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!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • 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.