Perfidious Pete, treacherous Tom – Part I
Into the Fray: Stop calling a “spade” a “manually operated tool for producing elevation differentials in earth’s crust.”
There is something frankly silly to me about a Jewish community that feels so self- confident in how our values apply in Bosnia, the former Soviet Union and Darfur, but is so timid in talking about how our values apply in [Israel] the place we care about most. – Peter Beinart, Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles, June 21, 2010
Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year …was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby (September 17, 2011)…. The powerful pro- Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the UN, even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s. (13 December, 2011) – Tom Friedman, New York Times
Peter Beinart and Tom Friedman have for all intents and purposes declared political war on Israel. In their latest New York Times articles, they have chosen to side unequivocally with the Palestinians, offered them strategic counsel, and set themselves firmly against the elected government of the Jewish state. They must be confronted in accordance with their choice.
It time to take off the kid gloves. It is time to stop condoning deception and distortion under the guise of freedom of speech. It is time to call a spade a spade – and behave accordingly.
Defending democracy – down to the last Israeli
Reading the toxic tripe propounded by Beinart and Friedman, one might be excused for wondering what all the fuss is over Günter Grass’s recently published anti- Israel “poem”– if that is the correct term to describe his egregious “What Must Be Said.”
Of course, Grass’s membership in Hitler’s Waffen SS aroused an understandably strong emotional reaction to his rambling rant, rebuking Israel for taking Iran’s threat of a new Holocaust seriously, and (gasp) actually preparing to prevent it – in stark contrast to the previous one, perpetrated by Grass’s former comrades-in-arms.
However, unless some of its bile got lost in the English translation, Grass’s gripe seems relatively benign compared to the venomous vitriol that Beinart and Friedman regularly hurl at the their kinfolk.
Indeed, this dubious duo have proved time and time again that they are ever-ready to defend, with unflinching resolve, their professed liberal credo –down to the last Israeli – insisting incessantly that this would be best served by bringing millions more into the range of Palestinian rockets.
There is a compelling logic to deal with Beinart and Friedman together, as a loosely integrated unit. Both are high-profile public figures, warmly embraced by Jewish liberal circles. Both have access to the same powerful vehicle for propagating their views which are essentially similar and resonate strongly with each other. Both have been proved disastrously wrong but steadfastly refuse to admit error.
In this the first part of the essay, I will focus mainly on Beinart and defer the analysis of Friedman to next week.
Portraying Jews as Janjaweed?
Consider the introductory except from a public address delivered by Beinart at the conservative Temple Beth Am, on the fringes of Beverly Hills in the summer of 2010.
The event was organized by the widely-read Jewish Journal, following the publication, in the New York Times Review of Books (NYTRB), of Beinart’s distortive, deceptive and, at times, deceitful diatribe, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”– which perversely catapulted him into celebrity status. In it, Beinart rebukes the US Jewish establishment for betraying its commitment to humanistic liberal values, by its allegedly uncritical – almost Pavlovian – support for Israel, despite what he perceives as blatant abuses of human rights and democratic values.
In his Beth Am speech, Beinart odiously insinuates that Israeli actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians are somehow comparable to the wholesale slaughter in Darfur, the widespread massacres in Bosnia and the oppressive brutality of the Soviet regime – and warrant a similar response.
After all, one can only assume that he considered these analogies pertinent – otherwise why would he allude to them as he did? What a windfall for the assorted collection of Jew-baiting anti-Semites, Judeophobic Israel-bashers and other hate-driven villains! One can almost hear them rubbing their hands in glee.
What greater endorsement could they wish for than Beinart’s exhortation that his fellow Jews relate to the Jewish-nation state as if were governed by the genocidal Janjaweed militias in Sudan, or by the brutish guards in the Siberian gulags, or the murderous perpetrators of the bloody events in Srebrenica.
Delinquent not dispossessed
In his NYTRB piece, Beinart invokes the following heartrending incident: “[In] the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian family named the Ghawis lives on the street outside their home of 53 years, from which they were evicted to make room for Jewish settlers.”
And in his Beth Am address, he defiantly challenges the audience’s moral conscience, trenchantly demanding: “Is what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinians who were living in their homes for 50 years were forcibly evicted and are now living in the street, ‘kosher’?” Well, so far, so…deceptive. For a modicum of research would quickly reveal Beinart’s seemingly principled position to be a gross distortion of events.
What he fails to convey to his audience is that the Palestinians’ eviction was not an arbitrary act of Israeli callousness. It was not – as he implies – a heartless politically- motivated initiative to dispossess hapless, helpless Palestinians. Rather, it was the result of a ruling by the Supreme Court – usually depicted as a unimpeachable custodian of liberal values ostensibly so dear to Beinart’s heart – and the culmination of a legal battle extending over more than a quarter a century!
It ordered the Palestinians eviction, not because of their “non-Judaic” ethnic affiliation but because… they refused to pay rent. To the Jewish owners of the property they were occupying! Delinquent tenants rather than dispossessed victims? How dull! But portraying the evicted Palestinians – who somehow had the resources to conduct a legal battle extending over three decades – as rent delinquents rather than wretched casualties of a cruel uncaring political regime lacks the dramatic impact for the emotive plot that Beinart apparently seeks to weave – even at the expense of an accurate rendition of events.
A question of questionable credibility
Beinart’s professed concern is that young liberal Jews will reject Zionism because of its alleged abandonment of humanistic democratic values. One can only wonder whether he really believes that Israel would be more attractive for liberal Jews if it were perceived as a place where the rule of law was scorned, court rulings flouted, due process by-passed and legal property rights (of Jews) violated with impunity because of the ethnic (Palestinian) identity of litigants? But what makes the biased manner in which Beinart conveyed the Sheikh Jarrah incident particularly disturbing is that the facts comprising the wider context of the eviction were readily available for anyone who felt the slightest obligation to present a fair and balanced picture of what transpired.
Accordingly, the highly selective and slanted version of the legally-sanctioned eviction he chose to adopt and the highly disparaging, damaging and distorted light in which he sought to depict Israel, must cast grave aspersions on his credibility – and motives.
Of course, the more magnanimous might suggest that it was sloppy research rather than ill-will that led to the gross misrepresentation of Israeli conduct. Perhaps – but on July 8, 2010, I emailed Beinart, inter alia, relaying the legal background dating back to 1982, when the first rent delinquency claims were filed against the Palestinian residents.
While it might be over optimistic to hope that this would elicit a retraction, might one not have hoped that a clarification, a modification, an admission that matters were more complex than originally expressed, would have been appropriate? To the best of my knowledge no such measure was ever undertaken – certainly none that received any publicity worthy of note. So it would seem that Beinart has no qualms about sticking to his misleading and inflammatory Israel-bashing account – even when in possession of the facts.
Complicit in crude delegitimization
This penchant for adopting the crude imagery of Israel’s worst denigrators, for endorsing the most biased and derogatory interpretation of localized incidents and extrapolating them as if they were representative of Israel society as a whole, seems to permeate Beinart’s writing and public appearances. Take for instance his latest literary effort, The Crisis of Zionism. The book begins with a poignant anecdote, based on a video sent to him by a friend. Ostensibly, it shows a Palestinian father, caught attempting to steal water, being dragged away by Israel forces to the anguished shrieks of his son.
This is grist for Beinart’s demagogic mill and he seizes on it with alarming alacrity. He paints an appalling picture of pitiless Israeli repression. A desperate parent, denied access to water despite repeated appeals to unresponsive authorities (although one might be excused for wondering how the video authenticates this allegation), driven by despair to try and tap illicitly into water pipes conveying water to nearby Jewish settlements, “boasting swimming pools and intensive irrigation” whose per capita water consumption is roughly five times that of the Palestinians.
Setting aside the (studiously unmentioned) fact that the Israeli authorities dispute the video’s authenticity (Haaretz , 05.08.10), Beinart’s account of the episode show him to be willingly and knowingly complicit in the crudest attempts to delegitimize Israel.
Deliberate distortion and disregard
Ever since the 1995 Oslo Agreements II (Annex III, Article 40, Clause 4), Israel no longer bears responsibility for supplying Palestinian end-consumers with water. It supplies the Palestinian Authority, in compliance with – indeed considerably in excess of – its agreed Oslo obligations and it is the Palestinian Water Authority, municipalities, private producers and Palestinians water companies that are responsible for the conveyance/distribution of water to Palestinian consumers.
Since the responsibility (officially and in practice) for the water supply to the Palestinian consumers is fully under the Palestinian Water Authority, complaints regarding inefficient or insufficient water supply should be directed at the Palestinian Authority.
As for the much-maligned “settlements,” Israel conveys more water from inside the pre-1967 Green Line into the West Bank than the total consumption of the Jewish settlements. There is thus a net conveyance of water from Israel to the Palestinians that more than compensates for the “settlers” widely denigrated “swimming pools.”
While it is true that the per capita consumption of the Israeli population is considerably higher than that of the Palestinian population, this is principally a result of differences in demand –rather than in supply – due to the differing lifestyles in the two societies.
Significantly, in the Beduin town of Rahat in the Negev, the per capita usage is over 40 percent higher than in the much besmirched Kiryat Arba, where each “settler” consumes barely one tenth of the water that a resident of affluent Savyon does. It would be intriguing to discover what criterion of “discrimination” Beinart would invoke to explain these differentials in consumption.
It is, of course, not difficult to find instances of personal hardship and distress with regard to water in the Palestinian territories, but this in no way reflects the overall intent or impact of Israeli policy, which by every criterion imaginable improved the Palestinian hydrological situation beyond recognition (See my previous columns “Amnesty’s travesty” and “A study in impotence.”)
Now I know that Beinart is aware of all this information – because I provided him with it! In an address at the UCLA Hillel (May 3, 2011), he brought up the precisely same distressing incident of the father’s arrest and the son’s sobs.
In an oral exchange, which included an invitation to debate me publicly – that was declined – I apprised him of the hydrological realities and explained why his account was distorted, deficient and detrimental.
For the sake of good order, I sent a subsequent email (May 14) to the UCLA Hillel director and Beinart, containing the pertinent data, and asking that it be distributed to the attendees at the talk – in the interests of fair and balanced presentation of the facts.
To the best of my knowledge, it was not. What is certain is that it had no impact on how Beinart chose to present the incident a year later – when his book appeared in the stores.
Time for another ‘Goldstone-like’ response?
I began this essay with an appeal to “call a spade a spade” and to act accordingly.
Well, what sort of action would be appropriate for confronting such baseless and biased besmirchment of Israel perpetrated willfully by “one of our own”? Perhaps the example of the wide-ranging ostracization of Richard Goldstone, following his complicity in the baseless, biased besmirchment of the IDF action in Gaza, may be an instructive and appropriate template to consider.
More on that next Friday!