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Peter Beinart, I Quit.

In a 2010 article in the New York Review of Books, pundit and writer Peter Beinart accused the U.S. Jewish establishment of alienating young American Jews by refusing to criticize Israeli government policies.  He has now published a book, The Crisis of Zionism, which expands on his argument and proposes that Zionists support "democratic Israel" but boycott goods produced in the settlements.  In advance of the book's publication, Beinart launched a blog on the Daily Beast titled Open Zion (formerly Zion Square)dedicated, he said, to an "open and unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future."  The blog engaged Dr. Yoel Finkelman to report regularly on the ultra-Orthodox community.  Finkelman was enthusiastic about participating in the project.  But after several weeks of Open Zion, he has concluded that its conversation is not, in fact, openand is not one in which he can continue to take part.  In the letter below, he resigns his position.  —The Editors

_________________________________

Dear Peter,

Unfortunately, I must resign from my role as regular columnist for Zion Square, now Open Zion.

When you contacted me several months ago about writing a weekly post for the Daily Beast summarizing developments in ultra-Orthodox media, I was enthusiastic.  You offered me a high-profile venue for publishing on a topic close to my heart, plus a little something to supplement my salary as a Torah teacher and lowly adjunct.  More important, you asked me to provide an important service for the community: namely, serving as a tour guide into the complex and increasingly influential Haredi community.

Yet, as Open Zion has taken shape, my conscience as a Zionist and writer has made me uncomfortable associating with the blog.

Politically, you and I have much in common, as we both lie firmly on Israel's left.  (In the religious-Zionist circles in which I run, that makes me a bit of an oddball.)  I, like you, have significant moral and political misgivings about the occupation, which we both understand to be an existential threat to Israel's status as a Jewish and democratic state.  I agree that American and Israeli Zionism require some important new conversations that will expand the range of what is currently being said.  More, I thought it important for Zionists to hear directly from Palestinians in more robust ways than television sound bites allow.

But Open Zion quickly staked out its territory in the troubling location where left-wing Zionism drifts into post-Zionism which drifts into anti-Zionism.  Perhaps that is the wave of the futurethe result, as you suggest, of young American Jews' discovering real or imagined contradictions between liberalism and Zionism.  You offered that generation an opportunity to debate the questions concerning them: Must we leave Zionism completely, or can we remain ambivalent Zionists even today?  Should we boycott some, all, or none of Israel?  

But if those are the questions of central concern to tomorrow's leadership, the Jewish people is in significant self-induced trouble.  If those are the questions of great concern to today's young Jews, I can only stake my own territory elsewhere.

Open Zion has emerged as a site with a few rich discussions of complex issues, but also as a venue for unbalanced accusations against Israel, Zionism, and settlers.  I found a few thoughtful and thought-provoking articles, but they were interspersed among simplistic arguments, one-sided claims, Twitter-feed journalism, snarky prose, and an unexamined assumption of Zionist guilt.

I wanted serious discussion of how, without sacrificing its vital security interests, Israel can help empower moderate Palestinian leadership, foster the creation of a stable and trustworthy Palestinian stateand, crucially, diminish Palestinian suffering until such time.  Instead, I got morally confused debates over whether Israel is or is not an apartheid state.  I wanted insight into the complexities of how and under what circumstances Israel might relinquish more territory to Palestinian control now that Israel's withdrawal from Gaza has brought on a Hamas takeover.  Instead, I hear far too much self-righteous moralizing about Zionism's culpability for the evil of the occupation.  I wanted serious consideration of how Zionist proponents of territorial compromise can minimize conflict and violence between the State and the settler population that stands to lose so much.  Instead, I hear cavalier posturing about Jews boycotting other Jews.

What am I to make of the frankly silly article suggesting a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and Hamas, without even a nod to Israeli doubts about Hamas's reliability in honoring whatever agreement might be reached?  Another article described the 1948 Nakba [tragedy] as involving "the depopulation of Palestine of the majority of its native inhabitants," which it certainly didat least if Jews born in the Land of Israel do not qualify as native inhabitants, and if one uses the terms "depopulation" and "majority" loosely.  But one would expect a discussion of the Palestinian tragedy of 1948 to mention an Arab world that rejected the UN Partition Plan, then lost an aggressive war designed to eliminate the State of Israel and "depopulate" (read: kill) its Jewish population.  And what about this howler of a journalistic sentence: "As it always does, the IDF blamed the civilian deaths on the Palestinians, whose fighters often shoot from populated areas"?

You see, in a few short weeks, Open Zion has become very much like the Haredi press that I survey as an academic.  In both, a small but increasingly influential group, enormously self-confident about the righteousness of its own path and dismissive of others, reports on matters as it wishes they were and not as they actually are.  In both, there is an obsession with a narrow set of topics written about constantly in a limiting and limited language.  In both, there is room for some debate and disagreement; but the boundaries of dispute are set by a priori dogmas, stated and unstated.  And, in both, the conversation pads the egos and supports the self-confidence of the participants but often provides little depth or understanding.

In my academic life, I am fascinated by the study of that kind of journalism.  But I do not want to be involved in producing it.

With wishes that Passover will bring genuine and honest peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Yoel Finkelman

Dr. Yoel Finkelman lives with his wife and five children in Beit Shemesh, Israel. He is the author of Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy.

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COMMENTS

Independent Patriot on April 2, 2012 at 6:35 am (Reply)
The only mistake this rabbi made was actually thinking that Beinart's blog at the Daily Beast was going to be an open and fair discussion of the Palestinian-Israeli crisis or a true reading of history. Obviously, he had never truly read Beinart, the Daily Beast or, for that matter, Newsweek, which owns that webmagazine.
Larry Snider on April 2, 2012 at 7:23 am (Reply)
I have my own issues with Mr. Beinart, but his blog is open to all comers and apparently needs to be pitched/evolve to reach a broader (maybe deeper) audience. Give it time, help it to reach out and in to the Jewish community, and then see what happens.
Danny M on April 2, 2012 at 9:51 am (Reply)
Peter Beinart sounds like a self-hating Jew.
David Mozes, PhD on April 2, 2012 at 11:15 am (Reply)
Dr. Finkelman, I would be most interested in your views on the writings and thought of Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net). From my little perch here in Nahariya his take on our situation is the single most intellectually honest, morally compassionate and realistic thinking. Chag pesach samayach. mozes413@gmail.com
SW on April 2, 2012 at 11:43 am (Reply)
Meanwhile, "nice" Jews are getting beaten up by those they intend to aid in opposition to Israel. See "‘2-million-strong march to Jerusalem’ fizzles; anti-Zionist rabbis beaten at Jordan protest."
http://www.timesofisrael.com/neturei-karta-rabbis-beaten-and-verbally-abused-at-jordanian-land-day-rally/
It seems that "Open Zion" is a bust from the outset, because its willingness to thrash other Jews with whom it disagrees trumps thrashing "protests" like the one cited here.
Lilly Rivlin on April 2, 2012 at 12:17 pm (Reply)
Dr. Finkelman, I am sorry that you decided to quit. Though Peter Beinart's position has been a welcome point of view for the Jewish community, has certainly enlivened the discourse, and is relevant to the future of American jewry, I think your views and opinions must be part of the discourse if we are to move on and have a meaningful dialogue. You must know that Beinart's views are necessary for the younger members of the American Jewish community who were alienated by an establishment that does not allow divergent views. You represent a view that needs to be heard and wrestled with. Come back.
Yisrael Medad on April 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm (Reply)
I wonder what Finkelman and Beinart shared concerning democracy (in the very undemocratic hareidi world) and Jewishness (in the very liberal Beinart world)? http://myrightword.blogspot.com/2012/04/first-beinart-drop-out.html
Jacob on April 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm (Reply)
It is better to disagree with the people you work for and comment on it every time, even if it is tiring. It is tiring for them, and they will start to doubt the absolutivity of their positions and have to become more thoughtful. Maybe, at least, they will pause for a moment before submitting an article, in anticipation of your response, choosing their words a bit more carefully, tempering their heat. I don't want people to stop talking, but without loyal opposition, the conversation gives off more heat than light.
Jeff Blankfort on April 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm (Reply)
There is no question but that the majority of Palestine's indigenous inhabitants of Nakba in 1948 either fled or were forced to flee. To imply that Jews born there to Jewish immigrants fit the definition of "indigenous" is ludicrous. That the Palestinians who outnumbered Jews by a two to one margin at the time, including new Jewish migrants, rejected a UN vote that deprived them of more than half of their land, was understandable, as was the response of the neighboring Arab states, which had experienced more than their share of European colonialism. Now, when the UN makes decisions that are unfavorable to Israel or attempts to do so, Israel and its supporters reject them out of hand. What's the difference?
Steve from Raleigh on April 2, 2012 at 4:35 pm (Reply)
When "debating" with so called "post-Zionists" and anti-Zionists (nothing more than new names for anti-Semites), it's pointless to try to argue points of history, fact, and reality. These people don't exist in the world of reality. They exist in a world perfected by the PLO over decades--one in which the first, last, and only response is, "Destroy racist evil Israel." It's a mistake to engage, them because in doing so you give them oxygen and you lend them credibility. Otherwise, they're consigned to the crackpot corner of the internet, replete with conspiracy theories of the lunatic fringe.
Yisrael Medad on April 2, 2012 at 5:31 pm (Reply)
Very many of the Arabs who left/were expelled from Mandate Palestine had been in the country for only a few years. The United Nations defined a "Palestinian refugee" as having to have resided in the territory for only two years. That's indigenous, but Jews born there were not? And who engaged in ethnic cleansing at Tel Hai in 1920, Hebron 1929, Gaza 1929, Nablus/Shchem 1929, Neveh Yaakov 1948, Bet Haaravah 1948, Guish Etzion 1948, Old City Jerusalem 1948?
David Sternlight on April 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm (Reply)
Left-wing ideologues handle cognitive dissonance by ignoring it or resorting to personal attack. They live in massive denial--twisting, falsifying, or editing history to fit their ideology. In extremis, they have resorted to mass murder to get their way. They are not worth attention except to stand against them when they might actually influence public policy. If you are not a left-wing ideologue, of course, the above does not apply to you.
Observer on April 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm (Reply)
The delicate flower is "uncomfortable associating with the blog."
Jeff Blankfort on April 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm (Reply)
A lot of name-calling and nasty innuendo, but no one seems to have answered the question of why one UN decision is more valid than dozens of others by that body. The notion that any significant number of Palestinians who became refugees had only been in Palestine for a couple of years is nonsense on the face of it. As to who is and who isn't or wasn't indigenous, the Mizrahim who lived in Palestine and other countries throughout the Middle East were indigenous; the Ashkenazis were not, at least no more indigenous than the settlers from the Mayflower or I am to the United States, despite the fact my great- grandfather on my father's side emigrated from Germany after the Civil War and my mother's parents came to the United States from Russia at the turn of the century. Today, I live on the land of those who were indigenous to it but are no longer around to claim it.
Jacob Suslovich on April 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm (Reply)
Most of the Arabs living in Palestine in 1948 were also either immigrants or the children of immigrants with no greater claim to being indigenous than most of the Jews.
Several hundred thousand Arabs remained in the portion of Palestine that came under Jewish control. By contrast, the number of Jews who remained in those portions of Palestine that came under Arab control was zero. All Jews who lived in the areas conquered by Jordan were killed or expelled, including the generally anti-Zionist Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem, many of whom had lived there for generations. If one finds the Arab rejection of the UN partition and the response of the neighboring Arab States to be understandable, that response was to attempt to massacre the Jews. Should one find the reluctance of the Jews to being massacred hard to understand?
koshembos on April 3, 2012 at 9:41 am (Reply)
Peter Beinart's opinion is far from unique. It's basically the view of the alleged left in most of the world, "alleged" because they are basically social democrats, lower case.
In 2012, when the Arab Spring looks more and more like the Muslim Brotherhood with very little democracy, the concentration on the Palestinian is a desperate attempt to deal with hate rather than the issues. Most Israelis support vigorous criticism of their government. Hell, this is in their genes. American Jews' reluctance to criticize is in part reflexive self-preservation. Peter, they may still come for you one day. No, you didn't make it to the other side of the bridge. Last but significant: Any American criticizing an occupation and objecting to its many world-wide common results, keep in mind the following: You invaded this country, killed its indigenous population, and stole the land, but you still feel self-righteous. Potomac, Mississippi, Seattle and Navajo are all Indian names.
DF on April 3, 2012 at 10:53 am (Reply)
Jacob, above, is quite right in noting the value of working with people with whom you disagree, and offering your opinions. I had this experience working with an ADL group. Eventually my conservative/libertarian point of view had an impact, which I was able to discern. I'm not saying my view carried the day, as I was in the minority, but I exposed them to views they had genuinely never considered. Remember, conservatives are aware of liberal views because of the media and college, but many liberals are not even aware of the conservative view. Of course, this is easier said than done. Often I had to grit my teeth over some of the left-wing stupidity I heard from the group. It is indeed much easier simply to leave.
MarcH on April 3, 2012 at 11:38 am (Reply)
Outstanding. Yasher Koach and Chag Samayach.
Jeff Blankfort on April 3, 2012 at 3:42 pm (Reply)
Regarding the statement that "Most of the Arabs living in Palestine in 1948 were also either immigrants or the children of immigrants:" The number of Palestinian Arabs who remained numbered 150,000, not "several hundred thousand" and they were subject to military law until 1966. The Arab armies, such as they were, never entered any of the land that had been designated to be the Jewish state by the UN. Neither I, my parents, nor any living American invaded this country and stole the land of those who lived here, but taking other people's land and not apologizing for it seems to be one of the "values" that we share with Israel.
SW on April 4, 2012 at 3:03 am (Reply)
When journalism is no longer about reporting truths that may be openly sourced and proved, it ceases to be journalism and becomes simple propaganda. One may then may examine the aim of that propaganda. From Marx's "Jewish Question" and its vicious conclusion forward, such propaganda has been espoused--but not by the many Jews for whom freedom speaks clearly. In this season of remembering freedom from bondage, this distinction is important. The political propensity to enslave others, for any and all reasons, is very human--and not Jewish. The watchword, freedom, clears up much. As a map and set of borders, "Open Zion" is a suicide plan for Israel but a part of the dream of Marx and beyond. Open borders are becoming an enormous problem for Europe in the same way, as an umma demands "land and law" of its own where such liberality is practiced. Open Zion? To what end?
MAH on April 4, 2012 at 4:48 am (Reply)
Until Mr. Beinart discusses the state-sponsored hate, racism, and bigotry that have been a part of the Arab world for decades (a reality that long preceded the creation of the State of Israel), his remarks are nothing other than an example of self-serving narcissism. Last night on National Public Radio, Beinart had the temerity to lament piously the "fact" that Palestinians were oppressed and subject to security checkpoints in the Occupied Territories "because they aren't Jewish." No mention of violence, terror, incessant demonization of Jews, or promised genocide. Beinart wants you to believe he is a pious and righteous "good Jew," as opposed to the "bad Jews," the ones who disagree with him. Beinart likes to cite the Holocaust as a moral foundation for his beliefs, a verbal sleight of hand that anchors Israelis and Nazis. There are plenty of reasons one might criticize Israel, and much of that criticism is warranted. But criticism of Israel in no way makes moral equivalents or superiors of its adversaries. Not even Beinart can pull off that illusion. By playing the comparison game between Israel and its adversaries in broad daylight, Beinart has authored his own irrelevance.
Jacob Suslovich on April 4, 2012 at 10:06 am (Reply)
From Wikpedia:
"The Arab plans called for Syrian and Lebanese forces to invade from north while Jordanian and Iraqi forces were to invade from east. The Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi forces were to link up in Galilee and then turn towards Haifa. In the south, the Egyptians were to advance and take Tel Aviv." So, if Arab armies never entered any of the land that had been designated to be the Jewish State, it is not because they didn't try. Tel Aviv was bombed in preparation of the anticipated attack n that city.
"During the 1947-1948 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine and the 1948 Arab–Israeli War that followed, around 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, out of approximately 1,200,000 Palestinians living in former Mandate Palestine." And "they [Jews fron Arab countries] constituted the first wave of a total of 800,000–1,000,000 Jews who over the course of the next thirty years would flee or be expelled from the Arab world."
But all of this is lawyering. The essential issue is that the Arabs sincerely feel that Palestine, having been conquered by the sword in the seventh century or therabouts, must forever remain in Muslim hands. A limited number of Jews can be tolerated as Dhimmis, but to allow a soveriegn Jewish state of any size is anathema. On the other hand, Jews feel that Israel belongs to the Jewish people. It alsways has and always will. These two views can not be reconciled. The only avenue to peace is to compromise, meaning that each side has to accept less then it feels it should. Israel is willing to accept less than it is, in the Jewish view, entitled to because it wants peace; it needs peace. The Arab world does not really care about peace. Why should it? The existence of a Jewish State does not have a direct impact on the lives of most Arabs in the Arab world, so what's the rush? Time is on their side. Only if the Arab world concludes that it will never totally destroy Israel will it perhaps accept less then , in the Arab view, it is entitled to. Right now they (except for Iran and perhaps Hamas) have temporarily deferred the idea of an immediate destrution of Israel. The plan is to chip away at Israel, boycott by boycott, international condemnation by international condemnation. Israel will cave the way South Africa caved. A separate Arab State will be established in the West Bank without the Arabs having to relinquish the claim to all of Israel. Total destuction can come later.
Jacob on April 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm (Reply)
The subject of this piece is not the history or nature of the Israeli-Arab (or Israeli-Palestinian) conflict but the nature of the discourse surrounding it. I fear you will lapse into proving his point if you keep bickering.
MAH on April 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm (Reply)
Not discussing the reality on the ground makes as a much sense as avoiding dealing with the racism of the Ku Klux Klan or Hamas. Their beliefs, behavior, and ideology are integral part of what must be addressed in discussing any resolution. This is not a tea party, though Mad Hatters do abound.
shoshlev on April 16, 2012 at 10:12 am (Reply)
First I apologize if I have errors. According to the Bible, Israel is the land of the Jews. The Bible presents the history and beliefs of the Jews, as the New Testament presents the belief of Christians and the Arabs' belief is in the Koran. According to the Bible, Israel is for Jews, and Jews lived in Israel. King David and King Solomon built the Old City of Jerusalem, the Jewish patriarchs are buried in Jerusalem, and the Jewish Jesus born in Nazareth. These are just some of the facts. Additional facts: Judaism is the first religion in the world; it existed when Christianity and Islam did not exist at all. Then the Christian religion was created, and then Islam. Muhammad would murder anyone who refused to convert to Islam. Even now, the language of the Arabs is murder, and the world is afraid. So, it is convenient to blame the Jewish state. But in Syria they are butchering children, and the world does nothing. In the Arab world human rights virtually do not exist, but the world is silent. An American journalist was raped in Egypt, but people never talked about it in the way they talk
about the Jews. So, we do not trust anyone; but God has always helped us and will help us, as he promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Until now, God has proved His ability to keep us from evil and enemies. Arabs just want to spread Islam and to rule the world. So, all the stupid leftists, wake up and open your eyes before it's too late. Most left-wing activists are people who have gotten bored as they have grown older. Thanks to so-called human rights activity, in fact stimulated by Arabs , these people feel that they have value. The Arabs don't know what human rights are: Look at Syria and Libya, where there was also slaughter.

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