What Peter Beinart doesn’t lack is attention—what he lacks is friends. That’s the conclusion you can draw from New York magazine’s lengthy profile of Beinart, the fiery liberal Jewish journalist who recently published his jeremiad warning of Israel’s imminent demise. In “The Crisis of Zionism,” Beinart’s much bally-hooed new book, he argues that if the state continues to hold on to the occupied territories, it will have to concede that it is no longer a Jewish democracy and a de facto apartheid state.
New York magazine’s profile this week, by Jason Zengerle, a former writer at The New Republic, where Beinart was the editor from 1999 to 2006, gets a lot of things right. It aptly notes that much of the criticism of Beinart—especially among liberal Jews like himself—seems less to do with the actual substance of his argument, then with its general tone.
Zengerle writes that “the vitriolic tenor of much of the criticism from the center-left has less to do with substance than with Beinart’s tone—a moral self-righteousness and an accompanying self-certainty. There is a belief, shared by Beinart’s admirers and detractors, that he is not content to merely be a liberal Zionist writer but that he wants to be a liberal Zionist leader. ‘He hasn’t just written a book; he’s trying to start a movement,’ says Eric Alterman, a writer for The Nation who is in a ¬Torah study group with Beinart and is an ¬admirer of the book.”
The piece could do without some of the potshots on Beinart. Zengerle has a good time drudging up gossip that Beinart is a bit of a careerist—but let’s be honest, what journalist isn’t vain, especially the types who circle in the nation’s elite publications? But otherwise, the piece does give a telling look into Beinart’s world these days. Beinart’s main arguments about Israel—like the need for a two-state solution, his belief in a Jewish majority and the necessity of a Jewish stat—are in no way radical, and rather mainstream. But it’s not what he’s saying but how he’s saying it that appears to have left him out in the cold.
It’s too bad, because at the root of it, Beinart is doing liberal Jews an invaluable service. He’s making a liberal case for the Jewish state, and issuing a clarion call that those comfortable, or even in quiet disapproval, over the state’s current policies need to wake up. If they don’t, it’ll only be the liberal anti-Zionists—the ones who don’t want a Jewish state—to occupy the space countering Israel’s many conservative supporters. If you care about Israel, it’s not hard to speak about against the real threats it faces from without. But it takes courage to speak out against its own self-inflicted wounds. That’s what Beinart’s doing. He could use more friends.