Peter Beinart

Our Own Worst Enemies

On December 13, 2011, Thomas J. Friedman, in his weekly column in the New York Times, ripped into American supporters of Israel, expressing his hope that Bibi Netanyahu was aware that the standing ovations he received in Congress were “bought and paid for by the Jewish lobby.” His terminology set off a firestorm among American Jewry, with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren saying that “Mr. Friedman has strengthened a dangerous myth.” After a week of being heaped with ridicule and abuse, Friedman broke and told the Jewish Week that he wished he would have used a “more precise term, such as engineered.“ Friedman’s mea culpa welcomed him back into the Jewish community, where he continues his tirades against the Jewish state today.

Last year, Peter Beinart published his book titled “The crisis of Zionism” whose sole purpose was to illustrate how Israel’s insufficient liberalism was causing estrangement amongst American Jews who place their trendy left-wing politics ahead of their people. This followed up his controversial article in the New York Review of Books in which he castigated the American Jewish leadership for not forcing Israel into more leftward policies in order to make American Jews more comfortable with their support of Israel. He also published a now-infamous op-ed in the New York Times calling for Jews to boycott Jewish-made goods from the West Bank and to refer to it as “non-democratic Israel.” Beinart’s views have caused him enormous problems in his social circle. A New York Magazine article described how his former friends at his synagogue avoid him, his family members are furious with him, and his fellow left-wing Jewish writers such as Bret Stephens and Jonathan Rosen have lambasted him in the press. However, he still occupies a comfortable place in Jewish political discourse today, being a frequent panelist at events such as the Jerusalem Post leadership conference and the General Assembly in Denver.

Why do we, in the Jewish community, give any sort of platform to people like this? What is the difference between Jewish leaders and our worst enemies if they espouse identical rhetoric?

The reason for the unequal treatment is that the above-mentioned writers were born Jewish. By the accident of their Jewish birth, left wing Jews are given a license to assault Israel relentlessly and echo our proven foes. American Jewry has antennae constantly pricked up for anti-Semitism. We don’t focus on what the person in question said, or what his ideas are. Rather, we examine the person himself to see whether or not his ideas stem from Jew-hatred. When the debate over President Obama’s anti-Israel tilt rages, supporters always bring up his pro-Israel statements, even while his actions have permitted a threat to Israel’s existence to remain. Anyone voicing a hostile opinion toward Israel is accepted if he does not have any proven anti-Semitic leanings.

This needs to change. What difference does it make if a person is an anti-Semite or not? What matters is whether the one in question is harming Israel. Richard Nixon was a notorious anti-Semite, but his actions during the 1973 war saved Israel from destruction. Conversely, Jeffrey Goldberg is Jewish and has even served in the IDF, but regularly writes deeply hostile opinions regarding Israel in the press.  He seeks for the West Bank to be ethnically cleansed of Jews, bringing the center of Israel into Kassam missile range. We need to care only what the one in question is advocating and disregard his or her personal feelings. I am sure that Peter Beinart, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Thomas J Friedman genuinely love Israel. However, what difference does that make if their views are synonymous with Mahmoud Abbas’s?

Rabbi Meir Kahane identified this troubling trend as far back as the 1970’s. He coined the phrase in response, “Is it good for the Jews.” His proposal says that we should only view ideas regarding Israel through a prism of how it affects Israel. It would be a good idea to put this idea into use today.