Gary Rosenblatt thinks I’m a good guy but found my book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” frustrating. How appropriate, because I think he’s a good guy too, but thought his review did The Jewish Week’s readers a disservice.
Reviewers are supposed to analyze a book’s argument. Gary barely tries. He writes that “Beinart weakens his moral case by ignoring Israel’s security concerns.” Gary’s evidence for this assertion? He doesn’t offer any.
It’s simply not true that I ignore Israel’s security concerns. To the contrary, I detail the potential threats — from conventional attack, from missiles, and from terrorists — that Israel might face if it allowed a Palestinian state. I quote the noted Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld in explaining why the threat of conventional attack across Israel’s eastern front has declined. I argue that Palestinian security cooperation and the separation barrier — both of which have helped reduce Palestinian terrorism in recent years — are more sustainable over the long-term if Israel ends the occupation. I note that the vast majority of former heads of the Mossad and the IDF support a Palestinian state. I say that a Palestinian state clearly poses risks, but that the risk of a permanent occupation that forces Israel to choose between its Jewish and democratic characters is worse. I guess Gary missed all that.
Gary criticizes me for seeing “the Washington-Jerusalem relationship through a one-sided political lens.” How is my depiction one-sided? What did I get wrong? I devote two chapters to the struggle between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, chapters based on dozens of interviews that unearthed a great deal of previously unreported material about the interaction between the two men and their governments. My basic contention is that Obama wanted an aggressive push towards a Palestinian state on almost all of the West Bank, but was stymied because Netanyahu, with support from major American Jewish organizations, did not. If Gary thinks that narrative is wrong, he should provide some evidence. But once again, he provides none.
He suggests “that the onus for [lack of] progress [toward a Palestinian state] is on the Palestinians who have rejected Israeli peace offers without proposing any of their own.” But my book cites evidence from Israeli diplomats like Gilead Sher and Israeli journalists like Bernard Avishai that in both 2000 and 2008, the Palestinians did in fact offer their own peace proposals. That doesn’t excuse them from blame. In “The Crisis of Zionism,” I criticize Yasir Arafat harshly, calling his role in the second intifada “a crime.” But what’s so frustrating about Gary’s review is that he does not engage with the actual evidence in my book. Instead, he offers sweeping assertions unsubstantiated by any evidence of his own.
But that’s not the strangest part of Gary’s review. The strangest part is his insistence that my book has been panned by “a wide range of Jewish thought leaders.” Really? It’s been praised by New Yorker editor David Remnick, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and noted philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, not to mention Bill Clinton. So who are the “wide range of Jewish thought leaders” that Gary has in mind? He mentions J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami. But Ben-Ami hasn’t panned my book; he hasn’t even read it. Yes, he disagreed with my op-ed calling for boycotting the West Bank and instead investing in democratic Israel, but even then he declared that “It’s critical for the Jewish community to hear Peter’s clear diagnosis of the problem Israel is facing.”
Which other “thought leaders” does Gary cite? He quotes Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. But Rabbi Hirsch’s views aren’t exactly a surprise given that he’s publicly debated me twice. Finally, Gary offers two lengthy, and highly critical, quotes from the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris. What Gary doesn’t say is that my book criticizes Harris for, among other things, calling a West Bank without Jewish settlers “Judenrein,” and thus equating the relocation of settlers with the Holocaust.
Let’s replay this again. My book repeatedly criticizes David Harris. Gary then quotes Harris at length to support his claim that “Jewish thought leaders” dislike my book, all without revealing that perhaps one reason Harris dislikes my book is that it criticizes him. If one of my journalism students did that, he’d get an F.
Gary Rosenblatt is rightly respected for his distinguished career in Jewish journalism. But his review fails to grapple with the arguments and evidence in my book and offers a misleading portrait of the reaction to it. The Jewish Week’s readers deserve better.
Peter Beinart, author of the Daily Beast blog, Zion Square (www.thedailybeast.com/zionsquare.html), is author of “The Crisis of Zionism” (Times Books).