Peter Beinart was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1971. His parents were Jewish immigrants from South Africa. In 1993 Beinart earned a degree in history and political science at Yale University, where he was a member of the Yale Political Union. In 1995 he received an M.Phil. in international relations at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. After completing his formal education, Beinart was hired as managing editor of The New Republic in 1995; two years later he became a senior editor for that publication, and from 1999-2006 he served as its editor. Today, Beinart is an Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the the City University of New York. He is also a senior columnist at Haaretz, a political commentator for CNN, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a senior political writer at The Daily Beast, and a contributor to The Atlantic, The National Journal, and Time.
A harsh and persistent critic of Israel, Beinart strives to present himself as a liberal Zionist. In 2010 he wrote that “Zionism is dying among America’s secular Jewish young” mainly because of its “obsession with victimhood,” which “simply bears no relationship to their lived experience, or [to] what they have seen of Israel’s.” “Yes,” Beinart added, “Israel faces threats from Hezbollah and Hamas. Yes, Israelis understandably worry about a nuclear Iran. But the dilemmas you face when you possess dozens or hundreds of nuclear weapons, and your adversary, however despicable, may acquire one, are not the dilemmas of the Warsaw Ghetto.”
In a 2010 lecture which he delivered at Temple Beth in Los Angeles, Beinart:
- condemned “radical [Israeli] settlers who used violence against Palestinians,” though he provided no information about what percentage of the settlers were actually involved in such violence, or about the comparative incidence of Palestinian violence against Jewish settlers;
- lamented that Israel was undermining “the [traditional] recognition that it is acceptable to withdraw from land if it meant saving lives,” even though both Israeli and Palestinian fatalities had soared to unprecedented levels ever since the doctrine of “land-for-peace” had been introduced into Israeli policy;
- said that while it would be “wrong” to “ask Israel to be willing to not defend itself,” not “every military action” by the Jewish state was justifiable;
- argued that “the Gaza blockade which banned a vast, vast number of consumer products that had nothing to do with making rockets” had created “more and more and more hatred of Israel” around the world, while omitting the fact that the imposition of the blockade had been necessitated in the first place by a relentless wave of Palestinian terrorism; and
- asserted that while the construction of “an Iranian nuclear weapon would be a disaster,” Israel in such a case would simply “have to deal with some of the things [that India was already facing] with [a nuclear] Pakistan on its borders.”
In March 2012 Beinart became the founder and editor of Zion Square, a new Daily Beast blog that aimed to alter the “official Jewish discourse about Israel.” He later changed his blog's name to Open Zion, but the project came to an end in December 2013.
In early 2014 Beinart arranged for Rashid Khalidi, a notoriously anti-Semitic professor from Columbia University, to speak at Ramaz, an Orthodox Jewish high school in New York. When Ramaz administrators subsequently decided not to permit Rashidi to speak on their campus, Beinart complained: “What does it say about the administrators at Ramaz that after immersing their high-school students in a passionately Zionist environment for years and years, they lack the self-confidence to expose them to one lecture from a Palestinian?”
In a March 2015 opinion piece in Haaretz, Beinart called it “laughable” to suggest “that Israel is serious about creating a Palestinian state,” adding that “if Israelis have the right to vote for permanent occupation, we in the Diaspora have the right to resist it.” “Our principle” said Beinart, “should be this: Support any pressure that is nonviolent and consistent with Israel’s right to exist. That means backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations. It means labeling and boycotting settlement goods. It means joining and amplifying nonviolent Palestinian protest in the West Bank. It means denying visas to, and freezing the assets of, Naftali Bennett and other pro-settler leaders. It means pushing the Obama administration to present out its own peace plan, and to punish—yes, punish—the Israeli government for rejecting it.”
In November 2015 Beinart delivered a speech to a Jewish congregation at a progressive Los Angeles synagogue in which he said: “While we condemn Palestinian violence, we must recognize this painful truth: that Israeli policy has encouraged it. Israel has encouraged it by penalizing Palestinian nonviolence, by responding to that nonviolence by deportations, teargas, imprisonment, and the confiscation of Palestinian lands. Hard as it is to say, the Israeli government is reaping what it has sowed.”
In August 2015 Beinart tried to dismiss concerns about the level of oppression faced by Jews in Iran, declaring that while “Iran’s Jews are not free, neither is their government trying to kill them.” “Three-and-a-half decades after the Islamic Revolution,” he elaborated, “Iran boasts perhaps 60 functioning synagogues, along with multiple kosher butchers and Jewish schools.” But as the Iranian Jewish attorney Pooya Dayanim points out, Jews in Iran “suffer from official inferior status under Iranian Law and are not protected by police or the courts”; they are “barred from any position in which they would be superior to Muslims”; they “are excluded from most government positions”; they are subject to severe “limitations on educational opportunities”; and they face frightening “restrictions on private religious practice.”
After Republican Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election of November 2016, Beinart posted a tweet stating that his annual holiday card that year would bear the caption: “Fuck You America.”
In a December 19, 2016 appearance on CNN, Beinart expressed his unease over the fact that President-elect Donald Trump was using language that framed the West's conflict with Islamic terrorists as a "civilizational" war between "Islam and the West." CNN host Don Lemon began the segment by quoting Trump's response to that day's Christmas-market terror attack in Berlin, in which a dozen people had been killed and dozens more injured by a jihadist at the wheel of a large truck. Said Lemon: "Donald Trump released a statement about the attack in Berlin saying, 'ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.' Then, in a statement about the shooting [by a jihadist] of the Russian ambassador [Andrey Karlov] in Turkey, [Trump] said the Russian ambassador was, quote, 'assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist.'" When Lemon then asked Beinart what he thought Trump's "biggest challenge ahead in dealing with these kinds of attacks" would be, Beinart replied:
"Well, I think that the statement I think he made in response to the Berlin bombing [sic] is actually quite telling if you look at it. What's fascinating is he never referred to the people who were killed as 'German,' only as 'Christians.' Actually, we don't know the religion, as far as I know, of the people who were killed in that attack in Berlin. They were at a Christmas, you know, market, but lots of people go to that. Donald Trump's description of that attack was basically civilizational. It was basically Islam attacking Christianity, and I think this gives you an insight into what he and people like Mike Flynn [Trump's nominee for National Security Adviser] and Steve Bannon [Trump's chief strategist and Senior Counselor] view this entire conflict is very dangerous. First of all, it essentially makes Muslims in the West seem like enemies within, and it makes it much harder to cooperate with Muslims against terrorism."
Lemon then asked Beinart if he thought that Trump and his allies were engaging in "a coordinated strategy," to which Beinart responded:
"Yeah, look, you go back all the way to the beginning of the campaign, you know, after the San Bernardino attacks [of December 2015], talking about not allowing Muslims in, saying that Muslims were cheering 9/11, the, you know, Flynn referring to Islam as a cancer. There's been this entire thrust to essentially say this is a struggle between the West and Islam, which is exactly what ISIS wants. That's the way ISIS describes it as well."
Allied ideologically with the organization J Street, Beinart supports a “two-state” solution in which an independent Palestinian nation would exist alongside Israel. He also favors a selective, targeted boycott of goods produced by Israeli businesses that are situated in any of the disputed settlements of the West Bank—but not a boycott targeting Israel as a whole.
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 But as Israel Institute for Strategic Studies founder Martin Sherman notes: “This comparison is ludicrous. India has a population five times that of Pakistan spread over an entire subcontinent seven times the size of Pakistan. It is in no danger of annihilation from its impoverished eastern neighbor, even if it were to suffer a surprise first-strike that wiped out several of its population centers.... In stark contrast, Israel has a population less than one tenth and an area one eightieth of Iran’s [and thus would be essentially] wiped out by a single nuclear weapon.”