With one article in 2010, Peter Beinart, 41, a former editor of The New Republic, turned himself into a leader of those American Jews who had grown disaffected with Israel. The article was followed this year with a book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” and a blog, Open Zion, which cemented his role as one of the most controversial figures in the Jewish community.
For those inclined to his views, Beinart’s book made a brave argument that the Israeli government, in its treatment of the Palestinians, was quickly losing the support of the traditionally liberal American Jewish community. But there were plenty of people — including some on the left — who thought Beinart was presenting too simplistic a view of the conflict, one that made Israel the only guilty party. His critics were particularly disturbed by his public call for a boycott of products from West Bank settlements.
Beinart took his case on the road, debating conservatives like Daniel Gordis and Alan Dershowitz. He maintained in these debates that he had a deep love of Israel — passed on to him by his parents, South African Jewish immigrants — and that his criticism comes from this love. The fact that Beinart himself attends an Orthodox synagogue and sends his two children to a Jewish day school made it harder for his critics to simply dismiss him as a knee-jerk hater of Israel. In some ways this was Beinart’s greatest asset. It allowed him to bring the argument over Israel’s policies inside the Jewish tent.