Bari Weiss wants to speak for the Jews

There is an ideological struggle occurring in the American Jewish world that will shape the Jewish future. Its leading adversaries are Peter Beinart and Bari Weiss. Beinart and Weiss embody two different Jewish identities, and the most important distinction between them is that they have different perspectives on anti-Semitism.

Take Beinart’s scheduled December 15 panel discussion on anti-Semitism, “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice,” with Rashida Tlaib, Marc Lamont Hill, and Barbara Ransby as participants.

While this will be a discussion about antisemitism, Beinart also has something else in mind.

Beinart knows that Tlaib and Hill have been unjustly vilified in American society, and that vilification originated in the American Jewish community. Beinart also knows that Tlaib and Hill are not haters—all the loathing goes in one direction. In engaging in this dialogue, Beinart is informing the panelists, their supporters, and the Zoom attendees that those Jews who demonize Talib and Hill do not represent all Jews. In fact, the silent majority of Jews realize that they and those who share their pro-Palestinian narrative have their own perspective that has nothing to do with Jew hatred.

Beinart wants to acknowledge to these individuals that many Jews understand that the charge of antisemitism is used as a cudgel against political and ideological opponents.

Bari Weiss disparaged the event in a tweet and also liked this tweet by former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Dani Dayan:

“If you are non-Jews who like to tell Jews what is and what isn’t antisemitism, you are most probably antisemites. If you are a Jew collaborating with them, you are most probably their useful idiot.”

What does Bari Weiss find so threatening about this panel discussion?

The answer is Peter Beinart. Beinart has been challenging Jewish public opinion and Jewish conventional ideas for a long time now. Already a decade ago Beinart was warning American Jews and everyone else about where Netanyahu and Israel were heading. In 2012 the thinker Robert Wright said that Beinart:

“sounded almost like a biblical prophet as he explains how deeply imperiled Israel is, and how it will find salvation only by mending its ways.”

Beinart is now turning his attention inwards, to the U.S. The same Jewish political culture and discourse that has contributed to so much hatred in Netanyahu’s Israel is on the rise here. Literally every pro-Palestinian public figure is slandered as Jew haters by respectable Jewish figures and organizations. By doing events like this and “civil discussions” with BDS leaders and supporters Beinart is protecting these people with a Jewish shield.

Beinart is declaring, I am Jewish and from the pro-Palestinian perspective they are not doing or saying anything objectionable.

And that’s why Beinart is such a threat to Weiss. Beinart’s Jewish universalism is the biggest challenge to Bari Weiss’ tribalism.

Peter Beinart, from the Center for American Progress.

Weiss wants to be the figure in American public life who gets to speak for the Jews. This is the role, as I have discussed before, that Jeffrey Goldberg used to play. And speaking for the Jews means you get to have the last word on antisemitism. Speaking for the Jews means having the authority to say who is and is not an antisemite. Jeffrey Goldberg was a “‘never again’ journalist,” as the writer Paul Starobin said. Bari Weiss is also a “never again” journalist.

Like other “never again” journalists, Weiss behaves as if she’s an expert on “hate.” These journalists’ claim to fame is that their special insight into Jew hatred in history gives them an advantage when it comes to sniffing out hate in America and the world. The problem is that, in the real world, Bari Weiss is the last person to make these judgments. Bari Weiss’s victimhood perspective does not reflect the real world. The collective Jewish victimhood perspective that Netanyahu, Goldberg, Weiss, and others share is described at length in Victimhood Discourse in Contemporary Israel (2019). In her chapter in that book, Israeli historian Irit Keynan portrays the danger that “leaders” like Netanyahu and Bari Weiss pose to the rest of us:

[C]ollective victimhood is closely associated with ingroup cohesion and unity. At the same time, however, strong ingroup relations often comes at the expense of relations with the outgroup in intergroup conflict. Leaders promote ingroup cohesion not necessarily for the sake of society, but as a tool to strengthen their own leadership, even at the price of exacerbating integral conflict.

“Once the victimhood identity takes hold,” Kenyan explains, “it becomes an easy tool to gain support and rally followers based on the elements of fear, entitlement, and moral superiority.”

Barack Obama understands this. In his new memoir, A Promised Land, he says that Netanyahu’s “vision of himself” was as the “chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity.” Bari Weiss has the same vision of herself. “Never again” prime ministers and “never again” journalists both cultivate Jewish victimhood.

Peter Beinart does not share Bari Weiss’s victimhood worldview or agenda. Beinart believes that what he calls the “Holocaust lens” distorts the Jewish perspective. He even finds it to be a “cancer” in the Jewish community.

Thus, it is not surprising that Bari Weiss is so eager to vilify Peter Beinart. Beinart’s Jewish worldview has him… empathizing with Tlaib and Hill. While Weiss’s sacred macho victimhood Jewish identity dictates total war. He has also supported that so-called enemy Rep. Ilhan Omar. In April 2019, weeks after Omar was vilified for her Benjamins comment, Beinart wrote:

In her speech last week to @CAIRNational, @IlhanMN offered a vision for life as an American Muslim that captured what I cherish about being an American Jew

And this is why is it has been so important for Bari Weiss to cultivate the idea that Peter Beinart and the liberal Zionists who support him are on the side of the enemies of the Jews. That is why Bari Weiss constantly ritually defames J Street Jews.

For instance…

Or there was the time Weiss landed on an Eli Valley cartoon and sought to bait Beinart: “Hi, @PeterBeinart, what say you? Suspect you’d want to stay far, far away from people excusing anti-Semitism. And also just plain cruelty.”

This “Jewish” agitation by Bari Weiss in not just a feisty young writer being ornery. Rather it’s is a fight over who gets to define (Jewish) reality itself.

What the future of American Jewish life will look like will depend upon whether it’s Bari Weiss or Peter Beinart’s Jewish worldview that prevails among American Jews. And it is these ideological battles between Beinart and Weiss over “antisemitism” and domestic “enemies” like Rashida Tlaib, Marc Lamont Hill, Ilhan Omar, Linda Sarsour et. al that is going to shape Jewish political culture.

For the sake of a sane and tranquil American Jewish future, Bari Weiss and her ideas must be confronted at every turn.

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