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.
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.
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?
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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
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 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.
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.
In his review of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal offers up what he calls a “harsh” critique. That would be one way to describe it. Devastating would be another.
Stephens eviscerates Beinart’s book by highlighting some of its errors, including false claims about the Sasson study (which measured how American Jews feel about U.S. support for Israel); asserting that Israel’s blockade shattered Gaza’s economy, with 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial complex closed in 2008 – even though the source of this claim is a study conducted by the IMF in 2003; relying on incomplete quotes by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; and insisting that the Egyptian leaders who have emerged in Hosni Mubarak’s wake have not called for Israel’s destruction. (Essam El-Eryah, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, has said the Arab Spring will “mark the end of the Zionist entity.”)
“There’s more of this,” according to Stephens. “Much more. In fact, the errors in Beinart’s book pile up at such a rate that they become almost impossible to track.” Stephens then broadens his critique:
The New York Times memorable headline on the falsified documents relating to George W. Bush’s military service — “Fake but Accurate” — has almost been matched by a Haaretz columnist’s description of Peter Beinart’s theory on Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu: he writes that the theory “may not be accurate but is nonetheless spectacularly original.”
Beinart’s theory — that what Netanyahu supposedly dislikes about Jews is what Vladimir Jabotinsky supposedly disliked about them — is not supported by the Jabotinsky essay Beinart cited as evidence for it. “Spectacularly original” does not seem quite the right phrase for what Beinart did.
Omri ably dismantles the justification for Peter Beinart’s latest back-of-the-classroom arm-waving attempt to get attention by writing in approval of a limited boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy against the Israelis who don’t share his liberal opinions. The most obvious issue is that it is a slippery slope that will never simply remain targeting only settlements. (There are also other very good reasons to oppose the policy, as Omri notes as well.)
But there is another aspect of Beinart’s suggestion that is, like his BDS suggestion, both morally reprehensible and a dangerous slippery slope. That would be Beinart’s suggestion that we divide Israelis between those who live within the 1949 armistice line (good) and those who live beyond it (bad). Here is Beinart:
Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.
Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it.
Such list making is an atrocious excuse for reasoned debate, even without the slippery slope that will follow.
These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.
This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.