Luckily, for those of us looking for some action, the PR end of the conference organized a session between Beinart and the bloggers covering the conference. That was where the real fun began.
With no fancy organizations or publications to represent or professional reputations to protect, debate flowed freely. With many kippot and headscarves in the audience, many of the bloggers held right-wing views directly opposed to Beinart, and some lived over the Green Line. In the crowd were hard-core critics like Yisrael Medad who wrote a piece on Beinart once called “Peter’s Pernicious Paradox.” One blogger, posing a question about Beinart's book, stressed that he had borrowed the book- he would never buy it.
Photo credit: Batya Medad
Beinart had to defend his opinion that American Jews should boycott goods and services coming from what he has called "non-democratic Israel" to a woman blogger whose business has been hurt by the BDS campaign - which she feels has been legitimized by his views
He was asked what liberal American Jews will say if there is a two-state solution, and like Gaza, the West Bank is ruled by Hamas that will tolerate terror even when not directly involved in terror against Israel.
And of course, he was asked - probably for the nine millionth time this year - how he, as a Diaspora Jew, can so strongly advocate surrender of all of the territory over the Green Line when neither he nor his children will bear the physical consequences of such a move.
Beinart, to his credit, had an answer for everything. He seemed far more animated with this crowd, and it became clear why he’s such a hit on the speaker’s circuit - there hasn't been anyone with his level of charisma engaged in Jewish issues for a long time. He managed to carve out common ground with right-wing Jews with his genuine concern, he was genuinely worried about the level of education and commitment of American Jews, confessing that he was not optimistic about its future. He won points for honesty by admitting that his kids' day school education is making them far more right-wing than he is and that his Egyptian grandmother chided him for his left-wingness, telling him he was naive about the Arabs.
But what really won over the initially hostile bloggers happened when he was asked by a blogger who lives within the Green Line whether he should travel to his parents' house in the West Bank to give a Torah lesson on the yarhtzeit of his grandfather’s death.
In such a situation, he asked, what would Peter Beinart do? Would he go or would he boycott?
Beinart paused only briefly, then said that he would go to the family event. Politics are politics, he said, but the obligation to honor your mother and father trumps ideology.
One blogger at the meeting said that this was the moment Beinart won over the crowd, and confessed he was among Beinart's new fans. “The answer was so quintessentially Jewish, that I think many of the bloggers were forced to change their mind about Beinart. I doubt anyone there changed their political views. However, leaving the meeting I felt that though I may disagree with him on many things, I had no doubt that he was a Zionist and a truly concerned Jew.”
Mick Jagger turned out to be a nice Jewish boy after all.
My reflection is here.
And as for his "Zionist" boycott call, Judah Magnes beat him to it on May 4, 1948. He met George Marshall, US Secretary of State and told him, according to the official memo:
Dr. Magnes said that the first of the points he desired to make was that great pressure could be brought to bear on both Arabs and Jews if the United States would impose even partial financial sanctions. He pointed out that the Jewish community in Palestine is an artificial development and that, although the work of the Jews had resulted in many beautiful accomplishments such as farms, universities, and hospitals, which resulted from contributions from the United States, the money now contributed to the Jewish community was being used solely for war "which eats up everything." Dr. Magnes said that the Hagannah costs $4 million a month to run. He was certain that, if contributions from the United States were cut off, the Jewish war machine in Palestine would come to a halt for lack of financial fuel.
He was willingly to endanger Jewish lives and achievements to realize an illogical impossible political dream.
Here's what is looks like in the FRUS volume:
Beinart's behavior is worse because he knows the six-decades experience since then.
Not a nice Jewish boy, not a smart one.