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

(page 2 of 2)

Jonathan Rosen of Nextbook, writing in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, is more subtle. He grabs an unfortunate quote from Beinart’s grandmother, lamenting the Jews’ endless wanderings, and crafts it into a devastating opening: “‘The Jews are like rats,’ Peter Beinart’s grandmother told him when he was a boy. ‘We leave the sinking ship.’” Further on he quotes Beinart calling for “a new American Jewish story” and continues: “The wish for a new testament is old in Judaism, though some would say that Beinart’s attempt to separate Judaism’s sinful body from its liberal soul — the better to save it — is an antiquated act.” In other words, Beinart is Paul of Tarsus, ancient nemesis of faithful Jews. No, wait — he’s Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor.

For seriously unhinged, though, nobody beats Rabbi Daniel Gordis, writing in The Jerusalem Post. He calls Beinart’s book an “Israel-bashing fest,” claims Beinart “actually detests Israel,” then says Beinart’s “problem isn’t really with Israel. It’s with Judaism.” American liberalism, with which Beinart “is so infatuated,” doesn’t have room for “Jewish ethnic nationalism.” Working up a lather, Gordis says he doesn’t know “which kiddush Beinart recited on the first night of Passover” (it shouldn’t be a mystery — Beinart, unlike Gordis, is Orthodox), what’s in Beinart’s Haggadah or whether he’s familiar with the Torah blessings. His point is that all these texts declare the Jews’ tribal separateness and rage against “the nations,” mandating a xenophobic rancor that Beinart somehow lacks. Gordis even quotes approvingly “the Talmud’s claim that ‘converts are as burdensome to [the people of] Israel as leprosy.’” Pour out thy wrath, indeed.

There’s a certain irony operating here. One of Beinart’s key goals is to question the narrow parameters that communal leaders attempt to impose, with some success, on American Jewish discussion of Israel. The trouble is, those narrow parameters also preclude questioning the narrow parameters. Pushback was inevitable.

But that doesn’t explain the attacks’ venomous, ad hominem intensity. For that we must look to the general mood of panicked rage sweeping some segments of Israeli and American Jewry: the McCarthyite attacks in Israel on human rights organizations and the New Israel Fund, the attempts to keep J-Street speakers out of synagogues and to defund or shut down Israeli film festivals screening the wrong Israeli films. The legal threats against campus Arab student groups. The hounding of M.J. Rosenberg. It’s hard to remember such a dark mood of repression since the days of the enemies’ lists circulating in the community in the early 1980s.

Back then, Israel was giving back Sinai and the PLO was between bombings, quietly building its base in Lebanon. And today? It’s been five years since the last Palestinian suicide attack. They’re building a state from within and adopting nonviolent protest. Is the right panicking because the noose is tightening? It sounds crazy. I’m just saying.

As for explaining the participation of The New York Times and The Washington Post in this anger-fest, I’m stumped.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at Goldberg@forward.com


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!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • 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.