24 July 2012

We love you too, Peter Beinart

Cliche is a surrender to an irresistible urge to repeat something obvious. The urge should be satisfied in the beginning of a text, to stop bothering the author afterward. Thus: in our days the ability to charm the audience - the wrapping, if you will - means much more than the contents, than the real message a person carries. A certain PM and a certain president immediately come to mind, of course, but a man of a new(er) generation, Peter Beinart, is of concern to me lately. The brotherly love he exudes and the message he carries make him a significant source of danger looming on the horizon.

Lovable indeed.

Peter has several things going for him: an immediately likable appearance, an excellent brain, a way with words (worth reading a few articles if you don't want to invest in his latest book, The Crisis of Zionism) and his ability to charm the audience (either via his writings or in direct contact) is obviously up there with the best (or the worst, if you count Mr Trotsky, Mr Hitler etc) crowd charmers in history.

A good example of this ability to charm you through his writings is a piece in Open Zion: Sharing a Noun. Forget for the moment your political or geopolitical beliefs and just read it once to get a general impression - just like I did (I will use that article later to illustrate another point).

Now tell me whether Peter is or isn't a thoroughly likeable person. If you think he isn't, you've probably majored in misanthropy anyway and nothing I say in this post will matter to you, so you might as well quit at this point. Anyway, the man who can openly confess to the bond his "tribalism" creates with a woman whose political views are on the opposite side of the spectrum, is not an ordinary run of the mill Jew - Israeli or not*. And, if I am to be the judge, he is as open and as truthful about it as a person could be.

But let's leave the article alone, for a while at least. There is nothing like a live witness (I haven't had an opportunity to meet Peter myself). The article Peter Beinart, 'Mick Jagger of the U.S. Jewish establishment,’ faces the music by Allison Kaplan Sommer tells the story of Peter's encounter with a group of largely ideologically hostile Zionists. The lede of this article tells almost the whole story:
The author engaged in a polite exchange with his critics, but in a subsequent Q&A with bloggers he won over even his most adamant detractors.
It must have been an extraordinary performance: to cope with people like Abraham Foxman, Leon Wieseltier, Alana Newhouse in a general discussion and with right wing bloggers such as Yisrael Medad in a subsequent session with the bloggers - all this takes a remarkable presence of mind and ability to communicate peacefully with one of the most difficult audiences one can imagine. Of course the point is not that Peter succeeded to change the minds of his opponents**, but the masterly soft touch that makes him all the more likeable.

And let me preempt the shrilly voices of the extreme left for whom Peter is another Zionist under the progressive guise and the shrilly voices of the extreme right for whom he is another "self-hating Jew" (a stupid misnomer applied indiscriminately and unthinkingly like a knee-jerk reaction to any disagreement). I believe that Peter Beinart is a supporter of Israel and a true believer in what he considers to be his credo.

In short: there is a lot to love in Peter Beinart and a lot to expect from his future, which could be quite extraordinary. Yes, we love Peter Beinart and we could be easily influenced and even led (given an opportunity) by him.

The more dangerous to our future he is.

The message

According to his Wiki page, Peter was born in 1971. He was 22 when Oslo Accords were signed. I don't know whether he followed the subsequent developments. I don't know what he thought about them and how he reacted. I don't know whether he experienced the intoxicating atmosphere of hope, fairly soon turned to ashes (some of the ashes on our heads, figuratively speaking) and despair. He definitely didn't experience it deep enough to learn something from the sad story.

He was already an adult in 2005, when Sharon enacted the "disengagement" from Gaza Strip. He must have been aware of the hopes for a beautiful peaceful neighborhood, the cooperation, the new seaport for Gaza, the airport, the joint enterprises etc. He couldn't have missed the grim reality, the beginning of Qassams (no, Hamas didn't invent Qassams after the disengagement - it was way before that, with a wink from the late Yasser A.)

Some of today's youngsters look for answers at the cheap slogans of mostly dead communism, unaware or oblivious of the atrocities committed in the name of the bright socialist future. Peter, as some of the other youngsters - Jewish ones, is apparently oblivious of the history of I/P crisis and of the pitfalls awaiting any newbie who tries a cavalry attack approach to solve it all. His readiness to fight reality with slogans is obvious in this quote, for instance:
...some Americans Jews talk about “them.” “They hate us; they don’t want peace; they teach their children to kill; they don’t think like we do.” Sometimes it’s not even clear who the “they” is: 11 million Palestinians, 300 million Arabs, 1.5 billion Muslims, all of the above? It’s a rhetoric of dehumanization, practiced by people who lack the empathy or historical memory to see parallels between the way we talk about “them” and the way anti-Semites have long talked about us.
I don't know about "some Americans Jews", but when I want to know how many people hate me, I prefer to look at some polls (just like a politician). And then I see numbers - like these:
Percentage of Muslims with Unfavorable Views of Jews:

Jordan - 100 percent
Lebanon - 99 percent
Egypt - 98 percent
Morocco - 88 percent
Indonesia - 76 percent
Pakistan - 74 percent
Turkey - 60 percent
I would think that a professor of journalism and political science is not precluded from doing the same. Of course, if I were a stickler for precision, I would agree with Peter's unhappiness about these "some Americans Jews". But Peter obviously isn't a stickler, after all he didn't look at a poll. OK, so, if I am to be a stickler, only "some of the Muslims" hate us - from 60 to 100 percent... Some may call it "rhetoric of dehumanization", some wouldn't. I would prefer to call it pessimism borne by bitter experience and a correct vision of "the way anti-Semites have long talked about us" (and still continue to).

As for the anecdotal: "A prominent right-wing Jewish activist recently told me, in a burst of fury, that “they” are “animals”" - how should one, called on the daily basis a pig (or is it ape? I usually confuse the modern Islamic designations of Jews and Christians), respond to this? As an outburst of a not very clever person in the heat of the moment or as a part of deliberate racist policy of Zionists? If the former - why mention it at all, and if the latter... well, you decide.

These were random examples of emotional pressure being used as a replacement for clear and logical thought. But these are just small change, compared to the monumental display of naivety (from his Wiki bio):
In an op-ed in The New York Times in March 2012, Beinart recommends what he calls "Zionist B.D.S." — a boycott of goods made in the Israeli settlements combined with renewed support for Israel within the Green Line, including East Jerusalem.
Including East Jerusalem... and with this idea Peter wants to capture the hearts of the potential peace partners on Palestinian side? Does he really expect this prime example of wishful thinking to serve as a beacon for Israel (or Palestinians, for that matter) in settling the disagreements?

And the whole "selective BDS" idea, used as a clumsy attempt (or another clumsy attempt) to drive a wedge between "good Israelis" and "bad Israelis" - but I've already addressed that one.

In general: short on facts and logic and long on rhetoric, good will and good intentions - not supported by anything we are witnessing in our day to day life here.

And still, when Peter proclaims his love of Israel or his vision of the enemy, I believe him, and I am quite certain about this. It just so happens that in our (mutual) history we have experienced many false prophets whose love of Israel doesn't need to be questioned.

Love and foreboding

So, after the confession of love to Peter and after finding his logic wanting and his (good) intentions misdirected - what could be added to the soup?

I don't seriously consider Peter Beinart as a runner-up in the next (fairly close) Israeli elections. Although, to be frank, we could do with some new blood here, seeing as how we are plumb out of worthy leaders lately. But no, I am not seeing Peter coming to Israel and jumping into the sewers of local politics.

What I do see quite clearly is the emergence of a new faction in already quite fragmented US Jewish community. I can see where Peter's charm and ability to captivate audiences will work wonders with, at least, the young generation. The ones who don't ask too many questions and are affected more by an outpouring of emotions than by boring history - they must be thrilled and captivated indeed.

Which means, when all is said and done, more trouble in the long run - both in US and here, where we are walking quite a narrow ledge as it is.

Too bad.

(*) Two or more Jews arguing politics are, to an outside observer, a moment from committing murder or, at least, some violent act upon each other. Far from ready to get to violence in reality, such group will, nevertheless, hardly stop to consider the issue of brotherly bond...

(**) He certainly didn't change Yisrael Medad's mind, which fact could be clearly seen in this selection of posts from Yisrael's blog. By the way, the considerable number of posts Yisrael has dedicated to Peter is the best confirmation that I am not alone in my appreciation of the potential danger Peter presents.


Pisa said...

Talking about cliches, I have a very good one for Beinart: the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Pisa said...

It just hit me - if Beinart feels so strong a connection with other jewish people, ideology notwithstanding, couldn't muslims feel connected to other muslims in just the same way? If there's a "us" for jews, why couldn't be a "them" for muslims? Not every "them" has to be a demonic notion, I think.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I think he tried to score a point in this passage. Not very successfully, it appears.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

There is no arguing with that.

regularjoeski said...

Well meaning people mistake affable for likable/good often. Con Men, sociopaths, and evil men can be affable, but not likable or good. Affability will often disarm victims, especially if they assume affable people who dress well, speak well, and went to the right schools can not be evil/bad.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I think I agree with your definition re affability. But what would you say about the subject of this post? Would you define him as affable?

In any case, my humble opinion is that Peter is not a sociopath and quite an open and straightforward character. But of course I could be wrong here.

regularjoeski said...

I suspect he is an affable guy who went to all the right schools. He is rewarded by anti-semites/Israel bashers since they can point to a jew who says what they say. His schtick gets him more notoriety and coverage than he would get otherwise. The affability gives cover because as my grandmother used to say when reading about someone jewish who was arrested "but he seemed such a nice boy and is nice to his mother"

Independent Patriot said...

It is quite possible that after Beinart's performance in Jerusalem more and more of the jewish establishment will acknowledge his potential harm. The problem i see is the willingness of the US Jewish community to respect any and all opinions and welcome these people into the big tent. All opinions are not respectable nor valid. Simply because you have a right to say something does not mean you really know what you are talking about. It is quite obvious that Beinart lacks terribly in the area of history and poltiical reality.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I see. I wondered about his quest for notoriety - many Jews go that way (the anti-Israeli way) to gain some. But I want to believe in his case being somewhat different an somewhat special. Wwe shall see with time, I guess.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I agree with the point of his potential harm. This was precisely my point. Still, to use the old saying: it is better having him in our tent pissing out than out of our tent... well, you know how it goes.

Maybe not all is lost in his case.

Independent Patriot said...

Sadly I think Beinart is pissing into the tent as he decides whether he wants to stay inside or not. Animals know not to defecate where they live, not so with Beinart and their ilk. And we just stand around and take it...stoopid joos

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Standing around is not an option, I agree. What this post is about exactly.