Prof. Beinart will headline this coming week's J Street conference in Washington, DC, with the launch of his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, in which he will continue his critique of the American Jewish establishment and Israel for not working to end oppressive policies and practices against the Palestinians and thereby pave the way for peace. It is surprising that Beinart suddenly emerged as a marquee critic of American Zionism in May, 2010, with a scathing article in The New York Review of Books, accusing American Jews of alienating their young people by forcing them to choose between their traditional liberal ideals and support for Israel. (The warm mutual embrace of Beinart and J Street is not a surprise, however, as J Street is dedicated to working for changes that would reconnect liberal peace-seeking values with Zionism.)
One would not have expected this from the editor of The New Republic magazine from 1999 to 2006, known as unwavering in its support for Israeli policies under his then-boss, Marty Peretz,
the former publisher and editor-in-chief of TNR. This same Peter Beinart has sharply turned away from his and TNR's support for the Iraq war in 2003, but it's unclear to me if he has also strayed from the internationalist-liberal tough-mindedness that defined his first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. According to Wikipedia, this book attempted a difficult synthesis (a project I sympathize with, even as I wince at the overweening title):
... Beinart argued that, paradoxically, the only way for America to distinguish itself from the predatory imperial powers of the past is to acknowledge our own capacity for evil. Acknowledging our own moral fallibility, Beinart argued, would lead America to embed its power within structures of domestic and international law. This, Beinart argues, was the great accomplishment of early cold war liberals like Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and Harry Truman. The Bush administration, by contrast, carried on the tradition of right-wing anti-totalitarianism—exemplified by cold war intellectuals like James Burnham—which warned that recognizing America’s fallibility would lead to crippling self-doubt.Regarding his second book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, HarperCollins, 2010, this Wikipedia article continues:
... according to George Packer in The New Yorker.., [it] "look[ed] back at the past hundred years of U.S. foreign policy in the baleful light of recent events [and found] the ground littered with ... the remnants of large ideas and unearned confidence [as demonstrable in] a study of three needless wars", the First World War, Vietnam, and Iraq. ... WWI, Vietnam and Iraq were presented as each "based on an oversimplifying ism—Progressivism, liberal anti-Communism, and neoconservativism—and ... respectively, the hubris of reason, the hubris of toughness, and the hubris of dominance.Last month, for another surprise, a prominent Los Angeles Conservative rabbi, David Wolpe, who admits to being no fan of settlements and the occupation of the West Bank, vigorously attacked Beinart in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, with an opinion article entitled in its web link, "Dear Peter Beinart: A Little Humility Please." I agree with Rabbi Wolpe that the ongoing conflict is not simply Israel's fault. At times, Beinart may come off as being too moralistic about a conflict in which both sides have committed transgressions, but Wolpe seems to be missing the essential fact that the ongoing settlement project, now moving forward aggressively in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, is undercutting Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state---which is Beinart's basic point. Here are some excerpts from Wolpe's critique of Beinart's email to J Street supporters:
.... The parade of self-confident sophistries is confounding. “Denied rights simply because they are not Jews.” Beinart’s phrase elides a torturous history of renunciation, rejection, terror, promises of annihilation and, well, war. It places the entire burden of the conflict on the Israelis, inhabitants of the only state in the world whose existence is constantly questioned and threatened. It turns what has been a painful (and, to be sure, sometimes brutal) occupation of a population, with agonizing options on both sides and blood-strewn sidewalks, into the thinly veiled implication of racist oppression. ...This is Peter Beinart speaking at a previous J Street national conference:
I’ve read Beinart’s writings, heard him speak and always thought him smart and thoughtful, even when I disagree. But now, the pen of the propagandist is masquerading as prophet.
.... It characterizes those who disagree with Beinart as the destroyers of democracy — pretty dramatic rhetorical overkill. My guess is he has been watching too many Republican debates.
Is there no room for honest dissent? I am no fan of the settler movement. I agree that two states is the only just and workable solution. But (and this is where we apparently diverge) I acknowledge I could be wrong about how to get there. We agree that Palestinians have suffered terribly. An end to the current impasse is urgently needed. But Beinart’s certainty about the ends of equality and statehood has frozen into lockstepping the means, and dictating acceptable attitudes. There are thoughtful, kind people who disagree. Many of them, I suspect, do not aspire to raze democracy. This e-mail is an end-zone dance, a strutting lack of humility.
.... when a nation struggles with the threat of being vaporized in a nuclear conflict, to call its policies on the West Bank and Gaza “the great question” is myopic at best. ... Does Beinart, does anyone, imagine for a moment that reconciling with the Palestinians will persuade Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop weaponizing high-grade plutonium? [Actually, I think this might help!--R. Seliger] ....