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.