Today Peter Beinart put up a long piece at Open Zion explaining why he’s closing the site. Short version: It took too much time away from his being a writer. Color me confused. I thought he cared about the liberal Zionist cause and about redeeming Jewish democracy, by creating a community that would save Israel. But the site– which started in spring 2012, coincidentally timed to the publication of his book– is closing down after just a year and a half, so he can expand his career, at the Atlantic and Haaretz.
Good for him, but is the word “dedication” in his dictionary? I recall that Noam Sheizaf, who started +972, once said that he wanted to be a film critic, but the occupation was too important, so he devoted himself to politics. Sheizaf’s made a ton of sacrifices to keep his site going.
In talking to various Jewish journalists about Beinart over the past few months, I heard the words shmegegge and “Sammy Glick,” as well as this joke: “A yeshiva student goes to his rabbi and says, ‘Rabbi, I had a dream last night that I was the leader of a Hasidic court and I had 300 followers.’ The rabbi says, ‘When 300 Hasidim have a dream that you’re their leader, come back and we’ll talk.’ ” More than one called attention to the large picture of Beinart that greets viewers when they visit Open Zion.
Here’s part of Beinart’s explanation from his mea ambitio:
So why will Open Zion close at the end of the year? For only one reason: I want to be a writer again. Running the blog, which meant serving not only as editor but as publisher too—responsible for raising all our money—left little time to do much else besides teach. I couldn’t find the time to write for my own blog. I could barely squeeze out a weekly column for the Daily Beast, let alone write the several longer essays for which I’d been gathering string. I loved Open Zion but more and more felt that it was keeping me from what I wanted to do most.
When Atlantic Media offered me the chance to focus on writing again—via columns for theatlantic.com and essays for National Journal—it felt like a precious opportunity since no ideas-oriented magazine has better navigated transition from print to web. When Haaretz—which is making a major push into the American market—offered me a home for my Israel and Jewish writing as Senior Columnist, I knew I wouldn’t have to abandon the causes Open Zion championed. To work for an American magazine founded in 1857 as part of the struggle for abolition and an Israeli newspaper that has been championing a democratic Jewish state since 1919 fills me with awe.
As sad as I am that Open Zion will close at year’s end, I’d like to think we’re part of a tradition that began long before us and will endure long after. …
I’d like to believe that just as Breira made Open Zion possible, we will pave the way for others. And that one day, young American Jews will be able to plant themselves smack in the center of our community, ask the hardest, most fundamental questions, advocate fiercely for Palestinian rights and dignity, and be told by their elders what they already know in their hearts: That they are doing our people proud.
Beinart is an excellent analyst, and the piece includes this somewhat-irrelevant but superb description of Zionist pressure inside Jewish communal life:
there’s an inevitable tension between being part of a close-knit community and challenging what that community believes. As I began writing critically about Israel, I began to feel it. When I asked one friend to comment on the manuscript of my book, he at first replied that for the sake of our friendship, he would rather not. At the kosher for Passover resort where I had been a speaker for many years (and no longer am), one guest told the proprietors that he wanted a room that would allow him to walk to and from meals without ever laying eyes on me. One Saturday morning when I was walking to synagogue, a man asked me if I was Peter Beinart. When I said yes, he announced—loud enough for his kids and mine to hear—that “I think your politics are shit.”
I’d been expecting some of that. What I hadn’t expected was something else: The yeshiva student in Brooklyn who emailed me because he felt that his school’s depiction of Arabs was inhumane. The middle-aged employee of a right-wing Jewish group who told me she had grown so disturbed by the way her organization depicted Muslims that she began, literally, cold calling local Muslims so she could see for herself if they were as pathological as she had been told. The college student and Birthright alum who almost began to cry at a panel sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America as she described feeling “betrayed” because what “I’ve been told growing up [about Israel]…a lot of it has not been honest and not been true.”
As these unusual experiences mounted, I began to wonder whether it might be possible to build a different sort of community, a group blog infused with Jewish commitment yet dedicated to a radically open conversation that included Palestinians. When I proposed calling the blog “Zion Square,” which later became “Open Zion,” some supporters said it was too parochial. But that was exactly the point. I didn’t want a purely universalist space, devoid of tribal commitment. I wanted to show that asking the hardest, most painful, questions about Israel could be a Jewish, even Zionist, act….
Right. Then he abandons that “hardest, most painful” building project a year and a half in? Jeez. I wonder if the negative energy got to him. Or if he saw that Israel was going off the edge and he didn’t want to find himself in the company of Max Blumenthal, David Samel, and Rebecca Vilkomerson.