Last we heard from Peter Beinart, the prophet of liberal Zionism was trying to convince American Jews that a tougher tack needed to be taken with Israel and its settler enterprise. The many, many critics of Beinart’s book, The Crisis of Zionism, rightly argued that Beinart had focused his efforts too shrilly and too myopically on the settlers and not on, say, the threats against Israel (manifested by rocket fire from Syria, Gaza, and Egypt this week alone) as well as the Palestinian rejectionism that have doomed peace efforts.
The biggest uproar was reserved for Beinart’s call for a “Zionist” boycott of the settlements, the products made there, and even how we refer to the geographical area.
“Instead, we should call the West Bank ‘nondemocratic Israel,’” Beinart wrote in a Times op-ed lifted from his book.
It was a strategy so benumbingly ill-considered that even his allies at the liberal pro-Israel group J Street had to distance themselves from it. As it turns out, Jews aren’t much in favor of boycotts on others Jews and Beinart has largely squandered his credibility on the topic with the Jewish establishment he means to persuade. (For a great look at Beinart, I recommend Allison Hoffman’s piece here.)
Nevertheless, Beinart, whose solicitude for Israel’s long-term democratic health is genuine, forges on, writing about Israel on his Daily Beast blog “Open Zion” and speaking about liberal Zionism. One of the stops on his speaking tour was meant to be the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival, a two-week event that invites over 50 authors (and Tony Danza) and draws nearly 10,000 presumably literate people to read and kibitz and be challenged by controversial Jewish topics.
Then this news came in last night:
But after some members complained, the [Marcus] center canceled his event. Even though another Jewish group rescheduled his talk, the center’s decision prompted boycott threats, criticism from rabbis and charges of censorship.
While it’s clearly the right thing that the talk has been rescheduled, it is unsettling that the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival sponsorship has been removed. Many may disagree with Beinart’s views, but he must given the chance to speak, especially at an event that heralds the literacy and independent thinking of Jewish people. The new Beinart event has sold out and I am confident that the people who attend will be able to make up their own minds about his views and be more conversant in the crucial issues because of it.
Of course, the biggest irony here is that the forces hoping to deny Beinart a stage are falling for the same phony prescription that Beinart ordered himself when he called for a boycott of the West Bank. Instead of boycotting, we should be talking to the settlers. And to Beinart. And to each other.