Richard Beinart and Peter Goldstone – Part I

Into The Fray: Peter Beinart has placed himself in precisely the same category as Richard Goldstone. He should be treated in precisely the same manner.

Judge Richard Goldstone (photo credit: Reuters)
Judge Richard Goldstone
(photo credit: Reuters)
A Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of fifty-three years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers
– Peter Beinart, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” June 10, 2010
In two recent articles, I made the following statements: “Peter Beinart [has] for all intents and purposes declared political war on Israel.” Indeed he has.
And, “There are only two possible explanations for [Beinart’s] actions: He is either sincere or he is not. If he is sincere, he is merely a ‘useful idiot,’ and he should be treated as such. If he is not, then he is engaging in activities that are intentionally detrimental to Israel. He is, therefore, an enemy – and should be treated as such.” Indeed he should.
Beinart has placed himself in precisely the same category as another self-professed “dedicated Zionist” – Richard Goldstone. He should be treated in precisely the same manner – by both the Jewish establishment and Israeli officialdom.
Noble or nefarious?
We don’t know what motivates Beinart – whether he is merely silly but sincere, or whether he is actually sly and sinister. We can only infer what drives him from what he does, and what he says – and perhaps more important, from what he doesn’t.
But in the final analysis, his intentions are less important than the consequences of his actions, which are deeply detrimental to Israel, the professed object of his devotion and affection.
After all, for the vast majority of those who follow the Middle East conflict, there is little daylight between the charges Beinart hurls at Israel, Israelis, and the Israeli government and those of the Jewish state’s most visceral detractors.
If any differences can be detected, they typically relate more to nuance rather than principle.
Even if he does occasionally level some perfunctory reprimand at the Palestinians for their “recalcitrant” (read “brutal”/“ bloody”/“barbarous”) behavior – as if reluctantly discharging some distasteful but obligatory chore –he studiously avoids any policy-relevant conclusions Israel might conceivably be forced to draw from that behavior.
Whether his unrelenting censure of Israel arises from benign but misguided concern or from calculated self-seeking malevolence, it is beyond dispute that Beinart has reaped immense rewards from his Israel-bashing.
The rich rewards of Israel-bashing
Indeed, it was Israel-bashing – and Israel-bashing alone – that catapulted Beinart into instant celebrity.
After all, imagine for a moment that he had written a brilliant article, whose major theme was Israel’s cutting-edge achievements in science, technology, medicine, agriculture and telecommunications, and extolled the central role Israeli ingenuity and innovation played in saving lives (including Muslim lives), reducing hunger and improving living standards for millions across the globe. It would clearly be beyond the realm of plausibility that The New York Review of Books would have assigned him the 5,000- word slot that it did for his diatribe against Israel and against the US Jewish establishment for supporting it.
Had he highlighted Israeli humanitarian efforts in far-flung corners of the world or cataloged the country’s internationally acclaimed cultural accomplishments, it is more than doubtful that the paper would have afforded him such lavish exposure.
Of course Beinart would probably protest, as he does in his response to Bret Stephens, that “my book is not primarily about Israel, but about American Jews and the relationship between [them] and Israel.”
Disingenuous and spurious claim
But of course this claim is as disingenuous as it is specious.
For this relationship is not one forged in a vacuum but is dependent on how Israel is viewed by American Jewry, which in turn is dependent on how it is presented to them.
So if Beinart were genuinely alarmed by the alleged alienation of young US Jews from the Jewish state, one might have expected him to act differently. Even if he did not entirely suppress his misgivings over some of Israel’s policies – he could have put them on the backburner, while urging his kinfolk to take pride in the many extraordinary feats of the country that are indeed worthy of pride.
He could have made a compelling case for young Jews to rally around Israel for the way it is dealing with awesome challenges, while pressing for it to address the defects which in his opinion exist in its policy toward the Palestinians.
But of course Beinart chose a different course. Although he does pay occasional lip service to Israel’s achievements, this is invariably an aside followed by a “but.”
Overwhelmingly, it is the alleged blemishes that are paraded front and center, the negatives that dominate the positives, the supposed “warts” that comprise the dominant theme of the narrative that brought Beinart such prominence.
This clearly undermines the credibility of his professed aims and the sincerity of his professed sentiments. For it would be difficult to conceive of anything more counterproductive to an effort to deal with Jewish alienation than presenting – or misrepresenting – the Jewish state as a hideous distortion of itself.
Grave question marks
But let’s suppose for a moment that Beinart is genuinely perturbed about the issues he raises in his writing and public appearances. The question that must then be raised is why he chooses to portray incidents that allegedly raise his concern in such a misleading – at times, mendacious – manner, without giving the slightest hint that compelling interpretations of the same events exist which contradict his version.
Take, for instance, the case mentioned in the introductory excerpt regarding the eviction of Arab tenants in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
In Beinart’s account, one is given the clear impression that the evictees were the helpless victims of some callous, arbitrary act perpetrated by a heartless regime, driven by a discriminatory Judeocentric dogma. Nowhere could the reader get a sense that the reason for the eviction was the tenants’ refusal to pay rent; that their removal from the Jewish-owned property was the culmination of a legal battle that extended over three decades and was backed by a verdict of the Supreme Court, an institution invariably depicted as a jealous custodian of the liberal-democratic values Beinart claims are so dear to his heart.
So ask yourself: What is likely to exacerbate the alienation of young liberal US Jewry more, Beinart’s partial and partisan misrepresentation of the evictees as blameless victims of blatant ethnically biased discrimination? Or the alternative fact-based portrayal of them as rent-delinquents, who had the right of due process, and were found to be violating the property rights of the Jewish proprietors? See what I mean about counter-productive? Unless of course you question his true motives.
The Khaled Jaber thing
But even more troubling (and revealing?) is Beinart’s cheap (or is that cynical?) exploitation of the Khaled Jaber episode that sets the tone for his new book, The Crisis of Zionism.
Beinart relates, in highly emotive and self-righteous terms how a video (55 seconds long) showing a Palestinian man, Fadel Jaber, being arrested by Israel forces while his sobbing son begs for his release, troubled him deeply.
Beinart then proceeds to makes incendiary accusations which are both wildly distortive and totally unsubstantiated by anything in the video. He claims that Fadel was arrested for stealing water; while the Israeli authorities claim he was arrested for disturbing the peace and attacking the law enforcement officers. Beinart makes no mention of the Israeli version – which might have been nice, even if for some reason he disbelieved it. You know, in the interest of fair and balanced coverage – especially given his concern about the alienation of US Jewry.
Beinart goes on to present Fadel’s unauthorized tapping into Israeli pipes as an act of desperation “after his family repeatedly asked Israeli authorities for access to the pipes” which had been denied – but provides no evidence of such repeated requests or any clue how he came to know about them.
In his response to Bret Stephens’s criticism, Beinart snarls that Fadel was “unjustly arrested by police from the Jewish state,” leaving the reader to puzzle over what led him to this far-reaching and unflattering conclusion – other than his own prejudices.
Water – the dry facts
What Beinart fails to convey is that since the conclusion of the Oslo II Agreement almost two decades ago, the entity responsible for supplying water to Palestinian consumers, such as the Jabers, is the Palestinian Authority – not Israel; that since these accords, Israel provides the PA with quantities well in excess of its Oslo II obligations, and that the amount of water it transfers from inside pre-1967 lines across the Green Line is more than the entire consumption of the maligned “settlements” together with their “swimming pools and intensive irrigation systems” he so resents.
Indeed, for Israel to supply consumers like the Jabers, it would have to usurp powers given to the PA. Is that really what Beinart is advocating? Had he wished to, Beinart could have painted a far different – accurate – picture of Israel’s water policy and the huge benefits the Palestinians have derived from it.
For whether one focuses on overall consumption of fresh water; per capita consumption of fresh water; consumption of fresh water relative to Israelis; accessibility of running water to households; the area under agricultural cultivation; or the size of the agricultural product, the conditions for the Palestinians improved dramatically under Israeli administration.
And while it is true that per capita consumption of water by Israelis is much higher than that of Palestinians, he could have explained – correctly – that this is principally a result of differences in demand, rather than supply, due to differences in lifestyles. After all, similar – indeed greater – consumption differentials prevail between various socioeconomic groups within the Jewish population without anyone suggesting this reflects ethnic bias.
The facts are incontrovertible. Whereas in 1967 only 10 percent of the “West Bank” Arab population was connected to a running water system, the figure today stands at 95%.
Likewise, Palestinian agricultural performance improved dramatically, even though water allocations were not increased. (In recent years Israeli farmers have had their freshwater allocations slashed by 50% and more.) This was facilitated by the introduction of advanced irrigation and cultivation methods, resulting in an increase of the area cultivated by about 160% and of the agricultural product by 1,200%.
Attenuating or amplifying alienation
Clearly then, Israel’s water policy could have been presented as a telling illustration of the deeply humanitarian impulses of Israeli society, even toward a hostile alien population whose deeds and declarations repeatedly affirm their rejection of the Jewish state. Beinart could have seized on the hydrological facts to underscore the tolerance and extraordinary goodwill Israel has displayed toward an implacable adversary. (Interestingly, the Jaber family is on record as rejecting any compromise or acceptance of Jewish statehood, which might have made an illuminating – albeit discordant – footnote in Beinart’s book).
Instead, he chose to embrace the most derogatory, defamatory and distortive depictions of Israel’s water policy and endorse the deceptive and deceitful hydro-narratives propagated by the likes of Omar Barghouti, a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Way to go, Peter! Again, we might speculate as to what is likely to attenuate the alienation of liberal US Jewry and what is likely to amplify it: The false portrayal – on the basis of dubious anecdotal evidence – of Israel’s water policy as discriminatory deprivation? Or the factual presentation of the extraordinary enhancement it has irrefutably brought to living conditions for the vast majority of Palestinians? Well, we know what Beinart seems to think.
These are but two examples in which he elected to adopt a pejorative presentation of Israel/Israeli actions when compelling countervailing alternatives could have been espoused with greater plausibility. His work is replete with additional instances, but to deal adequately with them I would have to write a book of my own.
Despising the demos
The more one delves into Beinart’s pronouncements, the more dubious his Zionist credentials appear.
For although he tries to suggest that his disapproval is focused mainly on “this Israeli [i.e. Netanyahu-Liberman ] government,” a perusal of his works suggests otherwise.
Indeed, as the following excerpt from his New York Review of Books essay indicates, he has a deep distaste for much – if not most – of the sectors comprising the Israeli population: “Israeli governments come and go, but the Netanyahu coalition is the product of frightening, long-term trends in Israeli society: an ultra-Orthodox population that is increasing dramatically, a settler movement that is growing more radical and more entrenched in the Israeli bureaucracy and army, and a Russian immigrant community.”
He quotes a plethora of opinion surveys, expressing dismay at the findings which reflect views of varied segments of Israeli society – from the Russians to the religious, from school kids to settlers. Indeed, he seems to reserve his most severe censure for Israel’s youth, bewailing that “Attitudes are worst among Israel’s young.”
So while Beinart claims he values Israel’s democracy, it seems he deeply detests the Israeli demos – or most of it.
Presidential faux pas
It was recently announced that Beinart has been invited to speak at the 2012 Israeli Presidential Conference later this month.
This is a scandalous blunder of breathtaking proportions.
Indeed, it is difficult to think of anything less appropriate. It is a slap in the face for the large swathes of the Israeli public for which he has expressed such deep and undisguised distaste. It is an unconscionable insult to millions for whom Beinart has demonstrated his unmitigated contempt.
Think of it: Would anyone dream of inviting Richard Goldstone to such an event? If not, neither should Beinart be invited. He is more hypocritical, more detrimental and more undeserving.