Beinart: Obama Doesn’t Think It's His Job to Stop Israel Driving Off a Cliff

At special Haaretz event at GA in Baltimore, the controversial author said that Bibi got a 'bum rap' for intervening in U.S. elections; and Obama lost Jewish support because 'boogeyman' Sarah Palin wasn’t on the Republican ticket - any more.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

“This is what President Obama believes: that if the American Jewish community, in tandem with the Israeli government, are dead set on driving off a cliff towards a one-state solution, it is not his job to lay down on the train tracks and sacrifice his political career in order to stop them.”

This is the assessment of Peter Beinart, the controversial journalist and author of “The Crisis of Zionism": “He’s not the most sentimental person. He’s a pretty cold-hearted and realistic guy.”

Beinart was speaking to a select audience invited by Haaretz to a discussion of “Decision 2012: Israel, the Jewish community and the elections”. The event was held at the Hyatt Hotel in Baltimore, as part of the 2012 General Assembly convened by the Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA).

Beinart estimated that there is very little chance that Obama will intervene forcefully in order to advance a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. “Obama feels that there is a strong Israeli prime minister who is not passionate about creating a Palestinian state, and a Palestinian prime minister who grows weaker by the day. In these circumstances, chances of success are low and of political strife at home are high.”

Beinart noted that Obama hardly mentioned the Palestinians during the recent U.S. election campaign: “If he would have wanted to do something in his second term, he would put down some marker to show that he had a mandate. But he didn’t.”

Beinart said that he would like for Obama to make his position on the need for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders plus land swaps public before the upcoming elections, but he doubts whether that will happen.

Beinart warned against the current Israeli policy of maintaining the status quo, saying “I don’t see how you can look at the current trends and think you will be better off in ten years. America will be weaker, other powers that are not so sentimental will be stronger, and rejectionist in the Arab world will be emboldened.”

“When you pay people to move into the West Bank, you are doing Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s work for it; at the same time, working against Abu Mazen, who has been willing to make concessions and to cooperate with Israel on security affairs – makes him look like a loser and a fool.”

Surprisingly, Beinart thinks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “got a bum rap” when he was criticized for interfering in the US election campaign. “People forget that the Clinton Administration intervened twice against Netanyahu in Israeli elections in 1996 and in 1999. Americans act as if Israelis invented this. Given his experience with the Clintonites, Netanyahu would think it perfectly normal to interfere in the American elections. There is an excessive piety that surrounds this conversation in American Jewish circles.”

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Beinart says that the most indicative factor in determining the American Jewish vote for Obama isn’t specifically Jewish at all “it’s not the type of religion that matters, it’s the intensity of your religion.” He said that Republicans get the votes of about 25 percent of Jews – and 50 percent of Christians – who go to worship at least once a week. “Non-Orthodox Jews behave politically like atheists.”

Beinart said that he believes that Obama’s support among Jews dropped to a certain extent because “Sarah Palin wasn’t around. She was the boogeyman that scared Jews away in 2008 – but not because they’re Jews, because they’re secular.”

Beinart also said that while there is a lot of Jewish money in the Republican Party seeking out Jewish votes – there are very few Jewish votes to be had. “These people consider it a personal affront that so many Jews continue to vote in a way that they consider to be insane," he said. "But there’s very little evidence that beating people over the head with the Israel issue makes any difference at all."

Beinart warned against the emergence of a new Jewish argument about a one-state solution, between those on the right who are being “pushed” to a one-state scenario by Christian Evangelists and those who are coming there from the left, egged on, inter alia, by Palestinian intellectuals. Beinart said that at most of his appearances at college campuses he encounters queries about the one-state solution: he fears that among younger Jews, there is no “narrative” of justification for Israel’s existence by virtue of it being a refuge state.

“The next time a book gets written that will upset the American Jewish community it will come from a one-state perspective, not a two-state perspective. There’s more openness towards a one-state solution among younger Jewish intellectuals.” Beinart said that he himself views a one-state solution as a “disaster”.

Asked about the adverse reactions that he continues to encounter because of the controversy created by his own book, Beinart said that “you have to put things in perspective. There are journalists all around the world who suffer, whose lives are endangered, because of things they wrote. What do I suffer? I get nasty emails, a lot of them from my family. My wife was concerned that we might have problems at our coop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, but it turns out they were much more concerned with more relevant things, like whether we could afford the apartment.”

Beinart said that most American Jews don’t care about Israel all that much, and that “dealing with people who passionately hate my views is an emotional and intellectual challenge for me. I feel a very strong attachment to people who feel passionately about Israel, and it makes me feel that we have something in common.”

“I grew up with people who had strong right wing views,” Beinart said, “so when I hear these angry people, I can’t help but think of my relatives.”

Peter BeinartCredit: Center for American Progress (CC BY-ND 2.0)



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