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Beinart Turning Essay Into Book

Talks to Tablet Magazine about his new project

Marc Tracy
August 03, 2010
Peter Beinart.(New America Foundation)
Peter Beinart.(New America Foundation)

Former New Republic editor Peter Beinart is turning his Tumblr, Stuff Hipster Squirrels Like To Eat, into a book.

Kidding! Actually, the basis for Beinart’s new book, tentatively titled The Crisis of Liberal Zionism, is the controversial essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” that he published in the New York Review of Books in May. Times Books is planning a late 2011 release.

I talked to Beinart when his essay first dropped, but, intrigued by the proposed title change, I decided to call him up again.

Why the change in title? Your article focused mostly on the crisis of liberal Zionism in America. Do you expect to spend more time on the Israeli side in your book?
I think there is a crisis both in Israel and in the United States, and you can’t understand one without the other. I think a lot of the book will be about the American Jewish community. But the moral challenge only arises because liberal Zionism is in crisis in Israel. What I want to try to do is suggest how you could try to build a Zionism that will be somewhat different in Israel and in the United States, a struggle in both societies to reconcile liberal democracy and Zionism. More of the book will be about the American side, but you can’t understand the American side unless you believe liberal Zionism is in trouble.

Which challenges to liberal Zionism do you hope to expand upon? Your essay focused mainly on the American Jewish establishment and the Israeli government’s settlement policies.
In the article, I wrote a bit also about Palestinian citizens of Israel. I think that’s an underappreciated but really important part of this, vis-à-vis [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and his agenda. There’s also this question of the haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews] and their own often highly illiberal political agenda. I’m interested in the points of intersection between the settler project and the haredi hostility to liberal democracy. I think Israel is a complicated place, but for me the framework will be to try to argue that there has been such a thing as liberal Zionism, there are liberal democratic currents in Zionist thought and Israeli institutions, but they are under siege, and we can’t defend them unless we first recognize that they’re imperiled.

Do you plan to do reporting—interviews and such—for the book?
I have already started to do a bunch of interviews. I was in Israel a few weeks ago, and had some conversations there, too.

Do you plan to interview people at some of the American Jewish institutions, like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League, that you criticize?
I would like to do that. I’ll have to see how keen they are to do that! But I do want to try to delve deeper into the history and evolution of American organized Jewish life. Before I wrote my piece, I had friends at some of the organizations that I criticized, and I think I still do—I hope I still do. My hope is that, yeah, I can have some conversations to continue to deepen my understanding.

[Marc again] For further reading, may I suggest two Tablet Magazine pieces:

• Yoav Fromer’s essay, today, arguing that Israeli democracy is actually bound to have an illiberal effect on Israeli policies.

• Dan Luban’s rejoinder to Beinart’s essay, in which he wondered whether liberal American Jews’ adherence to Zionism and identification with Israel is even something worth fighting for.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.