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Peter ‘Powder Keg’ Beinart is disinvited from gig at Atlanta Jewish book festival

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Peter Beinart

The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has dis-invited liberal Zionist Peter Beinart from a speaking engagement at its annual Jewish book festival, presumably because he has called for a boycott of settlement goods, and it’s causing quite a stir. Everyone from J Street to Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt is weighing in. The event is expected to attract over 10,000 people this year.

Beinart is one of 55 authors, some best selling, listed on MJCCA’s 2012 festival brochure (pdf ).  His talk, named “Zionist Zeal” about his book The Crisis of Zionism, is listed on page 16, relegated to a spot alongside ‘Low Cal Gal‘ Lisa Lillian and right above Marni Davis’s Jews and Booze

The center’s president and CEO are now defending their decision to cancel Beinart’s invitation, claiming that once that brochure went out with word of Beinart’s appearance, protests came “pouring in.”

However, just how many of the center’s 18,000 members participated in this screeching avalanche of disapproval is not information Steven Cadranel, the president of the MJCCA, is willing to disclose. Nor is he saying if any arm twisting measures were employed. After all, it’s entirely possible merely a few big donors expressed their disapproval in a way that could impact the economic future of the center and phff…  and so, for the first time in the history of the festival, a scheduled writer’s invitation went kaput. 

San Franciscans are quite familiar with this kind of blacklash against Jewish cultural events since the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation announced extremely restrictive funding guidelines a few years ago accompanied by “witch hunts.”

Gail Luxenberg MJCCA’s CEO had this to say, from Access Atlanta:

“He has become a little bit of a powder keg,” Luxenberg said, referring to Beinart. “We were concerned about those issues being on our campus.”

Those issues, Gail? Are certain people having a tizzy-fit over the suggestion the illegal settlements should be boycotted? Or is it merely any and all discussion of Zionism, outside of lavish devotion, that’s so threatening to certain members of the organized Jewish community? Presumably someone knew who Beinart was when speakers were scheduled for the event–his book only came out last March. Buckle up and show some courage please! Your community deserves it. The topic of Israel’s intransigence is not going anywhere anytime soon and the American public are being force fed regular doses of Israel Israel Israel nowadays, or did you forget?

“This is a bestselling book by a Jewish author on a Jewish topic of concern to the Jewish community, and where better to have this conversation than at a Jewish event?” said Dotan Harpak, chair of the left-leaning, pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, which is now helping to sponsor Beinart’s event at the Mitchell House. “To move it from the book festival is upsetting.”


“I don’t particularly like his book and he made some irresponsible statements, but to dis-invite him is counter productive,” said Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. “There are Israelis who agree with him, and his views are not so beyond the pale to dis-invite him. Now, if you find out that a person is a closet Nazi or that they call for the destruction of Israel, that’s another thing. But he is not saying that. To dis-invite him, it’s silly. If you were so concerned, you shouldn’t have invited him in the first place.”

Ultimately, the actions of Atlanta’s Marcus Jewish Community Center will just fuel the fire of American impatience with the special relationship. Bernart is now set to speak at Atlanta’s Margaret Mitchell House , the “Birthplace of Gone With the Wind,” on Wednesday Nov 14. It will probably be packed to the brim.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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22 Responses

  1. lobewyper
    November 5, 2012, 5:59 pm

    I read Beinart’s book a while back and I have great respect for the man and his courage in speaking truth to power.

    • Rudolph
      November 5, 2012, 9:28 pm

      The critical point about Beinart’s recent book is that there is literally nothing new in it. Why did it take him so long to see what has been in plain view for a long time: Israel’s policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory amount to apartheid? (Even Jimmy Carter wrote about this several years ago.) I wonder if Beinart finally read a book by Norman Finkelstein, Akiva Eldar, Gilbert Achcar, Juan Cole, etc.

      Per Finkelstein: The “Apartheid analogy” has also been made by “the editorial board of Haaretz, which observed…[that] ‘millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation,’ as well as former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu, and ‘father’ of human rights law in South Africa John Dugard.”

      Nevertheless, Beinart deserves some praise as he must have known that he would suffer rebukes by American Jewish mainstream entities. (Very early on, Chomsky warned Finkelstein that he’d have a hard time due to his honest writing.)

  2. pabelmont
    November 5, 2012, 6:14 pm

    Yes, well, hissy-fit and all, the normal book-burning reaction, shoot the messenger, etc., etc. Maybe he would not have made a stir if he’d appeared, but this way perhaps more people will read the book.

    AND THINK ABOUT THE ISSUES. AND THINK ABOUT THE WISDOM OF SHOOTING THE MESSENGER. (Or is it just that, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it think?)

    And why, anyhow, assuming it was just a very, very few very, very rich donors saying “NO” , should Jewish groups be any more democratic than the USA is as a whole? Don’t we Americans honor our oligarchic system — rule by the BIGs — every day in every way, by not overthrowing them?

    And there are worse things than BIGs disinviting Beinart.

  3. ToivoS
    November 5, 2012, 6:19 pm

    I was very briefly in the fund raising world once — that was one miserable failed effort. I am somewhat sympathetic to the Jewish Community Center’s dilemma. The first, second and third rule of fund raising is don’t piss off your donors. As long as the very wealthy want to suppress an open debate on IP, then that debate will have to happen outside on the fringes. I do hope Beinart has the strength to prevail against the community’s shunning.

    • lobewyper
      November 5, 2012, 8:14 pm

      He’s probably not being shunned by the “community,” but merely a few rich donors…

  4. aiman
    November 5, 2012, 6:25 pm

    This is the effect of unhinged tribalism. Even moderates like Beinart are excommunicated. Tom Friedman, where is your Jewish Martin Luther King to set everything right? Sorry to interrupt while you’re busy devouring those not-so-kosher lamb chops.

  5. LanceThruster
    November 5, 2012, 7:02 pm

    I think Zionists bullying their own can only backfire.

  6. DICKERSON3870
    November 5, 2012, 9:25 pm

    RE: “The [Bernard, a/k/a Bernie] Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) has dis-invited liberal Zionist Peter Beinart from a speaking engagement at its annual Jewish book festival . . . ” ~ Annie Robbins

    MY COMMENT: Big time, right-wing, Home Depot money talks very loudly! ! !

    ● SEE: “A Christmas Message From America’s Rich”, by Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, 12/24/11

    [EXCERPTS] It seems America’s bankers are tired of all the abuse. They’ve decided to speak out…
    …Courtesy of a remarkable story by Max Abelson at Bloomberg, we now get to hear some of those choice comments.
    Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, for instance, is not worried about OWS:
    “Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”

    Former New York gurbernatorial candidate Tom Golisano, the billionaire owner of the billing firm Paychex, offered his wisdom while his half-his-age tennis champion girlfriend hung on his arm . . .


    ● ALSO SEE: “Thinktank [Foundation for Defense of Democracies] that promoted war w/ Iraq (& now Iran) was funded by Steinhardt, Saban, Bronfman, Feith and Marcus (of Home Depot)”, By Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss,7/19/11

    [E$XCERPTS] . . . Clifton’s exclusive–based on records he obtained that he links in a pdf with his story– says that a lot of the usual suspects in the Israel lobby, Saban, Bronfman, Steinhardt, Mizrahi, Marcus and oh, Doug Feith’s father. . .
    . . . Other notable donors included: Home Depot cofounder Bernard Marcus who contributed $600,000 between 2001 and 2003 . . .ENTIRE ARTICLE –

    • DICKERSON3870
      November 5, 2012, 9:27 pm

      ● ALSO SEE & LISTEN TO: “Bailout Recipients Hosted Call To Defeat Key Labor Bill” , By Sam Stein, Huffington Post, 02/27/09

      [EXCERPT] Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community’s top legislative priority.
      Participants on the October 17 call — including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG — were urged to persuade their clients to send “large contributions” to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.
      Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.
      “This is the demise of a civilization,” said Marcus. “This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I’m watching this happen and I don’t believe it.”
      Donations of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars were needed, it was argued, to prevent America from turning “into France.”
      “If a retailer has not gotten involved in this, if he has not spent money on this election, if he has not sent money to [former Sen.] Norm Coleman and all these other guys, they should be shot. They should be thrown out their goddamn jobs,” Marcus declared. . .

      AUDIO: Anti-union call between Bank of America, Bernie Marcus, et al. and Rick Berman, 17 Oct 2008 –

      ● AND, FROM MICHAEL WINSHIP, 07/29/11:

      …I thought of all this last week when I read a report headlined “Fly on the Wall,” on the website

      “Fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires who are among the richest people in the world, schlepped to a Manhattan office or hovered around speakerphones Tuesday afternoon as their host, venture capitalist Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot, implored New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider and seek the GOP presidential nomination.”

      Yikes. That prospect alone is enough to make sensible men and women weep. But wait, there’s more.
      Among those in attendance were at least three worthy of inclusion on Forbes’ list of richest Americans — Paul Tudor Jones (hedge funds; $3.3 billion), Stan Druckenmiller (hedge funds; $2.5 billion) and Bernie Marcus (Home Depot; $1.9 billion). According to Politico, “Several of them said: I’m Republican but I voted for President Obama, because I couldn’t live with Sarah Palin. Many said they were severely disappointed in the president. The biggest complaint was what several called ‘class warfare.’ They said they didn’t understand what they had done to deserve that…

      SOURCE –


  7. Shmuel
    November 6, 2012, 2:55 am

    Way to go MJCCA! Beinart put you up to this, didn’t he? The dis-invite proves Beinart’s point in a way his little talk never could have. Israel is at the centre of organised Jewish life in the US, yet the establishment won’t allow any kind of honest discussion of Israel or Zionism – even from friendly, sympathetic quarters, at a “heimishe” event. That may be fine for a certain class of donors, but cannot be good for the American Jewish community or Israel. I guess Beinart will just have to take the radical, anti-Semitic rag listed as “media sponsor” of the event (a certain “Jewish Forward”) with him to Mitchell House, and good riddance too!

    • annie
      November 6, 2012, 6:06 pm

      cannot be good for the American Jewish community or Israel

      yep. it’s gonna be hard keeping the lid on stuff like this. there’s already the illusion amongst many people, an illusion that’s been supported by tons of propaganda, that the organized jewish community represents the masses. but when the masses start sending letters like this, it breaks down that image of cohesion and makes the ‘fringe’ sound like the only adults in the house.

    • Mooser
      November 7, 2012, 12:22 pm

      “Israel is at the centre of organised Jewish life in the US, yet the establishment won’t allow any kind of honest discussion of Israel or Zionism “

      Yep, Shmuel, and it’s just so perplexing, given how forthright and unblinking we are when discussing Judaism itself.

  8. Sumud
    November 6, 2012, 5:28 am

    More gatekeeping and censorship; Beinart’s position isn’t even that controversial. It’s not like he’s advocating for ethnic cleansing or massive war crimes – these are seemingly uncontroversial positions if you’re a zionist.

    Reminds me of what happened in Australia mid-year:

    Limmud Oz, an offshoot of the international festival of Jewish learning, canceled a panel featuring several controversial Jewish speakers for its upcoming conference in Melbourne.

    The Jewish panelists no longer speaking, although they initially appeared on the Limmud Oz website, include Vivienne Porzsolt, a spokeswoman for Jews Against the Occupation who was detained in Israel last year en route to the flotilla to Gaza, and who recently marched in Sydney alongside Hezbollah supporters; Avigail Abarbanel, who renounced her Israeli citizenship in 2001; and Peter Slezak, a co-founder of the far-left Independent Australian Jewish Voices.
    Limmud Oz cancels speakers who support Israel boycott

    One word: pathetic.

  9. Citizen
    November 6, 2012, 7:07 am

    RE: ” That may be fine for a certain class of donors, but cannot be good for the American Jewish community or Israel.”

    Not to mention the other 98% of Americans.

    • Shmuel
      November 6, 2012, 7:31 am

      Not to mention the other 98% of Americans.

      True, but that’s not Beinart’s angle. Beinart has been trying to tell “Jewish Jews” (far less than 2%) that if they really care about the future of Judaism and Israel, they’d better shape up.

      • LeaNder
        November 6, 2012, 10:07 am

        And from his perspective it shouldn’t be. For the same reason that Marc Ellis argues from his own Jewish theological perspective.

        Reminds me I should visit an event by my friends the Jesuits in connection with the Cologne Jewish community post 1945, hopefully I did not miss it. I have to check.

        The so far only rebuilt synagogue, orthodox, is close to me. The much less dominant but reviving reform shares a place with Protestants. That may be – horror!!! – from an orthodox Jewish perspective. But there is a longer struggle surrounding this, which may well be the reason they do not have a synagogue of their own by now. I hate spreading rumors, but I think it had to do with superior support of the orthodox. Reform had no access to the system over here, according to which you pay a certain percentage of your income or tax if you are a member of a religious community. In other words you don’t pay directly.

      • Xpat
        November 6, 2012, 10:41 pm

        Reform had no access to the system over here, according to which you pay a certain percentage of your income or tax if you are a member of a religious community.

        The U.S. is one of the only Western countries with full separation of church and state. It also is famously (or, infamously) the most religious Western country. Within the global Jewish community, the U.S. has the largest in absolute and relative numbers compared to the Orthodox. Seems like these are all connected. England, France and Germany all have some form of state-funded Judaism. In all three, Orthodoxy is the dominant form of Judaism.

        It’s puzzling why a modern state would favor traditionalists and reactionaries over more progressive and inclusive forms of Judaism.

      • Mooser
        November 7, 2012, 12:39 pm

        “It’s puzzling why a modern state would favor traditionalists and reactionaries over more progressive and inclusive forms of Judaism.”

        Yes, just astonishing, isn’t it? Why, it’s something those awful Muslims would do, or something. What’s even more astounding is that the Orthodox don’t insist on sharing with their Conservative and Reform brethren. Wherefore art thou, tribal unity? Why, it’s almost as if all us half-ass Jews (okay, I speak only for myself, all you frummers) are superfluous.

  10. ritzl
    November 6, 2012, 1:35 pm

    The onging edification of Peter Beinart.

    Does he really still believe that half-measures and modest distinctions ensure/enable “discussablity” within the Jewish community? The “acceptability” of any criticism of Israel seems pretty binary to me. At least at the organized level.

    • annie
      November 6, 2012, 5:49 pm

      i think he’s a weather vane ritzl. the reut institute came out with a ‘red line policy’ (you can google it) wrt acceptable discourse inside the ‘big tent’ (which in reality is very suffocating). his proposals fall outside that tent. so for me, this is instructive in terms of who steps in line and who doesn’t. the ‘organized’ jewish community (read cecilie surasky’s excellent article at the “extremely restrictive funding guidelines” embed in the main text) punish people who step out of line (“witchhunt”). apparently they’ve got the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta right where they want them, for now anyway..but there’s payback for that too.

  11. AlfredCassis
    November 7, 2012, 12:58 pm

    Cowardly. This is definitely a challenge to free speech.
    Thank You Peter Beinart for your courageous honesty.

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