Jeffrey Goldberg had this to say on his Atlantic magazine Weblog:
… Jeremy impressed me as a straightforward liberal Zionist. This is not to say I wasn’t troubled by some of his policy prescriptions for the Middle East. He seems to think that Barack Obama can impose a solution on the Israelis and the Palestinians (and impose NATO troops on Israel’s eastern border) and that will be that. … Jeremy seems to believe that American guarantees could overcome Israeli doubts.
Also, he thinks that nothing good will happen until the Palestinians reconcile with themselves, and he talked about Hamas-Fatah rapprochement, again, as something in the realm of the possible.
I’ve learned of a very detailed and well-informed blog post on this event by a NY Jewish Week writer, Eric Herschthal. It’s called “Are You Or Have You Ever Been a Zionist?” It is a very good summary of what transpired; I’m abridging Herschthal’s report as follows:
… while he [Goldberg] peppered Ben-Ami with tough, conservative-minded questions — why should American Jews lecture Israelis about their own politics? All Israeli got from pulling out of Lebanon and Gaza were rockets, why should they expect any different from the West Bank? — he was very capable of agreeing with him on certain points.
Goldberg, for instance, had no problem laying some blame on Israelis for the crisis they’re now in. He said Abba Eban’s oft-repeated phrase, “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” could certainly go the other way: Israel has also missed its share of chances too. He even gave a personal anecdote, saying how he’s been spit on by Jewish settlers himself, and knows quite well that providing them with political cover impedes any sensible peace.
But it was really Ben-Ami’s show. The event was sponsored by J Street and held at the New York Society for Ethical Culture (or, in Goldberg’s pithy phrase, “the Chabad House for atheists”). …
Why should Israelis give up control of Judaism’s holiest sites like the Temple Mount or even Hebron?, Goldberg asked. ….
Ben-Ami answered: …. he didn’t think that generations of ongoing bloodshed was worth the price of sole control over any religious site.
Practically, Ben-Ami said that it’s wiser to allow a third party like NATO to secure Jerusalem’s eastern border with the West Bank, than permit endless feuding over such sensitive areas.
At another point, Goldberg asked why Israelis should trust Palestinians now to make peace when, just a decade ago, in 2000 at Camp David, they so clearly rejected it. [This is the common Jewish understanding of what occurred in 2000, and this basic loss of trust in Palestinian goodwill was a tragic byproduct; my sense, along with that of many other doves, is that these events in the fall of 2000 represented something much more complicated.–Seliger]
Ben-Ami answered: That question implied that Arab opposition to a Jewish state has always been absolute and unchanging, while that isn’t at all the case. Too many in the West still refuse to recognize that the PLO’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist in the early-1990s was a watershed event for the Palestinians, and the same can be said about the Saudi Arabia Peace Initiative of 2002….
Moreover, over the last few years Fatah has made impressive gains in the West Bank, both in terms of economic progress and a responsible security force, he added. We … know that “85 percent of Palestinians would not want to follow the lifestyle that Hamas” advocates.
[….] When Goldberg asked whether he thought Peter Beinart was correct, and that American Jews and Israel are “getting a divorce,” Ben-Ami said yes….
Young American Jews were raised, for the most part, in a liberal environment that encouraged the promotion of equal rights, respect for diversity and a certain degree of empathy for the downtrodden. And now that Israel is perceived as being the oppressor who trods on Palestinians, they’re “checking their Zionism at the door,” he said, in paraphrase of Beinart, instead of their liberal values.
[….Finally Goldberg] asked why Israel should be held to a higher standard than the Arabs, some of whom enforce a lifestyle that is downright “medieval.”
Ben-Ami turned it back on Goldberg: “Why is it okay to say that as long as we’re one step above our neighbors then we’re doing okay?” Moreover, some of the policies of Israel’s current government have flown in the face of Israel’s own founding as a liberal democracy. He cited Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal to transfer Arabs in a future peace deal, and the stonewalling by the Israeli government of some of its own human rights groups. “I don’t think that’s okay.”
Goldberg …. didn’t think everything Netanyahu’s government was doing was okay, either. In addition, he said, “We didn’t wait 2,000 years in exile to return to our homeland so that we can say that, Hey, at least we’re better than the Syrians.”