Ron Radosh

How Peter Beinart Defends the Repulsive Views of the Antisemitic Jew Max Blumethal

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The Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles this week presented its year-end list of the top 10 antisemitic and anti-Israel slurs. It is an ecumenical list, containing the usual suspects, led by Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and including Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk, and Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters, among others.

The ninth listing was reserved for writers and is titled “The Power of the Poison Pen.” Sharing the Wiesenthal award is the novelist Alice Walker, who was awarded it for comparing Israelis to Nazis, and for writing that Israelis engage in “despicable and lawless sadistic behavior” and seek to “erase” Palestinians “from their own land.” Jews, she said, “know how to hate and how to severely punish others.”

Sharing the listing with Walker is none other than “journalist” Max Blumenthal, and the Wiesenthal Center makes it quite clear that a Jew can indeed be an antisemite, and that Blumenthal is one. Equating Israelis with Nazis, Blumenthal mentions the Holocaust “only to ask [is it right] to have the Jewish victims of the Nazis impose their independence on another people’s tragedy.” Blumenthal uses the term “Judeo-Nazis” and explains the Israeli-Arab conflict as the result of Israeli politicians “outdoing one another in a competition for the most convincing exaltation of violence against the Arab evildoers.” According to Blumenthal, it notes, Israelis incite “unprovoked violence against the Arab outclass.” They also “indoctrinate schoolchildren into the culture of militarism.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, co-founder of the Wiesenthal Center, told the Jerusalem Post that he considers Blumenthal to be a “Jewish anti-Semite.” We “judge him by what he writes,” Hier added. “He crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism.”

As I have pointed out in earlier columns, Blumenthal had two appearances in Washington, D.C., one at the National Press Club and the other at the liberal New America Foundation, whose director, Anne-Marie Slaughter, approved his appearance.  Atlantic editor Steve Clemons promoted the first appearance. Writing in his announcement for the event,  he said:

Max Blumenthal’s new book on Israel has received a torrent of attention — some caustic and some effusive.  I think his book is important and revelatory of many untouched, taboo subjects both inside Israel and in its neighborhood

A group called the “Committee for the Republic” sponsored the event. According to Source Watch, it is an ad hoc group that includes C. Boyden Gray, Charles Freeman, Stephen P. Cohen, and William A. Nitze. All are self-proclaimed realists and conservatives who are opponents of both Israel and those they call neoconservatives, whom they attack as supporters of the American empire.

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Clemons’ comment is particularly inane. How “untouched” and “taboo” is the long held anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist slander of Islamists and the far Left that Israelis are the new Nazis? Anyone familiar with the decades of slander against Israel has heard the kind of tripe now emanating from Blumenthal since way before his own birth.

As to Blumenthal, Josh Block, CEO of The Israel Project, which publishers The Tower, told the JP:

I am sure his colleagues at the Hezbollah newspaper where he was a writer for years are pleased and not at all surprised to see their guy on this list…. Turns out the anti-Semites of Al-Akhbar and Iran’s Press TV discovered this modern-day Jewish Father Coughlin before anyone else.

What, I wondered, would Peter Beinart think about the characterization of Blumenthal as an anti-Semite? Beinart, of course, is the much-heralded journalist who created “Open Zion” at The Daily Beast and who, for the past few years, has dedicated himself to a campaign that in his eyes is meant to save Israel from itself and rescue what he calls “liberal Zionism” from the catastrophe he thinks awaits the Jewish state, unless it abandons the settlements and adopts a new policy to promote peace with the Palestinians. Beinart is a frequent contributor to the The New York Review of Books, a publication not particularly known for having any fondness for Israel. Indeed, most recently, Beinart was subject to a rather savage critique by Shany Mor in the journal he once edited, The New Republic.

Mor says the following about how he thinks Beinart sees the issues:

Beinart’s discussion of suicide bombings is a good place as any to acquaint ourselves with the second theme of his writing. Any outcome or effect or result, however small or large, of the Israeli-Arab conflict is always and forever portrayed as an Israeli policy or the action of an Israeli subject on its Palestinian object. Where such a portrayal can’t credibly be made, Beinart will trace back an Israeli original cause….

No amount of self-criticism on the part of Israelis or Jews or their supporters is ever enough is for Beinart, while at the same time there is absolutely no expectation for any self-criticism or reflection by Palestinians or Arabs or their supporters.

I was interested in Beinart because I had been told by a source that Anne-Marie Slaughter, head of the New America Foundation, had asked Beinart whether or not she should go ahead with the scheduled appearance at the Foundation after it was widely criticized for hosting him. Beinart had evidently told her to go ahead with NAF hosting Blumenthal’s book talk.

Beinart chose not to directly answer my question as to whether it was true that he gave such advice to Slaughter. Instead, he answered my query as to what he thought of the Wiesenthal Center labeling him an anti-Semite. He asked that I use his answer in full. It appears below:

Speaking for myself, as a Zionist who believes in the legitimacy of a democratic Jewish state, I disagree strongly with Max Blumenthal. I also disagree strongly with Naftali Bennett, who supports permanent Israeli control over millions of West Bank Palestinians who live under military law and lack the right to vote for the government that controls their lives.  And yet I think it was legitimate for Blumenthal to speak at New America, just as it was legitimate for Bennett to speak recently at the Brookings Institution. I believe that the correct answer to views about Israel with which one disagrees is to allow them to be expressed, and challenged. Indeed, that was the principle behind Open Zion, where I commissioned countless articles with which I strongly disagreed. If it were true that Max Blumenthal (who is Jewish himself) were an anti-Semite, as opposed to anti-Zionist, then I would make an exception to this general rule, as I don’t support offering a platform to bigots. But I have seen no evidence of that. Being anti-Zionist does not make you an anti-Semite: Ask the Satmar Rebbe. And groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center that promiscuously throw about the term “anti-Semite” in order to discredit people whose Israel views they dislike do a disservice to the fight against genuine anti-Semitism.

Beinart’s equivocating remark reveals how accurate Shany Mor is in his analysis of Beinart’s methodology. First, Beinart simply states his disagreement with Blumenthal. One should not be surprised. Blumenthal attacked Beinart’s own recent book for defending Israel’s right to exist.  After just one sentence about Blumenthal, Beinart immediately goes into an attack on Israeli settlers for their “control” over Palestinians in the West Bank. He cannot simply condemn the reprehensible Blumenthal without having to use the occasion to launch yet another blast at Israel.

Second, he defends Blumenthal’s talk as “legitimate.” The issue, however, was not whether talking anywhere is legitimate. The issue is whether a major, self-avowed center/liberal think tank, the New America Foundation, which is allied with the Obama administration, should be a venue for an anti-Semite who, in this case, happens to be Jewish. Beinart believes that anyone who has a view should have it expressed, and then challenged. As I argued earlier, as did Jonathan S. Tobin in Commentary, Blumenthal has plenty of venues to express his views. His book has been published, and The Nation featured an excerpt as a cover story. The issue is whether NAF should legitimize his out-of-the-mainstream and antisemitic rants with its venue, thereby making his views appear to be important to be heard, rather than isolated to the fringe where they belong. Moreover, no one at the event challenged him. Instead, writer Peter Bergen gave him a hearty welcome.

Next, Beinart says he does not believe in giving a bigot a space. In other words — and let me be clear about this — Beinart is saying in effect that Max Blumenthal is not a bigot. Really? The man whose incendiary chapter titles such as “How to Kill Goyim and Influence People” and “Night of the Broken Glass” are all meant to portray Jews as Nazis? Indeed, Beinart — who in fact has given Palestinian extremists a platform on “Open Zion” — defends Blumenthal from the charge that he is an anti-Semite. Evidently, Beinart thinks Blumenthal is only “anti-Zionist.”

As we all know — and Peter Beinart fails to comprehend — the new antisemitism comes in the form of anti-Zionism,  and virulent anti-Zionism is always accompanied by the refrains of classic old-style antisemitism. Max Blumenthal is not only anti-Zionist, but he believes in the total elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, and supports its demise. In his eyes, there is little difference between a conservative Israeli and a liberal one such as Beinart; to Blumenthal, they are indistinguishable, and both are his enemies. If only Beinart was as tough with Blumenthal as Blumenthal is with him. Why else would Blumenthal be welcome, as Josh Block asks, in the pages of Hezbollah’s paper? Does Beinart really think someone with such extremist views deserves to be presented in a liberal American venue? If so, I would argue that says a great deal about the collapse of a principled liberalism such as Beinart himself used to stand for, at the time he wrote his first book.

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Beinart ends his answer by arguing that the Wiesenthal Center is “promiscuously” throwing around the term anti-Semite in order to smear those whose views on Israel they disagree with. This, he says, is a disservice to those who want to fight the real anti-Semitism.

I have news for Beinart. The real antisemites are the Islamists and Arab extremists and terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah and the likes of those supported by Max Blumenthal, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk and their brethren among old-style Western antisemites, which now include the American left, all of whom collectively hate and despise Israel. The Wiesenthal Center hit its targets head on, and identified them all accurately. Their opposition to Israel is not that of the Satmar Rebbe, or any Jews who believe that Judaism is only a religion and who on religious grounds always opposed a Jewish state. Theirs is a modern-style antisemitism, which stems from the kind of Marxist antisemitism that began with Marx himself, and which was the staple of the Communists in the 1920s and the other Marxist sects that supported the destruction of Israel in the name of anti-imperialism.

It is Peter Beinart who in fact gives comfort to the new and old antisemites alike, not the Wiesenthal Center. That he does so in the name of both liberalism and liberal Zionism is itself both a farce and a tragedy. I ask one question of Peter Beinart: Do you really want to be known as a supporter of Max Blumenthal, and as one who really thinks he and his repulsive views deserve a hearing in our country?