Tag Archives: Peter Beinart

There’s nothing moral about Peter Beinart’s ‘Cancel Israel’ project

It’s been just two weeks since the fairly well-known Israel critic Peter Beinart published his call to do away with the world’s only Jewish state for the sake of the Palestinians. Unsurprisingly, he has gotten a lot of attention, helped by the praise of influential pundits like former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes who told his almost half million Twitter followers: “Peter Beinart is brave, thoughtful, and capable of evolving views. Which is why we should read this carefully and remember that most of Peter’s critics are working off talking points that are dishonest and decades old.”

It’s of course not surprising that the (far-) left would eagerly applaud Beinart’s shoddy effort to present Israel as an intolerable evil that must be eliminated to make the world a better place. But as I’ve already said on Twitter, I was rather disappointed to see that Damir Marusic  and Shadi Hamid – two writers whose work I respect, not least because they usually have little use for far-left flights of fancy – seemed rather uncritical of Beinart when they hosted him on their podcast.  

While both rejected the criticism I made in this thread on Twitter, they have by now also published a discussion of their podcast with Beinart on their newsletter. Instead of writing a VERY long post addressing all the points I disagree with, I will focus on Shadi Hamid’s entry which touches on the question if Beinart can really claim – as he loudly does – that his vision is eminently moral. As far as I’m concerned, this is one of Beinart’s most preposterous claims.

Shadi Hamid writes:

“Going into our conversation with Peter on the podcast, I was a skeptic and even an opponent of one-state. My skepticism has generally been of a more philosophical and moral nature. One injustice—the dispossession of Palestinians at Israel’s founding—can not and should not be undone through another injustice, in this case the ending of a state that, for many of its residents, is all that they have and all that they have known.”

Leaving aside the debate what caused the “injustice” of “the dispossession of Palestinians at Israel’s founding” – which I consider a result of the coordinated attack of several Arab League member states fighting supposedly on behalf of the Palestinians – Shadi Hamid seems to be saying here that Beinart’s call to do away with the world’s only Jewish state cannot be considered a moral cause. I obviously agree with that.

Yet, soon afterwards Shadi Hamid argues:

“On the other hand, drawing on the universalist language of equality, dignity, and justice to argue for a binational state has the advantage of being much more morally compelling than the two-state solution could ever hope to be, at least from a Palestinian perspective. In short, Beinart’s articles have confirmed to me, after considerable hesitation and reluctance, that I can’t in good conscience ask (or want) Palestinians to stick stubbornly to a vision devoid of moral purpose.”

So apparently, the fact that Beinart is “drawing on the universalist language of equality, dignity, and justice” – i.e. the rhetoric he employs – is enough to make his vision “much more morally compelling than the two-state solution could ever hope to be.”

Well, I can’t quite see how a cause that has a goal that is not moral suddenly becomes moral because it’s cleverly packaged in virtue-signaling rhetoric. 

Beinart’s argument is essentially that Israel has to be done away with as a Jewish state because that is the only way to alleviate Palestinian suffering. As it happens, Beinart’s call comes on the 20th anniversary of the Camp David Summit, when a US president and Israel’s government desperately tried for two weeks to cajole the Palestinians into accepting a state of their own on most of the West Bank, Gaza, and in parts of East Jerusalem. Soon afterwards – and while negotiations were still going on – the Palestinians unleashed the murderous Al-Aqsa intifada.

Five years later, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza; and in 2008, Israel offered the Palestinians once again a state based on even more far-reaching Israeli concessions – but the Palestinian leadership again declined. As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would tell The Washington Post in 2009, there was no rush because “in the West Bank we have a good reality.… The people are living a normal life.”

Like every anti-Israel activist who campaigns for doing away with the Jewish state for the sake of the Palestinians, Beinart downplays and whitewashes Palestinian terrorism while demonizing Israel as a monstrous evil whose existence inevitably means cruel oppression for the Palestinians. One example from the podcast is Beinart’s preposterous claim that “mass population expulsion … is after all in Israel’s political DNA” (after 42 minute mark).

There’s a term for this kind of demonization: antisemitic anti-Zionism – and the British academic Alan Johnson once provided an excellent definition:

“Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become fit receptacles for the tropes, images and ideas of classical antisemitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on.”

Ten years ago, Peter Beinart might well have agreed: as he told Jeffrey Goldberg in May 2010:

“There certainly are leftists (and for that matter) rightists who focus so disproportionately on Israel’s failings as to raise questions about their true motives.”

Now, however, Peter Beinart hopes his efforts to mainstream antisemitic anti-Zionism among American leftists will earn him admiration as a moral leader.

Defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism at +972 and Open Zion

A few days ago, I noticed on my Twitter timeline some commotion about a tweet that had been posted by a group calling itself “Free Gaza Movement” – and it should go without saying that the group’s goal is NOT to free Gaza from the oppressive and abusive rule of Hamas… Instead, Free Gaza devotes itself single-mindedly to delegitimizing Israeli measures to prevent the smuggling of explosives, rockets and weapons into Gaza, and over the past few years, the group has been organizing “flotillas” to “break the siege of Gaza.”

As with many so-called “pro-Palestinian” groups, this also means that Free Gaza spreads a lot of horror stories about Israel, Zionism and Jews. But the recent Free Gaza tweet that attracted so much attention was particularly blatant, asserting that “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” Anyone skeptical about this claim could click on a link to a video clip featuring a well-known antisemitic conspiracy theorist.

The details of this story and how it developed over the past few days have been documented by Avi Mayer; and by now, there have also been reports in the media about it. Most notably, the influential Walter Russell Mead devoted a long post to this incident, calling on Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who has endorsed Free Gaza – to withdraw his support of the group and to denounce Free Gaza’s propagation of “ugly filth of the lowest kind, gutter anti-Semitism mixed with genocidal rage.”

As I noted in a related post, Free Gaza reacted by offering various evasions and non-apologies. The group’s co-founder Greta Berlin, who was responsible for several of the antisemitic links provided by Free Gaza, claimed in a disingenuous “apology” posted on the Free Gaza website that this material “was shared to a group of people who were discussing the evils of propaganda and racism.”

Despite the fact that Free Gaza has a long record of posting antisemitic material, some people were all too eager to believe this transparently dishonest explanation. Writing on his +972 blog, Larry Derfner complained about “The slandering of Gaza flotilla activist Greta Berlin,” and on Peter Beinart’s Open Zion blog, Emily Hauser declared herself satisfied with Greta Berlin’s assurances that she was not a Holocaust denier and that, even though she hadn’t watched the video she propagated, she posted it as an example of “EXACTLY what I and others are horrified over.”

There is an ancient proverb I remember from school, which we were taught to illustrate the point that claiming innocent intentions doesn’t necessarily absolve a person of the serious consequences of an action: “though the boys throw stones at frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport but in earnest.”

Quite plainly, what Derfner and Hauser were doing, for whatever reasons, was defending Free Gaza’s antisemitism – and they could have easily realized that this was what they were doing had they bothered to just quickly scroll through the tweets of Free Gaza from the last few weeks.

Just going back to September 1, we find the following: Israel is “committing slow motion genocide” in Gaza; Gaza is a “‘forgotten’ Extermination Camp” much worse than Auschwitz, the Warsaw Ghetto and Treblinka; the Mossad was behind the man who made a film denigrating Islam; alternatively, it was some conspiracy involving “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies;” and on September 1, Free Gaza linked – not for the first time – to the writings of Gilad Atzmon, a well-known peddler of antisemitic rants.

Here are just a few screenshots of some of the tweets:

By ignoring the blatantly antisemitic material persistently propagated by Free Gaza and rushing to the group’s defense, Derfner and Hauser illustrated a major principle of Israel’s far-left critics: When it comes to so-called pro-Palestinian activists, the iron rule is “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – and of course, when it comes to Israel, the rule is “see only evil, hear only evil, and speak only evil.”

No surprise then that, in addition to his defense of Free Gaza’s antisemitism, Larry Derfner’s most recent writings include ruminations about his misgivings that “commemorating the Holocaust” and “Israeli bad taste…unfortunately tend to go together.” Right, let’s rush to dismiss blatant antisemitism propagated by “pro-Palestinian” activists and let’s instead focus on ridiculing efforts to cope with the difficulties of dealing with the trauma of a genocide that, still within living memory, wiped out one third of the world’s Jewish population.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.


Please note that the examples of Free Gaza’s propagation of antisemitic material  provided here are in addition to the ones already documented by Avi Mayer.


Since I wrote this post, Larry Derfner has responded by doing what presumably passes for real reporting at +972: he conducted a telephone interview with Greta Berlin, and proceeded to publish her lies:

“Regarding an FGM tweet about the infamous film “The Innocence of Muslims” that mentions ‘An Israeli film maker, 100 Jewish donors,’ she said those details were taken from the early reports in the New York Times and other mainstream news agencies, but that since then, of course, the story had changed. ‘The New York Times was fooled, too,’ she said.”

As my screenshot of the tweet documents, the source linked to in the tweet is not quite the New York Times, but a website called Redress; here’s the link provided in the tweet: “An Israeli film-maker, 100 Jewish donors and their Salafi allies.”  On this same site, you can also enjoy a follow-up post on “Israel’s Salafi foot soldiers in the wake of anti-Islam film,” where Nureddin Sabir, the site’s “editor”, argues:

“Israel must bear responsibility for creating the climate that gave rise to the anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims’. But it is Israel’s Salafi and Wahhabi foot soldiers behind the violent protests across the Arab and Muslim worlds who may eventually bring Arabs and Muslims down to their knees.”

Can you get any more nutty?

The other tweet on the Mossad being behind “Sam Bacile” links to a website called Cannonfire and a post entitled “Why I believe that Mossad was behind ‘Sam Bacile.’”

Most likely, none of this will impress Derfner, who writes:

“Even if I find some of her terminology about Gaza (‘slow-motion genocide’ and ‘extermination camps’) to be awfully exaggerated and dangerous, I see no evidence that she’s the monster she’s been made out to be. She’s a self-described anti-Zionist, but I see nothing she’s done or said that I, at least, would consider beyond the pale.”

And, concluding by sharing his impression of Berlin, Derfner writes:

“She doesn’t strike me as a person who scares easily, or who would disown something she believes in to stay in anyone’s good graces. If she genuinely believed in crackpot, anti-Semitic ideas, I think she’d say so and stick by it.”

Once I can think of a way to describe this conclusion politely, I’ll post an update.


Just a short while ago, Avi Mayer published installment no.2 about the ongoing Free Gaza & Greta Berlin saga. He deals extensively with Larry Derfner’s embarrassing attempts to defend Berlin, so I won’t go here into any further detail, except mentioning one point: Derfner updated the post where he so faithfully parroted everything Berlin told him with a statement signed by some people who claim to be members of the “secret” Facebook group with whom Berlin was supposedly discussing the “evils of propaganda and racism.”

First it needs to be noted that the group is soooo secret that they are apparently unable to even provide a link to their site on Facebook; and secondly, I think they are (perhaps inadvertently) rather honest when they all but admit that the opinions they were (or would be) expressing on the subjects they were supposedly discussing would really not be publishable:

“Many of us know each other personally; our mutual trust allows discussions to involve subjects that are not appropriate for public consumption, sometimes simply because our opinions are not fully ripe; we experiment with them and bounce them off each other in an attempt to understand the issues at hand, developing a better and more coherent argument.” [my emphasis]

Right, I can see why people wouldn’t want to publish their “unripe” “experimental” opinions about Nazi propaganda…


A professor holds forth on Israeli paranoia

Peter Beinart, author of the widely discussed – but apparently less widely read – book “The Crisis of Zionism,” can’t be held responsible for what his admirers write in their reviews. However, if an author tweets a review and highlights its complimentary character, I think it’s fair to conclude that he welcomes this review.

The review in question is published in the June issue of The New York Review of Books (NYRB) under the title “Israel in Peril.” It is written by David Shulman, Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Hebrew University;  as Shulman’s biographical note at NYRB adds, he is also “an activist in Ta’ayush,” a group that describes itself as “a grassroots movement of Arabs and Jews working to break down the walls of racism and segregation by constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership.”

Shulman begins his review by ridiculing Israel’s response to a planned “Air Flotilla”  organized by various supposedly “pro-Palestinian” groups adamantly opposed to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Ignoring the fact that the “Air Flotilla” organizers were hoping to bring some 2000 activists to Ben Gurion airport, Shulman asks why “a handful of harmless demonstrators” should “elicit so severe a reaction” and he then proceeds to answer his own question by claiming that there is a “logic—that of the endless war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness—[that also] underlies Netanyahu’s constant dwelling on the Holocaust in relation to Iran.”

Shulman then goes on to claim:

“Like many Israelis, he [Netanyahu] inhabits a world where evil forces are always just about to annihilate the Jews, who must strike back in daring and heroic ways in order to snatch life from the jaws of death. I think that, like many other Israelis, he is in love with such a world and would reinvent it even if there were no serious threat from outside.”

So here you have it, from a professor of humanistic studies, no less: Those Jews – at least most of those Israeli Jews – are paranoid idiots who just love to imagine a world full of terrible threats that allows them to fantasize about their “daring and heroic ” defense against these threats. Moreover, in their stupidity, those paranoids don’t realize that it is their own policies – specifically the capital O Occupation of the West Bank – that pose the greatest peril for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state.

To be sure, I largely share the concerns about a one-state scenario that Shulman professes to have. However, it is not entirely clear if Shulman’s enthusiastic activism for Ta’ayush really reflects his commitment to a two-state solution. According to the organization’s own website, “Ta’ayush” is the Arabic word for “living together” and the group was founded in the fall of 2000 – that is to say at the beginning of the so-called Al-Aqsa intifada, about which I could find as little on the group’s website as about Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism in general. Indeed, it seems that Ta’ayush believes that its supposed goal of “constructing a true Arab-Jewish partnership” is best pursued by focusing exclusively on denouncing Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the group also counts among its supporters an extremely controversial activist like Neve Gordon.

There is absolutely nothing on the Ta’ayush website that would contradict the conclusion that “the walls of racism and segregation” which the group wants to “break down” are all Israel’s fault. It should thus hardly come as a surprise that most of the Palestinians presented by David Shulman in his NYRB piece are helpless and destitute victims of Israel’s “malevolent campaign” to make their lives “as miserable as possible.” NYRB readers encounter a desperately poor “Palestinian widow with nine orphaned children” who, on a “freezing, rainy day,” is left “standing barefoot, still shocked and traumatized, in a neighbor’s tent” because Israel cruelly demolished her “ramshackle hut.” Then there is a cave-dwelling friend of Shulman, who – thanks to “benevolent” and generous European donors whose projects are opposed by Israel – gets to use a light bulb in his cave. According to Shulman, this prompted him to declare gratefully: “For the first time in my life, I feel like a complete human being.”

The message is clear: Palestinians are wonderful, simple, innocent people whose struggle to eke out a meager living is cruelly sabotaged by a malevolent Israel.

This one-dimensional view betrays not only hostility towards Israel, but also a profoundly patronizing attitude towards the Palestinians. A story posted by Shulman on the Ta’ayush website in April provides an excellent illustration.  After a detailed account of a day spent helping Palestinians to challenge Israeli restrictions on the use of land near a settlement, Shulman concludes his post by describing an encounter with some “village boys:”

“We linger in the wadi together with the sheep and the village boys. […] The village boys are into theology. “What’s your name?” they ask me. “Da’ud,” I say. “Named for the Prophet Da’ud! Are you a Muslim?” “No, I’m a Jew.” “Do you know how to pray?” “Maybe a little.” I can recite the Fatiha, the opening to the Qur’an. This makes a positive impression. “Sing it,” they say to me, “like the Mu’ezzin does.” I try. They correct me. It’s not so easy to get my voice to the upper register you need for the second phrase, but they seem happy with my efforts. “So why don’t you become a Muslim?” they ask me. “I don’t want to,” I say; “I already told you I’m a Jew.” “But on the Day of Judgment, yaum al-qiyama, only Muslims will go to Paradise, Al-Jannah, Firdaws; the rest will be burned in fire.” “I like the fire.”

They laugh. This has to be put to the test; they borrow a cigarette lighter and hold it to my finger. I fail the test. “Well, maybe we Jews won’t be thrown into the fire,” I say. “Maybe it will be cold there in Hell.” “No way!” They’re very certain. “Fire means fire. The believers and only the believers don’t get burned.” “OK,” I say, “but couldn’t a Jew also be a believer of some sort?” “Absolutely not.”

Now again: “So why don’t you take on Islam?” I’m having trouble explaining, in halting Arabic, the rationale of my choice. […] One thing we can all agree on: on the Day of Judgment, the settlers will be sent to the fire. The boys laugh again in the relief that certainty brings. Sinners are sinners, and God knows right from wrong.

I hope He does, though sometimes I’m not sure. Or maybe this is the definition of God, which we’ve arrived at together, gently teasing one another on this hill of rocks and thorns. It’s midday: a fierce sun offers a slight, still bearable taste of hellfire. I promise them that, infidel that I am, I’ll be back here next week or the one after.”

Just imagine what Shulman would write about an encounter with a group of Jewish village boys who would be “into theology” the same way these Muslim village boys are… Well, actually, there is no need to imagine much: if the boys came from a village in Judea or Samaria, Shulman already agreed with the Muslim village boys that “on the Day of Judgment, the settlers will be sent to the fire.”

That should count for something, coming from the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies at the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University…

It’s really a pity that the readers of Shulman’s piece in the NYRB will not know that this fierce critic of Israel reacts with amusement – and even seems enchanted – when he meets Muslim village boys who “are into theology” and are absolutely certain that non-Muslims deserve to burn in hell. Outside the Ivory Tower, many understand that millions of Muslim youngsters are brought up with this certainty, and that this has grim implications for minorities in the Muslim world and the well-documented endemic Muslim hostility towards Jews.

In stark contrast to Professor Shulman’s baseless assertions about the supposed eagerness of many Israeli Jews to indulge into paranoid fantasies about living in a hostile world, most Israelis dream of the day when Muslim youngsters will be brought up to accept Jews at least as believers “of some sort” who don’t deserve eternal hellfire.

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Cross-posted from my JPost blog.