Left wing lightning-rod Peter Beinart says he was “disappointed” by the change of venue of his talk at an Atlanta Jewish book festival -- in response to complaints about of his participation -- because he wanted to engage his critics.
“I’ve spent my whole life arguing issues with people in my own family and my own shul who are more conservative than me,” said the CUNY journalism professor and Open Zion blog editor, who caused a stir with his recent book, “The Crisis Of Zionism,” which argued that knee-jerk support of Isrel was in conflict with liberalism and threatens to alienate young Jews. He also believes in boycotting goods made in settlements, a view shared by many Israelis.
“I feel very strongly connected to those people because of their commitment to the Jewish people and Israel,” Beinart told The Jewish Week in a phone interview Wednesday, referring to people who hate his book (and guts.) “I don’t come to this as an outsider. I only do this because I care about the Jewish people.”
The New York Times broke the story that Beinart was to be included among 52 authors at the Marcus Jewish Community Center in Atlanta, until right-wingers complained. The speech was first canceled. But J Street, which was co-sponsoring Beinart’s appearance, arranged another venue, with 200 tickets – far less than the share of 10,000 participants he might have attracted at he broader event.
“I want to speak to the people who disagree with me,” Beinart said. “So the only disappointment is that maybe I won’t get the chance that much.”
Beinart added that rather than be angry at his critics, he sees their point of view: “People are afraid; they see Israel under attack and here’s this Jewish guy getting all this attention bashing Israel. They say we’ve got enough tsuris without Beinart coming along as this nice Jewish boy giving Israel a hard time. I totally understand that.
"But I just think it’s self-defeating. A lot of the disagreement in the organized Jewish community, more and more is because of this generational division. The Jewish community would be a lot smarter to embrace the discussion, because if you don’t you’ll just push them further and further away and leave them to more radical elements.”
Beinart said critics of his book “might be surprised to see that it is partly a defense of Zionism and the idea of the Jewish state and might be surprised at how often I defend Israel’s legitimacy against people who deny it, including a lot of young Jews on American campuses.”
Ex-New Republic publisher Martin Peretz dismissed Beinart, who was managing editor of the magazine in the 90s, as vain in an interview with The Tablet. “It’s a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive,” he told the website in March.
And Gary Rosenblatt said Beinart weakens his case by ignoring Israel's security concerns.
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