What Stirred Hornet’s Nest?

Peter Beinart's Book Makes Fairly Simple Argument

By J.J. Goldberg

Published April 22, 2012, issue of April 27, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

One positive thing you can say about Peter Beinart’s critics is that none of them has smacked him in the face with a rifle butt. Not yet, anyway. That might not be far off, though, judging by the overall tone of the published reactions to his new book, “The Crisis of Zionism.”

Peter Beinart
liz malby
Peter Beinart

I was going to say “published reviews,” but that would have been misleading. Much of what’s been said about the book in the nation’s leading journals hasn’t been reasoned critique or analysis so much as vituperation. Something about this book has caused The New York Times, The Washington Post and some other normally high-minded publications to come unhinged. More precisely, to assign the book to reviewers who proceed, one by one, to come unglued.

What’s got them so agitated? It isn’t the book itself. “The Crisis of Zionism” is a relatively slight volume, expanding on Beinart’s 2010 New York Review of Books essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.” His basic thesis is that Israel’s West Bank occupation is eroding the country’s founding democratic values and alienating a younger generation of American Jews — and that the American Jewish community’s leaders and lobbyists respond with knee-jerk apologetics instead of fighting for their avowed liberal ideals. It’s been said before, but Beinart, an ex-New Republic editor and repentant Iraq War hawk, has brought a certain celebrity cachet.

The reviews, meanwhile, consist largely of, well, knee-jerk apologetics. They all seem to intone the shopworn catechism that absolves Israel of any responsibility for its own difficulties: that Israelis want to end the occupation, but it’s too risky; that criticizing settlements is a red herring, because they aren’t the real nub of the conflict; that the Palestinians’ misfortunes are due to their own behavior, not Israel’s; that it’s dangerously naive to believe that Israel got through six decades of war without ever dirtying its hands. (Funny: That’s what most of us were taught to believe.)

The litany is remarkably unremarkable. It offers little more than fatuities trotted out as though they were settled facts rather than what they are: points of argument in a fierce trans-Atlantic debate. Nor do the reviewers bother to acknowledge that Beinart’s book actually considers most of their objections and answers them, agree or not. No, their goal is to show that they know what’s going on and Beinart doesn’t because he’s — well, that’s where the reviewers get creative. How many ways can they insult him?

Wall Street Journal deputy editorial page editor Bret Stephens, writing in Tablet magazine (reprinted on the WSJ website) says Beinart is “singularly intent on scolding Israel, like an angry ex who has lost all grip on the proportions of the original dispute,” a lazy reporter whose work is “hysteria-fueled,” “an act of moral solipsism,” “another squeaky note in the blasting chorus that is modern-day Israel bashing.” Tablet’s own editor, Alana Newhouse, claims in The Washington Post, that Beinart is actually running for “the job of spokesman for liberal American Jews” while leading his putative flock in “erecting their own self-satisfied and delusional monolith, calculated to appeal to disillusioned Jewish summer camp alumni, NPR listeners and other beautiful souls who want the Holy Land to be a better place but do not have the time or ability to study the issues, learn the languages or talk to the people on both sides…”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.