The New York Times today has an excellent article on the controversy over the appearance of author Peter Beinart at the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival. Mr Beinart wrote a book suggesting that liberal American Jews have been alienated from Israel by a monolithic, largely conservative Jewish establishment that brooks no opposition, and his appearance raised the hackles of some well-heeled funders of the Festival. As a result, Mr Beinart’s appearance was cancelled until an alternate plan was devised to have him participate in a more indirect manner. Of course, the irony is that the attempted censorship of Mr Beinart simply proves his point, but irony is usually lost on well-heeled funders the world over who are used to getting what they want, particularly in this cash-strapped day and age.
I am no stranger to this kind of controversy, having been the subject myself of complaint and anger over my invitation to the founder of J Street to speak at my synagogue. (However, being the Boxing Rabbi, I bobbed and weaved and counterpunched effectively and no one laid a glove on me). I have my own issues with Mr Beinart, mostly over his portrayal of my gifted and visionary teacher Arnold Jacob Wolf z’l, but many of his points are cogent and well drawn and portray a genuine dynamic in our community.
However, my observation is that critics of Mr Beinart fall into three categories: Those that disagree based on facts, those who simply do not want the issue of a divided American Jewish community raised at all publicly, and those that are insanely jealous that they did not write this book first. (With most critics falling into the latter category). Either way, the directors of the Atlanta Jewish Book festival made an error initially caving into the donors who objected and while they have somewhat rectified their error, ended up proving Mr Beinart’s point.
One last thought-the Times notes of the appearance of author Deborah Feldman at the same Festival this year. May I point out that Deborah was our speaker at Temple Emanu-El last May, proving that The Boxing Rabbi always gets the punch in first!