No Holds Barred: The night Peter Beinart buried himself

Debates on Israel are important, predicated as they are on the belief that Israel can and will win its arguments in the marketplace of ideas.

SHMULEY BOTEACH poses for a photograph with Peter Beinart (photo credit: ARSEN OSTROVSKY)
SHMULEY BOTEACH poses for a photograph with Peter Beinart
(photo credit: ARSEN OSTROVSKY)
On Sunday night I debated Peter Beinart in Tel Aviv at the annual Globes Business Conference. It was a night Peter won’t forget because he buried himself.
Not due to any genius on my part but due to the full exposure of the amoral nature of his extreme views on Israel.
This was our second debate together, the first one held at Columbia University in March of last year.
Beinart, an unending, staunch critic yet self-proclaimed lover of the State of Israel, is the author of The Crisis of Zionism in which he most notably calls for a boycott of settlements in the West Bank.
One never knows what surprises a debate may contain.
In the past, with regard to terrorism committed against Israelis, Beinart has made statements that have downplayed Hamas’s crimes. Beinart has tried to be an optimist with regard to this genocidal organization and wrote in his book, “Hamas has in recent years issued several new documents, which are more compatible with a two-state solution.” This is in spite of the fact that Hamas’s stated goal in its charter is the murder of all Jews wherever they are found. During last year’s Gaza war, Beinart said, “I don’t think at all that Hamas is pursuing a strategy that is likely to increase civilian casualties by operating from urban areas.” Such comments are patently inane and deeply offensive.
Beinart also wrote an article against Elie Wiesel back in February in which he felt qualified to lecture the Nobel Prize winning author about human rights and Israeli democracy, accusing the Holocaust survivor of a “tendency to whitewash Jewish behavior.”
Beinart in the past has justified Palestinian terrorism as well. He recently said, “While we condemn Palestinian violence, we must recognize this painful truth: that Israeli policy has encouraged it... Hard as it is to say, the Israeli government is reaping what it has sowed.” Beinart believes we must try to understand the terrorists’ motivations underlying their homicidal intentions and try to see what we did to cause them to want to kill women and children.
These very same ideas surfaced in our recent debate when I asked Beinart, “A few minutes ago you said that Israeli policies would be used to incite more terrorism. Do you repudiate this? [When you write that] 9/11 was a monstrous, demented response to American foreign policy, do you thoroughly repudiate what you wrote?” “No!” Beinart responded. “9/11 was a response to American foreign policy. Read what Osama bin Laden said.”
Yes, to Peter Beinart, Osama bin Laden is a credible source.
I was astonished at these dangerous words being spoken by one of the darlings of the academic Left. Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post, reviewed Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, and summed up why his approach is so dangerous. He cited Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, and wrote, “Characterizing anti-Semitic acts as a response to something Jews did doesn’t explain anti-Semitism. It reproduces it.”
Beinart, in our debate, sought to provide justification and legitimization of terrorists’ acts even as he hypocritically protested that was not his intention.
I responded, “I don’t want to understand why Nazis want to murder Jews. I’m not going to get into their psychology. I am not going to get into the psychology of hatred. I am going to stop them. I am not going to understand why women are subjected to brutality. I am not going to understand why there’s homophobia and people who kill innocent gay men. I am going to stop it... Do you believe in hatred? Does ISIS have a reason why they hate the West? Are you trying to get into their psychology?” Irrational hatred of Jews, rather than Israel’s policies, are what drive Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to seek to annihilate the Jews.
During the debate Beinart shockingly compared Sheldon Adelson to Iranian mullah sponsors of terrorism.
But in thinking that he could somehow get away with likening the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropist to terrorists, Beinart stepped on a land mine which detonated under his feet. The video of clips of my calling him out for this moral obscenity will no doubt live to undermine Beinart as a moral voice for many years to come.
Not only did Beinart refuse to apologize, but he seemed to come unglued as he pressed the attack against Adelson in front of an audience growing increasingly disturbed at this fulminations.
We also discussed Beinart’s calls to boycott all Israeli goods from Judea and Samaria. I asked him, “Do you own Apple products?” He hesitated and then admitted that he did.
I pressed on and said that “China, where iPhones are manufactured, has been occupying Tibet since 1951.
What happened to your democratic values? You could buy a Samsung.
Korea is not occupying anybody.”
And here is where Beinart destroyed any last vestige of moral authority in the debate, acknowledging that alleged human rights abuses only bother him when Jews are purportedly the culprits.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and asked, “So you could buy a Samsung... but you buy an Apple [from China] which has been occupying Tibet, which locks up Nobel Peace Prize winners and their wives illegally, and you say the reason is because you care about the Jewish soul? You don’t care about non- Jews?” I also pointed out, “You said in The Crisis of Zionism that American Jewry seems to invoke the victim card so much that they become self-absorbed and they don’t care about others... How can you tell this audience that it doesn’t much matter to you when you buy a different product” from a state that is guilty of an occupation. Only Israel’s alleged offenses provoke Beinart’s ire.
Beinart response shocked me to say the least. “In my limited amount of time,” he said, “I choose to spend a significant amount of it fighting for what I believe is essential to the survival of the first Jewish state in 2,000 years... My intentions are because this state and this people matters more to me, as much as I care about [others].”
When Beinart says “I care more about my people,” what he is really saying is not that he cares more about Jewish lives in the Holy land – he had already written that when it comes to terrorism, Israel is reaping what it sows – but rather that he cares more about punishing Israel when he accuses it of violations against others.
As difficult as it was to hear such confused, amoral and harmful perspectives from Beinart, it was nonetheless gratifying to witness the full exposure of these views. The more light that is shone on the perspectives and goals of those calling for boycotts and hoping to harm Israel, the more the rational majorities of the world can see how absurd the case against Israel has truly become.
Israel is a thriving democracy in one of the most dangerous areas of the world, and has managed to create a society in which its citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Baha’i, Druse, white, black, Arab and so many others – can live in peace with equal rights for all.
Debates on Israel are important, predicated as they are on the belief that Israel can and will win its arguments in the marketplace of ideas.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The Times of London Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He will shortly publish The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.