Monday, May 17, 2010

The Unthinkable Reaction

Earlier today, Balloon Juice's DougJ wrote incredulously:
Presumably, the attacks will come, but I’m very surprised that there has been no mention yet at The New Republic or The Weekly Standard of Peter Beinart’s excellent, brutal anti-AIPAC/TNR/Weekly Standard piece from the New York Review of Books.

Beinart is a former TNR editor, as well as a big Iraq War pimp, so perhaps that inoculates him from the full 5,000-word Wieseltier treatment, but it’s been over 24 hours and no one has called him a self-hating appeaser of Islamofascism yet. What gives?

At the same time, Joe Klein wrote:
I would hope that the leaders of AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League etc etc would read it and think about it carefully, and that it forces those who have refused to debate these issues--how unJewish!--to start a real dialogue.

But I'm sure that it's only a matter of hours before someone calls Beinart anti-Israel or a self-hating Jew. How sad.

Jeffrey Goldberg quite appropriately responds:
Come on, Joe! There is real debate all the time in the Jewish community, even within the ADL! I've been to national meetings of the ADL when actual debate broke out! I belong to the biggest and most established Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., and one of beloved rabbis is a leader of the hard-left group Rabbis for Human Rights, and you know what? No one cares. Liberal critics of Israel and the organized Jewish community are going to have to let go of this particular meme. (Please see my post on a related subject, the taboo that won't shut up.) We live in an age when cartoonists -- cartoonists! -- are threatened with death for drawing pictures of the Muslim prophet, and yet an unseemly amount of space on the Interwebs is given over to condemning Abe Foxman for writing hostile press releases. It is not an act of bravery -- physical bravery, spiritual bravery, intellectual bravery -- to criticize Israel, not ever, and certainly not today.

By the way, I just asked Peter Beinart if he's been called an Israel-hater or a self-hater today. His response: "Actually no one has. It's been the biggest shock -- and happiest one -- of the piece. I don't think my grandmother has read it yet, though."

Of course, there are some rabid supporters of Israel's furthest right flank who have, in so many words, made that precise charge. But I think it is fair to say that Maggie's Farm ("Beinhart's 'liberal Zionism' is difficult to distinguish from that of ultra-left Jews who bash Israel or demur to the bashers and apologize for Obama’s dangerous domestic and foreign inanities."), William Jacobson ("Essays like yours, and those of the Medias Matters crowd, simply are viewed as small victories for those who seek the destruction of Israel."), and Phillip Klein ("[A]ll liberal Jews want to do is to pin the blame on Israel's efforts to defend itself, and engage in the magical thinking that more Jewish concessions will create peace and security. By doing so, they are helping the enemies of the Jews who are intent on finishing the job that Hitler started.") are not exactly AIPAC or the AJC. They do not represent or drive opinion in either the Jewish community writ large, or in its most prominent institutions. They are marginal, well, cranks.

And as for TNR -- the entity whose response was assuredly going to be a 5,000 word hit job? Well, Jon Chait has the first response up, and ... it's positive. "[A] call to arms to the American Jewish leadership that needs to be heeded." The essay is laudatory because "somebody needs to grab the American Jewish leadership by the lapels and shake some sense into it." Does he have quibbles? Of course he does, and those quibbles are well worth reading -- particularly the part where he notes that criticizing someone's critique of Israel is no more "silencing" of "criticism of Israel" than a piece like Beinart's is "silencing" of support of Israel. But his piece is obviously one of someone who thinks Beinart's essay is onto something very important, one that deserves to spread and lauded and trumpeted. Hardly the reaction we were told to expect. But maybe that's because we were somewhat overconfident in our presuppositions about what the pro-Israel community thinks. Perhaps we'll know better next time (UPDATE: Hell, even the Orthodox Union -- who of all people had the most right to be upset with Beinart's piece, given that he does cast Orthodox Jews as somewhat of a bogeyman -- are praising the article, or at least lauding it for getting a discussion going).

See my prior commentary on Beinart's essay here.

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