Whether or not to dignify Peter Beinart's odious claims in his recent New York Times op-ed and forthcoming book with a response is a question worth thinking about. In claiming that we should refer to West Bank settlements as "undemocratic Israel," and that we should boycott products from this part of Israel, Beinart has crossed a line. From one perspective, to respond is itself to give a modicum of credence to the outlandish position he articulates. We freely acknowledge that there are all kinds of illogical and preposterous claims about Israel and the Jewish people. Yet we let them pass without comment because they represent no threat. We trust that level-headed, straight-thinking people will recognize them for what they are and dismiss them out of hand.
But I would argue that the appearance of Beinart's words in the mainstream media forces our hand. Too many opinions are shaped by arguments like these when they go unchecked. As Leon Wieseltier wrote recently in the Jewish Review Books, the Haggadah reminds us that when questions of consequence about Judaism emerge, we should have confident answers at the ready.
Many good critiques of Beinart have already appeared. Jordan Chandler Hirsch's review of Beinart's book is a good place to start. Daniel Gordis has likewise weighed in on Beinart's editorial.
It is also worth reading Ruth Wisse's Jews and Power. In it, she makes a powerful argument about the perils of our tradition's tendency to go down the path of self-blame rather than point the finger at our adversaries. We are so busy trying to defend ourselves against ridiculousness, we forget that we have a story of our own to tell. If we believe we are the ones possessed of the winning narrative, we should be shouting it from the rooftops.
Whenever the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it opens a door of opportunity to entertain the opposite pole. Perhaps now is such a time.
The moment we retreat from our moral high ground is the moment we play into the hands of our enemies.