Once celebrated as a “wunderkind” in the publishing world, Peter Beinart became the senior editor of the New Republic at the tender age of 27. After that, he went on to moderate success in the rarefied world of think tanks, landing fellowships at the venerable Council on Foreign Relations and the New America Foundation. In 2010, he became a Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center while continuing to be a prolific contributor to leading publications like the New York Times, Time Magazine, the Forward and the New York Review of Books. In 2014, he still found time to hire himself out as a columnist for both the Atlantic and the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, which while far-flung geographically, are in close proximity politically.
These day Beinart is perhaps best known as the ‘go-to’ American Jewish critic of Israeli security policies in the Palestinian territories. In his writings and public appearances he rails against the so-called ‘Occupation’ and is a leading advocate of the BDS movement which seeks to impose economic sanctions on Israel for its continuing presence in the West Bank. On occasional trips to Israel, he appears under the glare of TV cameras at anti-government rallies, hobnobbing with far left Israeli political figures and Palestinian NGO’s. His basic thesis is that the traditional intersection of Zionism and Liberalism is being compromised by American Jewish leaders who continue to defend Israel’s allegedly indefensible and immoral presence in territories. This offends Beinart’s leftist sensibilities and allegedly those of many young Jewish people who agree with him. Beinart rarely mentions that the territories in question were taken in the second of two openly declared wars of annihilation by Israel’s neighbors and that they have repeatedly rejected compromise offers to return them. In so doing, he has become both the bete noir of mainstream American Zionism and a darling of the anti-Israel American Left. He clearly relishes his standing at the center of this controversy and the love-hate relationship it engenders. It seems profitable too. In addition to his faculty position and moonlighting as a columnist for two newspapers, he appears regularly on television as a Mideast commentator and travels all over the country as a speaker.
Due to his celebrity status at CUNY, and possibly to accomodate his remunerative extracurricular activities, Beinart teaches only one day a week for five hours for his $160,000 per year salary. While he may be an accomplished journalist and political commentator, one wonders, based on his schedule, whether his faculty position is really about teaching and scholarship, or more about political advocacy and polemics. Given his one-sided views of the Arab-Israeli conflict and his glaring omissions of facts and history, those of us on the other side would argue the latter.
While Beinart is entitled to his political views and theories, and highly adept at promoting them, one wonders if it is a wise for a public university like CUNY to finance Political Science faculty so lavishly in exchange for less than a day a week of teaching. Moreover, aside from being tasteless, having New York state taxpayers underwrite Beinart’s globetrotting advocacy of the Palestinian cause and the BDS movement is also possibly illegal. Under rules promulgated by New York Governor Andrews Cuomo two years ago, it’s unlawful for State agencies and presumably their employees to participate in boycotts of Israeli enterprises, as the Arabs have done since Israel’s founding in 1948. Understanding the fuzzy line between academic freedom and state law, one wonders whether Beinart, as a State employee, is not trespassing on the wrong side.
While there does appear to be a growing domestic market for anti-Israel polemicists, with the possible exception of Beinart and a few officials from non-profits such as the Carnegie Endowment and J-street, there does not seem to an abundance of paid opportunities for CUNY students in the field. I work at one of CUNY’s community colleges and surveys show that graduates of associates programs at CUNY who do not move on to senior colleges typically have unemployment rates of between 20-40%. Thus, despite its robust appearance at the Graduate Center and some Mideast studies departments, job prospects in the anti-Israel advocacy industry seem quite limited for most CUNY graduates. Meanwhile, Beinart makes more than 5 times the average CUNY adjunct instructor carrying the same teaching load and nearly twice as much as other Associate Professors. This includes math and science instructors which CUNY is in desperate need of to support technical, vocational and science-based preparation for the real economy. It can ill afford to pay Political Science and humanities faculty at these extravagant rates, even those with star quality that appeals to the University’s outsized contingent of entrenched leftists, with their acute sense of social injustice and personal entitlement.
Indeed, while providing an honest, even critical view of Israeli political policies, Professor Beinart might consider introducing a more balanced picture of Israeli life to his classroom, such as its entrepreneurial spirit and technological savvy. This might be difficult, however, given the brief amount of time he actually spends there. He might also bother to mention how Israeli tech companies are actively seeking out business partners among their allegedly persecuted counterparts in the West Bank and how the BDS movement he supports is trying to block them. Or how Israelis Universities like Technicon are invested in New York to promote software incubators and jobs here while he is giving paid speeches at upscale West Coast synagogues promoting BDS.
Perhaps if he spent as much time on campus trying to understand the lives and prospects of CUNY students as he does on the Palestinians, he might be disappointed to learn that ‘occupation’ here generally refers to one’s chosen profession or what students are preparing for. Despite popular accounts to the contrary in the news media in recent years, the situation in the Mideast does not rank high up in the list of concerns of the vast majority of CUNY students. Beinart’s preoccupations with them are therefore not for local consumption. Thus, the question remains whether he is entitled to such generous export subsidies from the State of New York, when his BDS advocacy is in conflict with State law.