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?
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