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Peter Beinart: “It is immoral to have ethnically-based citizenship…”

22 Jul

[The following was originally posted 9/30/2012 on a short-lived blog dedicated to covering Palestine-related events in the northeastern US.]

In April of 2012 I attended a Peter Beinart talk at Harvard. He was there to debate the merits of his most recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, with Barry Shrage, a Harvard professor and president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies. It was an interesting experience.

Despite facing a largely pro-Israel audience at Harvard at a time when his book had already elicited substantial scorn from many in the American Jewish community, Beinart presented his arguments about the immoralities and dangers of Israeli policy with dignified composure. That same composure attended his rejoinders to rightwing counterarguments from Dr. Shrage. He struck me as a very decent and unusually honest man. (My impression of Shrage was less flattering).

At the time I had been following the advance press and interviews for Norman Finkelstein’s then-forthcoming book, an ambitious exploration of waning Jewish-American support for Israel. One of Finkelstein’s key pieces of anecdotal evidence for his claim that liberal American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel’s more draconian policies toward the Palestinians is the case of Beinart: a figure of some standing in New York’s orthodox Jewish community whose CV includes a stint as editor at The New Republic—a staunchly pro-Israel publication.

I was initially skeptical about Beinart’s significance for those of us hoping to see American political discourse grow more sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. Before the Harvard lecture, I had caught snippets from reviews and interviews that made it sound like Beinart’s opposition to settlement expansion in the West Bank was solely a concern about Israel’s demographic integrity qua Jewish state.  Indeed, his statements were often adorned with reservations about the purported desire of Palestinians that Israel simply cease to exist.

But it’s clear that something significant is going on when you see someone like Beinart making this basic point about racism so bluntly, and at venues likes Shalom TV:

[Note: It looks like the timestamp embed code isn’t working, so to cut to the part I’m referring to here, skip to 35:15 mark or open this link in a new tab]

I disagree with many of his individual points as well as much of the narrative that frames them—e.g., he says Israel’s settlement projects in the West Bank constitute a “tragic mistake” rather than a predictable extension of a colonial project that goes back to the first Zionist aliyah—but ask yourself if you can remember anyone in the mainstream of the American Jewish intellectual establishment speaking so openly before, say, 2008, about the immorality of ethnicity-based citizenship policy in Israel.


It has been raining in Boston for days.

15 Mar

This weather’s pull on my emotional life has tended to place me at one of two recurrent points.

1. Melancholy-gloomy:

2. …

It’s odd, usually I’m excited by rainy days. I speculate that my affinity for dreary weather stems from how, as a kid, I relished days when rain or snow permitted me to spend recess and other downtime indoors reading, drawing (something I once loved, but no longer do because I suuuck don’t really have a knack for it), and setting up elaborate military confrontations between armies of action figures, plastic model dinosaurs, and other relatively small, anthropomorphizable toys (I later dropped the toys and took up AD&D (which (unless the trend is already dead) hipster poseurs have decided is cool— it’s a strange world)). Don’t get me wrong: I was very physically active up through 8th or 9th grade, but it was this athletic streak that solidified the charm of the rainy day. “Bad” weather was an excuse to indulge my hypergeeky introverted/creative side, free of the otherwise incessant drive to dominate the foursquare court or whatever playground competition might be afoot (I was also a sore loser and probably not much fun to play with).

ANYWAY, this miniature rainy season has been a downer. Intellicast tells me it is tapering off and that tomorrow will be dry and intermittently sunny, which means that it will probably snow.


10 Jan
Gaza Vigil, Boston

Candlelight vigil in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Boston, MA, USA.

It had just begun to snow.

Gore Vidal on The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

2 Jul

Gore Vidal

It was in 1972 when Nixon won and there was not much to laugh about. And I was speaking in Boston to a large, youthful audience…And somebody said, “How do you explain that we here in Massachusetts were the only state to vote for McGovern?” And I said, “Well, I could compliment you and say Boston is the Athens of America,” and they started to applaud dutifully, and I said, “No, no, no[…]It’s not that.” I said, “Since the beginning of the Republic, Massachusetts has been the most corrupt state in the Union and you know a crook when you see one!

–Transcribed from a 2003 interview at the New York Society for Ethical Culture.