Since the October 7 Hamas attack, many on the American left have been trying to avoid simply standing with Israel. The most prominent member of this group is, as always, Peter Beinart.
A week after the attack, Beinart took to the opinion section of The New York Times with a piece entitled, “There Is a Jewish Hope for Palestinian Liberation. It Must Survive.” He begins with the favorite slander of Israel haters everywhere: a comparison of the Jewish state to apartheid South Africa. Beinart notes that the African National Congress (ANC) successfully challenged apartheid through “ethical resistance” that “elicited international support” for sanctions. However, he says, “when Palestinians resist their oppression in ethical ways – by calling for boycotts, sanctions and the application of international law – the United States and its allies work to ensure that those efforts fail, which convinces many Palestinians that ethical resistance doesn’t work, which empowers Hamas.”
For Beinart, that’s the root of the problem: “By treating Israel radically differently from how the United States treated South Africa in the 1980s, American politicians have made it harder for Palestinians to follow the A.N.C.’s ethical path.”
Trying to support that claim, Beinart, resorts to historical wishful thinking. For example, he argues that after October 7, “some critics may claim Palestinians are incapable of resisting in ethical ways. But that’s not true. In 1936, during the British mandate, Palestinians began what some consider the longest anticolonial general strike in history.”
In fact, that strike was part of the bloody Arab revolt of 1936, aimed at halting Jewish immigration. It was orchestrated by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, a genocidal antisemite who went on to become a Nazi collaborator. Five hundred Jews were killed.
Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders have never followed – or shown a desire to follow – a nonviolent, ethical path. From Husseini to Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas’s “pay for slay” program, their long history of violent Jew hatred is well known. The Hamas attack of October 7 is only the latest, and most extreme, example.
The main form of “ethical resistance” Beinart supports, and wants Americans to support, is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. But that movement seeks to eliminate the Jewish state. Beinart knows this. As BDS founder Omar Barghouti told him during a live-streamed discussion, a Palestinian “right of return” is the cornerstone of the BDS movement, without which there can be no solution to the conflict. Of course any such “return” would mean the end of Israel. In its place, one might expect that Barghouti envisions a binational state. However, he actively opposes the idea. That’s because, he told Beinart, Jews – including Jewish Israelis – are not a nation.
Thus, Barghouti said, any binational state would be based on the false premise “that there are two nations with equal and competing moral claims to the land, and therefore we have to accommodate both national rights.” Beinart did not question that assertion.
The state Barghouti envisions, he admitted, would be an Arab state. Jews would return to their previous subservient status as dhimis. But there’s no need to worry, Barghouti said. In the past, Jews have “lived well” under the Arabs.
That’s the kind of “ethical resistance” Beinart wants Americans to support.
There’s no indication that the October 7 attack has changed Beinart’s thinking. His Times article says nothing about how the Hamas assault might impact his previous positions on the conflict. For example, he once labeled Yair Lapid an alarmist for noting that the Hamas charter calls for a genocidal war against the Jewish state. He tried to support that accusation by claiming that “Hamas has neither carried out, nor tried to carry out, anti-Jewish genocide.” What does he think now? Has October 7 changed his mind? Probably not.
Also, does Beinart still believe, as he once said, that Hamas rocket attacks have the same moral value as Ukrainian attempts to fight off an unprovoked foreign invasion?
According to his Times article, Beinart still thinks that five million Palestinians should be allowed to “return” to Israel. But would that include Hamas supporters and other assorted eliminationist Jew haters? If it would, how might he propose to deal with them?
Beinart continues to argue that a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires that Israelis give up on Zionism and agree to form a binational state, expressing no worries about how that might turn out. Indeed, he once said, “a democratic binational Israel/Palestine would be no more bigoted against Jews than binational Belgium is bigoted against Walloons or binational Canada is bigoted against Quebecers.” Does he stand by that? Does he still think Jews would have nothing to fear, living under an Arab majority?
The October 7 attack has changed the nature of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Hamas has made clear that its charter is not just empty words. The existential threat written there is real. Hamas is indeed bent on the genocidal destruction of Israel. One cannot negotiate a peaceful resolution with such people.
And yet Beinart still offers nothing but his usual utopian fantasy, calling for Jews and Palestinians to live together in a single state from the river to the sea. The Hamas attack has now shown what dangerous nonsense that idea really is. It’s a shame Beinart hasn’t noticed.
Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.