Book review

The crisis of Peter Beinart

A liberal ‘recovering politician’ on why he’s disappointed by Beinart’s new book

Within the aching, romantic heart of Peter Beinart lies an epic, tragic love story.

Beinart’s latest book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” begins as a tale of the author as a young boy, sitting at the knee of his immigrant grandmother, falling in love with her utopian vision of their ancestral homeland, a nation of liberal values and the moral pursuit of peace. You had me at “Shalom”!

But recently, upon receipt of a mysterious video — featuring a young boy mourning the arrest of his Palestinian father – our heroic narrator removes his devotion-inspired blinders, and his now-unjaundiced eyes reveal a long trail of illiberal betrayal by the wholly hole-y Holy Land.

‘With a self-image of Biblical proportions, Beinart likens himself to the Hebrew Prophets who decried the misuse of power the last time the Jews ran Israel’

But rather than retreat, our author sets out instead to reform his unfaithful love. With a self-image of Biblical proportions, Beinart likens himself to the Hebrew Prophets who decried the misuse of power the last time the Jews ran Israel.

Alas…this Jeremiah is a bullfrog.

Like many works in the kiss-and-tell genre, “The Crisis of Zionism” is driven by emotion rather than fact, and is so transparently one-sided that it reveals that the true betrayer is the author himself. Beinart is like Heathcliff, whose misinformed, misguided abandonment of his true love damns the couple to tragedy. Or perhaps he’s Fredo, whose thwarted ambition leads him on the path to perfidy, enabling and empowering his family’s enemies. You broke my heart, Peter. You broke my heart.


Around the last fin de siècle, Peter Beinart was the latest in the long line of brilliant wünderkinds to helm the prestigious (and über-Zionist) opinion journal, The New Republic. From that perch, Beinart vociferously endorsed the Iraq War; and then in 2006, he authored a diligently-researched and cogently-argued book that provided a liberal justification for the judicious use of American power: The Good Fight: Why Liberals — and Only Liberals — Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again.

As a gay-marriage-embracing, pro-choice-supporting, clean-energy-promoting, immigration-reforming, economic-inequality-battling, church-and-state-separating liberal – who also understands the occasional necessity for assertive American global leadership — I was sold, and empowered, by Beinart’s message.

Unfortunately, there weren’t enough Americans who shared our worldview: The book was a commercial flop. The global-freedom-pursuing liberal coalition — inspired most famously by John Kennedy’s inaugural address — had been shattered by Vietnam; and with the Democratic Party now dominated by anti-interventionalist peaceniks, many pro-defense “Scoop Jackson” liberals had fled to form the neo-conservative camp decades prior. Ally-less, Beinart predictably came under sharp fire from the liberal blogosphere and radical academia for his pro-war apostasy.

But by 2010, Beinart saw the light; or should I say, the video. He launched a journey that would delight his radical former detractors (as well as, coincidentally, the left-wing book-buying audience): a series of articles, lectures and interviews in which he not simply attacked the center-right Israeli government, but the very viability of liberal Zionism itself.

The Crisis of Zionism book cover
The Crisis of Zionism book cover

This culminated in this week’s release of “The Crisis of Zionism,” a compilation of decades’ worth of anti-Zionist grievances told from the preciously-agonized perspective of a jilted, but still loyal lover of the Jewish State.

But in his zeal to complete the admissions rituals of the radical-left fraternity, Beinart conveniently ignores several incontrovertible facts that completely undermine his central thesis:

1. Israel is a liberal oasis within a violently autocratic and theocratic desert. Beinart describes a wayward and wandering Jewish State that’s abandoned the central underpinning of its founding declaration, to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” While, of course, Israel is not perfect (Like the US, Biblical literalists and far-Right politicos hold disproportionate political sway), the Jewish State has an extraordinarily progressive record on a wide range of social and economic issues — from gay rights to women’s choice to universal health care to immigrant empowerment. In fact, Israeli Arabs enjoy full and equal rights as citizens; and even upon the backdrop of a society that continually lives under the shadow of terrorist threats, the liberal Israeli court system regularly has held the government and military to the highest standards of the rule of law, banning torture and protecting the rights of Palestinians and prisoners of war. Compare that to our own sorry record of treating Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor or even Muslim-Americans after 9/11.

Beinart brushes over the fact that Netanyahu himself proclaimed support in 2009 for creation of a Palestinian state, arguing that the announcement was a publicity stunt aimed at derailing the peace process

2. Israel is a reluctant occupier. Unable to identify illiberal trends within Israel proper to confirm his thesis, Beinart singularly relies on the persistent preoccupation of his new left allies: Israel’s occupation of lands it captured in its defensive struggle for existential survival during 1967′s Six Day War. Beinart argues that Israel, and particularly the current Netanyahu government, is storming blindly on a path toward permanent annexation of the West Bank, what Beinart terms “nondemocratic Israel.” Yet, he ignores that a majority of Israelis — 58% in a recent poll — support a two-state solution, with Palestinians in complete control of most of the West Bank (as do I). Indeed, Beinart brushes over the fact that Netanyahu himself proclaimed support in 2009 for creation of a Palestinian state, arguing that the announcement was a publicity stunt aimed at derailing the peace process (much as he characterizes Bibi’s and Ariel Sharon’s politically-ballsy unilateral transfers of captured territory to Arab control). The fact is that Israel has consistently demonstrated her willingness and strong desire to trade land for peace; and a significant majority would love to end the occupation, if only they could be assured of the security of the Jewish State.

3. No Palestinian leader has emerged willing to negotiate for peace in good faith. By contrast, Palestinian leaders — from Arafat to Abbas to the Hamas leadership — have been unwilling to reach a good faith peace settlement with Israel, walking away from agreements that would have ensured a Palestinian state; and, in one stroke, would have eliminated all of the objections Beinart makes about the Israeli occupation. Of course, Beinart blames every breakdown in talks on the Israelis, including — most absurdly — Yasir Arafat’s abandonment of the 2000 Camp David talks, a rejection universally credited to the late PLO leader (even by a most profoundly non-Zionist, Saudi Prince Bandar, who termed Arafat’s actions as ”a crime against the Palestinians — in fact against the entire region.”) Beinart, however, undermines his own theory when he consistently and favorably cites the Arab League’s preconditions for peace which include reaching “a ‘just’ and ‘agreed upon’ solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.” These are code words for the return of Arabs to lands their forefathers abandoned during the 1948 War of Independence, which Israel’s neighbors unilaterally pursued in violation of the United Nations’ partition decision. Such a massive migration influx would fundamentally deny Israel’s status as a Jewish State, the very core of the Zionist dream that Beinart poses to be protecting. If, and only if, Palestinian and Arab leaders truly embrace the notion of a Jewish State and an Arab State living as peaceful neighbors will the occupation issue be put to rest. You can’t blame this one on the Jews until they finally find a good faith partner in peace.

4. American Jews strongly support Israeli policy. Beinart’s ultimate conclusion is that Zionism is in crisis because — in contrast to his bogey-man, the American Jewish Establishment — a vast majority of American Jews, particularly liberals and the young, are losing their identification with Israel due to their opposition to its occupation policies. But the very survey from which Beinart cherry-picks data (a 2010 Brandeis poll) actually does to Beinart’s argument, in the words of Bret Stephens, ”approximately what Fat Man [did] to the city of Nagasaki.” A full 82% of liberal American Jews feel that US support of Israel is “just about right” or “not supportive enough.” Only 26% of liberal Jews support dismantling all of the settlements. And 58% of young Jews oppose giving up portions of Jerusalem, compared to 51% of their elders. The “crisis” that Beinart continually mentions — indeed upon which he rests his entire book — might exist in the academic and think tank circles in which he runs. But the vast majority of American Jews — and indeed their Gentile counterparts — strongly support Israel and her struggle for survival among enemies that pray for her destruction.


Where Beinart has succeeded most thoroughly is in his manipulation of a legitimate crisis — not in Israel, but within our American democracy

Where Beinart has succeeded most thoroughly is in his manipulation of a legitimate crisis — not in Israel, but within our American democracy. It’s a crisis in which nuance and rational debate have been drowned out by polarized, uniformly-lockstep polemics from hyper-partisan politicians, ultra-ideological cable TV screaming heads, and political correctness-enforcing mullahs on our nation’s campuses.

And in its never-ending quest to stoke controversy – under the guise of “balance” — the media has seized on this darling story of a nice Jewish boy turning on the Zionism of his community.

That’s why it is so critical for the vast majority of liberal American Jews — those of us upon whom Beinart erroneously relies for his conclusions – to reassert ourselves. While it would be anathema to our values to try to silence Beinart, our own love stories with the state of Israel must be heard as well. Write letters to the editor. Contact your Congressman. Assert yourself in community forums. Facebook, tweet and email your friends.

With all of its flaws, the Zionist experiment has emerged – quietly and vibrantly – as a clear demonstration of the power of progressive values. Feel free to criticize to Israel when it is wrong. But let’s not fail to celebrate it when it is right. Because whenever liberal values flourish, they deserve our love.


Jonathan Miller is the former two-term elected Kentucky State Treasurer. In his nearly two decades of public service, Miller also held several other senior positions in state and federal government, including serving in Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear’s Cabinet as Secretary of Finance and Administration and as a longtime aide to Vice President Al Gore.

A regular contributor to The Huffington Post, Miller founded The Recovering Politician, a bi-partisan Web site, featuring more than 20 former politicians who share their views on the issues of the day, informed by their service in the arena, but no longer inhibited by the pressures of incumbency. He also is the Co-Founder of No Labels, a national grassroots movement of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who understand that, on occasion, we need to put aside our labels to do what is right for the country.


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