Although he had published several previous books Peter Beinart who started life in Cape Town and now lives in the USA, achieved instant fame with the publication of his 2012 book, “The Crisis of Zionism” in which he purports to explain the roots of the current political debates within Israel and advocates boycotting products from the territories. He keeps kosher, attends an Orthodox shul and sends his children to a Jewish school.
In an article in the Tablet titled “Peter Beinart’s False Prophecy” Bret Stephens writes that Beinart’s book arguing that the Israeli occupation alienates young American Jews, is sloppy with facts and emotionally contrived. Quoting many examples of factual errors and omission of important information in the book Stephens writes
“..In fact, the errors in Beinart’s book pile up at such a rate that they become almost impossible to track.
Beinart established a blog called “Open Zion” hosted by the Daily Beast. While criticism of Israel is perfectly legitimate, the articles he published were mostly severely unbalanced and contained errors of fact which he refused to correct even when informed of them. Open Zion which has now closed down was not a one person blog. It was funded by New America Foundation and employed a formidable staff several of whom are thanked in Beinart’s article explaining why the blog was closing. He has moved on to write columns for Haaretz and Atlantic.com.
Sadly, though Open Zion professed to support open discourse, it refused to publish submissions that differed from its narrow outlook and, more egregiously, it refused to correct factual errors that were pointed out to them.
For example, in May 2012 Open Zion published an article falsely claiming “Arab teachers and students working in Kfar Saba’s MeirMedicalCenter were forbidden to speak to each other in Arabic. I wrote to Mr. Beinart quoting the hospital authorities and patients proving that this claim was completely baseless and inviting him to check the facts for himself. I pointed out that the Arabic language is encouraged and is spoken widely and freely throughout Meir Hospital. The allegation that the use of Arabic is restricted is irresponsible and provokes uncalled for racial tensions.
I quoted David Frankfurter whose son had been hospitalized at the Meir hospital as follows:
“David took his son to the education room to review his mathematics homework. David is obviously Jewish; his skullcap makes this obvious. David tells that a charming young Muslim teacher wearing a hijab, explained the facility in perfect Hebrew. She also offered to assist his son with his homework. When she turned her attention to a young Arab child she spoke in Arabic. She conversed with the patients and other staff, including her supervisor, in whichever language was appropriate to the situation. There was no language self-consciousness on the part of any person in the room.
David says this real co-existence was an oasis of calm for all the parents who were stressed by the fact that their children were ill. Unlike your unjustified criticism, he says the facility is a credit to the Department of Education, the hospital and its dedicated staff.
Professor Beinart, do you consider it unreasonable that I ask you, as an academic and teacher of journalism, to check the facts that you publish and to refrain from adding fuel to the fire of extremism on both sides?”
Another example. Open Zion carried the following story completely out of context and without any explanation:
—The word shouted in the warroom seconds before another missile was shot at a building with members of the Samouni family, wrote Maariv, revealing for the first time the orders that lead to the killing of 21 members of the same family in Operation Cast Lead.
This is what I wrote to Mr. Beinart.
“The above statement is a much distorted interpretation of the unfortunate incident that Judge Goldstone described in his famous Report as the single most serious incident in the Gaza War. However, during a panel discussion on “Civilians in War Zones” at StanfordUniversity on January 20, 2011, Judge Goldstone dealt at length with the aforementioned Samouni case. He said that as several male members of the al-Samouni family returned to the house carrying firewood, projectiles fired from gunships killed or injured them. Subsequent reports showed that this was not a deliberate unprovoked attack as originally understood. What happened was that photographs from a drone, of firewood carried by a group of men, was incorrectly interpreted to be rocket launchers. This precipitated the order to bomb the men and the building.
This explanation was repeated in Goldstone’s much publicized April 2011 article in the Washington Post. It was consistent with the transcript of evidence given to the Goldstone Mission in Gaza on June 28, 2009 by Mr. Wail al-Samouni who told the Mission that he and a number of cousins were targeted by an Apache missile when they went out to find firewood.
The above facts convey an entirely different picture than the quote on your site. Unlike some of his colleagues who stubbornly adhere to preconceived opinions irrespective of contradictory information, Judge Goldstone demonstrated courage and an open mind when he revised his opinion on learning the new facts. Can we expect that you too will show similar courage in revising some of your opinions in the light of several incisive criticisms published about your book and articles?”
Beinart replied curtly
“Per general blog style, we have a comments section-you are welcome to note your objections to any article. Unusually for blogs, we also accept submissions challenging the arguments made in previous posts. If you’d like to submit one, email firstname.lastname@example.org you’d like to avail yourself of these opportunities, please do. They are the forum in which we arbitrate such arguments not in email exchanges such as this. With this I will consider our correspondence to be over.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T
This response is of course completely unsatisfactory. People who had read the original false article are unlikely to return to study the various comments. In any event the refusal to make a correction violates the code of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) which unambiguously requires that journalists must encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media and admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
Most grievously the Open Zion web site to this very day flaunts the SPJ code by continuing to publicly display the above mentioned uncorrected misleading information as shown in the following screen shot made today of their site http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/18/super-protestors-here-to-save-their-pay.html
Bret Stephens evidently encountered many similar defects in Beinart’s journalism that are all the more disappointing in view of Beinart’s position as associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York. In his Tablet article “Peter Beinart’s False Prophecy” Stephens wrote
“”Still, the deeper problem isn’t that there’s so much in Beinart’s book that is untrue, but rather so much that is half-true: the accurate quote used in a misleading way; the treatment of highly partisan sources as objective and unobjectionable; the settlement of ferocious debates among historians in a single, dismissive sentence; the one-sided giving—and withholding—of the benefit of the doubt; the “to be sure” and “of course” clauses that do more to erase balance than introduce it. It’s a cheap kind of slipperiness that’s hard to detect but leaves its stain on nearly every page”.
…Beinart is singularly intent on scolding Israel, like an angry ex who has lost all grip on the proportions of the original dispute. To him, no Israeli misdeed is too small that it can’t serve as an alibi for Palestinian malfeasance. And no Palestinian crime is so great that it can justify even a moment’s pause in Israel’s quest to do right by its neighbor.
Here, then, is the core problem with The Crisis of Zionism: It is not a work of political analysis.. It shows no understanding that the essence of statesmanship is the weighing of various unpalatable alternatives.
This brings us to the occupation. For the sake of argument, let’s allow that everything Beinart says about it—the indignities it inflicts on Palestinians, its corrosive effects on Israeli values and democracy—is true. Does that alone make for a compelling argument for withdrawal?
A serious person would have to give this subject some serious thought. But not Beinart:
Stephens suggests that a serious book called “The Crisis of Zionism” really does need to be written.
“What such a book would do, however, is understand that Israel today is a country besieged by real enemies and phony friends. It would appreciate that the purpose of Israel is to defend its citizens, not to make Diaspora Jews feel upstanding.
It would not treat the choices of the Israeli electorate with derision or elected leaders as mere boobs and knaves. It would be carefully reported and scrupulously fact-checked’.
I highly recommend Bret Stephens’ complete article to every reader of Beinart’s columns. It can be found at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/94872/peter-beinarts-false-prophecy?print=1