Home > Israel > Speaking at Northwestern U, Peter Beinart Blows Away the Crowd

Speaking at Northwestern U, Peter Beinart Blows Away the Crowd

April 14, 2011

Anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian issue who didn’t hear Peter Beinart speak at Northwestern on Tuesday really missed something.  Although the headline above looks like everyday hyperbole, if those who were there would have to agree that he captivated the near capacity audience for ninety minutes. 

Beinart’s NY Review of Books June, 2010 article The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment sent a shock wave through the American Jewish community.  Why this article has become a phenomenon among those who follow Jewish issues is not patently obvious.  The ideas in it are not earth shatteringly unique.  There are no secret papers uncovered.  Not even any shocking off-the-record quotations.  Instead, the article is simply so well written, its arguments so well documented, its organization so logical and compact that it strikes the reader (particularly those involved with the major American Jewish organizations that Beinart writes about) full in the chest like a hammer (one might say, a Hebrew Hammer – but that’s another story).   And it certainly helps that he brings tremendous credibility as someone who comes from the Center Right, and who practices Modern Orthodoxy.

These same characteristics came through in his speaking.  Not only his prepared remarks, but his answers to ad hoc questions were so well structured and economical that the listener was just carried along.  It was amazing to me that he could construct responses to questions that were not only logical and understandable, but were chock full of facts, figures and quotations.   This is a very rare gift.  I have heard him speak several times, and regardless of the content, I find that listening to him speak,  how he structures his points and arguments, is analogous to listening to Itzhak Perlman play the violin.  Peter Beinart is simply a virtuoso.

But beyond admiring his intellectual and rhetorical abilities, what he is trying to tell us, the American Jewish community, is so very important.  His main thesis can be summed up by a quote from that article:

For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Those in the Major American Jewish Organizations are at their own peril if they reject his analysis of the schism between today’s Jewish American youth and Israel.  Since his article was published in NY Review of Books he has quickly become one of the most incisive commentators on what may turn out to be the most significant crisis in American Jewish history: the disaffiliation, disconnection and delusion of a majority of today’s non-Orthodox American Jewish Youth with Israel, and beyond that to their very Jewishness.  Beinart’s ability to boil down complex themes and/or questions into an organized holistic answer – on the fly – is truly a gift.  He is knowledgable, thoughtful, logical, insightful, understandable and direct, and quietly passionate.  If you were not there, I urge you to be there when he returns.  You will not be disappointed.

  1. Y. Ben-David
    April 27, 2011 at 6:48 PM

    Beinart is making the assumption that supporting “liberalism” regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict means automatically supporting Arab grievances against Israel, accepting that official Arab propaganda against Israel includes much genocidal antisemitism, supporting the HAMAS regime in Gaza and its violation of international law by holding Gilad Shalit incommunicado and firing rockets indiscriminately into residential areas in Israel and supporting the expulsion of Jews from parts of Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria where Jews have lived continuously for centuries if not millenia. Who says that this is really true of “liberal” Jews in America? Who says all 78% of the Jews of voted for Obama view the Arab-Israeli conflict the same way Beinart and J-Street and the other “progressive” and Far Left Jews? Who says Beinart even speaks for this group?

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