Daily Israel Report

Atlanta Festival Ousts 'Crisis of Zionism' Author Peter Beinart

A scheduled appearance by Peter Beinart at a book festival in Atlanta sparked angry disputes in otherwise close-knit Jewish community.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 11/14/2012, 11:04 AM

Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart
Flash 90

A scheduled appearance by the notorious Peter Beinart at a popular book festival in Atlanta has sparked angry disputes in the otherwise small and close-knit Jewish community, The New York Times reported.

Author of “The Crisis of Zionism” and editor of the Daily Beast blog Open Zion, Beinart was to be one of 52 authors appearing at the festival held by the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.

Beinart has long incurred widespread Jewish wrath as a result of espousing an extreme leftist interpretation of Zionism and a “targeted boycott” of the State of Israel. In the book, he compares Jews to rats leaving a sinking ship, mentions the Fogel family massacre and terrorism against Israelis in passing, while spending pages on alleged Jewish terrorism against Arabs.

He argues that the refusal of the organized Jewish establishment to defend democracy in the Jewish state is alienating many young American liberal Jews, who believe that the ideals of Zionism stand diametrically opposed to those of their interpretations of liberalism.

In March, Beinart penned an op-ed in The New York Times claiming that the only way of “oppos[ing] the forces that threaten Israel from without,” is to “oppose the forces that threaten it from within” and recommends completely ostracizing the Jewish communities over the green line as the best way to achieve this goal.

He asserts that a distinction must be made between the flawed, but legitimate democracy in “Israel proper,” and the encroaching “nondemocratic Israel” that threatens to condemn the country to a fate of “dubious democratic legitimacy.”

As a result of communal opposition, the center agreed to cancel the event, thus adhering to Jewish criticism that the festival should not be endorsing his views.

While another Jewish group rescheduled his talk, the center’s decision prompted boycott threats, criticism and charges of censorship, The Times reported.

The community center, which co-sponsored the event with J Street—the advocacy group that has long been exposed as inherently anti-Israel—helped the group find a new place to host Beinart.

“As leaders of our agency, we want the center to always serve as a safe place for honest debate, but we want to balance that against the concerns of our patrons,” said Steven Cadranel, president of the center. “No matter what we decided here, the decision was going to have some repercussion either way.”

Chuck Taylor, whose family has been part of the Atlanta Jewish community for four generations and who is on the national advisory board for J Street, said the community center could have found a better solution, like moving the event off its campus while keeping Beinart in the book festival. “When you become the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival, your obligation becomes larger than just to your members,” Mr. Taylor said.

Beinart said Tuesday that he had spoken at several Jewish community centers and had never been met with the response he found in Atlanta.  “I think the mistake is to think that trying to avoid discussion produces unity. It produces a false sense of unity,” he said, according to The Times.

While freedom of speech and freedom of expression must be safeguarded, the Jewish community maintained that the festival should not be providing a speaking platform to an individual who directly undermines the interests of the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

As Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren said following the publication of Beinart’s op-ed: the author’s call “places him well beyond the Israeli mainstream, the moderate left, and the vast majority of Israelis who care about peace.”

The dispute is the first time in a while that Beinart's book, whose sales are sluggish, has been discussed since its initial publishing.