Climbing to success by dragging Israel down: Peter Beinart

 

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart’s 2012 book The Crisis of Zionism, which we examined last week, made headlines with its severe anti-Israeli line. But Beinart, as it turned out, was just getting warmed up. In a speech given in 2015 at a Los Angeles synagogue, he accused Israel of encouraging Palestinian violence – essentially suggesting that the Jewish state was asking for it. “Hard as it is to say,” he told his audience, “the Israeli government is reaping what it has sowed.” He even extended his logic to 9/11, describing it as a “response to American foreign policy, a foreign policy of support for Arab dictatorships and Israeli policies which produced tremendous suffering in the Arab world.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Earlier this month, Beinart made headlines again when he was briefly questioned at Ben-Gurion Airport – an incident that led to apologies by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Michael Oren. Writing in the Forward, Sandra Tamari, a Palestinian officer at the radical group Adalah Justice Project, expressed outrage at his hour-long detention. “Beinart’s account of his experience,” Tamari wrote,” sparked outrage from many liberal Jewish Americans who wondered why Israel would treat a Jewish supporter like Beinart with suspicion.” It was curious to see Beinart described simply as “a Jewish supporter” when the reality, of course, is somewhat more complicated than that.

Sandra Tamari

Tamari cited Israel’s treatment of Beinart as the latest proof of the intolerance and injustice at the heart of Israel, which, she maintained, “has always been discriminatory, anti-democratic, and illiberal when it comes to Palestinians.” Tamiri welcomed “the anxiety that Israel’s heavy-handedness against Jewish critics” such as Beinart had supposedly catalyzed. At no point in her article, which made numerous accusations against and demands of Israel, did Tamiri criticize any Palestinians for any action whatsoever or call on them to alter any of their philosophies, policies, or practices. But then again, Beinart never makes such criticisms of the Palestinians, either.

Caroline Glick

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick took a very different line. Noting Beinart’s support for the BDS movement, his “crass insensitivity towards Israeli Jews in Judea and Samaria,” and his efforts to mainstream “anti-Israel activists who reject Israel’s right to exist,” she recalled a July 2016 stunt by Beinart and other “radical Jewish anti-Israel activists” who staged “a confrontation with the IDF in Hebron.” Entering a closed military zone, they

trampled the land of a Palestinian farmer to film themselves looking brave. The farmer called the army to have them removed. A group of soldiers answered his call and removed Beinart and his comrades. They filmed themselves looking brave as they were being ejected from the land they trespassed on.

Glick observed that fanatical anti-Israeli groups supported by Beinart had not just encouraged criticism of certain Israeli policies at American universities, but had stirred up hatred toward Jewish students who did not share their politics. Beinart, in short, was empowering campaigns that sought “to trample the basic freedoms of Jews who support Israel.”

Owing to Beinart’s anti-Israeli antics, he had been barred – quite properly – from entry into Israel. He knew that he was. But he flew to Israel anyway, with the explicit intention of publicizing Israel’s response, whatever it might be, to his attempt to enter the country. “Israel’s apologies and hand-wringing were out of place,” argued Glick, noting that Beinart “is no mere ‘critic’ of Israel” but rather an activist out to “constrain the freedom of American Jewry and cause lasting harm to the Jewish state.” Indeed.

Those awful Israelis: Peter Beinart’s world

 

Peter Beinart

His CV could scarcely be more stellar: he studied at Yale and Cambridge; he teaches at CUNY; he’s been a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and editor of the New Republic; he writes regularly for National Journal, Haaretz, and the Atlantic website, and has contributed to Time, The New York Times, and other top-drawer publications; he’s published three books; in 2012, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 global thinkers.

But Peter Beinart is best known for his unusually harsh criticism of Israel. Yes, he is Jewish himself, and, according to his Wikipedia page, attends an Orthodox synagogue, keeps kosher, and sends his children to a Jewish school. But for countless readers, his name is synonymous with a degree of hostility to Israel that may be common enough in the countries surrounding Israel but that is rather unusual in an American Jew living in New York City.

Beinart first spelled out his views on Israel at length in a 2010 article for the New York Review of Books entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” The article began with the assertion that American Jews, who at one time had been both liberal and Zionist, were breaking up into two distinct camps: “Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal.”

Avigdor Lieberman

In Beinart’s view, most American Jewish Zionists were now increasingly possessed of a “naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians.” He criticized then Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman for wanting “to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who won’t swear a loyalty oath to the Jewish state.” (Is it outrageous for a country to expect its citizens to be loyal? Don’t new American citizens swear an oath?) “He said Arab Knesset members who met with representatives of Hamas should be executed.” (If cetain Knesset members consort covertly with terrorists who’ve sworn to destroy Israel, isn’t that treason?)

Part of Beinart’s message was that Israel and its defenders should lighten up. He chided them for their “obsession with victimhood.” Young Jews in the U.S., he pointed out, simply can’t relate to all that victim rhetoric. It didn’t occur to Beinart that perhaps the reason for this inability to relate lay in those young people’s historical illiteracy, their ignorance of current geopolitical realities, and/or their lack of imagination. No, to him, the takeaway was that the victim rhetoric is overblown.

A gathering of Hamas members

“Yes, Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas,” he acknowledged. “Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran.” But for young Jews growing up in pleasant, leafy places like Scarsdale, New York, or Brentwood, California, the rhetoric about Jewish victimhood “simply bears no relationship to their lived experience.” A remarkable argument: as if the cushy lives of American Jews somehow made concern about the perilous position of Israel invalid!

Another part of Beinart’s message was that Israel needs to treat Palestinians better, withdraw from the West Bank, and make more serious efforts to establish a lasting peace. In short, in a world where Israel is one of the most democratic and peaceable of countries, and where a hundred-odd nations – including most if Israel’s neighbors – regularly commit atrocities against their citizens that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life, Beinart was, in effect, joining the anti-Semites in the UN’s Human Rights Council in piling on Israel.

Abraham H. Foxman

In a reply to Beinart’s article, Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League pointed out that the Israelis had, in fact, made repeated good-faith efforts to end the Palestinian conflict. At Camp David in 2000, Israel had offered to pull out of 90% of the territories and eliminate most settlements. In response, it “got a big no and suicide bombs.” In 2005 Israel “withdrew unilaterally from Gaza with the intent to do likewise in the West Bank because they saw no partner for peace.” The response that time? Rockets fired at civilian targets. Much the same happened in 2008. Repeatedly, in short, Israel’s enemies have replied to honest overtures for peace with violence. And yet Israel has kept coming back, hat in hand, trying once again to get along.

Beinart answered Foxman’s charges by doubling down on his condemnation of what he called “the growing authoritarian, even racist, tendencies in Israeli politics.” And he wasn’t done: in 2012, he expanded his indictment of the Jewish state to book length. We’ll get to The Crisis of Zionism on Thursday.