By Matt Zeitlin
It’s hard to say that anything new about Peter Beinart’s blockbuster New York Review of Books essay on the failure of the American Jewish Establishment has been under-discussed, but one little niggling bit of criticism of it that hasn’t been properly addressed is the argument that Beinart somehow erred in having his essay be published in the New York Review, which, in the words of Jeffrey Goldberg is, “the one-stop shopping source for bien-pensant anti-Israelism” and that “If Beinart’s goal is to talk to the great mass of American Jews who support the institutions of American Jewry but who are troubled by certain trends in Israeli politics, this is not the way to do it.”
Yes, it’s true that the New York Review published Tony Judt’s call for binationalism and the authors who write about Israel tend to take a pretty dim view of settlements, settlement expansion, wars Israel fights and so on and so forth. The thing is, the people taking these views also tend to be Israeli intellectuals. The New York Review is one of the few American outlets for liberal Israelis to write long, substantive essays about Israel. As Peter Beinart pointed out on Twitter, “if the NYRB is anti-Israel how do you explain its publishing Margalit, Avishai, Grossman, Elon? Are Israel’s best intellectuals anti-Israel?”
Beinart is right: it’s very hard to argue that a journal that is committed to “bien-pensant anti Israelism” would publish pieces by Avishai Margalit and Michael Walzer, two liberal intellectuals who, yes, are both occasional critics of Israel but also obviously Zionists (the former being himself Israeli). Or what about David Grossman, whom Goldberg has written about movingly?Another harsh Israeli critic of Israel’s policies, but still hardly anti-Israel.
With the exception of the Judt pieces, what the New York Review seems to be doing is giving Americans a taste of what the Israeli equivalents of the American intellectuals who write for the New York Review are saying about their own country. So unless you want to argue that the journal also is anti-America for publishing the likes of, say, David Cole, David Bromwich and Garry Wills, then it hardly seems plausible that the Review has some core anti-Israel animus.