Yesterday we linked a Tablet piece about Peter Beinart’s new book (the importance to the author of a heartbreaking video of water confiscation outside Hebron). Well, Tablet’s Allison Hoffman had two “personal” quotes in the story that leapt out at me. The first one is getting passed around. It’s a bit of spitefulness from Marty Peretz, who continues to incinerate whatever reputation he once had for leadership. My god, you’d think that he would have a feeling of achievement in his 70s– not to be raking a young idealist with his claws.
“It’s a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive,” Martin Peretz, the former owner of the New Republic and Beinart’s earliest patron, told me. “I always knew he was a very vain man, but a lot of us are vain, and if you had his mother, or if I had his mother, I’d be even more vain than I am.” Peretz put on a mocking falsetto—“this is the most brilliant boy, he’s so smart, he’s so touching”—before going on: “It’s a Jewish mother situation. You can use that—even if it makes me sound a little bitchy.”
(I look forward to a real piece about Jewish princes. Yes it’s a real syndrome–like a lot of other cultures’ princes).
Then there’s this personal quote from another former New Republic colleague:
“I have no problem with a boycott of the settlers—I’ve been conducting a personal boycott of their products for decades,” said [New Republic literary editor Leon] Wieseltier.
I don’t think I’ve seen a more disgraceful statement all week. Wieseltier is a leading outspoken Zionist. I caught him at AIPAC four years ago saying Zionism is a beautiful thing to him, and the Jewishness of Israel must be maintained, with this minor stipulation: Israel has a “historical and moral responsibility… not to do anything to foreclose the possibility” of a two-state solution.
Now we know what Wieseltier means by that necessity. He means that he was “personally” boycotting goods from the settlements. When you are an outspoken public figure, what does a “personal” position on a central issue mean? It means you won’t take a public stand, ala Beinart. So that historical and moral responsibility Wieseltier is putting on Israel is not one he’s taking himself, in his D.C. armchair. Why, here he is at UCLA last year saying intellectuals must do everything possible to preserve the future of the two state solution. Well not everything, actually– not the main thing they have in their power: opening their own mouths.
Why did Wieseltier censor himself? Out of Jewish solidarity–out of the larger responsibility he felt to preserve the unified stance of Jewish people when dealing with the goyim. It is this misguided, irresponsible, and xenophobic thinking that Beinart was motivated by as much as anything in writing the 2010 attack on the failure of the American Jewish leadership that led to his book. The Jewish leaders’ imperative to stick together as a monolith overcame all sense of moral responsibility.
How do I know this is what motivates Wieseltier? Back in 2008, Jeffrey Goldberg took a stand against settlements in the New York Times, a position he has backed away from ever since.
And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project.
But Goldberg’s thrust in that piece was very similar to Beinart’s in his piece two years later: he was criticizing the American Jewish leadership for its rigid stance in favor of the settlements.
The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel.
Chastising AIPAC? At the time, the big fight in the Jewish community was to defeat the awful Walt and Mearsheimer, who had published the truth about the lobby a few months before. Goldberg was out of line. Wieseltier wrote in the New Republic in an obvious reference to that piece:
“A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it.”
And now we learn that when it comes to Goldberg’s main policy point in that piece, Wieseltier agreed. He has been boycotting the settlements, personally, all that time. But maintaining a unified position about the Israel lobby and its workings came first for Wieseltier.
Beinart halfway explained this process two years ago: He said that he didn’t write critically about Israel for years because he deferred to friends. Now we know who those friends are. Or were.
P.S. Three years ago at a J Street conference, I said to a liberal Zionist, I was just at a bar mitzvah at which they served wines from the West Bank. What would you do? I wouldn’t drink that wine, the liberal Zionist said. Yet he would never say so publicly. So Wieseltier’s hypocrisy is widely-shared.