republicans, to show the kind of heartfelt support that Romney expressed. He wants the U.S. to run roughshod over the democratic will of the Israeli people in order to further his unrealistic vision of peace with a Palestinian people who have little interest in such a scheme.

Beinart backs up this point of view, but assuming the pose of a scholar of Judaism and Jewish history is the conceit of his laughably inept book about saving Zionism.

From his perspective, the comments of Romney and Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tisha B’Av in which they noted the need to ensure that the Jews are saved from future catastrophes, are “bad Judaism.” Beinart is right to note that one of the keynotes of the observance of the ninth of Av is introspection in which Jews should learn to avoid the mindless hatred that tradition tells us caused the fall of the Temples. A cynic would note that if anyone is in need of lessons on “introspection and humility” it might be an author who presumes to preach to Israelis while demonstrating little understanding of their concerns. But leaving Beinart’s shortcomings aside, that is not the only perspective on the holiday. It is certainly not the only thing those tasked with dealing with the geo-strategic realities of the Middle East should be thinking about.

It is all well and good to say, as Beinart does, that we all have a little bit of evil within us. But according to him, this insight should lead Israelis not to obsess about the fact that much of the Muslim and Arab world still wishes to wipe them out. Even worse, he thinks that on the day that Jews contemplate the crimes and atrocities committed against them during the last three millennia, they should worry more about the sensibilities of those who are still plotting such evil. Indeed, he thinks the mere fact that Romney failed to mention the Palestinians in a speech devoted to the U.S.-Israel alliance and the need to stop Iran from making good on its genocidal threats “denied the humanity” of the Palestinians.

The most charitable thing that can be said about such an analysis is that Beinart is about as much of an expert on Judaism as he is representative of American Jewish opinion. President Obama’s election year Jewish charm offensive shows he understands the overwhelming majority of American Jews reject Beinart’s view that Israel must be saved from itself or that selective boycotts and brutal pressure should be employed to bring it to its knees so as to facilitate his vision of its future. Tisha B’Av is an apt day for Jews and all people of good will to remember the stakes in the Middle East conflict and of the need to ensure that Jerusalem never again falls to those who would destroy the Jewish people.

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Two Revealing Quotes on Peter Beinart

Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

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Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

Beinart’s book hasn’t influenced liberal Zionists. Instead he’s repelled them, while encouraging the fringiest of the fringe Israel-bashers, who think it’s only a matter of time before he’s in Mondoweiss territory. Again, it has to be asked: What is Beinart’s end game here? As his audience dwindles, will he pivot back to the center, or venture further into the lunatic asylum?

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Who’s Advising Obama on Israel?

We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

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We’ve been hearing a lot from Jewish Democrats and the administration itself that Barack Obama is the best friend Israel has ever had or as in Joe Biden’s fractured fairy tale version of history, “has done more for Israel’s security than any president since Harry Truman” — a president who actually did nothing for Israel’s security. The incessant sniping and attempts to pressure Israel during the first three years of the Obama administration makes this hyperbole the height of absurdity. But, as I have written before, it is possible to overstate Obama’s hostility to Israel and its government.

The issue now is not so much what the president has done with regard to Israel. After three years of hostility, his re-election effort has given birth to a full-blown Jewish charm offensive that, if it were to continue into a second term, would do much to allay the concerns of even his most fervent critics. The question in the minds of most friends of Israel is what will happen when a re-elected Obama has the “flexibility” to do as he likes with regard to the Jewish state and the Middle East. In that regard, the report in Politico about Obama sitting down with a group of left-wing pundits, many of whom have views wildly out of touch with the reality of the Middle East, to brainstorm about how to deal with the region and, in particular Israel, has to scare mainstream pro-Israel Democrats. That the president is listening to people like Peter Beinart, David Remnick and Joe Klein tells us all we need to know about how long the Jewish charm offensive will last after a November victory for the Democrats.

In Obama’s defense, it must be admitted that he has done nothing to sabotage the alliance. He has, in fact, done the right thing in continuing existing funding lines such as the Iron Dome missile defense system, though his attempt to claim credit for a project that was initiated under George W. Bush is insufferable. While he has undermined that alliance by doing more to undermine Israel’s hold on Jerusalem than any predecessor and broken new ground with his attempt to make the 1967 lines the basis for negotiations, he has also done the right thing at the UN and said the right things about the Iranian nuclear threat–even if he hasn’t done anything about it yet.

It should also be stated that some of those in the meeting are respected voices on the Middle East. Jeffrey Goldberg is a die-hared Obama cheerleader, but he is also an intelligent and informed reporter on the Middle East. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius is also a serious writer on the subject, even if he is wrong much of the time. But Beinart, Klein and Remnick are obsessive critics of Israel’s government who have conclusively demonstrated during the years that they don’t have the faintest idea of what makes Israelis tick or what the problems on the ground there really are. And though Klein and Remnick are virulent and foolish in their anger at the refusal of Israel’s prime minister to do what they tell him to do, they are, at least, knowledgeable about the country, something no one who has read Beinart’s book could credibly accuse him of being.

The point here is that the president of the United States needs advice from people who understand the reality of Israel’s peace process dilemma in which the Palestinians refuse to make peace under any circumstances. He also needs to hear from people who can help him deal with the Israel that actually exists, not the American Jewish liberal version of the Jewish state that exists in the imaginations of the likes of Beinart, who is currently touring the country advocating boycotts of some Israelis.

Contrary to Beinart, Klein and Remnick, Israel doesn’t need to be saved from itself via American pressure. To the extent their views reinforce Obama’s existing hostility, the meeting is a harbinger of a second term that might make the first three years of Obama’s presidency look like a golden age for the U.S.-Israel alliance.

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Beinart’s Argument Was Already Debunked

As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

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As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

Since he relied on NYRB, Beinart should at least have done his homework and taken into account what others had already opined in the Review on the same subject. It is a testament to how sloppy Jewish anti-Israel sanctimony is that the best argument on how the demographic argument is largely overblown should come from a Palestinian intellectual and an American former negotiator known for his pro-Palestinian sympathies.

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Joe Klein Needs to Hit the Books

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

In response largely to Jonathan Tobin’s post noting the poor sales figures for Peter Beinart’s latest book, Time’s Joe Klein notes, “There still is no coherent response to Beinart’s argument that the West Bank settlement policy is a long-term demographic threat to Israel’s security.” While demography has become a constant talking point among those who argue, in effect, that a bad but quick deal is better than a slower but substantive one, the issue is more complex—and nuanced—than that portrayed by Klein. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics subordinates science to the Palestinian Authority’s political direction. It counts no Palestinian emigration, double-counts Jerusalem, and has simply changed numbers at the request of the Palestinian leadership. The net error may be upwards of one million people.

As an aside, it is rather rich that Klein suggests that reviews of Beinart’s work by folks like Bret Stephens, Jonathan Rosen, and  Noah Pollak are nothing but name-calling and invective, as they are all quite substantive. When it comes to name-calling and a race to the bottom, Klein is in a league of his own.

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Beinart Book a Colossal Flop

Both conservative and liberal Jewish critics have panned Peter Beinart’s book about the so-called Crisis of Zionism, giving the onetime neo-liberal scribbler a series of spankings that would daunt a less conceited author. But because the disillusioned lover of Zion didn’t let his own abysmal ignorance about both Israel and the Palestinians stop him from writing a book about the topic, there’s no reason to assume he won’t go on annoying audiences with his agonized but all too predictable misgivings about the real life state of Israel (as opposed to the imaginary ideal liberal version of the Jewish state he prefers to the one where the voters reject his ideas) as he continues on a book tour far and wide. All this chatter and buzz may be giving even Beinart’s detractors the idea that he is making some headway with the public, but apparently the book-buying public, like the critics, aren’t buying it.

According to BookScan, the respected service that tabulates point-of-sales purchases of books at stores around the nation, Beinart’s much-hyped effort is a flop. Reliable sources tell us that BookScan, which is believed to capture the figures that represent about 60 percent of the book buying in the nation, has tabulated that as of this week Beinart had only sold 2,845 copies of The Crisis of Zionism. Because books that sell thousands more than that number are considered by publishers to be busts, Beinart’s ballyhooed cri-de-coeur must be considered a colossal flop. And considering that Beinart is believed to have received an advance of several hundred thousand dollars for it, one imagines that the brass at Times Books — the partnership between Henry Holt and the New York Times that published Crisis — are kicking themselves for being duped into believing the market for post-Zionist carping extended beyond the tiny group of people who will buy anything that takes a dim view of Israel.

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Both conservative and liberal Jewish critics have panned Peter Beinart’s book about the so-called Crisis of Zionism, giving the onetime neo-liberal scribbler a series of spankings that would daunt a less conceited author. But because the disillusioned lover of Zion didn’t let his own abysmal ignorance about both Israel and the Palestinians stop him from writing a book about the topic, there’s no reason to assume he won’t go on annoying audiences with his agonized but all too predictable misgivings about the real life state of Israel (as opposed to the imaginary ideal liberal version of the Jewish state he prefers to the one where the voters reject his ideas) as he continues on a book tour far and wide. All this chatter and buzz may be giving even Beinart’s detractors the idea that he is making some headway with the public, but apparently the book-buying public, like the critics, aren’t buying it.

According to BookScan, the respected service that tabulates point-of-sales purchases of books at stores around the nation, Beinart’s much-hyped effort is a flop. Reliable sources tell us that BookScan, which is believed to capture the figures that represent about 60 percent of the book buying in the nation, has tabulated that as of this week Beinart had only sold 2,845 copies of The Crisis of Zionism. Because books that sell thousands more than that number are considered by publishers to be busts, Beinart’s ballyhooed cri-de-coeur must be considered a colossal flop. And considering that Beinart is believed to have received an advance of several hundred thousand dollars for it, one imagines that the brass at Times Books — the partnership between Henry Holt and the New York Times that published Crisis — are kicking themselves for being duped into believing the market for post-Zionist carping extended beyond the tiny group of people who will buy anything that takes a dim view of Israel.

Crisis’s current Amazon rating is 2,530. That might not be considered embarrassing for a run-of-the-mill non-fiction book. But it’s a terrible ranking for a book whose author has been feted on broadcast and cable networks in the kind of public relations blitz orchestrated by his publisher normally reserved for a blockbuster.

In making this observation, we’re not looking to rain on Beinart’s parade. He’s already got his money for the book and can, as they say, cry all the way to the bank while continuing to portray himself as a courageous and embattled dissident no matter what anyone says. The point is that the failure of this book undercuts the claim that Beinart represents mainstream American Jewish views. He doesn’t. The apathetic response of a book-buying community like the Jewish one illustrates that the public has as little interest in his misguided views as the critics.

Though Beinart’s attack on Israel may conform to the views of the editors and publishers of the Times, perhaps the next time an ambitious scribbler and his book agent tries to sell a publisher on a project with a similar theme, they will remember Beinart and take a pass.

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Elections Will Clarify Zionism’s “Crisis”

So-called “liberal Zionists” like author Peter Beinart have been mounting an all-out campaign to undermine any notion that the proper attitude of American Jews toward Israel is support of its current government. Beinart and others on the left don’t like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and believe their sensibilities rather than his judgment ought to be regarded as the proper path for the Jewish state. Though Beinart and other foreign liberals tend to regard the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians as mere details that only serve as an impediment to the implementation of their vision of peace, they are entitled to their opinions. But should it take precedence over that of the Israeli people?

Beinart and others who think Zionism is in “crisis” are about to get another lesson in Zionist democracy. With it becoming increasingly clear that Netanyahu will agree to move up the date for the next parliamentary elections to perhaps as early as September 4, those carping about the direction Israel has taken on the peace process, settlements, the Iranian threat, the religious-secular divide or any other issue will have an opportunity to watch Israeli democracy in action. The voters will have the opportunity to throw out Netanyahu and elect a government more in line with the views of Beinart and J Street. But, if as widely expected, they return Netanyahu to power with an even larger majority, shouldn’t there be some expectation these “liberal Zionists” will respect the will of the people?

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So-called “liberal Zionists” like author Peter Beinart have been mounting an all-out campaign to undermine any notion that the proper attitude of American Jews toward Israel is support of its current government. Beinart and others on the left don’t like Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and believe their sensibilities rather than his judgment ought to be regarded as the proper path for the Jewish state. Though Beinart and other foreign liberals tend to regard the realities of the conflict with the Palestinians as mere details that only serve as an impediment to the implementation of their vision of peace, they are entitled to their opinions. But should it take precedence over that of the Israeli people?

Beinart and others who think Zionism is in “crisis” are about to get another lesson in Zionist democracy. With it becoming increasingly clear that Netanyahu will agree to move up the date for the next parliamentary elections to perhaps as early as September 4, those carping about the direction Israel has taken on the peace process, settlements, the Iranian threat, the religious-secular divide or any other issue will have an opportunity to watch Israeli democracy in action. The voters will have the opportunity to throw out Netanyahu and elect a government more in line with the views of Beinart and J Street. But, if as widely expected, they return Netanyahu to power with an even larger majority, shouldn’t there be some expectation these “liberal Zionists” will respect the will of the people?

The problem for these left-wing critics is that although they think Israel is in need of being saved from itself, most Israelis disagree. The majority there appears ready to vote for the parties that make up the current coalition because they believe there is no viable alternative on either security or domestic issues. Netanyahu is far from perfect, but his positions reflect the broad consensus of the Israeli public on the key issues of the day.

That puts people like Beinart in something of a bind. You can’t preach about preserving Israeli democracy while at the same time claim elections there mean nothing. Friends of Israel, even those who style themselves critics of its government’s policies, are not obligated to become Netanyahu cheerleaders. But once the voters have decided, there is some obligation to respect the democratic process.

Many on the Jewish left have spent the last three years since Netanyahu’s election in 2009 acting as if his win was an accident that can be set aside by President Obama with their support. The problem with Beinart and those who agree with him is not so much that they would like Netanyahu replaced, but that they believe Washington should override the verdict of the Israeli electorate on the peace process. While Israelis take the views of its only superpower ally seriously, the notion that they should be dictated to on matters of war and peace is intolerable. So, too, is the idea that American Jews like Beinart, whose grasp of the nuances of Israeli society and politics is minimal, have a unique understanding of how to reform the country so as to have it conform to their own liberal vision of Zionism. As much as world Jewry has a vital stake in the preservation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, policy decisions must be left in the hands of the people who live there.

It can be argued that the current consensus renders early elections an unnecessary distraction. But they do serve the purpose of reminding Beinart and other American Jews that Israel’s people will be presented with a clear set of choices and will then make their decisions. Liberals who would prefer a different outcome than a Netanyahu victory can go on preaching that Israel would be better served by his defeat. But once he is re-elected, they are also obligated to recognize that in a democracy, the losing side accepts the outcome. No one can claim to be a Zionist, even someone of the liberal or progressive persuasion, and claim he can reject not just the government but the Israeli people who elected it.

Israel is not perfect, and the peculiar compromises on the religious/secular divide may grate on the sensibilities of Americans. But contrary to the gloom and doom scenarios envisioned by Beinart and others who think it is heading for destruction, it is a vibrant, successful and thriving democracy. Most Israelis don’t think they need to be saved by the likes of Beinart. After the next election, he should take the hint.

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What Israel Needs From American Jews

Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and it’s not likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day, if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not listen to their criticisms.

We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for “liberal Zionists” to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of which have some representation in its parliament), and if American Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls it, “for the sake of heaven,” which ought to be conducted with civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal Zionists.

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Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and it’s not likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day, if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not listen to their criticisms.

We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for “liberal Zionists” to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of which have some representation in its parliament), and if American Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics, there’s nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls it, “for the sake of heaven,” which ought to be conducted with civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal Zionists.

Much ink has been spilled and great deal of space on the Internet has been wasted debating the dubious merits of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, but as off target as his views about American Jewry may be in many respects, his ignorance of Israel has made it a symbol of all that is wrong with the liberal Jewish critique of the country. It’s all well and good for Beinart and other American Jews to wish for peace or to argue that different policies might bring it closer. It’s that they operate in an intellectual vacuum in which the real world dilemmas of Israeli life and the realities of Palestinian nationalism don’t exist.

That’s why, despite the fact that the vast majority of Israelis desire a two-state solution and are no more enamored of extremist settlers than Beinart, they support the government they elected in 2009 and are almost certain to return it to power when it faces the electorate sometime next year. They do not see their country walking off a cliff bent on suicidal policies as Beinart and others preach. Instead, they believe they are undertaking prudent measures of self-defense and asserting their right to exist in peace and freedom. Israel has achieved much in its 64 years of existence, but it cannot magically transform the political culture of the Palestinians that rejects the legitimacy of any Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

This is a basic truth that most Israelis intuitively understand but which continues to elude some of their liberal American friends. Israeli Independence Day is as good a day as any for some of these preening liberal Zionists to ask themselves why is it that the average Israeli regards their impulse to save Israel from itself with a mixture of humor and contempt? After a generation of territorial withdrawals, peace accords and peace offers that have been consistently rejected by the Palestinians, Israelis are right to view those who act as if the history of the last 20 years never happened as simply irrelevant.

Those American Jews who support Israel against the assault on its existence are often accused by their foes of believing in a mythical Israel and having no conception of the real place. But despite the naivete of some who wish to hear no evil of Israel, it is those liberals and left-wingers who believe that the Jewish state can unilaterally create peace or in any way diminish the ideological and religious opposition of the Muslim and Arab worlds to its existence who are really living in a fantasy world.

Liberal Zionists and other so-called progressives should not feel inhibited from putting forward their vision of what Israel can or should be. But what they first need to do is to show some respect for the people of Israel and demonstrate some understanding of the limits to which their ideas can alter political reality on either side of the security fence. Without that respect and understanding, Israelis are to be forgiven for viewing American liberal Zionism as a thin façade for self-righteous and ignorant claptrap.

 

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Beinart’s Universalists Strike Back

The discussion of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism is no longer a conversation about what Beinart wrote. It has morphed into what I believe is a much more useful conversation about the conception of Judaism that lies at the core of Beinart’s worldview and what I take to be his assault on it. In my review of his book in the Jerusalem Post, I suggested that part of what makes Beinart so uncomfortable with Israel is the fact that for Beinart and many like him, for whom the erotic draw of the sirens of universalism are too powerful to resist, Israel is a reminder of Judaism’s people-centeredness. In his book, Beinart used the word “tribal” for “people-centeredness,” so I did the same in my review. And I showed that every single time (not most times, but every single time) that Beinart used the word “tribal,” it had a distinctly negative connotation.

In his inevitable response, Beinart insisted, “I am a Zionist and a tribalist.” He did not explain why, if that is the case, every use of “tribal” in the book was negative, but such is invariably the nature of the “you said I said but I really said” of book reviews and responses thereto. Nothing particularly noteworthy there – except that Beinart has thankfully acknowledged that Judaism is tribal, and that (at least now) he thinks that’s a good thing.

But that is not so for Peter’s amigos. A brief glance at some of the responses to my response affords a sense of just how raw that universalist nerve is. “You can critique Beinart’s book all you want,” they essentially say, “but if you dare suggest that my abandonment of Jewish particularism is a departure from one of Judaism’s core values, well, then, I will come after you.”

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The discussion of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism is no longer a conversation about what Beinart wrote. It has morphed into what I believe is a much more useful conversation about the conception of Judaism that lies at the core of Beinart’s worldview and what I take to be his assault on it. In my review of his book in the Jerusalem Post, I suggested that part of what makes Beinart so uncomfortable with Israel is the fact that for Beinart and many like him, for whom the erotic draw of the sirens of universalism are too powerful to resist, Israel is a reminder of Judaism’s people-centeredness. In his book, Beinart used the word “tribal” for “people-centeredness,” so I did the same in my review. And I showed that every single time (not most times, but every single time) that Beinart used the word “tribal,” it had a distinctly negative connotation.

In his inevitable response, Beinart insisted, “I am a Zionist and a tribalist.” He did not explain why, if that is the case, every use of “tribal” in the book was negative, but such is invariably the nature of the “you said I said but I really said” of book reviews and responses thereto. Nothing particularly noteworthy there – except that Beinart has thankfully acknowledged that Judaism is tribal, and that (at least now) he thinks that’s a good thing.

But that is not so for Peter’s amigos. A brief glance at some of the responses to my response affords a sense of just how raw that universalist nerve is. “You can critique Beinart’s book all you want,” they essentially say, “but if you dare suggest that my abandonment of Jewish particularism is a departure from one of Judaism’s core values, well, then, I will come after you.”

And “come after you” they have. J. J. Goldberg, in a recent column in the Forward, says that I’ve become “unhinged.” But then he proceeds to illustrate what writing is like when context is ignored and honesty is no longer a value. He says I believe Judaism “mandates a xenophobic rancor” against non-Jews, when, in fact, I specifically asked whether the tribal-orientation of Judaism’s classic texts might contribute to “illegitimate Jewish senses of supremacy.” What I had written, then, was precisely the opposite of what Goldberg said that I said.

Goldberg also says, “Gordis even quotes approvingly the Talmud’s claim that ‘converts are as burdensome to [the people of] Israel as leprosy.’” But that, too, is completely false. I cite the phrase, but not approvingly. I simply note that Judaism’s classic sources are conflicted about converts, because there is something counterintuitive about people joining a tribe. Goldberg knows that my description of the phrase in the context of Jewish tradition is correct, and he surely knows that just days before my review of Beinart’s book I co-wrote a piece for the Times of Israel specifically advocating a warmer welcome of converts.

Distortions such as these make this a nasty piece of work, but if there is comfort in company, Goldberg should be feeling good. Shaul Magid, professor at Indiana University and until 2003 a member of the philosophy faculty at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, responded to Beinart’s book by essentially claiming that Beinart was too tribalist:

Intermarriage is a reality American Jews will have to deal with. It’s not going away nor, I would argue, should it. American Jews intermarry at a rate commensurate with many other minority populations in America (excluding blacks and Latinos), so is Beinart suggesting ethnic groups should only marry one another? Or is he saying that intermarriage between a Polish Catholic and a Korean Presbyterian is fine but that Jews should only marry other Jews? It may be that the intermarried Jew cares less about Israel, but rectifying this reality by making an exceptionalist claim about the Jews, making them “anomalous” (a label with ominous anti-Semitic coattails) is not the answer.

That’s an astounding claim for someone committed to a rich Jewish future. Magid then resorted to name-calling on Facebook. Responding to a Facebook posting about my upcoming debate with Peter Beinart at Columbia University, Magid wrote: “Why give voice to Gordis’ tribal fascism? Oh yeah, free speech.”

So, for having claimed that “tribalism” is a central facet of classic Jewish thought, and for having cited a relatively obvious laundry list of sources that make that clear, Magid decided that I’m a “fascist.” When I wrote Magid on Facebook saying, “You know I’m not a fascist, you know I advocate a two-state solution, you know that I’ve gone to protect Palestinians as they harvest their olives, you know that I’ve testified against settlers in Israeli court,” he responded by saying, in part, “It looks like I’m not the only one to use the ‘f’-word in response to your response to Beinart.” There’s a principled position: other people did it, too.

And with that, Magid referred me to a column by Zachary Braiterman of Syracuse University. Braiterman does, indeed, use the “f”-word, but he also borrows some tactics from Goldberg’s playbook, namely, saying that I said what I didn’t say. For example, referring back to my review of Beinart, Braiterman says, “Gordis cites political philosopher Michael Sandel to claim that liberal American Jews feel no attachment to Jewishness and Judaism.” But that’s patently false. I cited Sandel to make a claim about human beings and the importance of ancestral moorings. Sandel’s quote says nothing about Jews, and I said nothing to imply that it did.

In a refreshing moment of honesty, though, Braiterman at least has the courage to admit that he knows that the “fascist” moniker is unfair. “I really don’t know what Gordis means by ‘tribalism.’ Are we going to see the distinguished American born rabbi joining the ‘death to Arabs’ crowd or the hill-toppers or price-taggers? I don’t know. I know I’m being unfair. But this is one possible endpoint to which this logic of tribalism leads.”

Ah, so there’s the issue. We’re afraid of … ideas? Tribalism has many dangers, as does the absence of tribalism. So because anything that could be taken to an extreme could be dangerous, these academics will label those who raise the idea as “fascists”?

For good measure, though, it’s worth noting that for Andrew Sullivan, “fascist” isn’t enough. No, in a column that might well have been requested by Beinart (both of them write at the Daily Beast, so this surely seems like a favor called in), Sullivan, who I’m sure has never read a word I’ve written, writes “Perhaps the most dishonest McCarthyite review was written by Daniel Gordis. … But Gordis is at least not hiding behind bullshit like so many of his fellow travelers. He wants an Israel, dedicated to survival as a Jewish state by means of ethnic and religious cleansing. He is a proud tribalist: ‘Do we aspire to America’s ideal of a democracy? Not at all. We’re about something very different.’”

So, because I defended Jewish particularism (using the tribal word that Beinart himself employed), I’m not only a fascist. I’m a “McCarthyite.” The mere notion that the very purpose of the re-creation of the State of Israel and its survival might be the revival of the Jewish people (and not simply “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”) must mean that we’re heading right for ethnic and religious cleansing.

Even allowing for the likelihood that Sullivan was coming to the defense of his buddy and didn’t have a moment to read anything that I’ve written about Jewish particularism, we have here a not terribly flattering picture of the state of writing and thinking in our world. Goldberg distorts the truth. Magid invokes the “fascist” label and then, challenged on it, defends himself by saying that he’s not the only one who did it. Braiterman uses it but can’t help but admit that he knows it’s unfair, and Sullivan, without having read a word I’ve written beyond the Beinart review, lurches from “fascist” to “McCarthyite.”

Not a terribly promising foundation on which to build serious discourse, is it? Israel, the settlements and even Peter Beinart’s book may be the least of the problems we need to address.

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The Bankruptcy of Beinart Inc.

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel. Read More

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel.

Next, the J Street conference itself was something of a sham, and the first Israeli diplomat to attend in two years – Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States – slammed the group, calling on it to change its ways and ‘‘stand with us.’’ A harsher critique of a self-described ‘‘pro-Israel’’ group would be hard to find; perhaps that’s why J Street removed the speech from the group’s official record. Beinart, though, still had his backers, including one Lara Friedman, an activist with Americans for Peace Now, who recently discovered (to no effect) the Arabs do not reciprocate her goodwill.

Beinart’s accompanying op-ed at the New York Times calling for a ‘‘Zionist BDS’’ to save Israel’s democracy from the ‘‘nondemocratic’’ Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria was also panned – immediately by the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and then by everyone else in the Jewish community, including J Street! Apparently, Beinart missed the BDS memo: even sympathizers now see its faults, and examples abound of the failure to do precisely what Beinart prescribes: differentiate boycotts of Judea and Samaria from those of the rest of Israel.

Finally, Zion Square, barely a month old, has (a bit embarrassingly) become Open Zion, in response to a similar blog of the same name launched somewhat pre-emptively. And now one of its few moderate, best credentialed, and less outspoken bloggers, Dr Yoel Finkelman, has, with a public letter at Jewish Ideas Daily, resigned his charge as a regular contributor, in protest of the blog’s content, style, and agenda.

And so, the crisis of Zionism emerges as comparatively chimerical, and the crisis of Beinart – and of Beinart Inc. – is unfolding before us. Like Zion’s many other critics, perhaps he’ll go on to blame the Israel Lobby. Alternatively – and hopefully – he’ll revise his viewpoint and finish this farce.

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Re: Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

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This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

The “artists” explain their call to target Habima on the grounds that Habima performed in the Territories and that “By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.” The inference here is that giving a stage to Habima will undermine those in Israel who refused to go along and perform in Ariel and other settlements.

But it also suggests that performing in the Territories is a breach of international law.

Now that’s something else. There is no clause in the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding theatre companies from performing a play in Territories under military occupation as a result of a conflict still waiting to be settled.

As an international law scholar whom I turned to in order to confirm the absence of such a rule from the annals of international law said with reference to the boycotters – “for them it is not international law, it is ‘my’ law.”

Same with Beinart and others afflicted by the same selective moral indignation – they make up facts and rules as they go along, which they then invoke to prove their hatred for Israel right.

 

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Study Debunks Crisis of Zionism Myth

The Jewish People Policy Institute has just published a new paper by Shmuel Rosner and Inbal Hakman on the so-called Distancing Hypothesis, analyzing “trends of distancing and… policy proposals for strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel in the time of the distancing discourse.” The 53-page PDF comprehensively evaluates current surveys, contains 77 footnotes, walks the reader through dizzying charts, and is worth reading just for the appendices.

The authors outline a series of straightforward recommendations, including an emphasis on the methodological and normative value of discussing “attachment” rather than “distancing.” Along the way they note:

There is no conclusive evidence of an erosion of U.S. Jewry’s attachment to Israel. On the contrary, the studies that included a longitudinal comparative examination indicate a sustained and even increased level of attachment. In short, there is no evidence of distancing as compared to the past.

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The Jewish People Policy Institute has just published a new paper by Shmuel Rosner and Inbal Hakman on the so-called Distancing Hypothesis, analyzing “trends of distancing and… policy proposals for strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel in the time of the distancing discourse.” The 53-page PDF comprehensively evaluates current surveys, contains 77 footnotes, walks the reader through dizzying charts, and is worth reading just for the appendices.

The authors outline a series of straightforward recommendations, including an emphasis on the methodological and normative value of discussing “attachment” rather than “distancing.” Along the way they note:

There is no conclusive evidence of an erosion of U.S. Jewry’s attachment to Israel. On the contrary, the studies that included a longitudinal comparative examination indicate a sustained and even increased level of attachment. In short, there is no evidence of distancing as compared to the past.

The findings are in line with the consensus of polling and trends in American-Jewish philanthropy, to say nothing of the near-universal rejection of Peter Beinart’s call to economically suffocate Israeli communities he doesn’t like while funding Israelis who live where he wants them to.

The exception proving that rule has been Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, who embraced Beinart’s call after returning from a vicious anti-Israel hatefest at which she and her organization were on the speaker list. Her participation in that conference was as out of the mainstream as her support for Beinart.

On the other side, for example, is liberal Tablet editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse. Last week, Newhouse wrote in the Washington Post that Beinart’s book and campaign have “ruined his chance to be a leader for many” progressive American Jews. She specifically pointed out what might be called Beinart’s epistemic solipsism, noting that his book “offers little in the way of personal reporting on the Israelis or the Palestinians themselves” and relies instead on secondary sources and his impressions of same.

Newhouse’s comment is not the first time Beinart’s lack of enthusiasm for field reporting has raised eyebrows. But his habit of taking what’s inside his head and generalizing outward extends beyond his research and analysis, and into his entire ethical case against Israel. He condemns Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line on account of the toll it takes on his conscience. He blasts Israeli self-defense campaigns because they complicate conversations with his child. And he’s personally haunted by the audio tracks of YouTube videos showing Israeli police actions, so he declares that Zionism is in crisis.

Not so much, it turns out.

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Emma Thompson Illustrates Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

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Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

As the Times of Israel reports today, the much-loved Thompson joined with 36 other prominent figures in the English theater (including Jews like playwright and director Mike Leigh and director Jonathan Miller) to demand the exclusion of Israel’s prestigious Habima Theater Company from a dramatic festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London next month. The excuse for this crude act of anti-Semitic incitement: the fact that Habima has not joined in efforts to boycott theater productions in the settlements.

Let’s understand what’s at work in this vile letter. Habima, as even Thompson and her cohorts surely know, is not exactly a bulwark of the Israeli right. If anything, it is, like the rest of the Israeli arts community, very much part of the country’s left and no friend to the settlement movement. Indeed, its choice to perform Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic “Merchant of Venice” at the Globe is a decision that many Jews would question. But by not agreeing to join in a boycott of a theater constructed in Ariel (a large town located not far from the green line), Habima is, in the eyes of Israel-haters like Thompson, equally guilty.

That’s one of the problems with Beinart’s “Zionist BDS.” As much as he may think he can draw a bright line between “good Jews” inside the green line and “bad Jews” in the West Bank, it’s one that will never be respected by Israel’s foes. Boycotts of the West Bank and Jerusalem are merely a tactic by which those who believe Israel has no right to exist will gain traction for their larger goal of Israel’s total isolation.

Treating every Jew and every house built by a Jew outside of the 1949 armistice lines as a criminal who must be isolated has nothing to do with peace. As even President Obama conceded, the vast majority of the settlers living in communities that are suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be included inside Israel in the territorial “swaps” he envisions as part of a peace deal. Ariel is one such place. But by placing it, its large population and its theater in anathema, Beinart is lending his approval to efforts to the anti-Zionist BDS campaigns those European intellectuals back.

As most observers have noted of his screeds, democratic Israel does not need saving by American Jews, let alone an intellectual lightweight and opportunist like Beinart. But people like him do serve a purpose for those who wish to bring down the Jewish state. If Beinart can boycott the Jews of Ariel, then it is just as easy for others to boycott those Israelis who won’t do the same.

The slippery slope from Beinart’s version of Zionism to Thompson’s anti-Zionism couldn’t be clearer.

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