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Let’s praise Zengerle’s profile of Beinart

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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.

Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY. His twitter handle is @abushalom

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6 Responses

  1. Sin Nombre on June 10, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Ira Glunts wrote:

    “[Beinart] 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.”

    Depends on what metric you use. If your principal concern is the Palestinians, sure. And indeed if your principal concern is for Israelis and jews—which is what Beinart’s clearly is—sure again so long as you accept Beinart’s idea that Israel is leading itself into a bad situation.

    But what if your principal concern is for the U.S.? Or is that just too infra dig to even be mentioned?

  2. Jim Holstun on June 10, 2012, 3:32 pm

    “If we don’t get rid of chattel slavery soon, it will corrupt the very core of Southern American democracy!” (Andrew Johnson).

    I made that up. But you really did get lots of moderate white Americans talking this way before the Civil War.

    The purely intra-Jewish quality of this whole article conveys a touchy-feely ethnic supremacism. And the reverential appearance, yet once more, of ex-prison camp guard Jeffrey Goldberg is a very bad sign. (Incidentally, that’s the proper etiquette for referring to old Jeff, each and every time: “Ex prison-camp guard Jeffrey Goldberg.” Really, he loves it. Trust me.)

    • NickJOCW on June 11, 2012, 10:59 am

      Mondoweiss is an intra-Jewish area so you must expect an intra-Jewish perspective. The actual dispute over Beinart is far too deep for most NYT readers who are likely unaware of the man and oblivious of his circumbendibus struggles for catharsis. All they see is a fairly trivial mud fight. What the profile did was kick most readers who were inspired to comment into the cost of Israel to the US taxpayer mode. Transcurramus sollertissimus nugas.

  3. annie on June 10, 2012, 4:41 pm

    this is a really good article Ira and thank you for writing it.

    all in all i appreciated Zengerle’s article in many ways. almost more for what it didn’t say than for what it did.

    andrew sullivan called out all of beinart’s critics in a much more blatant way.

    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.

    why can’t he just admit for the most part it all ad hominems? it’s really snootie stuff. they all sound very jealous and threatened while trying to act nonchalant. most of them sound like they have a big fat grudge. repeating that vaseline line was super sleezy.

    they have to face it, if there is going to be a ‘liberal zionist’ future it will look like beinart. goldberg, as far as i can tell, is a rightwinger in sheep’s clothing. others are pack followers and too scared to fall out of line. even zengerle suffers from this affliction cushioning his deliveries.

    no one wants to seriously take beinart on over the issues and the club wants to pick it’s own leaders, and they resent the american public choosing their leaders for them.

    beinart wants to have a dialogue within the jewish community, that’s the community he feels a part of and wants to engage.

    well guess what? the conversation has moved past the confines of the jewish community, into a much larger arena that includes the rest of us, meaning americans. beinart is a jew they like, as opposed to say..goldberg? beirnart is moving the discourse precisely because he talks, to a certain degree, outside the normative standards of hasbara discourse. he’s not cookie cutter, sounds like a real person and is perceived as such.

    bottom line one has to do more than accuse someone of being self-righteousness with an accompanying self-certainty, you have to demonstrate it. so what does one do? they turn on youtube and expect to find it. low and behold…he doesn’t really come off that way. he just sounds like a normal person with a very big bone to pick. he’s relate-able.

    so, to reiterate they (the pack) want to pick their leaders from their own courtier of options. this is definitely not a position that is up to the american public to decide if the pack had their druthers. i don’t think beinart is going to be flinging himself into phil’s arms, but there are other arms out there besides jewish arms and beinart could turn around one day and realize he’s a popular figure to a broader american public. that’s his somewhat untapped audience, outside of his own circles if he wants to really make a difference.

  4. Chespirito on June 10, 2012, 5:25 pm

    May I be forgiven in not joining the liberal embrace of Peter Beinart? His record on the Iraq War is just abysmal, as are his first two books. His Crisis of Zionism shows a few signs of intelligent life, but his bottom line on US policy–lavish and unconditional military and economic aid for Israel, with only minor tweaks in the diplomatic support–is not noticeably different from AIPAC’s, or for that matter, J Street’s.
    In my bougie-liberal Brooklyn neighborhood I often see parents applauding their kids for doing the most basic things–“Oh Spencer you’re 15 years old and you already tie your shoes all by yourself!” Not at all different from the reception in some quarters of Beinart’s pseudo-achievement with his Crisis.

    • on June 10, 2012, 10:15 pm

      Beinart is after “Zionism with a human face”, i.e. some cosmetic PR tricks without any relevance. All he wants is to defang any struggle against Zionism. And to keep Jewish (read, Zionist sympathiser) control on the Palestine solidarity movement.
      Praise? He is one of the bandits and should be treated as one.

  5. Larrysturn on June 11, 2012, 6:30 am

    I would call myself a center left American Jew, but would be identified by most of the Rabbis that I know as far left. However, I am neither anti-Zionist nor pro-boycott so that would place me to the right of Ira, Mondo and Peter Beinart. I believe in a Zionism that respects all people, that promotes interaction, interdependance and two states. I also believe that the boycott, whether limited or not will not bring peace any closer. I believe we need to build bridges not boycotts…

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