Cold shoulder or pit bulls? On Peter Beinart, the Atlanta Jewish Book Fair and how to act when you disagree with a writer

I don’t often comment on news items, but this one is both Jewish and book-related, so I thought it would be worth mentioning.

Earlier this year, Peter Beinart–blogger and professor–wrote a book blaming the lack of peace in Israel on the Israelis. Even to someone whose politics are somewhat atypical for an Orthodox Jewish American, I found the premise of Beinart’s book both offensive and intellectually flimsy.

Should we set the dogs on ‘im?

This week Atlanta’s JCC hosts 10,000 visitors at its annual Jewish Book Fair. Initially, Peter Beinart was scheduled to appear there to promote his book. But, due to the outrage of many Atlantans who disagree with his public attacks of the Israeli government, Beinart will no longer be welcome to speak at the book fair. Instead, he’s speaking this evening at a different venue. (For more coverage, see here.)

Was this the right reaction?

 

Peter Beinart isn’t the first writer to annoy readers with his opinions. He certainly won’t be the last. I’m sure I’ve annoyed other people by my strong (occasionally wacky and often unpopular) opinions–as their opinions have surely disgusted/annoyed/puzzled me on occasion. The question is how to react. When we disagree with people, do we give them the cold shoulder, or do we attack them with pit bulls?

The big, public attack on his scheduled appearance generated a lot of media buzz for Beinart. In fact, now that Beinart’s gotten so much local press over the issue, more Atlantans will probably hear him speak than would have at the Atlanta Jewish Book Festival. There was a waiting list to get into tonight’s lecture.

Moreover, Peter Beinart–who has sold many copies of his book by now–has a vested interest in maintaining his opinions. And the people who are trekking out of their way (20 miles from the JCC) to attend the protest event have  pretty strong opinions, too. Whose minds are we hoping to change?

In addition, I’d argue that it’s not good for us to be the people holding the leashes on those attack dogs. Frankly, it’s not good for us to give the cold shoulder to another person, either. We need to be better at separating a person from their opinions and actions. If we can disagree with people’s opinions and actions without attacking them as people, then we can claim the moral high ground.

Refuse to purchase or read a writer’s book–sure.

Refrain from attending his public speaking engagements–sure.

Debate politely in the media–sure.

But the sic him with the dogs? Nope. The pit bulls don’t just maul their victims. They turn them into martyrs for the cause.

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2 thoughts on “Cold shoulder or pit bulls? On Peter Beinart, the Atlanta Jewish Book Fair and how to act when you disagree with a writer

  1. I actually just finished reading this book – I found many of the arguments in it pretty compelling. I’d love to chat with you about where you disagree with him.

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    • My problem isn’t with Beinart’s observations. At the time the book came out, I read a bunch of reviews to see what all the furor was about, and he seemed to make several astute ones. My problem is that his arguments are just as lopsided as the extreme hawkish stance, with which I also disagree, and ignore all sorts of counter-evidence.

      I don’t want to get into the specifics on this blog, because it’s not the focus I want here. The main point of my post is that all the shrieking and hatred and snubbing is really counterproductive, and that it makes people into enemies instead of merely people with whom you disagree. If I hated everyone with whom I disagree, I’d be a very lonely person. And it makes for an intellectually flat landscape, too.

      Let’s chat about Beinart’s book when I see you next. (Not so long from now, hooray!)

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