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Beinart Gets Rare Non-Inside Baseball Treatment

‘The Crisis of Zionism,’ written for everyone, has been discussed only by few

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Rick Perlstein has a deeply personal essay on Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism which has caused me to rethink, if not the book itself, then the way the book was marketed and received. Perlstein, though one of the country’s leading experts on conservatism in the United States in the second half of the 20th century, is not an Israel pundit or reporter (not, if you will, a card-carrying member of the shtetlsphere). “It is a debate I am unqualified to adjudicate,” he writes of the increasing religiosity of the Israeli public sector. “As for Israel,” he adds, “I don’t think of it much.” He is not saying, like Paul Krugman, that he actively avoids thinking about Israel; he’s saying it’s simply not in the menu of subjects foremost on his mind.

Who was The Crisis of Zionism intended for? I can’t speak for Beinart. But he’s a smart guy who, having edited the New Republic, can have been expected to know the American Jewish community through and through. And so judging from the book itself, I suspect it was intended more for types like Perlstein (and, crucially, less engaged types who nonetheless “don’t think of [Israel] much”) rather than types like, say, myself. The book is not heavily researched, contains few new details (and gets a few big details wrong), and does not bring to bear any particularly original or novel arguments about Israel, the Palestinians, and the American Jewish establishment. What it does offer is a succinct, well-argued, and perhaps above all accessible narrative and argument that might be immensely appealing and useful to a certain type of reader—politically engaged, probably Jewish, but perhaps ignorant of and even indifferent to Israeli issues. And just because his arguments aren’t original or novel doesn’t mean they’re all wrong. For years, Beinart has said he was driven to write his book so that his children could grow up in an American Jewish world where Zionism could be a broadly held value. You would think, then, that he would most like to reach relatively uncommitted, disengaged folks, rather than people with their heels already dug in.

That, of course, is what freaked a lot of people out about the prospect of this book ever since Beinart published its seed essay two years ago this month: that this influential figure would gain widespread attention by his dramatic turn and thereby convert a lot of undecideds to his wrong course. And judging by the book, which has its heart in the right place and contains all the necessary caveats but at the same time really does, I think, ignore large aspects of Palestinian culpability for the conflict and misunderstands what Zionism always needed to be about, their fears were somewhat justified as far as the content of the book is concerned.

However, the worst fears of Beinart’s opponents did not come to pass. Instead, The Crisis of Zionism was covered primarily in the Jewish press (not least, of course, by Tablet Magazine). Influential book reviews at The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal were assigned to figures from the professional Jewish world (again ones with connections to Tablet, as it happened). Newsweek covered it by running an excerpt. It was treated in The Nation by Eric Alterman, who is also a Forward columnist. The New York Times op-ed page, too, merely published an excerpt.

Tablet, the Forward, Commentary, and any other explicitly Jewish outlet that treated it as an inside-the-community matter is blameless. I don’t necessarily think the non-Jewish outlets that played the Jewish game were wrong, either, although you could argue that in this they were symptomatic of something Beinart tries to indict in his book: a certain stifling of the debate on Israel. It’s less a question of the bounds of discourse being policed and more the agita that entering the fray in the first place leads to: if it’s not literally your job to pontificate about Israel, then your health and sanity dictates that you should avoid the topic. (This is coming from one who knows.)

As for Beinart, I can’t speak to his intentions or his marketing strategy, but the result is that the book seems to have sold poorly, and discussion of it, while unbelievably robust within a certain particularly argumentative (and, granted, influential) corner of the world, still seemed confined to that corner. (Which would help explain the poor sales: we all got galleys.) It’s ironic and perhaps sad, because, being occasionally insightful but ultimately pretty trite, it’s the exact wrong book for our corner. On the other hand, with his Open Zion blog, Beinart is clearly playing a long game. His success has to be measured not by whether he prompts defenses from within this closed community but by whether he has piqued interest outside of it.

On the Crisis of Zionism [Rolling Stone]
Beinart Book a Colossal Flop [Commentary Contentions]
Earlier: Beinart Speaks to Tablet

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Royq says:

I don’t know, Marc.  His book has been discussed, reviewed and excerpted in every major media outlet in the United States.  He has his own blog on The Daily Beast website.  His ideological fellow travellers, among them some of best-known if not the most astute political commentators in the country, have come out in support of his thesis.  He is a frequent guest on political talk shows.  What more can anyone reasonably expect?  A cameo on Real Housewives? By comparison, Norman Mailer was a hermit.   Can you really attribute the fact that it failed to catch fire as a publishing phenomenon to exceptionally thorough treatment it received in the Jewish press?  And if it is geared to a non-specialized audience, why assume that it ought to command a wide readership, or that Israeli foreign policy is something that looms large in the life of ordinary Americans, or even should?  And where exactly is the merit in dumbing down an argument to make it more accessible?   Hectoring indignation and tendentious posturing are not attractive to the average reader, or viewer, and a book that suffers from lack of originality, appearing after several years of sustained and very public criticism of Israel by a significant number of media fixtures is bound  to lose traction in the marketplace.  But here’s a tip for Peter Beinart: resign your commission at The Daily Beast, retire to some remote little hamlet in New Hampshire for a decade, or two, and occasionally let slip that your working on your masterpiece.  That would be a build-up.

Royq says:

By the way, this seems apposite, complete verse freely available elsewhere:

‘The Book of my Enemy Has Been Remaindered’The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book —
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

Ezikiel says:

The feeling of revulsion at one’s own guilt ridden,
exaggeratingly Zionist, suburban, tribal, parochial, overly comfortable, provincial
and narrow minded parents, does not substitute for serious consideration of
Israel and the Jewish people.  It’s,
frankly, pathetic.  I have not
doubt that the offspring of such American Jews as Peter Beinart, Rick
Perlstein and other who feel embarrassed by Israel’s supposed militarism and religiosity,
will grow up to despised their own parents in much the same way.  

JamesPhiladelphia says:

Beinart has been succinctly ignored even by the TNR pundits. I myself don’t pay attention to what has become the American anti Israel trash. They are too predictable, blatantly dishonest, and vicious. These anti Israel crowd includes besides Beinart, NYT Thomas Friedman & Roger Cohen, CBS 60 min Bob Simon, NBC Andrea Mitchell, CNBC Morning Joe with eternal guest Zigbeini Brezinski the father of the co-anchor. And recently CNN Amanpour interviewing Olmert with anti Israel vitriol this time blaming American Jews for his failures. BTW CNN is trying to salvage their low ratings, and Amanpour her recent firing from ABC Sunday program.

Oh well, what wouldn’t they do these misfits.

I missed Jimmy Carter and his love for petrodollars. That includes Zigbeini Brezinski, he is fully paid by the islamists also.

    corey949 says:

    Mr. Jamesphiladelphia would make Sen. Joe McCarthy proud. “Islamist” has become the new “Communist” — demonized bogeymen whose illusory ubiquity is cynically used to threaten or manipulate a confused population.

      JamesPhiladelphia says:

      The anti Israel crowd are biased dishonest and vicious , they have failed miserably in demonizing Israel. Paid by the fanatic islamists have shown no shame in being a bunch of liars. Prime examples are Jimmy Carter and his Polak dummy Zigbeini Brezinzki.
      Sent from my iPad

      Peripateti says:

      considering James philadelphia never used the word “Islamist” it is extremely unfair to use him in your rant. His comment above does actually list commentators who generally misrepresent Israel. Amanpur certainly did in her powder puff interview of Olmert. Roger Cohen is simply in his own words pro-Iranian. Bob Simon’s 60 minutes piece was extremely inaccurate and tortured the truth to blame Israel for events caused by Palestinians. Don’t let facts get in the way!

        corey949 says:

        It’s the second to last word in his post.

          Peripateti says:

          yes, you are correct but he is referring to Brezinzki and not to the list of personalities above it. However, his criticism of the others especially Ehud Olmert and Armanpour is well founded and no reason to compare him to McCarthy. thanks!

      Oudtshoorn says:

      “…illusory ubiquity”???   Islamist ubiquity is hardly illusory.   Just as their menace and threat to kill every Jew, both in and out of Israel, is not illusory.   There is no need for the population to be confused, if indeed they are – which I doubt.   They, and the rest of the world, need only read the Arab Charter.   Which, I add, we ignore at our peril.   Just as most of us chose to ignore Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, the result of which was hardly illusory.

julis123 says:

It should also be kept in mind for a book for a book written about Zionism, is that the vast majority of Israelis have never heard of the book, could care less about it, and think that it is absurd for people living half a world a way and not having to bear the consequences of their  advice to be telling Israel what to do.

    DHMCarver says:

    Julis123, if you don’t want the advice of “people living half a world away”, will you also reject their billions of dollars (both governmental and non-governmental)?  If so, then I will believe you are making a principled stand.  

      julis123 says:

       First of all I have no problem rejecting it. Just keep in mind that according to US law the military aid money has to spent in the US providing thousands of jobs for the armaments industry. Also, keep in mind that the only reliable port in the Eastern Med for USN ships is Haifa and that the US army has pre-positioned massive amounts of armaments in Israel. So if you’re willing to raise the unemployment in the US and harm US military activities then I have no problem giving up the aid.

        Oudtshoorn says:

        Israel pays very well indeed for the “aid.”   In more ways than you would ever dream of.   Just remember our history:   Jews were always permitted to live (and sometimes worship) ONLY in return for doing the dirty work  of its so-called protectors.   Nothing has changed.   Perhaps DHMCarver would do well to read some solid history books. 

    Oudtshoorn says:

    Yes.    It has been difficult not to notice the number of Jewish Americans trying to tell Israel how it should be run.   Israel is not the USA;  it does not have friendly Canada on its borders.   Only those who are Israeli citizens, who face every day the dangers inherent in this, have the right to suggest how Israel should function and behave.   It would be nice if USA pundits spent some years living in Israel or else kept their opinions to themselves.   Israelis have a hard enough time coping with millions of hostile and barbarous Arabs, without having to cope with those Americans who are essentially enemies rather than friends.

PhillipNagle says:

The left is now for the most part anti Israel (anti-Semitic?).  Beinart’s book is no more than an attempt to give some of his Liberal Jewish freinds an excuse for abandoning Israel rather than abandon the Democrat Party.  No wonder his book is a failure.

Hershl says:

Stop the typical Jewish person in the street and ask them about the book.

I can almost guarantee that unless you are standing on the Upper West Side or the men’s room at  Tablet, you will get a blank face in response.

Who? What?

Much ado about nothing.

Oudtshoorn says:

I am sad about Peter Beinart’s book.   He writes as though he hates Israel while claiming to love it.   At the same time he seems to have little interest in or knowledge of the country and its people. Unless, like Daniel Gordis, he were to live in Israel, it seems presumptuous and damaging that he should attempt to write about it.   I hope that his book will simply die of its own accord.   We have enough enemies without our “friends” denigrating us.

corey949 says:

What the hell has happened to Tablet’s comments? Has everyone to the left of Torquemada given up or what? I feel like a vegetarian in the middle of a cattlemen’s convention. My reply to one of the more luridly paranoid rants below seems only to have drawn additional lurking maximalist voices from the wings.


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Beinart Gets Rare Non-Inside Baseball Treatment

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