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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

OMG: NY Times reviewer pans Beinart's book!

Here's something of a surprise: New York Times reviewer Jonathan Rosen has panned Peter Beinart's Crisis of Zionism.
Like a majority of Israelis, Beinart believes that it is depleting, degrading and dangerous for Israel to oversee the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians, and also like a majority of Israelis, he thinks the solution is the creation of a Palestinian state. But because he minimizes the cataclysmic impact of the second Intifada; describes Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza not as a gut-wrenching act of desperation but as a cynical ploy to continue the occupation by other means; belittles those who harp on a Hamas charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews the world over; and plays down the magnitude of the Palestinian demand for a right of return — not to a future Palestine but to Israel itself, which would destroy the Jewish state — he liberates his book from the practicalities of politics.

How you condense a thorny complexity into a short book says a great deal about your relationship to history — and to language. Beinart is especially good at invoking facts as a way of dismissing them. Thus Israel’s offer to withdraw from conquered land in 1967, and the Arab States’ declaration — “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it” — becomes literally a parenthetical aside in which the Arabs’ “apparent refusal” made Israeli settlement “easier.”

Jews, Beinart insists, are failing what he calls “the test of Jewish power.” He does not mean by this that after millenniums of statelessness, Jews are slow to acknowledge the exigencies of force but something quite the opposite, which allows him to employ several formulations favored by anti-Semites, from the notion of a White House-­crushing Israel lobby, and the observation that “privately, American Jews revel in Jewish power,” to the grotesque idea that “in the 1970s, American Jewish organizations began hoarding the Holocaust.” His statement that occupation “requires racism” indicts Israel as racist (even as Beinart notes elsewhere the libelous United Nations resolution in 1975 declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism”).

In Beinart’s world, anti-Semitism seems little more than a form of Jewish self-deception. The Anti-Defamation League fights “alleged” anti-Semitism against Israel, he tells us. To worry about existential threats to a country the size of New Jersey, with fewer than eight million people living in a suicide-bombing nuclear age, is to surrender to “Jewish victimhood.” Surely it is possible for a country to be both powerful and precarious? Surely “vulnerability” would be a better word than “victimhood”? But Beinart’s feints toward nuance repeatedly give way to stark dualisms: “Liberalism was out, tribalism was in.”


Like the Widow Douglas trying to civilize Huck Finn before he lights out for the occupied territory, Beinart has a missionary impulse toward Israel. His faith resides in “liberal ­ideals,” which he often makes synonymous with Judaism itself, or what Judaism ought to be. Thus we are told that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t trust Barack Obama because “Obama reminds Netanyahu of what Netanyahu doesn’t like about Jews,” by which he means a sense of moral obligation. In a neat trick of replacement theology, Obama, referred to as “the Jewish president,” becomes the real Jew on whom election has fallen figuratively as well as ­literally.
I don't believe that a majority of Israelis believe many of the things that Rosen says we believe. But much of his criticism of Beinart is withering.

Read the whole thing. Heh.

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