My wife heard Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg at his press conference on TV, deliver what seems to me to be some refreshingly honest words -- and in so doing he jumps feet first into the forbidden territory of Jewish influence in Hollywood. Describing the rounds of meetings for Oscar nominees, he says:
I feel like when I was 13 and I had to go to bar mitzvahs every weekend. This is the same feeling. You have to put on a suit every weekend to go meet with a bunch of Jews. (in People)
Contrast Eisenberg to Peter Beinart’s rather cynical and calculated presentation at a lecture last night at Syracuse University. I got a headache listening to his lecture, which had the same title as his overly praised New York Review of Books article, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” For a critique of Beinart, I refer you to Mark Braverman’s wonderful post here at Mondoweiss. I also recommend Rabbi Brian Walt’s brief statement in Tikkun, “Reflections on Liberal Zionism” for an activist’s view of the complete inadequacy of the Beinart position. The bottom line for Beinart is that the occupation and the wars of aggression are caused by some tragic accident of history, and the beautiful innocent Israel which many have concluded never existed, can return with a nudge from the liberal American diaspora.
In a significant departure from the tone of his NYRB article, Beinart came to this lecture, organized by the Judaic Studies Program, armed with a battery of stories detailing the oppression of the Palestinians, all of which are familiar to those who follow events in the region. In doing so, he gained a lot of credibility with the members of the audience I spoke with after the lecture, all of whom truly sympathize with the Palestinian cause.
These people almost uniformly overlooked Beinart's glorification of Ehud Olmert and what Beinart insanely characterized as the ex-Prime Minister’s enlightened and almost successful negotiation with that paragon of realism and diplomacy, Mahmoud Abbas. Also, few seemed to notice the startling statement by this young (although comparatively older than Eisenberg) recently born-again Jew of conscience, that the American media is exemplary in presenting views critical of Israel.
My friends in the audience also ignored the fact that much of the Arab and Palestinian suffering that Beinart was publicly sobbing about was directly caused by this same Olmert he copiously praised. Somehow the fact that as mayor, Olmert built many of the settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, or that as Prime Minister, he was the architect of Israel’s latest wars of aggression in Lebanon and Gaza, did not seem all that relevant.
Beinart also proffered the idiosyncratic analysis that JStreet, whom he of course loves, will be soon faced with a “challenge” of rebuffing its young liberal Jewish constituency which he mistakenly argues is becoming increasingly pro-Palestinian. According to Beinart, these "enlightened youngsters," seeing Obama’s retreat from the “peace process” will begin to pressure JStreet to support a boycott of the Jewish State. This little gem reflects both Beinart’s distorted view of the commitment of JStreet Jeremy’s digital army, as well as Beinart's exaggerated fear of truly condemning Israeli actions that a boycott implies.
A young and clever Jewish actor may get away with an honest joke about Jewish influence in Hollywood, but Beinart's unflinching glorification of his imagined liberal Zionist state, with all its dishonesty, is just not funny.