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JW Review ‘Disservice’ To Readers
Mon, 03/26/2012 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart

Gary Rosenblatt thinks I’m a good guy but found my book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” frustrating. How appropriate, because I think he’s a good guy too, but thought his review did The Jewish Week’s readers a disservice.

Reviewers are supposed to analyze a book’s argument. Gary barely tries. He writes that “Beinart weakens his moral case by ignoring Israel’s security concerns.” Gary’s evidence for this assertion? He doesn’t offer any.

It’s simply not true that I ignore Israel’s security concerns. To the contrary, I detail the potential threats — from conventional attack, from missiles, and from terrorists — that Israel might face if it allowed a Palestinian state. I quote the noted Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld in explaining why the threat of conventional attack across Israel’s eastern front has declined. I argue that Palestinian security cooperation and the separation barrier — both of which have helped reduce Palestinian terrorism in recent years — are more sustainable over the long-term if Israel ends the occupation. I note that the vast majority of former heads of the Mossad and the IDF support a Palestinian state. I say that a Palestinian state clearly poses risks, but that the risk of a permanent occupation that forces Israel to choose between its Jewish and democratic characters is worse. I guess Gary missed all that.

Gary criticizes me for seeing “the Washington-Jerusalem relationship through a one-sided political lens.” How is my depiction one-sided? What did I get wrong? I devote two chapters to the struggle between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, chapters based on dozens of interviews that unearthed a great deal of previously unreported material about the interaction between the two men and their governments. My basic contention is that Obama wanted an aggressive push towards a Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank, but was stymied because Netanyahu, with support from major American Jewish organizations, did not. If Gary thinks that narrative is wrong, he should provide some evidence. But once again, he provides none.

He suggests “that the onus for [lack of] progress [toward a Palestinian state] is on the Palestinians who have rejected Israeli peace offers without proposing any of their own.” But my book cites evidence from Israeli diplomats like Gilead Sher and Israeli journalists like Bernard Avishai that in both 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians did in fact offer their own peace proposals. That doesn’t excuse them from blame. In “The Crisis of Zionism,” I criticize Yasir Arafat harshly, calling his role in the second intifada “a crime.” But what’s so frustrating about Gary’s review is that he does not engage with the actual evidence in my book. Instead, he offers sweeping assertions unsubstantiated by any evidence of his own.

But that’s not the strangest part of Gary’s review. The strangest part is his insistence that my book has been panned by “a wide range of Jewish thought leaders.” Really? It’s been praised by New Yorker editor David Remnick, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and noted philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, not to mention Bill Clinton. So who are the “wide range of Jewish thought leaders” that Gary has in mind? He mentions J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. But Ben-Ami hasn’t panned my book; he hasn’t even read it. Yes, he disagreed with my op-ed calling for boycotting the West Bank and instead investing in democratic Israel, but even then he declared that “It’s critical for the Jewish community to hear Peter’s clear diagnosis of the problem Israel is facing.”

Which other “thought leaders” does Gary cite? He quotes Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. But Rabbi Hirsch’s views aren’t exactly a surprise given that he’s publicly debated me twice. Finally, Gary offers two lengthy, and highly critical, quotes from the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris. What Gary doesn’t say is that my book criticizes Harris for, among other things, calling a West Bank without Jewish settlers “Judenrein,” and thus equating the relocation of settlers with the Holocaust.

Let’s replay this again. My book repeatedly criticizes David Harris. Gary then quotes Harris at length to support his claim that “Jewish thought leaders” dislike my book, all without revealing that perhaps one reason Harris dislikes my book is that it criticizes him. If one of my journalism students did that, he’d get an F.

Gary Rosenblatt is rightly respected for his distinguished career in Jewish journalism. But his review fails to grapple with the arguments and evidence in my book and offers a misleading portrait of the reaction to it. The Jewish Week’s readers deserve better. 

Peter Beinart, author of the Daily Beast blog, Zion Square (www.thedailybeast.com/zionsquare.html), is author of “The Crisis of Zionism” (Times Books).

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Mr. Beinart says, 'My basic contention is that Obama wanted an aggressive push towards a Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank, but was stymied because Netanyahu, with support from major American Jewish organizations, did not.'
I would say with a great deal of certainty that Beinart's contention is correct. The problem for Obama was that he was promoting a wrong-headed policy, destined to fail. Then Prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, had just spent his whole time in office, trying to negotiate with the Palestinians, and traveling around the world declaring that he was tired of fighting and he would establish the borders of a Palestinian state on approximately 95% of the West Bank. He was the most forthcoming leader of Israel ever to sit at the negotiating table with the Pals. The demoralizing results Olmert achieved for his eagerness to withdraw from the West Bank was near daily rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. Israel's Operation Cast Lead inevitably followed from the Palestinians' penchant for using Israel for target practice. By the time Olmert faced off against Netanyahu in the election of 2009, Olmert's popularity among Israelis had fallen to about 9%. There was no way that the Israeli people were prepared to withdraw from more territory in the in the West Bank in the unrealistic hope that the Palestinians would finally lay down their arms.
In my opinion, in the political struggle between Obama and Netanyahu, Netanyahu's position wins hands down, no contest. The Israeli population was simply not willing to take more risks and make more sacrifices 'for peace' after the trauma of the events of leading up to and including Cast Lead. Beinart's views, I believe, are widely criticized because he takes the side of Obama. Many US Jews, and the majority of Israelis simply do not believe Obama's prescription for peace will work.

Funny Beinart, when I served in the IDF I don't recall seeing you doing your service. But you are front and center when it comes to sabotaging Israel's economy. That is why Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote you off at the last JStreet convention. That is also why your book got the review that it did from Gary Rosenblatt. When your book is on the 50 cent bin at the local bookstore I will then buy it just to throw it away.

What Gary doesn’t say is that my book criticizes Harris for, among other things, calling a West Bank without Jewish settlers “Judenrein,” and thus equating the relocation of settlers with the Holocaust.

Except that Harris is right. Why is the Palestinian's refusal to have an Jewish residence not pure demagoguery? Of course it is. What would Beinart say if Israel decided as part of a peace deal to relocate all the Muslims to a new Palestinian state? Quid pro quo would dictate that the Palestinians offer that if they want to demand a territory that is judenrein.

... unless what they are really after is the dismantlement or destruction of the Jewish state.

I(who fled the Holocaust as a child) have been waiting more than 20 years ,ever since I saw the conditions in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights, for voices like Peter Beinart's.

Peter Beinart makes absolute gut-level sense. No wonder the Jewish community is freaking out. I bet deep down they know he's right & they're petrified of th ramifications. He reminds me of Prez Obama. Clear super-intelligent well thought out & right on point. But best of all they'r both great visionaries rooted in well researched fact. Rosenblatt doesn't stand a chance against Beinart. Keep answering ur critics Peter. Keep talking, keep writing. We need 2b educated. Don't stop! HUUUUUUGE FAN!!!

Pete, you are of course right -- for as we all know, "its always Jews' fault!"

This fact acknowledged, let me suggest to you an old, old article explaining why Israelis behave the way they do, called "Commissar Drop Me Down": http://www.jewishpressads.com/pageroute.do/16910/

I know it offers no justifications insofar as you are concerned (since, in the light of the above general rule, there can be no justifications); yet, given that there aren't too many sound thoughts in your head other than that general rule, perhaps the article would have some effect. After all, "the nature abhorrs vaccuum" -- and there is clearly a vaccuum of understanding in your head -- so who knows?

Thanks for this great defense of your book. I am more eager than ever to buy and read it!

Good decision to publish Beinart's response!