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Et Tu, Beinart?

By Ralph Seliger

Religiously, Peter Beinart is what one may call “conservadox,” an observant Jew who attends a liberal-ish modern Orthodox synagogue but does not routinely cover his head and doesn’t consider himself Orthodox.  Some years back, we were both guests at the home of a mutual acquaintance for a Shabbat dinner.  And I’ve written a few articles for the blog that he once sponsored at the Daily Beast.  

His 2012 book, The Crisis of Zionism, was correct in describing the growing alienation of young American Jews from Israel in the face of its deepening occupation of Palestinian territories in lieu of a negotiated two-state solution.  My one note of criticism (in this review) was that he “may understate the extent to which episodes of Palestinian violence (e.g., Hamas and Islamic Jihad attacks during the 1990s, the frightful toll on Israelis of the Second Intifada, and the intermittent rocket and other attacks from Gaza following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal in 2005) have undermined the trust of a majority of Israelis in the utility of peacemaking–even as Israel’s counter-measures have further alienated many Palestinians from faith in a negotiated peace.”

In his recent NY Times op-ed and in his longer essay in Jewish Currents, Beinart now endorses, in principle, a one-state binational solution.  Some critics have pointed out in reaction that few Israelis, including even Palestinian citizens of Israel, and possibly only a minority of Palestinians under occupation, actually support such a resolution.     

It’s questionable that most Palestinians even accept the Jewish people as a “nation,” as opposed to a religious group.  So Jews with Zionist sympathies, like Beinart, speak of a binational state, while other one-staters support a single “democratic state” with equal citizenship rights in all of historic Palestine — which may relegate Israeli Jews to minority status without national rights.   

There is still a lack of understanding among even ostensibly liberal Palestinians about the complexity of Jewish identity and the Jewish claim to national self-determination.  On a visit to Ramallah in 2012, with Partners for Progressive Israel . . . 

I was one of a majority of our group taken aback by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi’s misunderstanding of what we (and most Israelis and Jews) mean by a “Jewish state.” A progressive Zionist doesn’t support a “Jewish state” that is either theocratic or exclusively Jewish, but rather a country that is always open to Jews seeking refuge from persecution, discrimination or oppression, and that may (at a maximum) also work to preserve & cultivate Jewish cultural expression & heritage (whether in religious or secular form), while not impinging upon the individual civil rights of its non-Jewish citizens.

Historically, I have a lot of respect for the early Zionists who supported a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine rather than a state, or a binational outcome.  But there was no organized support for such a result among Palestinians, whose leadership violently rejected any kind of peaceful arrangement when their militias attacked the Jews of Palestine in 1947-48 immediately after the United Nations General Assembly voted for partition.  We must recognize the terrible price that Palestinians paid with the Nakba and the generations of statelessness since, but the toll inflicted upon the Jews of Palestine was also heavy.  For a reliable account of the latter, one may read Amos Oz’s magnificent memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, in which he describes enduring the siege of Jewish Jerusalem in late ’47 and early ’48, when his boyhood family apartment became a shelter for people in the neighborhood, occupying virtually every square inch for weeks on end as the shelling and snipers took their toll outside.   

To be entirely fair to Beinart, he’d prefer two states, but he’s thrown in the towel because he sees it as unattainable.  He may even be right; if I thought that a democratic binational state could work for Jews and Arabs today, or in the near future, I’d be all for that as well, but this actually seems less likely than two states. 

Given the history of minorities being subjugated, oppressed and even massacred in the Arab world (especially since the post-2011 debacles), to expect a peaceful democratic outcome seems nothing short of delusional.  Again, to be fair, he doesn’t expect such a result overnight, but if one knows that such a seemingly utopian goal is a long way off, why renounce two states?  Why support one very unlikely resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over another, two states, which, while hardly likely at this moment, has come achingly close to fruition more than once in the past 25 years. 

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