Peter Beinart is the author of an article in the New York Review of Books that attacks the Israeli government and the American Jews who support its policies. Noah Pollak is the author of a brilliant takedown of Beinart’s argument, which he characterizes this way:
[L]arge numbers of Israelis are racists and authoritarians who never really wanted peace, and their political leaders are fanatics manipulating guileless Americans and Palestinians while mainstream American Jewish organizations enable them from the sidelines.
In other words (to quote again from Pollak), Beinart’s argument is “a procession of the kind of cliches on liberal disaffection with Israel that anyone who has been paying attention became familiar with years ago.” As Pollak demonstrates, it is only because Beinart is a Jewish former editor the New Republic, a strongly pro-Israel magazine, that his piece is of any moment.
One problem with Beinart’s analysis is that it excludes a considerable amount of important context. For example:
He condemns the hostility some Israeli Jews have expressed toward Israeli Arabs without so much as mentioning the rise in radicalism among Israeli Arabs, to the point today where many of their political leaders — including members of the Knesset — have openly sided with Hamas and Hezbollah, lauded the Iranian nuclear program, supported the destruction of Israel, and participated in all manner of delegitimization and anti-Semitic incitement.
Moroever, In condemning the statements of Israeli politicians, Beinart ignores the fact that Israel’s proportional-representation electoral system inevitably brings into parliament figures who represent fringe or radical interests. As Pollak explains, “because Beinart’s purpose is to suggest that Israel is on its way to authoritarianism, he casts the byproducts of a too-raucous and significantly too-diverse political system as its essence.”
I would add that Beinart demonstrates his intellectual dishonety in his treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu. He quotes old statements from Netanyahu denying not just idea of a Palestinian state but also the existence of any such a thing as a Palestinian, yet fails to point out that Netanyahu, as Prime Minister, has declared his acceptance of the establishment of a Palestinian state.
But the biggest problem with Beinart’s piece is his suggestion that critics of Israel within the Jewish community and elsewhere are stifled by the power of politically conservative Jews and the Washington lobby they supposedly control. He claims that his attack on Israel is the hardest thing he’s ever written. Pollak isn’t buying it:
As the astonishingly polite reaction to his article over the past week has demonstrated, there are few postures today from which it is more comfortable and advantageous to call out one’s anguish and concern than as a Jewish critic of Israel. The ranks are full of people who have made careers out of being contemporary prophets, traveling the land to warn the Israelites that their arrogance and sin is inviting catastrophe. The key difference is that the biblical prophets were often despised and persecuted figures, whereas the prophets of today enjoy the embrace of a vast array of institutions, foundations, and publications.
How hard it must be for Beinart to ally with his employer, the New America Foundation, and Haaretz, Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, the New York Review of Books, the Nation magazine, the New York Times editorial and op-ed pages, Time magazine, the American Conservative, the American Prospect, Mother Jones, the entirety of the British and European media, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’tselem, J Street, J Call, the New Israel Fund, Richard Goldstone, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly, the European Union, the British Foreign Office, the European Council, scores of NGOs, Walt and Mearsheimer, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, Tony Judt, Tel Aviv University, every Middle East Studies department, George Soros, the Ford Foundation, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, Andrew Sullivan, Noam Chomsky, Mondoweiss, and … well, you get the picture.
The sad truth is that Peter Beinart isn’t any kind of trailblazer or whistleblower, and he most certainly has not earned himself any trouble by coming out as an Israel-basher. He is someone who has rather belatedly fallen completely and predictably into line with the demands his ideological compatriots make for orthodoxy when it comes to their increasingly passionate interest in assaulting Israel and championing the Palestinian cause. In Beinart’s work, we are not witnessing an act of courage but rather a spectacle of conformity.
Pollak proceeds to show that Beinart’s outrage at the choices made by the Israeli electorate over the past two decades is based on willful ignorance of the events that caused the Israeli left to be discredited and Israeli right to rise. Among the most important of these events, according to Pollak, was the willfully ignorant response of liberal Jews to the realities Israel had to confront following 2000, when the Palestinians rejected the creation of a state and embarked on a bloody intafada:
Operation Defensive Shield in 2003, the Hezbollah war, and the Hamas war should have been moments in which liberal Zionists stepped forward to say: Israel took the risks for peace that we demanded. Israel committed itself to a diplomatic process, offered a Palestinian state, and withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza. The terrorists who attack Israel will find no defenders among us. Instead, talk of war crimes filled the airwaves, investigations were demanded, arrest warrants for Israeli officials issued, and now Peter Beinart says that he must question Zionism because civilians were killed in Gaza. Carried away by his own moral indignation, he never asks two fundamental questions: who started the war, and why was it fought from civilian areas?. . . .
Because the history of the peace process repudiates so many of liberalism’s most cherished premises, liberalism is increasingly repudiating Israel, and doing so in a perfectly logical fashion: with people like Beinart now saying that Israel is not in fact an admirable country and that it deserves to be thrown out of the company of liberal nations. In this way, the failure of the liberal vision is transformed from being a verdict on liberalism to being a verdict on Israel. . . .
The distilled pleading of Beinart is merely a series of demands that Israelis refuse to learn from experience: how dare they allow any hostility to Arabs creep into their politics; how dare they vote for Avigdor Lieberman, a populist who plays to the less-than-perfectly liberal Russian immigrants; how dare they lose faith in the peace process and the liberal hopefulness that animated it. Most important: how dare they upset the comfortable ideological existence of American Jews, whose acceptability to their liberal peers depends in no small degree on their willingness to join in pillorying Israel over the failure of the peace process — a failure, alas, that is not Israel’s but liberalism’s.
Beinart claims that “for several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” I think it’s more accurate to say that the left-liberal establishment asks Jews to check their Zionism at liberalism’s door. Beinart’s piece reinforces my fear that these days, the left-liberal establishment doesn’t even need to ask.
UPDATE: Ted Bromund provides insightful reflections on Pollak’s piece.