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Beinart Speaks to Tablet

Defends NYRB piece, which was originally for NYT Mag

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Peter Beinart.(Wikipedia)

As you know, Peter Beinart has penned a blockbuster essay in the New York Review of Books condemning the Israeli leadership for their illiberal treatment of the Palestinian question, and the American Jewish leadership for making Zionism unattractive by insisting on near-unquestioning support. I talked to Beinart (whose new book, The Icarus Syndrome, comes out June 1) today about why he wrote the article, why he published it where he did—it was originally supposed to run in the New York Times Magazine, but “there was a stylistic disagreement, not an ideological one”—and what he expects in response.

What prompted the essay? Why now, when you previously have not written much about Israel?
Having kids definitely played a role. I think it made me think about not just my Zionist identity, but what kind of Zionism was available to them. And the more I thought about that, the more I began to worry. I also think that we all operate at intellectual levels and emotional levels, and for me I just decided … There was this story in the New York Times about the Gaza War, about the house in Gaza where they found the children whose parents were dead. What you may find, if you do have kids one day, you are affected at an emotional level more strongly by certain things, in a way you may not be entirely prepared for. I think that’s a good thing, it’s primordial. I know people develop all kinds of shrewd and sophisticated and clever ways of explaining anything that happens, but when I read the story I just thought I was not in the mood to try in some clever way to explain it away. And the fact that I felt I was supposed to just sickened me a little bit.

That’s not to say there are never gonna be civilian casualties in war. But knowing the people who are running Israel now. … The amazing thing about Netanyahu’s book, which is a pretty long book, is there is not a single word of human empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians or Arabs. It was for me such a chilling book in its willingness to essentially. … there was something so inhuman about it, I felt. I just felt like that wasn’t something that I wanted to apologize for.

Why did you publish the essay in the New York Review of Books, which has a reputation of being distinctly left-wing, particularly on the question of Israel?
In all honesty, it was originally supposed to be New York Times Magazine. I don’t have any ill will, but there was a stylistic disagreement, not an ideological one.

There are not very many places anymore where one can write long, serious essays. Secondly, although my piece is a piece about liberal Zionism—I don’t believe in a binational state—Jeff Goldberg is my friend, but I disagree with him when he says NYRB is an anti-Israel. It publishes some of the most important people on the Israeli left. … We should draw inspiration from those people who share our values in Israel. If you’re going to tell me the New York Review of Books is an anti-Israel publication, that just makes no sense. I don’t think I’m anti-Israel. I think people throw around these terms way too promiscuously.

But doesn’t this make it easier for those who disagree with you to simply dismiss the piece given where it appeared?
I did think about that. You’re right: People will say that. And I think it’s a little bit silly. I wrote 5000 words. If you disagree with what I said—and there are reasonable disagreements—if you just say, ‘Oh well, it’s in the New York Review,’ that’s a sign that you’re looking for an opportunity not to engage with it. Tell me where I’m wrong! I can think of counterarguments.

Have your politics shifted over time? In 2004, under your leadership, The New Republic endorsed Joe Lieberman for president. I don’t think he would agree with your essay.
Yeah, I think I have shifted, not only on this issue. Anyone who reads my new book will clearly see a shift. But I also didn’t really write about this issue very much at The New Republic. I do think I’ve shifted, and it’s partly personal things, and also I didn’t envision that you were going to have a government of Shas, Avigdor Lieberman, and Benjamin Netnayhu.

I think maybe the most provocative sentence in your essay is, “Not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well.” Could you clarify how exactly it does this?
I think by very, very harshly attacking organizations that are willing to be critical of Israel. It clearly does that. We have free speech, but I think the agenda is clearly to basically try to get human rights organizations to carve out an exemption for Israel in which only the tamest of criticism is permitted. I think that we should expect international human rights organizations to be able to be as critical as Israeli human rights organizations. If they’re not self-hating, their international analogue isn’t anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, unless there’s real evidence that there’s real animus. Call me naive, but I don’t see it.

Why is there no mention of J Street? It seems like you would have much sympathy for it, and in fact its response was very positive.
I’ve actually never been to a J Street event and don’t know that much about the organization. I’m broadly sympathetic. The piece is not on behalf of any organization. I wish J Street well. My fear is that liberal American Jews won’t care enough. But I do believe that for a lot of secular American Jews the choice is between J Street Zionism and no Zionism. I guess I didn’t know what to say about the organization.

Your piece spends most of its time diagnosing the problem. What’s the solution?
Partly I was appealing in a way to the people who make up the communal Jewish leadership of the United States, that I think what they should do—this may be naive—is be conduits to hear from those people in Israel who genuinely cherish liberal and democratic values. Those people who need our solidarity, and who could be genuinely inspiring figures, in the same way that many American Jews were inspired by Abraham Joshua Heschel when he went South during the civil rights movement.

I really believe that if Israel becomes more and more callous toward the right and dignity of non-Jews, it is naive to believe it will not become more callous to the rights and dignity of certain Jews. I think the two cannot be separated. Whether it’s the rights of gays and lesbians, or the rights of women who want to pray at the Kotel, or soldiers who want to speak out.

When we protect the right of Arab Israelis, we’re also protecting the rights of Jews against the government, and a Haredi population that I think at times is willing to use violence.

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment [NYRB]
Earlier: In U-Turn, Beinart Slams Israeli, AIPAC

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I agree with the writer over at Jeffrey Goldberg’s page; what if Arafat had said, “All right, Barak, I can’t accept this deal as it stands, but you’re getting close. Let’s hash this out and see if we can’t make it work.” What if Abbas had said, “I’m glad you’ve responded to our criticisms of Barak’s offer, Mr. Olmert, and you’ve improved your offer. I can see you’re negotiating in good faith, so lets keep this momentum going. The end may be in sight.” What if the Lebanese had said, “Okay, those Israeli idiots are gone, they should never have been here, and to hell with them, but Hezbollah, you are not going to screw this up by provoking another attack.” What if the UN had said, “Hezbollah, you must abide by the terms of the Israeli withdrawal, so stop re-arming, or we will force you to stop. And Edward Said, why the hell are you throwing a rock at Israel AFTER they’ve withdrawn their forces!!?” What if Hamas had said, “Okay, those Israeli idiots are gone, they should never have been here, and to hell with them, but we are not going to provoke another incursion by firing 13,000 rockets at Israeli towns and schools?” The whole picture would look completely different. As it is, Beinart is confusing the political stasis, and the tragedy of the Gaza war with Israeli culpability. The death of children or their parents in Gaza is awful, but it is counterproductive to assign blame exclusively, or even mostly, to Israel. Israel’s faults have always been manifest, like any other country’s, though they are qualitatively different from those of Hamas, a terrorist and militant organization that opted for perpetual war, through suicide attacks, and, when the fence went up, through mortar fire. Spare us the crocodile tears for gays, lesbians and women, please. Which country in the region actually extends rights to these groups? Finally, if you don’t believe that Human Rights Watch has an anti-Israel bias, then you haven’t kept up with the news, or you’re not honest enough to acknowledge a mistake that partially contradicts the thesis of your soon-to-be released book.

DRW says:

I read the NYR essay. While he’s accurate in his analysis of support of Israel among secular, young American jews, Beinart’s understanding of Israel seems to me to be entirely drawn from reading newspapers, “progressive” websites, and google searches. Implausibly, he sounds like he has never been to Israel or actually spoken to a real Israeli. I’m sorry he’s uncomfortable explaining the horrific images of Gaza to his children. Perhaps he’s more comfortable showing them the horrific images of the Sbarro massacare. The young Israelis who I know, and I know many, are largely thoughtful, intelligent and genuinely interested in peace, but not willing to commit national-suicide in that pursuit. Beinart doesn’t even have to go to Israel to find these “typical” Israelis to speak to – he can find hundreds, if not thousands, of these young people on Manhattan streets if he wants to listen.

Shmuel says:

Please. Stop kvetching. Another Jew in the US who needs to share all his moral tension and problems in public for the whole world to see.

Where were you when all the kids in Sderot were hiding in bomb shelters? Then you complain when Palestinians are killed in a war they brought upon themselves?

Do you really think Israelis want to see Arabs dead….just for the fun of it? you know better. you are WAY too bright for that.

Israel defends herself and then…you have problems.

Come put your own morally sensitive self in the firing line.

then we’ll talk.

max says:

As an Israeli I can see that there is a definite gap here. I don’t doubt that Palestinian children were killed in Gaza. I also don’t doubt that the blame for this lies squarely on the Palestinians who fired thousands of missiles into Israel for several years specifically aiming at civilian targets. What would the American Jews living safely in America have us do? I’m sorry if our trying to survive in a hostile environment offends you? Does it also offend you that your US government travels half-way around the world to kill thousands of Afghan civilians? Do you even think about it?

Peter W. says:

Beinart bemoans the fact that Israeli Jews are not overly concerned with Arabs who believe that Hitler didn’t finish the job, and yearn for genocide of the Jews and the extinction of Israel. Beinart is someone who has failed to grapple with the fact that Israel’s opponents advocate a radical evil, the elimination of the Jewish nation. Instead he focuses on young, ignorant, knee-jerk leftist totally assimilated Jewish college kids, whose first god is leftism.

Oh, and the “shift”. Not all of us viewed the world as simplistically as Peter Beinart evidently did. And yet he projects his earlier views onto an audience of American Jews whom he now presumes to lecture about their blinkered understanding of Mideast politics. It’s a characteristic of all converts, who are zealous both pre- and post-epiphany. The true path was shrouded in darkness, but the angel of revelation lit the way. Now Peter sees the errors of his past, but assumes that the rest of us remain afflicted with that error. Also, note the classic presentation of apocalyptic scenarios; one day we’re going to wake up, and something terrible is going to happen, if we continue on this present trend. Does this mean we get half-off on “The Good Fight”? Muscular liberalism; it’s defects were always in plain sight, which doesn’t mean the sentiments behind it aren’t sincere, or that it should be discarded outright. Only that any single, overarching principle is never sufficient by itself as a guide to right action. But now we have another book from Peter, telling us what to do. And this time, this time, he’s got it right.

manny says:

It’s like the 2nd law of thermodynamics; or the law of gravity; or the cosmological constant. Alright i’m showing off. But what it truly is, is that at the time of the 1st intifada, everyone was saying, oh what a shame, Jews were getting killed, rocks, bombs and bullets and the spectators were all saying OY OY OY OY, and over and over again. And during the 2nd intifada, when the same thing was happening all over again but then multiplied by 50 times, pizzerias, restaurants, buses, all blown to smithereens, body parts all over the place and the OYS were everywhere. And as Max right above me says that when the hamas people sent something like 10,000 rockets into Israel over a period of 3 years, (THREE YEARS) and people and animals were killed, AND children couldn’t sleep, AND then the Israelis invaded, because then hams was almost like a country that could be invaded, and destroyed the bomb making equipment and the rocket launchers and cleaned Gaza out of terrorists, that’s right, terroristsrein. What did i expect? Exactly what happened. Along comes Gallstone and others reprimanding, cursing, threatening and condemning the Jews for “acting uppity” (which is how they once characterized the “negro” in the South of the U.S. when they just got plain tired of being beaten down and humiliated.

esthermiriam says:

Kol HaKavod for seeing the connections. This morning The Forward published report of a woman attacked in Be’er Sheva bus station by a man who saw signs of tefillin left on her arm. The struggle going forward has to be on both fronts: for a safe and secure Israel next to a viable Palestine, and for a democratic, pluralistic Jewish life there.

I just noticed that Peter is linking to Netanyahu’s book from 1993. I guess Peter is entitled to change his mind, but Netanyahu is held to the words he wrote nearly twenty years ago. I’ve never felt a jot of affinity for Netanyahu, or the right in Israel, but it has been widely noted that even Netanyahu has come around to provisional acceptance of a Palestinian state. He has said it, publicly, drag his feet though he may in the meantime. And let me reiterate, I think Netanyahu and his cronies are a disaster, but Hamas, Hezbollah, and the mothership, Iran, elected him through their war of attrition. So Peter is indicting Israel for crimes against Jews and non-Jews that are theoretical, and assailing Netanyahu for a book he wrote seventeen years ago. In his opinion, The New York Review of Books does not act as host for American anti-Zionism, and Human Rights Watch is a standup organization on Middle East issues, notwithstanding that their own board has been condemning them recently. And he is “protecting the rights of Jews against the government.” Because, of course, the greatest enemy of Jews today is the Israeli government. Walt and Mearsheimer and their toadies would agree.

This is one more example of the double standard of the left. It pains my heart to see Jews attacking Israel while ignoring its enemies blood lust. Peter Beinart’s picking and choosing what bothers and offends him is a luxury that people who live in reality and a tough neighborhood of the Mid East don’t or can’t have.

Kal says:

… and, we see the kind of illiberal blindness and hate that Beinart correctly notes is alienating to most young American Jews on full display in the comments right here: Bizarre whining about the long-suffering long-silent Jews of Israel who have only finally responded in self-defense, as if the 300+ Israeli children had been killed in the last half-decade to 12 Palestinian children, and not the other way around. All-caps ranting, challenges to act “tough”, paranoia about the Nazi “blood lust” of “Arab” “enemies”, and about the conspiracies of Human Rights Watch, Goldstone, Walt, Mearscheimer, and every other demon or self-hater who has recently been discovered by the ADL lurking in some liberal institution.

Does no one here realize how they sound to someone who isn’t a dedicated “Israel right or wrong” partisan? No, of course they don’t – an inability to think outside the narrowly-defined interests of one’s own imagined community is an essential part of how ethnic nationalism works.

Shmuel says:

WOW! Manny & others……you make some excellent comments!!!


By the way, Kal, thanks so much for your open-minded contribution to the discussion, but perhaps you’re not the right person to be criticizing other peoples’ writing styles, eh?

Kal says:

Hey, at least I’ve heard of the paragraph break.

Duly noted, if you have difficulty paying attention for more than a sentence or two.

Honestly, the reaction to Beinart’s essay both here in comments and on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog has been telling. The commenters have dutifully gone through their well-worn checklist of Points to Be Made On the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: (1) Barak and Olmert offered the Palestinians everyting they wanted, but they were turned down, proving that The Palestinians (TM) don’t want peace (2) Israel isn’t responsible for a single Palestinian death in the Gaza war (3) Anyone who writes an article critical of Israel is on the side of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran (4) Efraim Karsh has proven that the New Historians are wrong about everything.

All of which are grindingly familiar to anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours on the subject, and none of which addresses Beinart’s main argument: Illiberal and even racist views are shockingly prevalent in Israel, even in governing coalition, and becoming ever more popular. American Jewish organizations assiduously avoid criticizing any of these trends in Israel, and indeed, devote their energies to those who do criticize these trends. And as a result, younger non-Orthodox Jews, who might well be interested in a robust and liberal Zionism, are instead becoming indifferent or hostile to the Jewish state.

Maybe you think this isn’t happening, or maybe you think it doesn’t matter what young American Jews think. If so, then _say so_, instead of rehashing the basic issues surrounding the matsav about which everyone has already made up their minds.

jam says:

What’s fascinating about the comments here is that they are all essentially about the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But that’s not what Beinart’s essay is about. Beinart’s essay is about the large institutions of the American Jewish community, how those institutions speak and act in the name of American Jews, and how younger generations of American Jews respond to those institutions. Beinart’s topic is distinct from — though related to — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is an important topic worthy of its own discussion separate from the rights and wrongs of Mideast history, diplomacy, and military strategy.

jam says:

Clearly RK posted while I was writing my comment.

RK, your summary of the arguments being made here and on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog is a caricature. Why can’t you engage with what Beinart’s critics are actually saying? Why do you have to paint us as an undifferentiated mass of reflexive defenders of Israel, obligingly whitewashing all of its sins? That’s not an accurate characterization of what I’ve written. Secondly, we’re addressing points that Beinart makes in the interview. And the facts of Israel’s sometimes halting, sometimes dramatic overtures for peace are entirely relevant to a discussion of the claims he is making, among which is the notion that Israel has so thoroughly dehumanized the Arabs that it is in jeopardy of surrendering its own humanity altogether, and rounding up all dissenters from the policies of its current government like a police state. Is that true, or is it a melodramatic distortion? That our arguments are “grindingly familiar,” in no way invalidates them or diminishes their force. There is a beleaguered, imperfect little country in an unremittingly hostile environment that is try to navigate a course between capitulation to its adversaries and out and out aggression, and it hasn’t found the correct approach. Maybe there isn’t one.

fw, I addressed the comments here as a collective because there are so many. My summary wasn’t intended to be completely faithful, but reading back over the comments here and on Goldberg’s blog, the exaggeration actually seems pretty slight to me. (Admittedly, your comments don’t fall into this category.)

To answer your comment, yes, that is a distortion of what Beinart wrote. But more importantly, these points are irrelevant to Beinart’s argument. Even if the current situation is entirely, or almost entirely a result of Palestinian intransigence (and I’m sure you know the counternarratives as well as I do), that doesn’t diminish the silence of the institutional American Jewish community about the current government or the path of Israeli public opinion. I’m sure many people in these organizations actually can’t stand Yisrael Beiteinu and SHAS, and refuse to side with their critics out of some kind of “no enemies on the right” strategic calculation, but it’s not exactly shocking that young liberal American Jews aren’t thrilled with implicit support for a government that includes an Israeli equivalent of the BNP (and, importantly, the implicit _lack_ of support for their domestic critics). As I said earlier, you can conclude that these youngsters will come around, or that the loss of their support is a worthwhile sacrifice to the cause, but the correct apportionment of fault in the peace process or the Gaza war is orthogonal to these questions.

I also don’t see how Beinart was uncharitable to Netanyahu. Sure, Beinart’s views have shifted, but on those issues where he’s actually changed his mind (e.g., on the Iraq war) he’s admitted his error. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has never disavowed the 1993 book, and only the most credulous observer would believe that his acceptance of a theoretical Palestinian state of sorts at his Bar-Ilan speech (contrary, it should be noted, to the Likud’s platform, to say nothing of the national religious parties) was a result of genuine intellectual conversion, rather than a largely verbal concession to political pressure.

I’m past the point of being capable marshaling a coherent argument right now, but, very quickly, I’m probably on the same page you are. In fact, in the nineties, I interviewed a cabinet member of the Clinton administration, trying to ferret out his take on the malign influence of “the lobby.” I also spent some time profiling one of the deans of the old Arabist state department, and tried, without success, to get both pieces published in the Jewish papers. No luck. I was a failure as a journalist with a progressive Jewish agenda. I felt AIPAC was unnecessarily rigid in its orthodoxy back then, and I still do. But I don’t really think they’re terribly relevant right now, and perhaps they never really were. The myth of their influence hovered over a much more mundane reality. I don’t set much store by what kids think; they’re just too susceptible to the hothouse environment of the college campus, which tends to encourage loyalty to a group agenda. Who’s to say what accounts for their purported lack of identification with Israel, if it’s even a genuine sentiment or trend. If I had to guess, it’s because Israel is very uncool right now. It’s capitalist. It’s globalist. It’s imperialist. It’s ethnic. That doesn’t make it any different from any other country, by the standards of the Left, but as Mark Twain said, roughly, people blame the Jews for not being any better than everybody else. I think there is such intense pressure to renounce support for Israel right now, that people wilt under the heat of criticism, and end up embracing either political extreme, as a psychological dodge. It’s comforting. Your a saint, or your a sinner who has sought salvation. It’s very hard, and tiring, to respond to simplistic arguments with lengthy, subtle ones that call attention to ambiguity. And to do it over and over again. So sometimes you just want to throw in the towel, or walk away. And I’m especially unsympathetic to the convert, who was haranguing us the first time around for not worshipping the correct god, who has now found true religion and is haranguing us from the other side. Beinart, in fairness, is hardly the only one who has done this. So far as I’m concerned, a lot of the political migration occurred after the Iraq War became unpopular. Lo and behold, it’s advocates became its greatest detractors. Netanyahu is, I’m sure, a cynical operator, like most politicians. In that nice phrase, I carry no brief for him. But I wish that the Israeli left hadn’t been left standing naked by their counterparts in the Arab world. We wouldn’t have Netanyahu to deal with. Finally, I don’t buy counter-narratives. Two withdrawals, including uprooting recalcitrant settlers, and two peace offers. Neither was perfect, but they never are. They could have been used as stepping stones to something better. Someday, the Palestinians will have their own historians asking tough questions about how the PLO leadership handled this period between the first Iraq War, and the present. Abbas and Erekat will have a lot to answer for.

LosGatosCA says:

What if Martin Luther King had the personal values of Arafat? Or if Arafat had embraced Gandhi’s strategy of civil disobedience, like King did?

The world would be a much different place.

The Israelis have a tough road. They’ve fallen into an understandable, but still self-righteous, trap of believing that might makes right.

David says:

Beinart makes a good point. The threat is that, by more narrowly re-defining what is “acceptable” Jewish thought, the establishment that Beinart speaks to are shrinking the pool of Americans of Jewish heritage who identify as Jewish. In order to save Israel they are on the brink of abrogating the non-orthodox American Jew.

If that happens Israel will in the medium term cease to exist, because without the cover of the secular and liberal American Jews, the American political will to continue to support and aid Israel will dwindle. And then Israel will fall, after first going through an ugly South-African makeover.

I am who Beinart is writing about. One Jewish parent, 40 year old liberal intellectual. Loved all things Israel as a child, the underdog story of Israel through 1973 was an irresistible narrative. But in the 2000s, I couldn’t avoid seeing who was the bully anymore.

Look, most of the posters here might say “it’s not YOUR business, it’s OUR business.” But I would reply that they are wrong. If they distill down American Jewry to a pure fraction, they will do more to reduce the number of Jews than anyone since … (I’m not going to say it, because of the first axiom of blogging, which is that to compare your opponents to H_____ is an automatic disqualification.) The sad fact of the matter is, the search for purity is doctrinal poison. Stand together, fall divided. The partnership of disparate intellectual and cultural strains is one of the glories of Israel’s history, and that hybrid vigor needs to remain in order for Israel to have a future.

fw, I agree that we are on the same page, so in lieu of responding, I’ll try to explain why Beinart’s piece made such an impression on me. I’m religious, and it hasn’t been very long since I left college, so I’m well-situated to observe the situation the article describes. I’m not arrogant enough to generalize too much from my own experiences, but the non-religious Jewish students I knew weren’t susceptible to wacky far-left views on Israel; rather, they _didn’t have_ any deeply theorized views, and thought about it solely in terms of their broader political viewpoint. They were annoyed at Israel for creating political trouble for Obama. (They knew they liked Obama.) They knew Sarah Palin kept an Israeli flag in her office. They would be surprised when you informed them that more American liberals report sympathy for Israel than for the Palestinians, or when you told them that older Jews tended to vote heavily Democratic, given their views of Israel.

Meanwhile, Orthodox people my age didn’t support Israel because of fond memories of blue JNF boxes or not-so-fond memories of the Six Day War; they supported Israel because it’s reishit tzmichat geulateinu, which naturally precludes giving an inch of it up, no matter how reasonable the Palestinian leadership. For many people, “Meimadnik” was an insult. It wasn’t that they had some sort of racist animus against Arabs (though those sentiments are common enough in the Orthodox community, I’m ashamed to say), but rather, any qualms they felt about the treatment of Palestinians in the territories were quelled by the fact that the people who lived in the settlements were their family members, friends, or rabbis. As that other settler, Camus, said of the pieds-noirs, they believed in justice, but would defend their mother before justice.

As Beinart says, one’s views _should_ be shaken by a world in which Lieberman’s party has more seats than Labour, and the opposition is led by former Likudniks. (Though I don’t remember his views about Israel being especially hawkish before… he just never wrote about it.) No doubt the current right-wing ascendancy (and the utterly ludicrous view many Israelis seem to hold about the current administration) is largely a product of the disastrous unilateral withdrawal and its aftermath. But Beinart’s longer-term political forecast rings true to me, and I don’t like it.

max says:

Let me explain to all who are shocked by the “right wing” Israeli government. Most Israelis have zero faith in the peace process. We withdrew from Sinai and are bombarded almost daily with vile antisemitism from Egypt. We withdraw from Lebanon and Gaza and are bombarded with missiles. We bring in the PLO and allow them to set up a government and we receive intifadas 1 and 2. The more concessions we give the worse shape we are in and the more the world hates us. I personally and many other people I know went from voting for left wing parties to voting for Lieberman. Not out of hatred for Arabs, but out of disillusionment with the peace process.

north_aufzoo says:

RK: hear, hear. I was shocked at how this comment thread immediately collapsed into a relitigation of the 90s peace process and of Gaza/Sderot. Thanks for pulling us out of that conversational ditch an bringing us back to Beinart’s article itself.
Commenters invoking Israel’s more dovish recent past or the continuing threats to its security are trying to do what exactly? They are asking us to look away from Israel’s current government & to turn Israel into a flag to rally around uncritically. They are trying to flatten the dialogue. And that is exactly what turns off liberal Jews like myself. Thanks to the first ten commenters for illustrating Beinart’s point so vividly.

The interesting question not addressed is whether Israel really needs non-Orthodox Jewish support in the long-term. As the AJC survey Beinart cites points out, 1/3 of self-identifying Jews are Orthodox! I find this a stunning statistic. Because the Orthodox all marry other Jews and have much larger families, does this mean that in say, 15 years, 1/2 of “Jewish” teens will be Orthodox? Since the Orthodox are disproportionately active in Jewish community and Israel causes already, this suggests complete Orthodox domination of these issues is inevitable.
Furthermore, as all surveys show, non-Jewish Americans support Israel overwhelmingly, and in fact are more pro-Israel hawkish than non-Orthodox Jews. As Walter Russel Mead has pointed out, AIPACs greatest strength is its Christian support, not Jewish. (David, above, is completely mistaken by arguing that Israel will die without liberal Jewish American support.) I would argue that the Obama administration precisely reflects the opinions of non-Orthodox Jews, which, ironically, are to the left of the American mainstream w/r/t Israel and closely echo the Meretz party, which is considered far-left in Israel.
Perhaps Nettanyahu, who is advised by Dore Gold and Oren who all know America very well, may have already made the calculation that it’s not worth making concessions, nor is it politically or strategically necessary, to keep liberal secular American Jews happy.

Again, North Aufzoo, it does little good to accuse others of obfuscation if you’re going to engage in it yourself, which is what you’ve just done. Your description hardly captures everything that was said in the first ten comments. And it’s that blanket accusation that is a serious flaw in Beinart’s argument, and yours.

Here is a concrete example. Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, who is someone we really should be engaging with, made these comments about all the progress that’s been made on the American front in advancing a Palestinian agenda. It’s long excerpt, but it’s worth reading:

“These people are trapped in the language of the Fifties and Sixties. You’re talking about a worldview is anachronistic in the most fundamental sense. It doesn’t recognize any of the changes that have taken place since then. For example, the strategic situation that’s emerged in the Middle East, where the Arab states and the Arabs generally have a lot of other things to worry about other than Israel. This is a world in which a lot of Gulf states are extremely concerned about Iraq, and where there are Arab states — Jordan and Egypt — that have treaties with Israel, where Syria has a motive to be civil with Israel that is unpleasant but completely stable, and where it’s a very different environment than simply the Arabs and Israelis are enemies. The other thing that they’ve missed completely, and this is sort of the amazing thing, is the total transformation in American official policy toward the Palestinians over the past 20 years. Twenty-one years ago, there was no contact ever between the U.S. and the PLO. No contact, zero, and no Palestinian statehood is the consensus American foreign policy and it is a national security priority under Obama. People in the House, key positions like the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, Gary Ackerman, Nita Lowey on Appropriations – all of them Jewish American members of Congress, stalwart supporters of Israel, and all of them committed to peace based on two states. And all of them, by the way, who were on the host committee of the American Task Force on Palestine gala last week.”

My point being, that if you want to redress what you see as a demographic in Israel skewing in favor of right wing, revanchist parties, at least acknowledge the incremental but nonetheless concrete progress that has been made in the United States on the part of the Jewish community in moving toward a mutual recognition of the Palestinians. We are anything but monolithic in our opinions; there is in fact a lively diversity of viewpoints that critics incessantly claim is sorely lacking.

Second, if you are going to bewail the acquiescence of part of the American Jewish community in what you see as a harmful trend in Israeli politics, at least acknowledge all the setbacks peaceniks,like me, have continued to face, as a result of Palestinian obstructionism. Not all Palestinians, of course, but unfortunately, much of the leadership. And we’re not talking about the nineties. We’re talking about 2000-2010.

I’m sure I’m generally in your camp, but employing crude language that paints everyone with the same broad brush is no way to rally support for your cause, especially in a climate when people who really dislike Jews are doing the same thing.

RK, I’m with you, and I take your point, but it comes down to a question of means, I guess, since we all probably share the same aspirations, which is a safe, secure and tolerant Israel.

ElBlot says:

I can really identify with what David wrote above. I grew up proud to be identified with Israel and my Jewish heritage, but over the years these feelings have changed completely. Now I am mostly ashamed to be Jewish because of Israeli racism and brutality and sometimes feel I am running from my identity as fast as I can. It is very sad to me because I used to be so proud, but I can’t see saddling my daughter with this association. I am putting up a feeble rearguard action by contributing to J Street and posting on comments sections like this, but – as Beinart alludes to – the reality is I don’t care enough to make it a real fight. It seems likely that by the time my daughter is old the word Jew will be synonymous with Afrikaner and the world will have lost a powerful voice for social justice.

Hopefully I’m wrong.

ElBlot, a 78 percent vote for Barack Obama, a higher percentage than any other ethnic group save African-Americans isn’t liberal? The first African-American president? The liberal wing of our supreme court, including Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and, possibly, Elena Kagan? Something like more than half of the list of the top twenty-five liberal columnists, one of these silly features a big magazine did long ago–not liberal? We are the vanguard of liberalism in this country. We could never exhaust the space afforded us here on The Scroll enumerating all the ways in which Jews variously contribute the general cause of human rights, here and abroad.

What is tragic is that you have accepted the false accusations leveled against Jews, and have actually come out and said it: you are “mostly ashamed to be Jewish.” The sick joke is, decade in, and decade out Jews are accused of complicity in one form of immorality or another. You just happen to have fallen prey to the most recent incarnation of this ever-shifting phenomenon–the idea that Israel is guilty of gross criminality, exceeding that of any other member of the international community.

There is no question that, the harsh glare of hatred makes being Jewish a burden, but how awful that you are resorting the same self-abnegation that Jews have been cowed into from time immemorial—hiding or concealing your identity.

Nothing Israel does or fails to do will ever please our eternal adversaries and critics, nothing. Whenever a Palestinian state does emerge, today, tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade, the criticisms and accusations will morph into some new cultural phenotype, dressing up the old hatreds in new garb. It will not abate; the Israel issue is a stalking horse for a more primitive hatred that is irrational, and cannot be assuaged by reason.

What you should bear in mind, really bear in mind, is that, if you are really a devotee of liberalism, is that many of the people leveling charges of intolerance actually have reactionary agendas, and eliminating what they see as the Jewish engine of liberalism, by portraying it as in fact being plagued with hypocrisy on Israel, is a means of turning back the tide of liberal political progress in America. The harshest, most venomous critics of Israel are part of the Pat Buchanan/American Conservative axis. They are opposed to extending legal recognition to gays, they are opposed to interracial marriage (See Sam Francis, for example), they believe in white nationalism (Jared Taylor, Peter Brimelow at VDARE), and they consider non-white minorities to be inferior races (try Steve Sailer). And they attack Israel as illiberal, not because they give a flying F about the Palestinians, but because they are doing everything in their power to erode Jewish political power in this country, that is liberal in its outlook.

If you want to fight for Liberalism, wave your Jewish banner high. You will be forsaking your putative friends and allies if you don’t. They need Jews.

fw, Elblot didn’t make any argument about Jews not being liberal so i don’t know what you are going on about. she said she agreed w/david. here is what david said

The threat is that, by more narrowly re-defining what is “acceptable” Jewish thought, the establishment that Beinart speaks to are shrinking the pool of Americans of Jewish heritage who identify as Jewish. In order to save Israel they are on the brink of abrogating the non-orthodox American Jew.

If that happens Israel will in the medium term cease to exist, because without the cover of the secular and liberal American Jews….

now segue that with what DRW says upthread, basically excited about throwing secular Jews under a bus and then try listening to what Elblog actually wrote instead of another of your thread dominating strawman lecture full of blame and Jewish victimhood.

AR, you misrepresent what I’ve written, accusing me of setting up straw men, when you’ve done precisely that with respect to my arguments, which you cannot conceivably have read in their entirety given that you describe it as a narrative of Jewish victimhood. And you have certainly misrepresented what ElBlot said.

I quote: “Now I am mostly ashamed to be Jewish because of Israeli racism and brutality and sometimes feel I am running from my identity as fast as I can.”

I have endeavored to point out that those who apportion blame exclusively to Israel are belying historical fact. We have our own–I used the word ‘disaster’, to describe Netanyau–but it’s critical to remember that Israel’s gestures toward peace have been rebuffed by the PLO leadership. And I note the distinction between the leadership and the people. In fact, Peter Beinart actually cites this history.

Respecting American Jews, I cite a Palestinian activist describing the movement of acceptance among American Jews regarding a Palestinian state—I quote him at length—as well as his mentioning that three, count them three Jewish American members of congress are on the planning committee for the American Task Force on Palestine’s gala committee. Didn’t read that either did you, or is America’s leading Palestinian activist wrong?

Our community is diverse and progressive, and is not blindly compliant with the wishes of the Netanyahu government. That’s why Norman Podhoretz’s new book is called “Why are Jews Liberals?”

One more thing. It’s funny but telling that at the end of your admonition you tell me not to continue to express my opinions or rebut arguments that I disagree with. It just shows that the Jewish right has no monopoly on the fascist impulse to suppress dissent. The Left has plenty of it’s own political officers doing the same thing.

another thing fw “RK, your summary of the arguments being made here and on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog is a caricature. Why can’t you engage with what Beinart’s critics are actually saying?”

oh, maybe because you and all of Beinart’s critics up to that point in the dialogue never once addressed any of his points in the article. the first comment on the thread (yours) completely reframed the argument. we get it, you guys want to put the blame elsewhere, you don’t actually want to address any of peters points, and when someone addresses your questions, as RK did you’re “past the point of being capable marshaling a coherent argument right now” but certainly not past the point of moving the discussion right back where you want it to go.

you claim to be a peacenik and claim to be liberal but the only voices here you challenge and blame are the ones agreeing with peter. you are an excellent example of the pro israel voice we hear in america. anything that diverts from the narrow acceptable range (ie anything pointing to israel being responsible for the mess its in) is targeted in a harsh way. it is alienating.

If you look at the time when I wrote “I’m past the point…”, you’ll see why I said it.

I think Beinart radically overstates the degree to which American Jews enable the Netanyahu government. I think he distorts the evidence to buttress his argument. I actually cite historical facts and interviews to make my case.

I also tend to think the tenor of some of those expressing sympathy for Peter Beinart is indicative of something deeper, not simply a reticence about voicing full-fledged support for Israel, but with a deeper discomfort with being Jewish. If everything Peter Beinart says is true, why would that affect your own sense of being Jewish? I think it is out of fear of stigma, especially when critics deploy terms like Afrikaner, which is what John Mearsheimer has done, for example.

If you are alienated, so be it. It’s your choice, and your free to go on anathematizing AIPAC and their fellow travelers, in total disregard of the fact that they don’t actually command that much influence. They don’t contribute that much money to politics, relative to other lobbies, surprisingly (see Walter Russell Mead on “The Israel Lobby”), and they have lost big battles, like sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, and, more pertinently, recognition of the need for a Palestinian state. They are a bogeyman, and, I fear, an excuse, however foolish they are, for people who walk away from being Jewish out of fear, but who dress it up as principle.

But don’t let me stop you.

C. Hunter says:

A lot of the posts here seem to boil down to “it’s the Arabs what did it, honestly”. Assuming the Palestinians are entirely responsible for their own retched plight (which I find doubtful), what is to be done? Working out who to attribute blame to can only serve to justify the worst kind of behaviour for whichever side was being “reasonable” all along. I have interest on both sides, Israel because it is the only liberal democratic state in the region and Gaza because it’s a bloody misery. As an outside observer the recrimination that takes up reams of paper is depressing. In the end it’s easier for the unthinking western audiences to side with Palestinians because it requires less subtlety in research and the underdog always appeals, but frankly both sides moral self righteousness does not constitute the material for a proper ethical picture. of Norman Podhoretz’s liberals. that explians a lot. do you mean neo liberals? contrary to your assertions i have read this thread in it’s entirety, including all your posts. btw, the American Task Force on Palestine is hardly considered a palestinian activist group. are you familiar w/the group? it’s origins? they are typically hauled out to represent the ‘palestinian voice’ for reporters favorable to israel’s narrative. you might as well be quoting Fayyad.

you don’t think you engage in strawmen? what is this:

“ElBlot, a 78 percent vote for Barack Obama, a higher percentage than any other ethnic group save African-Americans isn’t liberal? The first African-American president? The liberal wing of our supreme court, including Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and, possibly, Elena Kagan? Something like more than half of the list of the top twenty-five liberal columnists, one of these silly features a big magazine did long ago–not liberal? We are the vanguard of liberalism in this country.”

what is this? how does it refute the only reference elblog made (that she agreed w/david) that could possibly be construed as a comment on liberals? plus it completely ignores david’s point about narrowly re-defining what is “acceptable” Jewish thought.

“you cannot conceivably have read in their entirety given that you describe it as a narrative of Jewish victimhood”

oh really.

you: “What is tragic is that you have accepted the false accusations leveled against Jews”

iow, accusations leveled against Jews are false ie they are the victims of false accusations. what she said btw is “I am mostly ashamed to be Jewish because of Israeli racism and brutality and sometimes feel I am running from my identity as fast as I can.”

Last I heard their is some serious debate going on about equality in Israel. Personally I think you could have actually addressed her comment instead of going off on her.

“Jews are accused of complicity in one form of immorality or another”

sounds like a victimhood narrative to me, not that i don’t agree with you that Jews have been accused of these things but i’m merely pointing out how you’ve diverted the topic in this direction.

“You just happen to have fallen prey to the most recent incarnation of this ever-shifting phenomenon–the idea that Israel is guilty of gross criminality, exceeding that of any other member of the international community.”

fallen prey? more victim narrative w/a double whammy strawman thrown in because nobody on this thread including elblog referenced anything about “exceeding that of any other member of the international community”

and that is another victim narrative if i’ve ever heard one. i could go on but i won’t. i didn’t come here to discuss i was just curious how the community would react to peter’s piece but it’s kind of hard to decipher when the comment section is dominated by a commenter who shuts up any voice that resonates w/Beinart.

good bye

north_aufzoo says:

fw, Your points are well taken. I guess the major point of disagreement between us is the question of whether it behooves the American Jewish community to criticize Israeli policy and government; whether it is in the American Jewish community’s (and America’s, and Israel’s, and Palestine’s…) interest to voice the sort of dissent that Beinart offers. I think it is. I think Beinart’s criticisms are important, both from a strategic and ethical perspective.
As far as worrying about making comments critical of Israel in “a climate when people who really dislike Jews are doing the same thing” — well, a couple things. First, support for Israel is one of the very last true bipartisan areas of agreement in the US. American support for Israel is pretty much unshakeable, both in the government and among the population at large. I don’t think a greater diversity of opinion in the American Jewish community & a more full-throated endorsement of the liberal democratic ideas that American Jews support would threaten US support. punkt farkert!
Would I be more inclined to agree with you if we were in London or Paris? Theoretically. But that’s a another debate for another comment thread. Here in the US I refuse to be scared off of a constructive debate around Israeli policy because there are folks that might twist my words or Beinart’s. It would be as if I refused to criticize the Obama administration because there are racists out there who would use the criticism as part of a racist brief against the president.

kindness says:

I am a gentile supporter of Israel, and it saddens me to no end to see the comments here. Israel has had to endure many things it should not have had to, but that doesn’t give it the right to do what it has done to it’s own people.

Right now, Israel is becoming more and more an Apartheid State. You can’t extend the rights someone has in a society based upon their religious or political views. Oh sure, many Middle Eastern & African countries do just that. What? You don’t think you’re better than the Saudi Arabian government? You should! You used to be.

Israel, like the United States needs it’s gentiles to be whole, to be the larger thing it is capable of being. That means accepting family you don’t like, and don’t agree with, but accepting them none the less.

And sadly, some of the statements coming from the current leaders in government are not much removed from the terrible things the Nazi’s said. Of all the peoples in the world, you would think that that is a lesson Israel would have to learn.

You can try to exchange the support of the liberal Jews of the dispora with the support of the fanatical Christians in the US, but don’t forget where that support comes from. Those fundamentalists want to see & expect Israel’s rise and then apocolyptic fall as that is when they think their Jesus will return to them.

Be careful who you choose as friends.

igaz says:

I find so many of the responses here both infuriating and depressing, especially in their blatant racism.

One commenter asks, “what would you have the Israelis do …?” Well for a start, how about ending illegal settlements.
Ok, some unspecified # of Israeli children “cower”, while quite a significantly larger # of Palestinian die or are left orphans by blatant Israeli policy.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised (and perhaps its depressingly inevitable) for tribal affinity and identity to immolate reason and decency, but answer me this, exactly how is it in the interest of the US for Israelis to occupy a further meter of the West Bank?

Alan says:


Thank You, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

Beinart, the fool considers Joe Slovo a “hero” – Joe Slovo, like his buddy Ronnie Kasrils, was the most despicable kind of Jew born. A Jew who sold his soul to Stalin, whom by training in the Soviet Union and adopting violence was not only not better than the advocates of Apartheid, he and Kasrils were Stalinazis. Didn’t surprise me that both regard Israel as anathema.

But there is more to this. Beinart calls Yisroel Beteinu a “semi-Fascist” party. Considering what the Democratic Party has become under Obama, one can easily say the same about a party that delivers the backhand slap to Israel, panderers to the Illegal Alien lobby, rammed a health care down the throats of Americans of whom 70 percent did not want, hmmm that kind of sounds like Fascism to me, Beinart.

But add to this that he thinks Israel can and should deal with the Abbas and the Fayads. Well, let me take an extension of what FW has written so eloquently: Can anyone think of any concession, any compromise, any gesture of peace (honoring a genocidal bomber, btw, is NOT) that either Abbas or Fayad have offered? Absolutely none.

As for those who like Beinart say settlements are the problem – especially those living in the USA, well, living on Native American Illegally Occupied land is a problem too – so when do you do the right thing and leave? The Jews in Judea-Samaria are living on their own land, their homeland, and they have more right to do so than any Left Hypocrite on Long Island or L.A.

And finally for the last poster – the Palestinians in Gaza brought this on themselves. Murdering innocent animals and then blaming Jews for it leaves me cold, especially when there are those like you who’ll never denounce it or demand Hamas totally disarm. For me, that is revealing a ugly side of the Left, a side that like Pierre Laval, Socialist – would gladly goosestep with Hitler.

AbeBird says:

Peter Beinart is the new young liberal Jew that wants to draw himself far from the traditional, loyal, normal Jew. Jew who wants to be assimilate into the American society by keeping distance from his original values. There is a general liberal tendency to support the weak even if he is a criminal, a violent, a terrorists or a warmonger while discriminate the stronger even if he is right that loyal to his honest way. This tendency pictures him as liberal that has lost his way. It’s the same liberalism of the riots at the universities of the late 60s which joined with the new forces of Arab intellectuals that grew up at the American Universities since the 80s. Arab academics expressing in English moderate thinking but extreme Islamic values. The collaboration between these two long-term dangerous phenomena may threaten the Jews in due time. Muslims in America will to grow and expand their political influence. Jews will lose power and their influence will shrink. It seems that over the time American Jews putting themselves into a trap from which they will be hardly be able to escape. Certainly not when they attack Israel, cut themselves off from reality that prevails in the Middle East, refer to the aggressor with defensive sympathy and at the same time make false applying to the defenders. It’s a Dangerous situation to all.

AbeBird says:

(2) Israel can go on without the help of the US Jewry. Can they survive without Israel? Israel may go on without US friendship. Israel today is very developed society which absorbs enormous ability and knowledge almost in every field necessary to meet the modern need. Israel can survive without the US military assistance, while at the same time we should remember that she tried twice in the past to decline gradually the annual US lawn, but the US pushed Israel to continue with that arrangement. The US enjoys the cooperation with Israel in military, technology, scientific and other know-how abilities. Valuable knowledge, inventions and developments are passed to the US and contribute to its national security and scientific ability, way beyond the proportional size of Israel. The 2.7B$ annual military loan to Israel is paid directly to the US industry. The damage of stopping that consideration to the US economy and unemployment will be much larger that the damage to Israel. The US need that channel to Israel in order to dominant her and to subdue her to the US global strategic interests. Obama’s policy today is a policy which planed to yet hold Israel close enough to the US in order to keep her yet valuable to be trade off with other US interests in the ME and the 3rd world. In that case supporting terror Islamic forces is quite important for the US global policy, because they are the entrance to the rising Islamic dominance. That policy ignores the risk of neglecting the real nature of those Islamic forces and shortens the time for them to approach their goals. Spreading of “Hamas-like” groups in the west, mainly in the last 20 years, makes it clear that the threat is on the door.

AbeBird says:

Peter B & co. have some linkage to people as unkindly “kindness” who is “a gentile supporter of Israel” who falsely and ignorantly says that “ Israel is becoming more and more an Apartheid State”. These are your supporters and comrades

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