Robby Berman

Criticism of Beinart

Peter Beinart wrote an article last week proposing that Israel should consider no longer being a Jewish state. It should annex de jure the West Bank (which it has already done de facto) and become a country of all its citizens. He wrote his article against the backdrop of the Israeli government posturing to annex part of the West Bank while denying the Arabs living in it Israeli citizenship.

Beinart was widely criticized as betraying Zionism and endangering the Jewish people. I will try below to briefly address each criticism.

1. ‘Beinart doesn’t live in Israel and thus doesn’t have to the pay the price or take any personal security risk for his proposal.’

While this assertion of fact is true, it has nothing to do with the merits of his proposal. The same people who think Beinart’s proposal is bad will still think it is bad even if he lived in Jerusalem. And if Beinart – on the left – can’t speak out on Israel issues because he lives in NY it would follow that Jews on the right who live in NY shouldn’t be able to either.

2. ‘Both Israelis and Palestinians are not asking for what Beinart is proposing so why is he proposing it?’

Thinkers think outside the box. They put forth ideas that other people aren’t thinking of. If a person proposes a good solution to two parties who are fighting over something, should they dismiss it because they didn’t think of it themselves?

And the more radical the idea the more time it takes for people to seriously consider it. It wasn’t too long ago that mentioning the term ‘two state solution’ was verboten in Israel. Now it’s as common as yihiyeh b’seder.

3. Anshell Pfeffer from Ha’aretz wrote that Beinart’s proposal is wrong because it’s motivated by his idealism for equality for all people while Zionism was based on pragmatism… creating a refuge for Jews and a place where Jewish culture could flourish.

While Beinart’s motive to create one state in Israel/Palestine may not stem from the same motives of classical Zionism, what Beinart is saying is that in the long run a country based on equality for all people will bring peace to the region and pragmatically bring security for Jews. The direction Israeli is currently heading – unilaterally annexing choice places of the West Bank – does not seem to be increasing the likelihood of security for the Jewish people.

4. Benjamin Kerstein wrote in Tablet magazine that support for the establishment of a bi-national state in 1925 by the Brit Shalom movement (Buber, Szold, Ahaad Ha’am and supported by Albert Einstein) was based on the pragmatic realism – at that time – that the Jews would never get their own state. Kerstien points out they were wrong: we did get a Jewish state so there is no point in reverting to a bi-national state now.

But Kerstein writes this as if everything is fine in the Jewish state, as if there aren’t millions of Palestinians between the Green line and the Jordan River being denied basic national and civil rights.  Jewish residents of Kfar Adumim can build houses illegally and retroactively obtain building permits while when Bedouins literally next store to them illegally build a school for their children the Government wants it destroyed. Clearly things are not working out well in the “Jewish Democratic” state that is discriminating against and repressing millions of human beings.

5. Daniel Gordis wrote that Beinart is unfairly blaming Israel, without acknowledging the role Palestinian terrorism has played in leading us to the current situation.

But between the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs by Israel in 1948 as documented by the archives of the Haganah and the oppression of Palestinians since 1967 and the wars and terrorism that the Arabs heaped upon Israel we can both play the blame game for another 70 years. I don’t think playing the blame game was Beinart’s intention. Nor does it add or detract from his proposal.

6. The strongest argument against Beinart’s proposal is that allowing for one person one vote, could theoretically and likely see the Arabs be a majority in a few decades. If that happens they could in theory make Israel a Muslim country and put the safety of Jews in jeopardy.

That leaves us asking ourselves just how much hatred do we think Arabs have for Jews? We Jews have 2 millennia of anti-Semitism culminating with the Holocaust sitting on top of our collective shoulders. That is a heavy package to shrug off. And I don’t know that we should.

While I am drawn to Beinart’s proposal because I greatly value the Rule of Law and desire to live in a liberal democracy there are many problems with implementing it now.  First a one state proposal is not acceptable to most Jews and to most Palestinians. Both want their own flag, anthem and separate identity. Second, one state means one army. How does Hamas fit into this picture? Even after Oslo, when there were joint Arab/Israeli patrols, an Arab soldier shot and killed an Israeli soldier. How is one army going to work out?

Beinart’s proposal causes us to think about a lot of things: the nature of a so called Jewish Democratic state, the cost of a Jewish state, the right for independence for Jews and Palestinians, the intentions of Palestinians, do we think Jews deserve and need a Jewish state even if at a certain point the Jews become a minority (i.e., apartheid)?

Even if we don’t adopt Beinart’s suggestions, any proposal that gets Israelis to think about the fundamental nature of our country and open their eyes as to the ongoing violation of human, civil and national rights of the Palestinians can only be a good thing for Israel.

About the Author
Robby Berman is a tour guide and journalist living in Israel for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government, MPA), Baruch College (MBA) and Yeshiva University (BA). He is also the author of the book Min Taq Taq: A Collection of Arabic Idioms and Expressions in the Palestinian Dialect.
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