The Corner

Pollack v. Beinart

My friend Peter Beinart has a very controversial essay in the latest New York Review of Books. My friend Noah Pollack responds, con gusto. An excerpt:

There are important matters of context missing from Beinart’s critique. He condemns the hostility some Israeli Jews have expressed toward Israeli Arabs without so much as mentioning the rise in radicalism among Israeli Arabs, to the point today where many of their political leaders — including members of the Knesset — have openly sided with Hamas and Hezbollah, lauded the Iranian nuclear program, supported the destruction of Israel, and participated in all manner of delegitimization and anti-Semitic incitement. These are citizens of Israel: imagine if Muslims who had been elected to the U.S. Congress were engaged in similar endorsements of America’s enemies.

In condemning the statements of Israeli politicians, Beinart doesn’t mention another important consideration, which is Israel’s proportional-representation electoral system. In this system, there is no geographic representation, and parties merely need to earn 2 percent of the vote to obtain seats in the Knesset. This brings into parliament a variety of figures who represent fringe or radical interests. There are two parties represented in the U.S. Congress; there are 18 in the Knesset. If America had Israel’s system, one could find all manner of political radicals — truthers, birthers, Chomskyites, militiamen, eco-fascists, socialists, anarchists, college professors — with seats in Congress, and they could be quoted saying all manner of crazy (and unrepresentative) things about America. Beinart is up in arms about some of the campaign jingoism of Avigdor Lieberman, who holds the title of foreign minister but doesn’t actually exercise much power in that role, since foreign relations are really the bailiwick of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But Beinart never mentions that Lieberman’s party won only 12.5 percent of the vote. Because Beinart’s purpose is to suggest that Israel is on its way to authoritarianism, he casts the byproducts of a too-raucous and significantly too-diverse political system as its essence. Israeli Arab parties are also represented in the Knesset, and their leaders frequently say things about Israel and Jews that are far, far, worse than anything Lieberman said about Arabs during his campaign. Inconvenient facts such as these go unmentioned.

But those are quibbles. More important is Beinart’s imputation that critics of Israel within the Jewish community and elsewhere have been rendered mute and ineffective by the power of politically conservative Jews and the Washington lobby they supposedly control. Beinart suggests a great burden to bear in becoming an Israel critic: “The hardest thing I’ve ever written,” he said in announcing his essay on his Twitter feed.



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