What happened to Peter Beinart?

A week after the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust, an open letter published in the New York Review of Books described the massacre rather buoyantly.

“On Saturday, after sixteen years of siege, Hamas militants broke out of Gaza,” read the letter, going on to state, in the passive voice, that more than 1,300 Israelis “were subsequently killed.”

The letter’s most prominent signatory was Ta-Nehisi Coates, a race-focused American journalist and author of “Between the World and Me.” In an interview three weeks later, Coates explained that he visited Israel and the West Bank (he seemingly refers to both as Palestine) for a week and change this summer and now thumbs his nose at anyone who thinks the Arab-Israel conflict is complex or nuanced. It is really, he explains, about race in America.

This framing – Israel as a stand-in for whiteness in a global morality play between oppressor and oppressed, rightfully drew scorn from most with more than a passing familiarity with generations of dueling claims in the 130-year-old conflict. But one “liberal Zionist” had a different take. Peter Beinart, a journalist and commentator, found it both astute and courageous. He compared Coates to Martin Luther King and praised his “moral consistency.”

“He’s followed his principles to a place that will alienate many who once celebrated him,” Beinart declared. “He’s not just a brilliant writer. He’s a brave man.”

Agree with Coates’ view of the conflict or not, it is more than a stretch to call it brave or claim that his anti-Israel views will alienate his core readership. The extremist Palestinian position – that Israel is an illegitimate colonizer, that not just the West Bank but all of Israel is occupied, and that Israel is just one front in the global war on “whiteness” – is more or less the default position in the segment of the American commentariat in which Coates is seen as a leading light. Those who view him as a modern-day Moses would probably have been stunned and betrayed if Coates had expressed anything other than the Oberlin College view of the conflict.

But such sycophancy towards anyone willing to bash the Jewish state has become standard for Beinart in recent years. Last week it was Rashida Tlaib, the “Squad” member congresswoman who couldn’t bring herself to say that beheading Jewish babies isn’t great, that was the subject of Beinart’s fawning.

“@RashidaTlaib is an embarrassment to other Democrats,” he tweeted on November 7. “She’s an embarrassment because she exposes as a sham their claim to defend human rights. She’s an embarrassment because she endures so much when they sell out so cheap. She reminds them that their lack of courage is a choice.”

Again, for Beinart, unmoored hatred of Israel and its defenders is the ultimate proof of courage and principle. Beinart has also retweeted Cori Bush, the “Squad” congresswoman who knows as much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Theodor Herzl knew about pickleball. But Bush comes from a background in Black Lives Matter activism and is therefore diabolically opposed to Israel’s existence.

Beinart was not always like this. As a student at Tel Aviv University from 2013 to 2015, I subscribed to the print edition of Haaretz, a left-leaning daily newspaper in which Beinart had a regular column which I read on my bus rides to and from campus. I never fully shared his worldview – while I agreed with his support for a two-solution, opposition to unrestricted settlement growth, and Israel’s right to exist, I generally found him overly dire on the villainy of Bibi Netanyahu and overly sanguine regarding Israel’s external threats. On balance, his articles reflected a fair and thoughtful left-wing perspective, one worth reading and taking seriously. His claim to criticize Israeli policies out of love for the country and hope for its future seemed reasonable.

I stopped reading Beinart regularly after I left Israel in 2015, and his views have evolved since. He no longer believes in a Jewish state, a position he told The New Yorker he reached in 2020 after reading the works of Palestinian writers like Ali Abunimah, Mahmoud Darwish and Edward Said.

But Beinart’s embrace of the Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cori Bushes of the world – culture war icons with no stake in or knowledge about Israel or its people – undermines this claim. In fact, a liberal writer dedicated to enlightening his persuadable readers on the path towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation would leap at the chance to disavow those who cynically contort the conflict, with all its complexities, into another example of whiteness, oppression, colonialism or any other of the endless list of buzzwords trendy on college campuses or the opinion pages of the Guardian.

Instead, Beinart meekly grovels over their supposed virtue and bravery.

About the Author
Andrew Vitelli is a New York-based journalist. A former Fellow for the Government Press Office in Jerusalem, Vitelli earned his master's degree from Tel Aviv University.
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