During a recent visit to New York, I had an extended breakfast meeting with
controversial author Peter Beinart who in recent months received enormous media
exposure as the most prominent far-left critic of Israel in the United States.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a feisty New York conservative Jewish activist, also
I must confess that I prefer confronting less charming
adversaries. Beinart, who is 41 years old, is an amiable, charismatic and highly
articulate personality. In contrast to many Jewish critics of Israel who are
often ignorant and indifferent of their Jewish heritage, he considers himself a
committed Jew, maintains a kosher home, attends synagogue and sends his children
to Jewish day schools. He also regards himself as a passionate Zionist and
claims that his prime motivation is to contribute to the long-term future of
Israel and the Jewish people.
But despite his likeable personality and
insistence that “disagreements” with Israeli government policies do not detract
from his ardent love of Israel, Beinart has unquestionably now assumed a
prominent role as a leading Jew engaged in demonizing and delegitimizing the
His portrait of Israel, which he accuses of obsessively
exploiting “victimhood,” is consistently distorted and imbalanced. His analysis
of the Israeli-Arab conflict is unfailingly biased, not merely because he is
unfairly critical of Israeli government policies but more so because he has
essentially adopted the narrative of our enemies. He dismisses the reality that
the vast majority of Israelis have no desire to rule over Arabs and – if they
had a genuine peace partner – would welcome a Palestinian state.
occasionally paying lip service and condemning some Arab abominations, his book
concentrates on Palestinian suffering and lacks comprehension and compassion for
the violence and terror suffered by the Israelis since Oslo. To accuse him of
establishing moral equivalence between the parties would be an
He even condemns Israel for not having tried hard enough
to find a diplomatic solution with Hamas to avert the Gaza War. Beinart uses
clichés like occupation even in relation to Gaza, despite the fact that aside
from border security and an ineffective prohibition on importing arms, the Hamas
state is entirely independent and runs its own affairs.
The core of his
case rests on the distorted and widely discredited chronicle of former Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert, who Beinart insists was close to achieving a
He thus praises the limited security cooperation achieved
with the PA as a diplomatic strategy to gain international support but fails to
relate to the stubborn intransigence of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his refusal
to end incitement, educate his people for peaceful co-existence or compromise on
the right of return of Palestinian refugees.
Beinart repeats the mantra
that in the absence of settlements, peace and goodwill would prevail and warns
that unless they are dismantled, a single state will emerge which will
demographically destroy the Zionist dream. The most radical aspect of his
approach is his despicable call for a “Zionist BDS” – a global boycott of goods
from the settlements, which he defines as “nondemocratic Israel.”
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is depicted as a duplicitous schemer who pays lip
service to peace but in practice bitterly opposes any genuine settlement. In
contrast, he adulates President Barack Obama, devoting to him an entire chapter
of his book, bizarrely titled “The Jewish President,” extolling his virtues as a
ardent friend of Israel.
I challenged Beinart on how, as a committed Jew
and purported Zionist resident in New York, he failed to experience pangs of
conscience when adopting a stand on life and death issues which ran counter to
the will of the majority of Israelis. He retorted that his views mirrored those
of many Israelis and that as an American Jew who loved Israel, he felt an
obligation to speak up.
When we parted, Beinart graciously presented me a
copy of his book with an inscription referring to me as “a fellow lover of the
Jewish people and the Jewish state,” but it was clear that our respective
positions remained unchanged. Yet, although he did not say so explicitly, my
impression was that were he to write his book today, he would not include his
radical call for a boycott of settlements, which alienated him from farleft
groups who otherwise share his views.
Beinart is not a self-hating Jew,
but many allege that his views stem from a calculated decision to advance his
career or are subconsciously motivated by a desire to become the darling of the
far-left liberals. If he has genuinely convinced himself that his motives are
exclusively altruistic, one is tempted to suggest that he is displaying
egomaniacal or narcissistic characteristics.
Despite the extensive media
coverage, sales of his book have been poor and most reviews, including many from
the left, have panned him, particularly in relation to his call for a Zionist
BDS. Even J Street distanced itself from this. Initial indicators suggest that
as of now, the vast majority of American Jews oppose his views and only a small
(albeit noisy) group support him.
But one should not underestimate the
potential damage he can inflict. One need only “Google” his name to appreciate
the enormous media fest associated with him. His demonic misrepresentation of
current Israeli government policies has the potential of influencing and
confusing Jews on the left fringe and providing succor to those seeking to
besmirch and delegitimize Israel at a time when it is confronting grave
existential dangers. It is thus crucial that his fraudulent allegations and
distortions be exposed and refuted.
It is highly disconcerting that only
last week Beinart was one of a group, which included other virulently hostile
critics of Israel, who met and consulted with President Obama on the Middle
East. Beinart would unquestionably be at the vanguard of those encouraging the
president (if reelected) to renew pressure against the Jewish state. He would
also unquestionably urge him to implement his call to boycott Israeli settlement
It is thus important that we publicize the fact that Beinart’s
extremist views are an anathema to the vast majority of Israelis as well as
American Jews. In this context, while endorsing the principal that the widest
range of opinions should partake at the forthcoming Peres Presidential
Conference scheduled for June in Jerusalem, the disturbing decision by the
organizers to invite Beinart as a keynote speaker, is perplexing and
It implies a failure to appreciate the damage that
providing such a prestigious platform and legitimizing the status of a Jew
promoting an odious campaign explicitly calling for a global boycott of Israeli
settlements, inflicts on both our self-respect and international standing. Above
all, it conveys an utterly confused message to the Obama administration on where
Israel itself draws red lines.
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