Jonathan Chait

Alter-nate Universe

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Eric Alterman uses his Nation column to rehash the debate between me and Peter Beinart. Alterman characterizes my argument in two ways. remarkably, both times he describes me as arguing the opposite of what I actually wrote. Here's Alterman:

Chait thinks Beinart is naïvean odd criticism, Beinart notes, coming from someone who contends that Benjamin Netanyahu is sincerely dedicated to the goal of a Palestinian state. Chait and Goldberg say they do not disagree with many of Beinart's criticisms, but they think his focus is misplaced, given the threats Israel faces and the hostility of so many liberals and leftists to its legitimate concerns. Although some "leftists (and for that matter) rightists...focus so disproportionately on Israel's failings as to raise questions about their true motives," Beinart responds, the essay, alas, was about something else.

Let's take these in reverse order. Did I criticize Beinart for focusing too much on Israeli excesses and not enough on its critics? On the contrary, I argued that I did not have a problem with Peter focusing his attention on the leadership of the American Jewish community:

Peter and I both find this pincer campaign threatening at an elemental level. He focuses more of his ire on the right-wing half, I direct more against the left. I don’t begrudge Peter his choice. As I said, somebody needs to grab the American Jewish leadership by the lapels and shake some sense into it. I believe the urgency of Peter’s appeal led him to focus on his target so single-mindedly as to impair his formidable analytic powers.

My problem was that Peter oversimplified reality in order to bolster the urgency of his argument. One such way was in describing Netanyahu's 1993 opposition to a Palestinian state as though it was his current position:

Peter describes at length Bibi Netanyahu’s 1993 book making the case against statehood for Palestinians. It’s a disgusting expression of a classical Jewish paranoia in which any threat to Israel is tantamount to Nazism -- which, by the way, Leon Wieseltier masterfully dissected in 2002. The trouble is that Peter repeatedly passes off lines from the book as Netanyahu’s current viewpoint, which it isn’t. (He now accepts Palestinian statehood.) Now, Netanyahu is a slippery character, and one could make the case that he lacks the true desire to follow through on his new stance, and I wouldn’t dispute that. But to make this case is at least to acknowledge that Israeli politics have changed since 1993 such that Netanyahu’s old rejectionism is no longer tenable. That acknowledgement would complicate, and reduce the urgency of, Peter’s clarion call.

Again, I agreed with Peter that Netanyahu's claim to support Palestinian statehood is probably disingenuous. I did not, contra Alterman, contend that Netanyahu is sincere.

I'm not nitpicking with Alterman here. He made only two claims about what I had written, and both characterized my view as the opposite of what I actually wrote. I was going to suggest that Alterman seek out a journalism professor to advise him on handling such a blunder. Alas, it turns out that Alterman is a journalism professor. In addition to his Nation column and holding down a fellowship at the Center for American Progress, Alterman passes on his vast store of journalistic knowledge and ethics to impressionable students at CUNY, for which he is paid $166,895 a year. Clearly his meager salary gives the poor fellow insufficient incentive to get his facts correct.

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