The Follies and Illusions of Peter Beinart
Monday’s New York Times ran an op-ed by none other than Peter Beinart, a man who is quickly becoming the poster boy for the anti-Israel movement. I have written about Beinart before. You can find my earlier columns here and here and finally here. So, in case you didn’t guess, I am not what you would call a fan.
But nothing so far exemplifies his hubris and the simplicity of his understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian issue than Monday’s article, excerpted from his forthcoming book, which obviously the New York Times hopes to make a super best-seller.
Beinart’s short essay reveals the heart of his argument, which is quickly endearing himself to the anti-Israeli American left in particular. Pretending to support a two-state solution, Beinart advances his thesis that Israel’s pro-settler policy is the reason that Palestinians have turned against the Jewish state. Of course, if the current settlements were the cause of their hatred of Israel, he would have to explain why throughout the decades they have consistently turned down every offer made by Israel that would have led to two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian. And he would have to explain why, from day one of Israel’s creation, the Arab states and the Palestinian residents, led by the Nazi ally Grand Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, pledged to oppose the Jewish state to the last drop of their blood. In their eyes, any amount of territory given to the Jews was a settlement that had to be destroyed.
To advance his agenda, Beinart now argues for a strategy of boycotts and disinvestment not in all of Israel, but just in products coming from Jewish settlers who live anywhere in the West Bank. Of course, such a boycott could never work, and no one but Beinart favors it. It would quickly become a boycott of anything made in Israel, since no one buying any Israeli products in fact knows where it is made in Israel and by whom. It also legitimizes the very idea of boycotting Israel, but this time to be carried out in the name of saving Israel from itself. This is, to use a Jewish term, a good example of chutzpah gone wild.
But because his piece was published in the Times and given its imprimatur, it has more importance than had he published it, for example, in the weekly Jewish liberal paper The Forward. That is why it immediately received an unprecedented response from Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. Writing on his Facebook page, Oren posted the following statement:
Peter Beinart's call ("To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements," New York Times, 3.19.12) places him well beyond the Israeli mainstream, the moderate left, and the vast majority of Israelis who care about peace. The call for boycotting all products made by Israeli communities outside of Jerusalem and beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines is supported only by a marginal and highly radical fringe. Beinart's position, moreover, absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility for the current situation, including their rejection of previous peace offers, their support for terror, and their refusal to negotiate with Israel for the past three years. By reducing the Palestinians to two-dimensional props in an Israeli drama, Beinart deprives them of agency and indeed undermines his own thesis. Without an active Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution--irrespective of boycotts--the peace Beinart seeks cannot be achieved.
Oren nails it, and is correct to point out that Beinart’s position is not that of “liberal” Jews, but in fact, the position of a “radical fringe.” And by putting all the blame on the lack of peace on Israel alone, as Beinart does, he reveals without seeming to realize it that in fact he is echoing the position of Palestinian opponents of Israel, not that of Israel’s friends.
The fact that the Israeli ambassador felt the need to answer an op-ed shows the importance Beinart’s article has for mobilizing Israel’s enemies here in the United States. Fortunately, even his Daily Beast colleague David Frum saw fit to challenge Beinart as well. Frum wrote,
The solution Peter offers to this dilemma [is to] punish Israelis in order to change the Palestinians. It's not a very good plan. If the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were a dispute over borders, it would have been settled long ago. The dispute never has been about borders, and it is not about borders now. The spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not a cause of Palestinian rejectionism. It is a consequence of Palestinian rejectionism.
Frum, who challenges Beinart as a friend whom he says he likes, thinks that Beinart knows the history of Arab rejectionism of Israeli peace offers as well as he does. I doubt that is true. If it were, Beinart could not write what he does. Or if he once knew it, he has conveniently forgot the past, since looking at it honestly would force him to reevaluate his current position. And in his last sentence, Frum accuses Beinart of actually joining in a new version of the old left-wing Popular Front; i.e., joining with “illiberal radicals” who will quickly use a naïve liberal to attain their own revolutionary ends. The problem, of course, is that Beinart is not a naïve liberal. Indeed, when he wrote his first liberal hawk manifesto in the pages of The New Republic, he put himself in the line of those hardline Cold War liberals who broke with the Communists and fought the Popular Front.
So, others today have joined in blasting Beinart. The authors who should be singled out, and whose writings and observations on Beinart should be passed along to everyone you know, include the following.
First, in the online pages of the Jewish Review of Books, Jordan Chandler Hirsch, in his lengthy review essay "Diaspora Divided," combs through and destroys every one of Beinart’s principle arguments. His essay is not to be missed, and I urge you to send a link on to all you know, especially those convinced by Beinart. To whet your appetite, here is his conclusion:
Beinart's proposal for American Zionism is the very mirror image of the simplistic establishment line that he devotes his whole book to tearing down. In his attempt to offer young Jewish elites a Zionism that allows them to skip the "messy, frightening debate over Israel's future," he substitutes the old model of one-dimensional support with a new model of one-dimensional criticism. Having fled right-wing simplicity, Beinart loops directly back to its twin on the left. In doing so, he fails to establish the balance that American Jews so desperately need in their approach to Israel. And he alienates Israelis, who know and live a very different reality from the one he presents. That's why those who embrace The Crisis of Zionism—especially the young, liberal elites for whom it is intended—risk dooming themselves to irrelevancy.
Second, and equally as important as the Hirsch article, is the review by Sol Stern, which Commentary magazine quickly put up on its website so readers could gain more ammunition to challenge Beinart’s analysis. Stern, as PJ Media readers already know, has more understanding of Israel than most people who think they have the answer to Israel’s problems. His vast understanding of Israel’s history and his own years of concern about Israel give Stern the ability to pick up on aspects of Beinart’s argument that others will ignore.
There is no other way to summarize Stern’s argument than to say that he makes a complete fool of Beinart, who should be embarrassed when he reads Stern’s review, and who I think will not easily be able to respond to the case he lays out against his book. Stern shows what Beinart leaves out, either intentionally or because he is actually ignorant about the events he discusses. Anyone reading Stern’s review will be hard-pressed to show the kind of respect for Beinart that David Frum says he still has.
So here is the first part of Stern’s conclusion:
What’s new in Beinart’s book—his psychohistories of Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu—isn’t serious. What is serious in Beinart’s book—his argument about the dangerous consequences for Israel of continuing its occupation and control of millions of Palestinians on the West Bank—isn’t new. What is tedious in Beinart’s book is its false piety and its unwarranted self-importance.
NYT readers have seen that false piety and Beinart’s self-importance for themselves. So please, pass Stern on in that same e-mail when you send a link to the Hirsch review.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not cite as well the blogs by our friends at Commentary’s Contentions, Omri Ceren and Seth Mandel, who both address different issues raised by Beinart’s op-ed. Mandel rightfully calls Beinart’s article “morally reprehensible,” and calls his cause a “vapid, vainglorious crusade.” And Ceren addresses the lack of reality to Beinart’s call for a would-be limited boycott. He shows how easily it would legitimize the idea and lead to a boycott of Israel itself and anything produced in its confines.
As for Peter Beinart, he probably started out his day thrilled to have supporters in the editors of the New York Times, and a great venue for his new crusade. I suspect, however, that by day’s end, as the critiques of his arguments poured out, he felt very ashamed. At least, I hope he did.