The First Amendment Does Not Apply To Israel

April 03, 2012 3:27 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

It would be funny if it wasn't so creepy. An author or journalist can write anything he wants about the United States — or, in fact, about any foreign country — without causing legions of critics to question the propriety of his doing so. That is, unless the subject of the author's work is Israel.

Think about it. Books have accused FDR of having advance knowledge of Pearl Harbor while others argue that the U.S. government — in the form of the FBI, CIA or even Vice President Lyndon Johnson — had President Kennedy killed. In other words, books that accuse U.S. presidents and U.S. government agencies of high treason are okay. This is America, and authors, journalists and bloggers can write what they like. (So long as it isn't libelous.)

But Israel is in a class of its own. This is not to say that it is impossible to get a book critical of Israel's policies published without setting off a firestorm among neocons and virtually the entire "pro-Israel" establishment. That isn't true.

It is only when the author has considerable prestige, is backed by a major publisher and is thus likely to get his message across to large numbers of readers, listeners and, most important, opinion leaders, that the "we'll crush him like a bug" dynamic sets in.

That is what is happening to Peter Beinart right now. Largely because he is highly credentialed (he was editor of the New Republic in his 20's), and because his pro-Israel bona fides are unassailable, he has aroused the fury of the pro-Netanyahu, pro-occupation crowd as few of those who went before him have.

Take a look at what the New Republic's former owner and Beinart's old boss and mentor, Martin Peretz, had to say about Beinart's "The Crisis of Zionism" (or more precisely, about Beinart himself) in comments to the Jewish Tablet:

It's a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive...I always knew he [Beinart] was a very vain man, but a lot of us are vain, and if you had his mother, or if I had his mother, I'd be even more vain than I am." Peretz put on a mocking falsetto — "this is the most brilliant boy, he's so smart, he's so touching" — before going on: "It's a Jewish mother situation. You can use that — even if it makes me sound a little bitchy."

Imagine Peretz, a major figure in the "pro-Israel" camp and in U.S. politics from 1968 to 2010 when he self-destructed, actually attacks Beinart's mother for producing a son who has written a book criticizing Israel.

Suffice it to say that Peretz's "review" is typical of what we'll be seeing from the "pro-Israel" establishment. It is Beinart's temerity in writing such a book that drives them crazy, much more than the book itself — so much so that the Israel-can-do-no-wrong types like Peretz, would rather impugn Beinart personally than actually review the substance of the book.

Peretz's hysteria is unique, but his allusion to Beinart's "narcissism" is not. The essence of that charge also appears in Sunday's Washington Post review  of the book.

Alana Newhouse accuses Beinart of trying to "elevate himself as the standard-bearer" for liberal critics of Israel and that his "obvious politicking" to be leader of the Jews is one of the book's major flaws.

Brett Stephens, a Wall Street Journal columnist (and a former editor of the Jerusalem Post) begins his truly vicious review in the Tablet by mocking Beinart for writing that one of the things that motivated him to write the book was watching the abuse of a 10-year old Palestinian boy by the IDF and thinking that the boy "Khaled Jaber could have been my son."

Stephens finds that hilarious: "The real question is: Someone named Khaled Jaber could have been Beinart's son?"

In other words, to Stephens, Beinart is just a self-involved fool for seeing his son in a child who is "named Khaled Jaber" (i.e., an Arab, not a Jew). True, that says something ugly about Stephens, rather than Beinart, but the point remains. In Stephens's view, Beinart is naïve for being empathetic to the suffering of non-Jews and for, in part, viewing the Palestinian experience through the prism of his own life and experiences.

Andrew Sullivan, the author and blogger, says that he was taken aback by the attacks on Beinart from the same people who once were his friends, allies and colleagues in the "pro-Israel" establishment.  But now he understands that the normal rules of criticism do not apply when the subject is Israel.

I've been through my share of personal vilification over the years...But this level of vicious personal obloquy from people who once advanced and supported him? It beggars belief.

There is something rotten here. And something utterly bankrupt. You want to know why these people have become so unhinged? Read the book. They're terrified of its truth.

At this point, I could write about Beinart's Jewish and pro-Israel credentials. But I won't. Beinart's views would be equally worthy of merit even if he wasn't an observant Jew or a Jew at all. The Crisis of Zionism is not Beinart's autobiography. It is a serious, heavily researched and documented book that makes a powerful case that the post-'67 occupation is destroying Israel as a democracy and ultimately could destroy it as a state. It also argues that Israel is treating the Palestinians under occupation with cold brutality while simultaneously denying Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (inside the '67 lines) the full rights Israeli Jews are granted.   

Beinart also demonstrates that the "pro-Israel" organizational establishment in the U.S. (the people trying to shut Beinart down) are representative of no one except the multi-millionaire and billionaire donors who keep their organizations going.  

Beinart exposes AIPAC as utterly uninterested in any value other than power itself, particularly the power to intimidate Congress. He demonstrates how the Holocaust is blatantly exploited to build support for Netanyahu and the occupation even by organizations (like the American Jewish Committee) which were close to indifferent to anti-Semitism in Europe when it was occurring. (It is always shocking to read that the now  Holocaust-obsessed organizations like the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC rarely brought up the subject until after the 1967 Six Day War when it could be used to build support for the occupation).  

For me, the best part of Beinart's book is the section I refer to as "Myths & Facts." He takes every major propaganda point that is used by the right to support the status quo and demonstrates that it is based on distortions, if not out-and-out lies.

These distortions include the myth that Israel has "no partner" with whom to negotiate, the myth that Israel has offered the hand of peace since its founding, the myth that the Palestinians want the West Bank to be free of all Jews, the myth that Israel needs the West Bank for security purposes, the myth that Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza as a step toward peace rather than as a device to permanently prevent the creation of a Palestinian state, the myth that Israel will not be transformed into an apartheid state if it continues to maintain the occupation without granting the Palestinians the franchise and equal rights, and the myth that Hamas initiated the 2008-09 Gaza war without provocation from Israel.

Beinart is not arguing that the Palestinians are always right. Instead, he proves that Israel isn't either — and that almost all the information put out by the lobby and the Israeli government is propaganda.

You doubt that? How many people do you know who believe that Israel offered the Palestinians virtually everything at Camp David in 2000, only to have the Palestinians walk away? As Beinart demonstrates and was proven by Clayton Swisher in "The Truth About Camp David", and in a half-dozen other volumes, there was no "generous offer" and the Palestinians didn't walk away either.

None of this makes for much comfort for either side. (If the right is furious at Beinart for exposing the lies of the "pro-Israel" right, the left cannot stand his commitment to the two-state solution which it considers not only naïve but no more just than the right-wing maximalism of Netanyahu and company).

Accordingly, do not be fooled by the reviews from the left, which argue that because Beinart is a self-described "liberal Zionist" he has nothing to say, or those from the right that say that the book is nothing but self-indulgent pieties. It is neither. It is a book that unravels the lies, unspins the spinners, and gets at the truth.

Passover is the holiday that celebrates freedom from bondage. In the case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it is myths and lies that are among the tightest shackles of that bondage. This is the bondage Beinart goes far toward breaking.