Peter Beinart has taken the lessons of Professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer to heart. The two professors, one of whom taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the other at the University of Chicago, were respected in their field, but unknown to the general population. As soon as they took on Israel and its supporters in the U.S. with their essay on the Israel Lobby in 2006, they became folk heroes to the Left and the assorted collection of Israel haters in the U.S., Europe and the Arab world.
Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper in the London Review of Books, (and later their book on the same subject) was poorly argued, poorly researched, and above all fundamentally wrong in its conclusions. (In just one example, despite the authors’ lame attempt to argue otherwise, neither Israel nor its supporters in the U.S. drove the U.S to war with Iraq.)
But none of this had any impact on the authors’ newfound notoriety. Suddenly, they were in demand at more than just dull political science conventions. They had become players. They commanded much higher speaking fees. They earned nice advances and royalties for their book. Getting the imprimatur of two icons of academia for an anti-Israel screed is a big deal.
At universities, where Israel is the least favored nation on the planet and is viewed as the source of much of what is wrong with the world, to have such distinguished professors from elite institutions make the anti-Israel case, instead of members of radical Palestinian or Muslim groups, was like manna from heaven.
Peter Beinart was one of many young editors to circulate through the New Republic in the past 20 years. After leaving the journal, his career seemed to languish a bit and his commentary did not get anyone very excited (nor did it get him noticed very much). He supported the war in Iraq in 2003, and at that point, seemed to fit pretty comfortably into the category of center-left writers who, after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, supported a more muscular U.S. foreign policy.
Then, in early 2010 , Beinart chose to follow the Walt-Mearsheimer model. In an article in the New York Review of Books, he bemoaned the loss of support (and even hostility) for Israel among young educated Jews, and decided that his sympathies were with this camp of Jews who had become alienated from Israel. Beinart argued that future generations of American Jews would be lost to Israel unless it stopped the settlements and agreed to a two-state solution that would include self-determination for the Palestinians.
Beinart’s argument suggested that the reason leftist Jews were uncomfortable with Israel was that Israel, and Israel alone, was the guilty party, both in oppressing the Palestinians, and preventing a deal between the two sides from being achieved. The second argument is not only highly debatable, but also wrong. One could fill many articles and books with histories of Palestinian rejectionism, and the Arab states’ and Palestinians’ far greater interest in destroying Israel than in establishing a new Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” as the by now very stale bromide states. But Beinart routinely makes excuses for the Palestinians, and always falls back on Israel as the guilty party in why peace is not achieved.
The more insidious reality is that many of the young Jews whom Beinart seems to worship for their idealism and commitment to social justice and ability to judge Israel on its merits, regardless of their ethnicity, care not a whit for Israel, and that would be the case even if the state were entirely within the Green Line and the settlements disappeared. The Left is appalled by states (or at least non-Muslim Western states) that have a foolish attachment to religion, ethnicity or tribalism. The crowd at the sold-out one-state solution conference held at Harvard two weeks ago included many Jews, both as lecturers and attendees. These people want the end of Israel.
A year ago, Beinart was one of three award recipients at the J Street annual conference in Washington D. C.
As J Street moved leftward, inviting supporters of boycotts, divestments and sanctions to their annual confab, having an establishment writer like Beinart in their midst was no small coup. Now, with a new book out this month, the launch of his Zion Square website containing articles by a collection of writers almost all of whom are virulently hostile toward the current Israeli government, and speaking engagements around the county, Beinart has learned, as Walt and Mearsheimer did before him, that bashing Israel is good for business (earning power) and for personal recognition, both of which are undoubtedly very important to Beinart at this stage in his career.
As J Street prepares for its upcoming annual meeting, at which Beinart’s book will be the talk of the conference the Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions movement has also become more mainstream within J Street. There is no more need for apologetics or contortions about including BDS supporters in J Street events now that Beinart, in a New York Times column on Monday, argued for a boycott of the West Bank, or as he calls it, non-democratic Israel (I never said the guy had a way with words).
The key to Beinart’s “logic” is his concluding statement: “If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within.”
Think about that one. If Israel were only to end what Beinart calls its oppression of the Palestinians in “non-democratic Israel,” we should then be able count on the relaxation or elimination of the threats from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the murderers of Jews around the world. All threats that Beinart either discounts entirely or, at best, grants a little lip service.
Beinart would have us believe that Israel’s enemies, who are real, would be far more amenable to laying down their arms and accepting the legitimacy of the “democratic Israel” if there were no longer an “undemocratic Israel.” This must, after all, be the core of the conflict with Israel for worshipers of democracy like Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
We certainly have recent evidence of how well the strategy of dismantling settlements or abandoning territory worked out after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Gaza. Perhaps Beinart can take his family to live in Sderot for a few months to do some on-the-ground research.
Beinart must believe that the surrender of that last batch of occupied territory is all that is needed for the Palestinians to give up on their “right of return,” or their near-100-year war with any kind of Jewish state of any size. And of course, the international community and the U.N. will immediately abandon their hostility toward Israel, and get on with addressing real human rights abuses in other member states.
Beinart, unfortunately for him, is the victim of some bad timing, much like Bill Ayers. The New York Times’ effort to rehabilitate Ayers culminated in giving him op-ed space to make a non-apology for his bombings and attempted murders during the Vietnam era. Ayers’ article appeared on Sept. 11, 2001. Beinart’s latest screed arguing for a selective boycott against Israel appeared on the same day that three children and a young rabbi were murdered in Toulouse, France, presumably, by someone unhappy with Israel’s activities in “non-democratic Israel.”
Beinart is obviously thrilled that he has become the point person between the hard Left that wants Israel gone today, and the slightly less doctrinaire Left that will push its agenda that could also lead to Israel disappearing, but a bit more slowly. Regardless of any real security concerns facing Israel, Beinart is convinced that his new agenda - boycotting the settlements until Israel is forced to give them up (preferably due to pressure from the man Beinart calls the first Jewish President) is important because it is being carried forward in the name of the real things that should matter to Jews: social justice and allegiance to real democracy. And of course to the importance of Peter Beinart.