ATLANTA (AP) — An author whose outspoken criticism of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian West Bank got him banned from a Jewish book festival in Atlanta spoke Wednesday night at a sold-out event at an alternate location.
"This experience has taught me I should be boycotted more often," Peter Beinart quipped to a packed room, thanking those in attendance for the hospitality he had been shown since arriving in the southern city.
Beinart was originally one of 52 writers invited to speak at this week's Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, which attracts about 10,000 people each year. Bowing to pressure from some local Jews offend by Beinart's views, festival organizers then canceled his scheduled appearance — sparking a backlash to the backlash.
Beinart was then scheduled to speak in a smaller venue in downtown Atlanta, nearly 20 miles from the festival site at the suburban community center. The 200 seats allotted for his talk quickly sold out.
A popular blogger and associate professor of journalism and political science at The City University of New York, Beinart's most recent book "The Crisis of Zionism" criticizes hawkish Jewish leaders in Israel and the United States for their continued support for Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories seized in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
Beinart argued it is these conservative Jewish leaders, not the Palestinians, who are the primary obstacles to peace, thereby making the future of the Jewish state more precarious and less democratic.
"The problem is not that Jews live in the West Bank," Beinart said. "It is today the West Bank is a place where, contrary to the vision of Israel's founders, citizenship is ethnically based, where Jews and Palestinians live under a different law."
Beinart said the system, where millions of Palestinians are subjected to the routine humiliations of living under military rule while Jewish settlers receive government housing subsidies and security, will eventually force Israelis to choose between having a Jewish nation or a democratic one.
"By supporting settlement growth you are pushing the Palestinians in the exact direction we don't want them to go," he said.
For many Jews, such open criticism of Israel and its leader, pro-settlement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, borders on heresy, especially coming from a member of their own tribe.