Beinart gave me a headache

on 24 Comments

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.

24 Responses

  1. annie
    February 16, 2011, 11:49 pm

    excellent review Ira, muchas gracious.

  2. sherbrsi
    February 17, 2011, 12:27 am

    Beinart is severely overrated as an intellectual. Substantively, as you outline, he is an apologist for one of Israel’s most violent and destructive leaders, while other times he casts a blind eye towards its noxious policies and racist acts. And anyone who claims that Israel is victimized in the American media has tenuous claims to reality at best. I suppose his claim to fame is that he telling “liberal” Zionists what they want to hear.

    I am glad that you highlighted Mr. Braverman’s brilliant article. When the American Jewish community has an appetite for the truth and not just feel good stories of an Israel that can regain its moral footing, he will serve as an excellent spokesman.

    • marc b.
      February 17, 2011, 10:50 am

      Beinart is severely overrated as an intellectual.

      yes he is, and i believe that angryarab recently posted commentary in which he notes that a mainstream publication, ‘The Economist’, finally pointed out what a piss poor writer TFriedman is. the american intellectual is in a pretty flabby collective state. (is angryarab even linked through this site’s blogroll?)

      • Les
        February 17, 2011, 2:52 pm

        You are being unfair. Thomas Friedman has never claimed to be an intellectual.

      • Psychopathic god
        February 27, 2011, 4:02 pm

        it doesn’t matter if Friedman mouthed the words claiming to be an intellectual. He has implicitly allowed himself to be represented as such, has accepted massive speaking fees as is he were an intellectual. If he WERE an intellectual, he would have to be honest, and if he were honest, he would have to acknowledge that he is not an intellectual.

        (cute circular logic ;)

        I’m listening to a discussion of Adam Smith that ‘s taking place at Yeshiva Univ.

        Having watched with rapt attention when Greenspan acknowledged that “the system had flaws that I was unaware of,” then reacted very nastily to challenges to his past work that brought down the financial system of 300 million people, I have formed the hypothesis that most self-described intellectuals are masters of ‘pizzy wizzy’ — twirling their hair in nervous mindlessness. In other words, the designation itself is a sham, a fraud, meaningless. Jews derive pleasure from interpreting and looking at this way and that — kewl; good for you. But when even one other person’s wellbeing is on the line, the narcissistic self-description of ‘intellectual’ should be claimed only with profound humility. This is not a welfare system for out of inspiration talmudists.

  3. RoHa
    February 17, 2011, 12:51 am

    “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.”

    Are even Jews allowed to say that?

    • annie
      February 17, 2011, 12:55 am

      of course, it’s just anti semitic if we allude to it.

      • Theo
        February 17, 2011, 8:00 am

        No Annie, only if goyims say the same.
        By the way, I love jewish jokes about jews, they are deffinately the best.

      • annie
        February 17, 2011, 9:42 am

        i was probably not clear enough, mixing my messages again. what i meant was non jews referencing hollywood as being “a bunch of Jews” is not ok. i found this out bigtime when i made the massive error of copying a list of studio heads in a post. nothing else, no commentary just the link which happened to lead to one of those ‘prayer a day’ type sites. it was a jewish site and they were bragging. i’d brag too i suppose. whatever. i got warning from dkos and had to click something acknowledging i’d been warned about ‘jews control the media’ meme. my bad. but hey jesse can say it and it gets a laugh.

        I love jewish jokes about jews, they are deffinately the best.

        remembering jokes is not my forte. norm told one in the back of the car in the movie american radical. often times ethnic jokes fly over my head because i’m unfamiliar w/the meme of the punchline.

      • Kathleen
        February 27, 2011, 2:17 pm

        goyim have been talking about this in honest and respectful ways for decades

  4. occupyresist
    February 17, 2011, 3:00 am

    My head started throbbing by the time I reached the end. how long ’till most people in an audience like the one you were a part of become informed enough to summarily question people like Beinart when they wax poetic over blood-thirsty & thieving Israeli political figures?

    Check this vid out:

    Lysander Spooner: US media still portraying Palestinians as the bad guys? WTF is wrong with these morons. link to #addtoany

  5. Citizen
    February 17, 2011, 4:14 am

    Every year about half the US congress goes to genuflect at the annual AIPAC temple meeting; they all put on their cheezy suits and go to meet with a bunch of Jews, the ones who hold the keys to the moneybags they all need to get or maintain high US political office. The rest of the Jews don’t really count any more than the average American non-jew counts.

  6. Richard Witty
    February 17, 2011, 7:51 am

    I know VERY few that speak of “innocent” Israel. I think Beinart is speaking instead of human Israel.

  7. pabelmont
    February 17, 2011, 8:17 am

    “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.”

    As one of these “many”, I’d present the following by way of justification:

    If (as I believe I heard Beinart say) he loves an ideal and liberal Israel identified by the promulgation of the gloriously liberal Declaration of Independence (DoI) in May, 1948, then he loves a cleverly crafted and mendaciously sold myth, because the same people who wrote that DoI had already, and contrary to the promise of that declaration, by May 1948, begun the occasional massacres (Deir Yassin, April 9, 1948) and quite general expulsions (December 1947 and onward) of Palestinians which were essential (and not accidental, or “bad apple”) parts of the Zionist plan to create a majority-Jewish state in a place thickly settled by Arabs.

    I really don’t mind Beinart clutching this liberal myth to his heart (like a 4 year old clutching her teddy-bear), nor do I mind him explaining why he loves Israel, but I most definitely do mind his using this myth as if it had any truth to it in regard to events (1945-present) in I/P. It makes him feel good (as the theory of earth-centrality in the solar system made the Popes feel good in Galileo’s and Kepler’s day), but it has nothing to do with history except as an explanation of the emotional attachment of some USA Jews to Israel in the face of 60 years of horrifically contrary fact.

    Beinart is a little old to be clutching a teddy-bear. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force for belief in myths, but there is a time to grow up. Beinart has written that American Jewish youth is growing up: he should join them.

    The cold-hearted expulsion of people and seizure of land begun by Israel in 1948 has not ended: both the cold hearts and the acts of expropriation and expulsion continue unabated. A tiger does not change its stripes nor a leopard its spots.

  8. Theo
    February 17, 2011, 8:22 am

    Recently an israeli blogger, perhaps eee, did mention: “in case jews have problems in the USA they will need a refuge”, meaning Israel.

    In the physics you can learn, an action always brings a reaction!
    As long as american jews are americans with a jewish religion, there never should be a problem facing them. It is a free society and you can worship any non-existent being you wish.
    However, if you act as a better being, with lot of extra privileges, then eventually people get upset. The jewish population is about 2% the the whole USA, yet there are over 14% senators, over 20% congressmen and 59% of the TV executives with that faith. The same disproportionate numbers can you find in the higher echelons of the government, universities on financial instititions, just to name a few.
    As catholics do not go into frenzy to support the Vatican, the jews should think long about their activities to support Israel. They must decide, am I an american or an israeli? Double citizenships should be forbidden and such persons should never have an access to the government or the military. It is a pitty, but we catch more spies for israel, supposedly our best friend, than all other together. It is just hushed up on pressure from the lobby.

  9. Taxi
    February 17, 2011, 9:28 am

    Hey moderator, so like the dude in the video clip can make a joke about the jews of Hollywood and I can’t express my disapproval of the racism that Hollywood portrayals/practices against Arabs? I can’t speak badly of the bad taste titles produced by jewish Hollywood elites, you know, like the moronic blockbusters designed to entertain the rest of us goy masses?

    Why are you censoring my comment about jewish affluence in Hollywood? It does exist, you know – many punters, including proud jews, even say it’s a ‘dominance’ of the scene. Please don’t tell me that on Mondo only jews are allowed to comment on Hollywood.

    Please reconsider your approach to censorship practices.

  10. marc b.
    February 17, 2011, 9:29 am

    i’ve made this comment before, but it’s worth repeating, this kind of snarky allusion to ‘jewish’ power is not so much a critique as an embrace. criticism should offer analysis, even undermine the authority of its subject. eisenberg’s throwaway line does nothing of the sort. george w.s. trow made a similar comment about white students during the 60s revolt, some of whom had at least nominally begun to question white authority, when in reality many were reveling in it.

    • annie
      February 17, 2011, 9:53 am

      one can assume it is an embrace when eisenberg’s says it, especially when he compares it endearingly w/the bar mitzvah reference. but if a non jew said it there would have likely been a more questionable response. that’s just my hunch.

      • marc b.
        February 17, 2011, 10:30 am

        sounds like a good hunch.

  11. peters
    February 17, 2011, 11:14 am

    i actually don’t think the comment is funny. it strikes me as being an insider reference to power. like, i am so powerful and so inside that i can make jokes about it in front of all the sheep that don’t have it. haha. like fraternity boys flaunting their superiority.

  12. Theo
    February 17, 2011, 12:02 pm

    peters, there are people in this world, who, regardless what beautiful fruits you place in front of then, they start immediately looking for worms in it.

  13. chet
    February 17, 2011, 2:21 pm

    And to prove my point, my comment re Annie’s was moderated out.

  14. Ira Glunts
    February 18, 2011, 7:01 am

    The following is a comment by Pat Carmeli who sat next to me at the Beinart lecture. She is one of the most sincere and dedicated advocates of the Palestinian cause I have ever known. She was unable to post this message herself due to a technical issue. ig

    For a differing perspective on Beinart, I submit the following: While not supportive of Zionist ideology, I nevertheless refuse to lambast anyone who can move the peace agenda forward. Unlike our local group which frequently finds itself addressing an audience of “believers”, Beinart is advancing the cause of peace by targeting a new and potentially very powerful ally in the cause of Palestinian freedom. As someone who traveled last year to Albany to protest against Ehud Olmert with a sign depicting him with blood dripping from his hands, I am no fan and apparently missed Beinart’s overt lauding of him. (My picture holding the sign was on the front page of an Albany newspaper).

    Rather than “cynical and calculating”, I found Beinart to be sincere and in possession of a great deal of knowledge. As I listened to him speak, I surmised that he was motivated by much of the same considerations that I share: primarily that he finds his complicity by way of being an American Jew, unbearable.

    But we’ve all come to reality at a different pace. For instance, Braverman reveals in his article that he grew up believing that “Israel was the key to Jewish survival”. The historical truth and realities of Israel and the occupation started to become manifest to me after the rise of the second intifada when I’d already been living in Israel for several years. Even after I returned to the US in 2004, I was not well-informed and have continued my education regarding the conflict at a quicker pace since the 2008/09 invasion of Gaza. For some well-meaning individuals, the truth has yet to be revealed. Glunts acknowledges that Beinart told stories of the oppression of the Palestinians “all of which where familiar to those who follow events in the region”. But it is precisely that these stories were presented to many in the audience who were NOT familiar with these events, that the value of his presentation lies.

    I guess we all hear what we want to hear. While I heard Peter Beinart praise new forms of alternative media and didn’t hear him criticize the stifling media representation that the Palestinian cause historically has been deprived, neither did I hear, as Ira did, his praise as “exemplary” the American media coverage of the conflict.

    Since the inception in 2009 of our local activist group (CNY Working for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel), I have seen dramatic changes in attitudes of our various members. If there were some on the line, they have fully stepped over it and have committed to the fight for Palestinian human rights and freedom, openly criticizing actions of Israel which they see as immoral and unjust. And while members of our group have differing opinions (example: me and Ira), I champion discussion on these issues, but not at the expense of slowing down the process. The people in Palestine who hunger and thirst for recognition of their humanity, thirst for freedom, and yearn for a future for their children, would prefer like-minded people to join together, despite our differences, to work for an end to the Israeli occupation and the beginning of a free Palestine.

    • Richard Witty
      February 18, 2011, 7:17 am

      Thanks for posting the opinion of someone that differs from you some.

      I would go further than Pat, in describing that the best measure of progressive and effective statement or support, is NOT by what one criticizes, but by what facilitates change in relations.

      The only humane approach that I can see is one in which the communities are left standing. “Thank you God who lifts the bowed.”

      From a goal orientation, the only game in town currently, remains the two-state game. And, the way to achieve that is to literally work to elect more liberal parties in power in Israel, and for the PA to not materially change their demands.

      So, to my mind, the actions of militancy harm that electoral and diplomatic effort that has been worked on for a very very long time, and is objectively MUCH further along in 20 years.

      Militancy harms that effort by reducing the likelihood that a liberal Israeli party will win and sufficiently to form a confident government. And, it harms that effort by threatening to change the demands at the 11th hour.

      And, that just yeilds a proposal for ratification, which I hope will be supported and confirmed.

      Peace is that much of a difference for both communities.

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