Peter Beinart: Trojan Horse in the Temple
by RACHEL NEUWIRTH, JOHN LANDAU
June 5, 2012
"Give me the avowed, the erect, the manly foe,
Bold I can meet,-perhaps may turn his blow!
But of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send,
Save, save, oh save me from the candid friend."
-British statesman George Canning 1770-1824 CE
Peter Beinart, author of the recently published The Crisis of Zionism and editor of the Daily Beast's "Open Zion" blog, has been criss-crossing the nation on a speaking tour for months, speaking at synagogues and to Jewish student groups on college campuses. He sometimes lectures alone, and sometimes engages in "debates" with individuals whose areas of disagreement with him are limited.
American Jews are not alone in laying out the welcome mat for Beinart. Within the past week, the Jerusalem Post published an editorial welcoming Beinart into the "big tent" of "Zionism," and commending his call for a boycott of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as "well-intentioned" and somehow different from similar calls by foreign governments. In an unprecedented move, the Jerusalem Post's weekly columnist Isi Leibler was compelled to condemn his own newspaper's editorial as "idiotic."
Why are we Jews laying out the red carpet to this man? And why, in general, are we Jews so friendly and deferential to our worst enemies?
One reason is that, despite the efforts of our enemies through the ages to portray us as super-sophisticated criminal masterminds, we Jews are actually very simple-minded and naive, at least where our enemies are concerned.
Beinart professes at every opportunity to love Israel and to even be a "Zionist." He boasts that he even has an Israeli flag displayed on the wall of his six-year-old son's room. This seems to render his Jewish audiences oblivious to Beinart's repetition and endorsement of nearly every element of the Arab world's anti-Israel narrative and his overwhelmingly negative characterization of Israel as an "undemocratic" society.
Not that Beinart isn't also a clever debater. His principal tactic is to make so many false or misleading statements all at once that it is impossible to reply to or even to keep track of them all. Inevitably, some of them will sink subliminally into the minds of his audience, if they are the least bit open to suggestion. Also in his arsenal of debating tactics are distortions by omission and false assumptions implied by his tone and the drift of his argument. These methods are especially insidious since they do not require the "lie direct" and make it difficult for the audience to examine the implied assumptions on which they are based.
All three of these tactics were much in evidence during Beinart's debate with Daniel Gordis at Columbia University on May 2. Within the space of six minutes, Beinart informed his audience that Israel's rule over the Palestinians is "undemocratic" and "South African" in character (he avoids using the inflammatory word "apartheid" when speaking to Jews not yet fully indoctrinated in hostility to Israel); that "occupied" Palestinians are not allowed to vote, while Israeli Jewish "settlers" in the "occupied territories" are; that Palestinians are stopped at checkpoints while Jewish settlers are waived through them; that Israel is sponsoring "settlement growth" in the "remote" Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba and in Ariel, which is "thirteen miles inside" the Palestinian territories; that Israel is "paying" Israelis to move to the "occupied" territories; and that Israel's government is the obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The claim that Israel denies the Palestinian Arabs the right to vote is flat-out false. Palestinians have voted repeatedly in Palestinian elections without Israeli interference of any kind. The only reason they have not voted in the last few years is that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has refused to hold elections in open defiance of the Palestinians' own constitution, and he has continued to rule his people without any legal mandate. That is Abbas's own choice, not that of Israel or, for that matter, the Palestinian Arabs. The claim that Palestinians are forced to submit to searches at checkpoints while Israelis are automatically waived through is equally false. As Eli E. Hertz has pointed out, Israeli Jews are routinely subjected to searches at checkpoints whenever they go into a supermarket, restaurant or post office, or get on a bus-usually several times each day. In addition, they are frequently stopped at roadside checkpoints, just as Palestinian Arabs are.
Nor does Israel's government pay anyone a single shekel as a reward for moving to a "settlement." In fact, it issues so few permits for new houses in the so-called "settlements"-actually villages and suburban communities less than 15 miles from Israel's 1949 armistice lines-that it is almost impossible for young Jewish couples with children to remain in them, much less for Israelis from within the "green line" to move to them.
Furthermore, there is no real similarity between Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. Israel has completely integrated public transportation, restaurants and markets, and has no legal restrictions on the right of the 1.2 million Arab citizens of Israel to live on or to own land anywhere in Israel. There are numerous integrated neighborhoods throughout the country, and Arabs serve as members of parliament, judges and government ministers. In fact, an Arab judge recently convicted former Israeli president Moshe Katzav of rape and sentenced him to prison. Could a black judge (of course there were none) have done that to a white president in apartheid South Africa?
There is no truth at all to Beinart's claim that it is Israel that has refused to make peace with the Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership refused generous Israeli proposals for a Palestinian state alongside Israel in 2000 and 2008. They now refuse even to talk to Israel's government without preconditions. For that matter, the Palestinian Arab leaders refused the proposal of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 for a Palestinian state twice the size of the present "West Bank" and Gaza Strip combined-which Israel accepted. Of course the Palestinian leadership has, since 1947, refused even pro forma to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. It still refuses to do so.
But as outrageous as Beinart's outright falsehoods are, his omission-distortions and false implied assumptions are more damaging because the listener may not even be aware of them.
Beinart repeatedly denounces Israel for denying the Palestinians equal rights with Israelis, without mentioning that the Palestinians are waging war on Israel, and have been doing so continuously for the past 65 years. No nation has ever granted equal rights to members of a nation at war with them. Nor can any nation that is being subjected to armed aggression and siege afford to do so. The Palestinians have been waging a relentless war against Israelis for at least 92 years, even before the independent state of Israel was established. The conflict has been an extraordinarily brutal war replete with war crimes such as blowing up civilians on buses, street corners and restaurants, executing children as hostages, and beating infants to death. That war is still very much in progress, as Beinart and everyone who reads the daily newspapers knows full well.
Beinart's assumption that a state is undemocratic unless it grants equality of rights to everyone who lives under its jurisdiction is not valid even in relation to peaceful communities. Puerto Ricans living in their own country cannot vote for president or elect voting members of Congress, although they are subjected to the rule of the U.S government and to U.S.military "occupation." The inhabitants of the U.S.-ruled Virgin Islands are not even allowed to elect their own governor. The inhabitants of American Samoa and the Federated States of Micronesia in the Pacific region do not have the rights of American citizens, although they are subjected to the rule of Washington. And the people of these territories are not even at war with the United States and never have been. If Peter Beinart really believes that the right to vote and all other citizenship rights must be extended to every one living under a nation's jurisdiction, why doesn't he tour the country demanding these rights for Puerto Ricans, Virgin Islanders, Samoans, and Micronesians subject to American "occupation"?
Beinart describes the Jewish suburb of Hebron, Kiryat Arba, as a "remote" settlement without mentioning that it is all of 13 miles from Israel's parliament building in Jerusalem or about the same distance as Washington's Dulles International Airport is from the White House and the Capitol building. Nor does he mention that Jews lived in Hebron continuously for almost three thousand years before they were forced to leave as a result of the Arab pogroms of 1929. Kiryat Arba is thus only a resettlement of a very ancient Jewish "settlement." The revived community was put outside the old city of Hebron only because the Jordanian occupiers had seized the old Jewish quarter of Hebron and given it to Arab merchants. The Israeli government, which actually favors Arabs over Jews whenever there are property disputes, has refused to permit Jews to return to the Jewish-owned but Arab-seized Jewish quarter in the old city of Hebron, thus necessitating formation of a new suburb for the city's Jewish quarter.
Beinart does mention that the "settlement" of Ariel is thirteen miles inside the "Palestinian territories," but only in the context of expressing indignation at Israel permitting some "settlement growth" in a place so "deep inside" Palestinian territory. He does not mention that Israel's pre-1967 "border" (actually a temporary military armistice line) nearest to Ariel is all of nine miles from the Mediterranean Sea. This would make it exceptionally easy for an Arab army to cut Israel in two in five minutes and drive the Jews into the sea if Israel were to evacuate the 20,000 inhabitants of Ariel, destroy the university campus there, and withdraw to pre-1967 lines in order to comply with Beinart's requirements for a "democratic" Israel and a "contiguous" Palestinian state
In any case, the supposedly sacrosanct "Palestinian" territory is only the area that happened to be occupied by Jordanian troops when Israel and Jordan negotiated the armistice (not a treaty of peace) that ended Israel's War of Independence in 1949. This is yet another fact that Beinart fails to mention when he so indignantly protests "permitted settlement growth" so deep inside the proposed territory of a projected future Palestinian state.
To return to our initial point, however, the warm welcome accorded to Beinart by Jewish communities and congregations throughout the country is far more worrisome than Beinart's own remarks, which would make little difference if he were not so readily admitted to Jewish communities like the Trojan Horse inside Troy. For example, in his introductory remarks to a debate between Beinart and David Suissa at Hollywood's Temple Israel, John Rosove, the rabbi of the congregation, not only assured his audience of Beinart's love and loyalty for Israel, but warned them in stern tones never even to question it.
By shielding Beinart from any questioning of his motives and objectives for incessantly bashing Israel, Rosove and others acting as hosts for Beinart's presentations of course give his message a "heksher" (or rabbinical seal of approval). They have accepted the gift borne by the Greeks and brought it into the temple.
Rachel Neuwirth is an internationally recognized political commentator and analyst. She specializes in Middle Eastern Affairs with particular emphasis on Militant Islam and Israeli foreign policy. She is president of Middle East Solutions.
John Landau is a freelance journalist, independent scholar, and longtime student of world history and international relations.