Although there were cries of foul from people whose views and knowledge about Palestine/Israel I ordinarily respect, I thought Jason Zengerle’s New York Magazine article about Peter Beinart was mostly fair and accurate, as well as helpful to the cause. Maybe we are becoming a bit too thin- skinned. Sure there were some questionable personal attacks. Mearsheimer and Walt received much much worse and survived very nicely, and so will Beinart.
This is partly because Beinart’s opposition to the Israeli occupation reflects the views of most people in the Jewish liberal mainstream media, whether they are those who agree with Beinart, but are too afraid to say it too loudly (Paul Krugman?), or those who claim they are critical of Israel, but by adding so many reservations actually are some of Israel’s most effective apologists (Goldberg).
Most of Beinart’s critics whom Zengerle quotes are of the latter school. Thus, appropriately, his article repeatedly states that Beinart’s liberal critics have no substantial quarrel with his political analysis.
More than anything, it’s the spirit of Beinart’s criticism that many of his critics find off-putting.
But the vitriolic tenor of much of the criticism from the center-left has less to do with substance than with Beinart’s tone—a moral self-righteousness and an accompanying self-certainty.
Beinart’s critics on the center-left don’t actually seem to disagree with him much; his biggest sin has been in not choosing to talk about Israel the way they expect Israel to be talked about.
Beinart has apparently convinced people like Jeffrey Goldberg that he actually is serious about his opposition and it is this seriousness that frightens those whose weak opposition to the Israeli government has actually helped sustain it. I thought Peter Joseph, Alana Newhouse and especially Goldberg, looked ridiculous with their petty objections.
I was surprised to learn from the article that Beinart had been invited to the White House with a group of reporters and that Obama reportedly told Beinart to “hang in there.” This is odd because in Beinart’s book, The Crisis of Zionism, he detailed at great length how Netanyahu and the pro-Israel lobby humiliated a feckless and misinformed President, by forcing Obama to abandon his Israeli/Palestinian peace initiative. Beinart further expresses grave concern over what Obama’s weakness in dealing with the Palestinian issue would say about his ability to navigate the Iranian crisis. I wonder how Beinart inscribed the book that he gave to the President. Also, if Obama reads Beinart’s book, will Beinart ever be invited back to the White House?
And even more unexpectedly than learning about the White House visit, is the fact that Phil, Mondoweiss and the anti-Zionist position, got the respect in this mainstream publication that they deserve. This is groundbreaking and I take my hat off to Zengerle for having the guts to make it happen.
In some ways, Weiss admires Beinart. “There’s a kind of nobility, or a romance anyway, in what he’s doing,” Weiss says. Though their current projects are of course incompatible—“My belief is we have to save Jews from Zionism,” Weiss says; “he thinks you can save Zionism”—Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”
I do not think Beinart will ever get there, but then, I never thought he would get to the place he is in now.
I heard Peter Beinart speak in September 2011 after he had written his famous NYRB piece, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” At that time I dismissed him as another liberal Zionist who made more excuses for Israel than offered criticism. I think Beinart has changed since then. I see that change in his new book, but even more so in his debate with Daniel Gordis and in recent interviews he has given.
Beinart’s criticism is now more forceful and he is much less forgiving of past Israeli conduct than he was a year ago. Gone is the praise of “Barak’s generous offer,” and the unwillingness to recognize the US media bias. Beinart has crossed his Rubicon. The anger of his critics attests to that fact. His once strong supporter, J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami, was so alarmed by both Beinart’s book and his boycott proposal, that he distanced himself from the man he had called “the troubadour of our movement.” Of course there is much to criticize in Beinart’s positions. He will never be a contributor to this site. But he has taken sustained and effective criticism of Israeli policy to a place in the mainstream that it has never been. That is a very good thing.