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Beinart Launches Daily Beast Blog

‘Zion Square’ touts Israeli, Palestinian, U.S. perspectives on the Mideast

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Peter Beinart.(Facebook)

“I find very little interesting conversation about what Zionism is,” Peter Beinart, the former New Republic editor who has emerged in recent years as one of the most prominent center-left commentators on foreign policy, and especially Israel, told Tablet Magazine yesterday. “The term has become so politicized and associated with the right that this is a moment where the question of what Zionism is and the variety of different Zionisms that can exist really needs to be discussed.” The place he hopes this “intellectually open and unafraid” discussion will occur is Zion Square, his new group blog at The Daily Beast, which launches Monday.

According to Beinart, most of Zion Square’s contributors broadly share his belief in “the Jewish democratic state, based upon the principles of Israel’s declaration of independence,” alongside a Palestinian state. Beinart has come to be associated with J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization founded a few years ago to try to counterbalance the center-right pro-Israel lobby AIPAC. At J Street’s conference later this month, attendees will be able to purchase Beinart’s forthcoming book, The Crisis of Zionism; he will be there to sign it.

Among Zion Square’s ten regular columnists, only one would commonly be thought of as offering a right-of-center perspective—the Israeli Benny Morris. The rest are: Bernard Avishai, Lara Friedman, Gershom Gorenberg, Emily L. Hauser, Hussein Ibish, Yehudah Mirsky, Yousef Munayyer, Trita Parsi, and Einat Wilf.

UPDATE: Yousef Munayyer writes in to say that he does not support a Jewish democratic state, and is a “firm supporter of the Palestinian right to return, an end to the Israeli occupation and equal rights for all people living throughout the land regardless to religion, nationality or ethnic background.”

Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, might be the farthest left (APN, for example, advocates boycotts of goods made in the occupied territories but not Israel). Mirsky, rabbinically ordained and concerned as much with Jewish identity as politics, could also be considered center to center-right. Gorenberg’s recent The Unmaking of Israel is, in my opinion, a fantastic book. Wilf is the only professional politician, a member of the Knesset from Ehud Barak’s Independence Party. And Parsi might prove the most controversial selection: the president of the National Iranian American Council, he has become a lightning rod in the Iran debate, criticized by the right for an allegedly overly credulous view of Iranian willingness to back away from a nuclear program.

Beinart is particularly excited to have voices from the Arab world, including Ibish, who is Lebanese, and Munayyer, who is Palestinian (and he noted that Parsi is Iranian). “One of the defining characteristics of the organized Jewish community’s discussion is the Palestinian voices rarely have a chance to be heard by a Jewish audience,” he argued. The ways in which the organized Jewish community narrow American discussion of Israel is a theme of Beinart’s book, which will be excerpted in Monday’s Newsweek (The Daily Beast’s print counterpart), as well as of the widely read essay he published nearly two years ago, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.”

The New America Foundation, where Beinart was already a senior fellow, served as the blog’s “fiscal sponsor” (Beinart himself helped raised money for it; funders will be listed on the Website). Beinart was already a Daily Beast columnist, and it, too, he said, was a “natural place.” Some Daily Beast staffers were informed of the blog in January.

“The debate about Israel and its neighbors and the Palestinian question is a very lively and certainly timely topic,” an excited Mark Miller, Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s director of editorial operations, told Tablet. “Through the blog, Peter will bring a lot of different viewpoints.”

In addition to the blog (to which Beinart will also contribute), Zion Square will, in partnership with Americans for Peace Now, supply a daily summary of the Hebrew-language press, and less frequent ones of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and Russian-language media. (If you know Arabic, get in touch: they’re hoping to perform a similar service for Arab-language outlets.)

It’s a propitious time to start a blog about Israel: the Iranian nuclear question, to which the Jewish state is central, has dominated headlines stateside as well as over there. While acknowledging that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the media back-burner at the moment, Beinart welcomed the challenge of writing about Iran and going against “the conventional ways in which Iran is being discussed in the American Jewish world.”

Beinart here cited Parsi. There has not been enough discussion, he insisted, of the potential adverse consequences of the heavy sanctions currently being leveled against Iran; nor of realistic diplomatic solutions to the crisis; and nor of the political obstacles in Israel and the United States to striking a deal in which, as he put it, “[Iran’s] going to need to get something in return.”

“One of the things that we’ve learned—that we should’ve learned—from the Iraq War is that those years and years of crippling sanctions on Iraq were part of what undermined and weakened the middle class and made it much harder to function as a stable country after we invaded,” Beinart noted.

The Iraq reference is a reminder of what makes Beinart an unusually compelling—and controversial—commentator: he was a strong supporter of the Iraq War who recanted and now, nearly a decade later, has found himself here. “The Iraq debate has definitely shaped the way I think about Iran,” he said. “One has to really be wary of worse-case scenarios about the threat and best-case scenarios of the consequences of military action, which I think is something that characterized the pro-war voices in the Iraq debate and often on the Iran debate.”

No matter the particular crisis of the moment, Zion Square will have material. “One of the things we want to really have a conversation about,” Beinart explained, “is Jewish identity and Jewish culture more generally, and especially the question of what it means to live an ethical Jewish life in an age of Jewish power.”

He added, “For me, one of the important questions in American Jewish life is the question of whether the Jews are willing to admit that we wield power in a way that we didn’t 50 or 75 years ago, and to acknowledge that with power has to come responsibility.”

Related: The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment [NYRB]

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Jason M says:

Looking forward to it! Should be a nice counterbalance to the well-funded right-wing screeds that are constantly undermining a 2-state solution, which is the *only* path for Israel’s long-term survival.

Scott says:

“One of the defining characteristics of the organized Jewish community’s discussion is the Palestinian voices rarely have a chance to be heard by a Jewish audience,”

When Beinart refers to “Palestinian voices,” is he talking about Palestinians who speak in line with the PNM’s message or to those who deviate from the PNM? One problem is that while advocates of the PNM’s position are not being heard by Jews, and Palestinians deviating from the PNM might also not be heard by Jews lest they belie the notion that the PNM is the only voice for the Palestinians. However, Palestinians deviating from the PNM also cannot be heard among Palestinians because the PNM does not allow any challenges to its authority.

Anthony says:

Fantastic initiative by Peter Beinart. I hope it succeeds in drowning out neocons such as the author of this rant of a column.

Marc R says:

I know labels aren’t particularly important, but Beinart doesn’t seem particularly “center” anymore on Israeli issues. Not in the U.S. or in Israel.

He’s pretty clearly on the Left. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s misleading to suggest otherwise.

Marc R says:

Furthering Scott’s point, since when do Palestinian voices “rarely have a chance to be heard by a Jewish audience”?

Ibish and Parsi are regularly cited to by Tablet, Goldblog, and others. Forward very often profiles (in a good way!) many Palestinian or Arab opinion makers.

I think this is just another example of Goldblog’s Taboo That Won’t Shut Up. That is, the silly victimhood claimed by those on the left that they can’t make their voices heard without retribution even though there is no shortage of those views being heard. Doesn’t mean they’re adopted, but they’re certainly heard.

On a related note, I frequently see pieces by all of those writers that will be appearing on Beinart’s blog. I wonder what unserved market he thinks this will be serving.

George says:

What the Liberal-Leftists like Beinart don’t get is that as long as the moslem Middle East continues to be shaped, guided and ruled by Islamic ideology, there is no ‘partner’ to engage in ‘rational’ discourse on the arab-israeli conflict. The ‘concept’ of rationality is solely a Western Liberal conceit which has no basis in any Islamic culture when it comes to matters of faith.

arnon says:

The varieties of Zionism have been discussed since the 19th century openly and fairly.

If Beinart does not know that than his blog will not make much of a difference.

“Ibish and Parsi are regularly cited to by Tablet, Goldblog, and others. Forward very often profiles (in a good way!) many Palestinian or Arab opinion makers.”

Or it is a case of you not realizing what a miniscule fraction of Jews this readership represents. Beinart is talking about the entire community, not plugged-in media professionals living in New York or DC. Visit a shul in upstate New Jersey or Texas and ask folks when the last time was they spoke to or read a Palestinian. Most will tell you ‘never.’

Maxwell says:

There is no shortage of the Arab voice in this discussion. The problem is that roughly 1% of it is honest. If the site can present something that doesn’t rely on horrifying misrepresentations and false equivalences, it will be great. Otherwise, it will be like everything else.

arnon says:

That the N Y Review of Books does not approve of the Jewish “ESTABLISHMENT” is not news.

They seem to disapprove of Israel and most Jewish things.

The only Jewish notions the approve are antisemitic notions like Jews do not deserve a Jewish country.

We should all live as minorities everywhere

That is their mantra.

For Zlota says:

Wonder what their comment section will look like.

How did you ever secure a photograph of the reclusive Beinart?

Phil N says:

J Street is certainly not “pro-Israel” and their idea of peace is Israeli surrender. J Street’s creation was finance by ultra left wing billionaire and former Nazi stooge Geoge Soros. These fools keep advocating “one more” consession from Israel but nothing from the arabs. It never works but it undermines the peace process.

George says:

Only when there is an equivalent ‘Islamic’ blog where predominantly liberal moslems advocate the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, that will be infinitely more meaningful than the usual suspects on the Left working out their own personal issues with their ‘Jewish’ identity as manifested in the Israel-arab conflict.

Dr M Behar says:

Zero left-leaning non-Ashkenazi Jews. Zero! I guess we should all thank Mr Beinrat for his amazingly wide Jewish horizons.

Michael says:

Dr. M Behar, would you suggest Sami Shalom Chetrit as a good Sephardim who is left-leaning?

jacob arnon says:

Beinart needs to clarify his aim: is his aim to bring regime change to Israel, or is his aim to change the American relation to Israel.

If the first, then he needs to justify his opposition to bringing regime change to Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, if the second he needs to tell us for which segment of the American public he is speaking.

LINSHIRAZ says:

Are you serious Beinart/Tablet? Trita Parsi? The guy is a well known anti-semite. He is an AIPAC conspiracy theorist. I recommend everyone read the below post to read about Parsi’s anti-semitism. I won’t be reading Beinart anymore.

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/10/05/niac-parsi-iran/

And, while I have differences with some of Iran analyst Ken Timmerman’s work, Trita’s approach to it is noxious. Here he writes to Timmerman, complaining of Timmerman’s advocacy for a tougher European stance against the Islamic Republic’s support of terrorism:

It is quite clear that your intentions are the security of U.S. and Israeli lives- not Iranians. It is just unbelievable that an American thinks Iranians are so stupid that they would buy your crap. You are claiming to safeguard Iranian lives but at the same time you are supporting the d’Amato bill that will cause immense suffering for ordinary Iranians in Iran. Your organisation is nothing else but a facade, a facade to make it seem as if Iranians support the U.S. and Israel’s stance towards the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran]. By your name, I suspect that you are a Jew. Now I don’t know if that is the case, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the case. It is not unusual that Israelis run their business under the safety of an American flag.

Thank you Peter – the only original and thoughtful voice on Israel anymore. This blog is an outstanding idea and I hope that it catches on. The discourse among American Jewry has grown downright inane and I hope this helps to imporve that situation. Behatzlacha!

Why do we need people who aren’t Jewish discussing what Jewish identity and nationalism is? If there are going to be a wide variety of voices, why don’t these wide variety of voices discuss other ethnic groups’ identities and right to govern themselves? Or must it only be one group and one country and none else?

I could understand people thinking that the Israel and Palestine conversation needed Palestinian voices, but not the other topics.

Bill Pearlman says:

You know what would be interesting. Put on actual palestinian voices, hamas, hezbollah, and the like. What they really say.

Robert Abraham says:

Beinart=Amalek

David44 says:

Bill Pearlman says:

“Put on actual palestinian voices, hamas, hezbollah.”

The main thing that astonishes me here is that someone who is so ignorant of the Middle East that he believes that Hezbollah are Palestinians should want to air that ignorance in public …

On the substantive point, Beinart has clearly made a decision to exclude extreme voices from all sides – no wild-eyed people endorsing untrammeled settlement and screaming Amalek on the Jewish side either, though they exist in depressingly large numbers in Israel itself(and I see that they are liberally represented in the comments to this essay).

Bill Pearlman says:

Who do you think the palestinians in Lebanon line up with, the Christian maronites. They’re hezbollah all the way.

For Zlota says:

Based on the description of Beinart as “center left”, I’m confused and trying to understand how the political spectrum works.

how much further left would one need to go to shift from “center left”, to “left”, to “far left”? Does further shifting to the left end up as “far right”? Or do you just fall off the edge of the world?

I realize cognitive dissonance enters into this, so are there any handy clues to aid self awareness that ones ideology is getting too extreme?

because by the time one gets to the point of pitchforks and such, it might be too late for self reflection.

artcohn says:

Beinart is not “center/left”. He has slipped over to the “left-wing-crazy” area.

sidney manes says:

I am proIsrael and find it difficult to accept any critisism of Israel.Discussion, yes,condemnation,No.I am opposed to Iran having the N bomb capability but if it comes to pass, all it would mean is a mexican standoff. No one should even think that Iran would use it, which in my opinion would end the world as we know it. Sanction Iran, punish Iran, isolate Iran but do not invade Iran. Certainly, Israel shoud not. SM

Peter…A true “law” says: “Bloom where U are Planted”…U no doubt are Blooming well in your Soil, while others in theirs. The 1 issue U did not yet come to believe in is: P.M.’s and Presidents are all here for a limited duration, A Nation, any Nation, will always, Always Outlive its elected…& since u stated that Obama is the 1st. “Jewish President”..had U not better clear that with him B4 stating such clever words?
Even a ” Jew” such as he is…would pay some respect & visit Israel, if only for 12 Hrs. as Putin just did. No doubt Obama’s advisers & political “face lifters” (we both know it’s not him personally) did a great service for Egypt, Libya, Lebanon…BTY..in my book U have full right to state your opinions even throw critic over Israel’s conduct…we take it Smiling…

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Beinart Launches Daily Beast Blog

‘Zion Square’ touts Israeli, Palestinian, U.S. perspectives on the Mideast

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