False Advertising: The Daily Beast and “Open Zion”
by Dovid Efune
Following its merger with Newsweek, The Daily Beast may be on its way to becoming something of an American news media institution. It was therefore a simultaneous source of wonder and pride to me that the paper would launch a blog entitled “Open Zion,” recently changed from “Zion Square,” and subtitled “a new conversation about Israel, Palestine and the Jewish future.”
It is not often that I end up quoting a Reform Rabbi, but Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue made a similar point in a sermon last week when he asked, “How has the New York Times become the paper of record not only for American society but the paper of record for when Jews want to speak to Jews about Jewish matters?”
Is it so that these subjects are of such interest and import to the American public that they demand so much attention and even the establishment of dedicated platforms in mainstream publications?
If this is the case however, it is no small travesty that the Daily Beast has done a remarkably shoddy job at delivering an even remotely accurate or fair representation of Zionist or Jewish discourse in this country and certainly in Israel. In fact after a brief review of the top listed entries, a more accurate sub label for the venture might be “an old conversation about Israeli crimes, Jewish power and the Palestinian Arab problem.”
The posts are replete with misleading references, half truths and dubious presuppositions and assumptions. Editor Peter Beinart, who has recently published a highly controversial book entitled “The Crisis of Zionism,” has not a semblance of credibility in fulfilling his self professed role of “challenging liberal Zionism from the left and the right,” as in recent years he has been trumpeting his strongly held and one-sided opinions on the subject matter from just about every soap box that will have him. He says that he aims to “launch a conversation,” but the blog reads more like a Beinart tirade.
One example of Beinart’s incapacity is his selection of – in his description – “the hawkish Israeli historian Benny Morris,” to carry the contemporary mainstream Zionist banner. However, the interesting thing about Morris is that in an interview with Haaretz in 2004, he labeled himself as left wing and was described in the introduction by Ari Shavit as follows: “Benny Morris is the dean of Israeli ‘new historians’, who have done so much to create a critical vision of Zionism – its expulsion and continuing oppression of the Palestinians, its pressing need for moral and political atonement.” Additionally as of now, he only has one blog post that appears on the site, whereas an anti-Zionist contributor like Hussein Ibish has four.
Beinart’s editorial misdemeanors are many, and one could write books on the details. Indeed, I have read a number of capable and pointed critiques of the enterprise. What I would presently like to focus on is the Daily Beast’s misleading and false portrayal of the blog’s content and focus, by allowing the title “Open Zion.”
It seems that for the most part, the overall collective definition on the platform of the term ‘Zionism,’ was best captured by “Open Zion” blogger Jay Michaelson, in a blog entitled “Can You Be a Zionist If No One Thinks You Are?” He writes, “there’s a shrinking constituency that still believes Zionism can mean what it used to mean: the ideology that there should be a national home for the Jewish people in its historic homeland. The Left equates that ideology with the Right’s iteration of it…..(this) is what the Left means by “Zionism” and why it equates the term with racism.”
The problem however with the Zionism that Michaelson iterates is that it has subjective definitions, and that is because it is not guided by a defined purpose. What does he mean when he refers to a national home? And what are the parameters of the historic homeland he speaks of? What does the cause of Zionism represent today if Jews have reclaimed ownership of their ancestral Holy Land over 60 years ago?
Historian Alexander J. Motyl describes Zionism’s purpose in the Encyclopedia of Nationalism, “as a means for Jews to be liberated from anti-Semitic discrimination, exclusion, and persecution that has occurred in other societies.”
Michaelson and his fellow bloggers on Open Zion must accept that it is this definition of the Zionist purpose that should guide the boundaries of the ideology and its modern day manifestation. Simply put, the meaning of Zionism today is to ensure that the establishment of a Jewish state does not turn out to be an exercise of geographic convenience for those that wish to annihilate the Jewish race.
It is this conversation that so desperately needs to permeate Jewish discourse, and is for the most part so glaringly absent from the “Open Zion” project. As for the Daily Beat, the publication’s flippancy in allowing for the false labeling of a dedicated blog that is neither “Open” nor “Zionist” is simply disgraceful.