What to do about Peter Beinart?
I was Rabbi at Oxford University when Peter studied there as a Rhodes Scholar. He often came to our Oxford L’Chaim Society Shabbat dinners on Friday night.
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Some of his fellow Rhodes Scholars have become famous as distinguished politicians, senators and ambassadors, while others have become leading philanthropists, noted academics and broadcasters.
Peter, however, has come to prominence as one of the world’s foremost Jewish critics of Israel. That, of course, is his right. But he is known for little else. And make no mistake—being Jewish and slamming Israel is going to get you in the news.
This past week, Peter trained his guns on Elie Wiesel, the very face of the murdered six million of the Holocaust. His argument: Mr. Wiesel is insensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians. Another sin: Mr. Wiesel is friendly with Sheldon Adelson, the world’s foremost Jewish philanthropist. Yet another offense: Mr. Wiesel recently took out ads in The New York Times and Washington Post supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sounding the alarm in Congress as to the genocidal Iranian nuclear threat.
I know something about these ads, having organized and produced them together with Prof. Wiesel so that his unmatched moral voice could be heard above the political fray.
I also know something about Peter’s constant critique of Israel, having debated him at Columbia University last year.
It is not surprising that Peter would find himself at odds with Mr. Wiesel, seeing that their perspectives are diametrically opposed. For Mr. Wiesel, the Jewish people are a benevolent nation and Israel is a righteous democracy. For Mr. Beinart, the Jews are not the victims they portray themselves to be, and Israel is just as capable of inflicting destruction on humanity as its dictatorial Arab neighbors.
In our debate, Peter made his initial presentation by arguing that Israel is occupying the West Bank and imposing a double standard of law for Palestinians and Israelis, necessitating the need for boycotts of all products originating in the West Bank.
I asked him if he uses an iPhone. After all, China has occupied Tibet since 1951 and Apple products are assembled in China. Peter categorically refused to answer the question. And why doesn’t Peter call for a boycott of all Russian goods, now that they’re occupying Crimea? It seems that only Israel offends him.
In his book, The Crisis of Zionism, in which he continually upbraids Israel as a country that discriminates against Arabs even within the green line, he writes of Judaism’s most festive holiday: “the Purim story ends… with the king giving Persia’s Jews license to do to Haman’s people what Haman wanted to do with them—and the Jews slaughtering 75, 000 souls.” He repeats the charge in his attack on Elie Wiesel. Of course, he curiously omits that the Jews, according to the book, only did so in self-defense after Haman’s genocidal decree.
One shudders to think how Peter would write a history of World War II. No doubt we would be treated to bloodcurdling descriptions of allied atrocities that slaughtered millions of Germans and Japanese. No doubt Peter would tell us of bloodthirsty Churchill’s decision to wipe Dresden off the map in an attack of more than a thousand Lancaster, Halifax and B-17 bombers that killed 25, 000 Germans in three days. Doubtless we would hear about Roosevelt’s decision to bomb Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin with a combined 75, 000 tons of allied explosives. Peter would tell us of the monster Truman who dropped atomic bombs on the innocent civilians of Hiroshima, killing 75, 000 instantly, and Nagasaki, where between 40, 000 and 80, 000 were killed.
Indeed these incidents were horrific.
But would Peter have preceded any of these descriptions with the facts of how the Japanese initiated all these hostilities by bombing Pearl Harbor in an unprovoked attack that killed nearly two and a half thousand American sailors? Would he have told us that according to most historians, America would have suffered more than a million casualties invading Japan, and only avoided doing so because of the atomic bomb? And would he have informed us that by British sensibilities, the only thing that could stop the Nazi war machine and the Holocaust was utterly destroying the German will to fight, even if it involved the horrific bombing of cities, which the Germans themselves started July 10, 1940 in their Battle of Britain—during which time they killed at least 40, 000 civilians.
Does Mr. Beinart even believe in the Jewish people’s right to defend themselves, be it in ancient Persia or the modern State of Israel?
Mr. Beinart believes that Israel’s priority should no longer be self-defense but controlling its awesome might. Israel, in his view, is a country that trades on the victimhood of the Holocaust but today faces no real existential threat. The decade of lies by the Iranian regime as to its nuclear program should be overlooked, as should its repeated calls to annihilate Israel. To Peter this is just bluster. Israel should turn the other cheek.
“We are not history’s permanent victims, ” he says of the Jews. “In a dizzying shift of fortune, many of our greatest challenges today stem not from weakness but from power.” Why not tell that to the three mothers of the Israeli teens murdered last summer? Why not look the family members of the four Rabbis murdered in Har Nof and tell them how Israel’s real challenge today is in staying its own hand and curbing its own power? Go visit the families of the four murdered Jews in Paris, or the four people murdered in a Jewish museum in Brussels or the Jewish security guard mowed down in Copenhagen. Get them to sign on to your thesis of Jewish omnipotence and the need to curb it.
It would be easy to ascribe to Peter the negative motivation of Jewish self-hatred. Instead, I find in him a naïveté that trivializes Hamas’ genocidal intent from the east; Hezbollah’s murderous rockets from the north; Syria’s chemical weapons to the northeast, which have already been used in killing some 150, 000 Arabs; and the Palestinian Authority to the east, which, according to Times, gives $50, 000 to each terrorist “hero” who is released from Israeli prisons after murdering a Jew. And casting the biggest shadow over Mr. Beinart’s bizarre comment, is the Iran nuclear threat and Supreme Leader Khamenei’s repeated promises over countless years to “wipe” the “Zionist dogs” off the earth.
In a column published last April, Mr. Beinart viciously attacked global Jewish humanitarian and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson as a man promoting a culture of hate. As proof, he cited Mr. Adelson’s comments from a panel I organized in December 2013, where Sheldon said that in order to show Iran we’re serious about stopping them from getting nukes, we should detonate a bomb in an empty desert, hurting not a soul, perhaps only a few scorpions. In my debate on April 1 with Peter, he distorted Mr. Adelson’s remarks and fraudulently claimed that the philanthropist had threatened genocide against the people of Iran, calculatingly omitting his words that no one should be hurt. It was an appalling misquote that Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist, rightly called him on immediately.
But while falsely imputing genocidal intent to the world’s foremost funder of Birthright Israel and other landmark Jewish programs, Mr. Beinart is much more forgiving when it comes to groups that actually do call for the extermination of the Jews.
The Hamas charter calls for the genocide of Jews wherever they may be found, including outside of Israel. “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Muslims… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” But Mr. Beinart is prepared to overlook such calls for global mass murder because, “Hamas has in recent years issued several new documents, which are more compatible with a two-state solution.” Since those “more compatible” decrees, Hamas has fired thousands of deadly rockets at Israeli towns, schools, hospitals and buses. And if not for Israeli ingenuity with Iron Dome, thousands of Israelis would be dead.
Peter is uncomfortable with Israel’s military response: “Israeli jets never bombed Auschwitz and never will. What they have bombed, in recent years, is the Gaza Strip, a fenced-in, hideously overcrowded, desperately poor slum from which terrorist groups sometimes shell Israel.”
Sometimes? 5, 000 rockets in ten years is sometimes?
Aside from Mr. Beinart’s trivialization of the rockets, he does not question how a population in Gaza, which, according to The New York Times is “already the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid” to which “[t]he United States alone has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, ” are so destitute? It’s because Hamas leaders have spent money designated for hospitals, schools and roads on bombs, bullets and rockets to kill Israelis, not to mention lining their own pockets.
Arafat died with assets estimated at $1.3 billion, and now even Mahmoud Abbas, who has not even visited Gaza since Hamas came to power in 2006—so afraid is he that he’ll never make it out alive—is being accused by Muhammad Rasheed, Arafat’s chief financial advisor, of having stolen $100 million and given his sons Tarik and Yasser monopoly control of all cigarette trade and construction in the Palestinian Authority.
In Mr. Beinart’s eyes there is little that racist Israel can do right (the same applies to the “American Jewish establishment” who feel “forever persecuted and licensed by their fears to worry only about themselves”). Israel is even responsible for emerging Islamist dictators like Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Turkey only began shunning the Jewish state after Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, and after Israeli troops killed eight Turkish militants who tried to break Israel’s blockade of the strip in 2010.” But even frequent Israel critic Tom Friedman gets it when it comes to Mr. Erdogan, penning an excellent column in last week’s Times that rightly accuses Mr. Erdogan of the most crude anti-Semitism and dismantling a once-thriving Turkish democracy.
Perhaps Peter should praise Mr. Erdogan directly to the people of Turkey who have watched their president crush peaceful protests in Istanbul, engage in the most insidious corruption, imprison journalists and shut down YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
Even the “widespread anger” we’re witnessing in Arab countries like Egypt is due, not to the brutal suppression of their rights by Mubarak, Morsi or any other leader who might suppress protests and throw newspaper editors in jail, but to the fact that Palestinians have yet to attain independence.
In his naive effort to have the Palestinians look more enlightened than Israel, Peter is not beyond flat-out invention. Concerning the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, he writes: “Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said they would allow” Jews to live there. Apparently Mahmoud Abbas, who said in July of 2013 that no Israeli settlers could remain in a future Palestinian state, never got the memo.
Finally, Peter believes that “a Palestinian state…would be demilitarized and Israel…would enjoy the benefit of an international peacekeeping force in the Jordan Valley.”
Tell that to the 150, 000 innocent Arabs who have been slaughtered by Bashar al Assad with the U.N. Security Council passing not a single resolution in condemnation. Tell that to Rwanda, where I traveled last year to give the prayer at the national commemoration for the 20th anniversary of the genocide, occasioned by Kofi Annan and the U.N. pulling out its peacekeeping troops against the strenuous objections of U.N. Commander General Romeo Dallaire. Tell that to the 10, 000 men and boys of Srebrenica who were massacred at the U.N.-declared safe zone in 1995. Most of all, tell it to the Jews of the Holocaust, whom an international force ultimately did rescue, only five years and six million Jews too late.
Peter Beinart, who made his name attacking his own people, now attacks Elie Wiesel, a man who earned a global reputation as the champion of the memory of six million defenseless Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
Sorry, Peter. Much as it irks your sensibilities, Jews don’t walk willingly into gas chambers any more. They don’t plead with popes and princes to protect them. They have built an army to lend dignity and security to Jewish life. And if that offends you, well, we’ll just have to live with the offense.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Founder of This World: The Values Network, the world’s leading organization defending Israel in the media. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.