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:
Still, the deeper problem isn’t that there’s so much in Beinart’s book that is untrue, but rather so much that is half-true: the accurate quote used in a misleading way; the treatment of highly partisan sources as objective and unobjectionable; the settlement of ferocious debates among historians in a single, dismissive sentence; the one-sided giving—and withholding—of the benefit of the doubt; the “to be sure” and “of course” clauses that do more to erase balance than introduce it. It’s a cheap kind of slipperiness that’s hard to detect but leaves its stain on nearly every page.
Beinart is singularly intent on scolding Israel, like an angry ex who has lost all grip on the proportions of the original dispute. To him, no Israeli misdeed is too small that it can’t serve as an alibi for Palestinian malfeasance. And no Palestinian crime is so great that it can justify even a moment’s pause in Israel’s quest to do right by its neighbor.
The book demonstrates “mental slovenliness” and is written with a “spirit of icy contempt and patent insincerity.”
None of this is surprising; Beinart’s antipathy toward Israel has been in full public view for a while now, and he has made sloppy and stupid arguments before. But to see bad arguments so systematically demolished, and bad faith so systematically exposed, is rare. It’s also a genuine public service. That sound you hear is Peter Beinart trying to escape from under the pile of ruin he finds himself.