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Peter Beinart and Israel

Ronald Radosh

There are many offenses being made against reason, truth, and sincerity by Peter Beinart. PJ Media readers are already aware of many of these. But since the publication of his new book (of which I purposefully will again not provide a link), Beinart has been exposed as a demagogue, a faker, and — most importantly — a person who has no regard for the truth and no regard for the facts. That is why Jeffrey Goldberg, himself a well-known opponent of Israeli settlements, wrote that he will not discuss the book:

To be completely blunt, I’m not that interested in debating Peter’s new book, which I’ve just finished reading, because I find his recounting of recent Middle East history one-sided and filled with errors and omissions.

So now, dear readers, here is another list of the most recent and up-to-date responses to Beinart, posted after his appearance last night at the J Street convention — which they chose not to broadcast on live streaming, but at which he undoubtedly was received as a conquering hero, or as J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami calls him: “the troubadour of our movement.”

Frankly, it is rather remarkable to me how Beinart can show his face in public anymore after the rather devastating critiques of his new book have appeared.

Perhaps the single most comprehensive and scathing review, by Bret Stephens, appears today on the website of Tablet Magazine. The piece is titled “Peter Beinart’s False Prophecy,” and Stephens systematically demolishes his arguments. It is appropriately a very long review, the size of which is necessary in order to take up in detail Beinart’s main arguments. So you will have to trust me and read the entire piece. To give you a taste, here is one important paragraph:

The real problem for Beinart’s argument is that, in word and deed, Palestinians have repeatedly furnished good reasons for the Israeli (and American) right to argue against further territorial withdrawals, at least until something fundamental changes in Palestinian political culture. I supported disengagement from Gaza as editor of the Jerusalem Post. But it’s hard to argue that the results have been stellar in terms of what a Palestinian state portends. Last year’s murder of the Fogel family, horrifying as it was, wasn’t nearly as disturbing as the public celebration of the killings among Palestinians. By contrast, when a Jordanian soldier murdered Israeli schoolgirls on a little island in the Jordan River in 1997, the late King Hussein personally begged the forgiveness of the bereaved Israeli families. (Alas, by still another contrast, Jordan’s justice minister has demanded the imprisoned soldier’s release, calling him a “hero.”)

None of this appears to disturb Beinart much, except to prompt some glib and equivocal acknowledgment that Israelis live in a less-than-super neighborhood. Indeed, to read Beinart is to appreciate how much mental slovenliness can be contained by the word “but.”

Stephens concludes that Beinart’s book is written in a “a spirit of icy contempt and patent insincerity.” And so it is.

Next, take twenty minutes and watch the weekly sermon at New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, spoken by Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, a bona fide New York Upper West Side liberal. It is highly ironic that Rabbi Hirsch speaks at the synagogue that honors the name of its originator and Peter Beinart’s self-proclaimed hero, the late Stephen Wise. The temple has not put the Rabbi’s text online, but one should take the time to hear the passion of his delivery, and to hear how he feels Beinart has besmirched both Judaism, Zionism, and, above all, the name of liberalism.

The blogger who humorously calls himself “Challah Hu Akbar” provides a list of virtually all those who criticize Beinart from virtually every perspective, from the left to the right. By today, of course, he will have to add many more, since they are appearing as fast as possible. Almost all are worth your time, but I would particularly urge you to read those that dissect Beinart’s careless playing with the truth.

The most important of these, second to the take-down by Stephens, appeared on the pages of the The New York Sun. Rick Richman reveals how Beinart tries to attack the Revisionist Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader in the early days of the Irgun and a favorite target of the Labor Zionists in the pre-Israel yishuv and in Israel’s earliest years. It is one minor point, but this too shows just how careless and dishonest Beinart is.

Beinart writes in his book that “understanding what Netanyahu doesn’t like about Jews requires understanding what Vladimir Jabotinsky didn’t like about Jews.” To show what he supposedly dislikes about Jews, Beinart misstates and distorts a quote from Jabotinsky to use as proof that the Zionist leader did not like Jews carrying a “moral message to the world.” Richman shows that Beinart probably did not read Jabotinsky’s essay from which the excerpt in his book is taken, and hence “egregiously misstated the theme of the essay; he even misinterpreted the two-sentence quote.” What Jabotinsky actually meant, Richman writes, is the following:

Looking only at the paragraph in isolation, in a secondary source, Mr. Beinart mistakenly assumed Jabotinsky was endorsing an amoral “contemporary code of morality.” Had he read the entire essay, he would have realized Jabotinsky was observing that even in the best countries, even in the most civilized circumstances, contemporary morality disregarded Biblical injunctions and was not sufficient to protect an oppressed people.

Finally, Beinart’s distortions are also revealed in the review by Rabbi David Wolpe, the rabbi of the Los Angeles Sinai Temple. Rabbi Wolpe, like Rabbi Hirsch, is not a supporter of most Israeli settlements. But as he writes:

It is hard to make a case that many of Israel’s settlements are anything but an impediment to a final resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. Granted, there are settlements and there are settlements, a distinction to which Beinart gives little attention. Ma’ale Adumim, for example, is a town of 40,000. But 50 people planted between Palestinian cities needing to be guarded by Israeli soldiers, bent on proving that Jews can live anywhere on God given land are a foolish and shameful drain on the resources of the state.

He goes on to note that Beinart offers “some spotty history, and an inaccurate picture of both American Jewry and some of its central organizations.” He proves that Beinart blames Israel for not obtaining peace throughout his book, and to prove his point, he quotes an Israeli diplomat and historian, Shlomo Ben-Ami, as saying:

If I were a Palestinian I would have rejected the Camp David accords.

That quote, Wolpe shows, is a “complete misrepresentation” of Ben-Ami’s position. This is what the historian and diplomat actually wrote:

Never, in the negotiations between us and the Palestinians, was there a Palestinian counterproposal. There never was and there never will be. So the Israeli negotiator always finds himself in a dilemma: Either I get up and walk out because these guys aren’t ready to put forward proposals of their own, or I make another concession. In the end, even the most moderate negotiator reaches a point where he understands there is no end to it.

So Wolpe reaches this conclusion about Beinart’s book:

Beinart’s argument for two states has tremendous support in the U.S. and in Israel, including among Israel’s military specialists who agree that getting to a two-state solution is essential both demographically and humanely. But we will not get there by whitewashing the unremitting hostility of Israel’s neighbors, or deriding the American Jewish groups that have succeeded in attaining a position of influence through knowledge, hard work and cogent argumentation.

So why the self-lacerating blame? Perhaps this is the true legacy of victimization — you think you must be at fault when things don’t go right.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Peter Beinart’s book reflects only the mindset of very left-wing American Jews, a group in fact that makes up a very tiny percentage of the American Jewish community and that therefore is not reflective at all of how the mainstream of American Jews see things. As Omri Ceren points out in today’s Contentions, the donations by American Jews to Israeli non-profit groups has doubled in the past decade, and in addition polls show that American Jews are more supportive of Israel than ever before. American Jews are not, as Beinart claims, alienated from Israel. The bitter truth is that only left-wing American Jews are, and like their Israeli counterparts in fringe groups like Meretz, they are not representative or important.

Beinart’s audience is the left-liberal readers of The New York Times, where his op-ed appeared, and the readers of the anti-Israel New York Review of Books, which undoubtedly will give Beinart’s book a rave review. These opponents of Israel use Peter Beinart for their own purposes, and although in his own mind he probably does think of himself as a supporter of Israel, he is all too willing to use his skimpy, ill-considered, and dishonest arguments for those who openly wish anything but good for Israel.

No wonder then, that Peter Beinart’s book will be heralded by Israel’s many enemies. And that is something Beinart should seriously think about.

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