Peter Beinart's Liberal Fantasies

According to Beinart, this somewhat counterintuitive claim is justified because “the Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power.” This is, apparently, a good thing, if only the Jews were not too stupid to realize it: “The Israeli and American Jewish right,” claims Beinart, “will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence.” As an alternate approach, Beinart suggests, “Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do.”

It must be said that Beinart is undoubtedly sincere in his opinions. Unfortunately, his article repeats almost every mistake and willful illusion the Jewish left has been indulging in since Egypt began to explode two weeks ago. At certain points, in fact, he appears to misread even himself: He states, for example, that an Islamic regime in Egypt would be bad, but then proceeds to whitewash an organization which has advocated precisely that for the better part of a century. He claims that the Muslim Brotherhood is non-violent and democratic without bothering to wonder for a moment or two if this is a tactic adopted in the face of the threat of violent suppression by the Egyptian security forces. Even more absurdly, he dismisses the possibility that the Brotherhood could claim absolute power, even though we have an excellent historical example of a supposedly non-violent and democratic Islamic movement doing precisely that in the 1979 Iranian revolution. Beinart is equally disingenuous regarding Hamas, and here his obfuscations come disturbingly close to deliberate lies: He claims that Hamas won a free election in 2006 without bothering to mention its seizure of absolute power in a violent coup d’etat a few months later; which would seem to undermine his rather sanguine predictions about including them in a unity government. He also admits that Hamas is “vile” but never bothers to mention why; possibly because to do so would involve admitting that Hamas is, according to its own charter, a racist, genocidal, imperialist, anti-Semitic, and anti-democratic movement. One cannot help thinking that Beinart left this out because it might lead his readers to view his claim that Israeli, American, and Egyptian resistance to such a movement is “immoral” with a certain amount of skepticism.