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Peter Beinart’s misplaced sense of morality

Beinart joins the long line of those who aim to save Israel from itself. But he is both misinformed and misguided

Peter Beinart can’t read this. It was written in Efrat.

In his recent New York Times op-ed, Beinart, preaching for what he calls “Zionist B.D.S.,” joins the long line of those who aim to save Israel from itself. He is worried that Israel’s “pro-settler policies” are creating “one political entity” which will (according to him) be of “dubious democratic legitimacy” — since “millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.”

His plan, unlike that of the other BDS-ers, aims not at the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, but at her salvation. He seems truly pained at what he sees as the fissure between two of his beloved values: Zionism and democracy. His solution is to urge a boycott only of “settlements” and “settlers,” while simultaneously encouraging investment in what he calls “democratic Israel.” This will cause “companies and people to begin leaving nondemocratic Israel,” thus “keeping the possibility of a two-state solution alive.”

But Beinart is both misinformed and misguided. Since 1995, over 95 percent of the Palestinian populace has had the right to vote for those who “control their lives” — the Palestinian Authority. The PA is the civil authority for over 95% of Palestinians on the ground. That means that — aside from security, which I’ll get to in a moment — it’s in charge of all aspects of nearly all of the Palestinians’ lives.

The last exercise of its mandate, though, has led to what any reasonable observer could scarcely call even dubious democratic legitimacy. Hamas was voted in, Fatah out; yet President Abbas, who could only watch as his people in Gaza were thrown off of rooftops during Hamas’s assertion of its democratically-gained authority, has illegally kept himself at the PA’s helm for years. If concern for Palestinian political rights is what bothers Beinart, I’m surprised that I didn’t catch the call to boycott Fatah.

From Tel Aviv to Tel Romeda

But behind the calls for boycott and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homes (which sit on only 2% of the disputed territories) lies something else entirely: Both the Israeli left and the Palestinian leadership itself have focused more on destruction than on building. “Without Betselem [an Israeli left-wing rights group] and without the supreme court,” Rabin famously stated. The Oslo accords were predicated not on bringing freedom to the repressed masses, but on bringing brutal repression — in the guise of Tunisian-exported PLO muscle — to keep the Palestinians in line. All one need do is look at the constant influx of Palestinians into Israel, and out of the areas slated to be governed by their own brethren, to realize how profoundly many realize that their own best hope lies with those who understand something about democracy and minority rights — Israelis.

'Tunisian-exported PLO muscle.' Shimon Peres greets Yasser Arafat (GPO)
'Tunisian-exported PLO muscle.' Shimon Peres greets Yasser Arafat (GPO)

In reality, Israel is the only corporate actor with valid legal claim to these territories (as stipulated in the 1920 San Remo agreement, ratified by Article 80 of the UN Charter), which were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 through 1967. In the myopic attempt to divest themselves of these rights through the Oslo process, however, Israel’s leaders refused to acknowledge the murderous duplicity of their “partner” Yasser Arafat, who loudly proclaimed his refusal to accept any Jewish rights (or even connection) to our ancient homeland, from Tel Aviv to Tel Romeda.

The PLO’s understanding of Palestinian identity has consistently been based on denial of Jewish heritage, coupled with imaginings of the Palestinians’ own mythic presence (which in reality is based in large part on recent economically motivated immigration). Recall Arafat’s warm words in Bethlehem about that great Palestinian — Jesus of Nazereth. His 2000 war of terror and the murder of over 600 Israeli civilians meant that Israel was morally and legally obligated to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of both all those inhabiting the territories it thought it could abandon and the rest of her populace — from Afula to Ashdod. After the sight of Palestinian police shooting down their Israeli patrol partners in cold blood at the start of that war, many are still understandably cautious about entrusting Israel security to those still constantly and consistently indoctrinated with hatred of anything Jewish.

Indeed, just as many predicted, the forced removal of Israelis from Gaza has not advanced the prospects of “two states” living in peace side by side, but rather has only brought dictatorial rule to those who stayed behind, and thousands of deadly rockets to those who left. It is hard to imagine a different outcome should those preaching further ethnic cleansing get their way. Even committed anti-settlers like Shlomo Gazit have acknowledged that nothing like peace will result from such a move even as he advocates it.

Middle Eastern Stockholm Syndrome

So why? Why push for something that won’t bring us to any place where those truly dedicated to peaceful life in the one small Jewish homeland would like to be? Some, like Ehud Olmert suggested, are just too tired to keep struggling for our one national home. Some, like Harvard professor Kenneth Levin, feel that many on the Israeli left suffer from a form of Middle Eastern Stockholm Syndrome and, unfortunately, have come to identify with their oppressors — a psychological defense mechanism after living for years under a siege of Arab hatred.

A misplaced sense of morality? Peter Beinart (photo credit: Blake Newman)
A misplaced sense of morality? Peter Beinart (photo credit: Blake Newman)

Perhaps. I believe, though, that people like Beinart have a misplaced sense of morality. Like others on the left have historically done, they have been willing to support the most craven of oppressive regimes so long as they themselves can feel some type of moral virtue by disengaging from the efforts of power. Instead of confronting the difficult ambiguities involved in wielding power ethically, to defend one’s family and nation from those who would destroy it, they look for simplistic answers that allow them to abdicate responsibility rather than assert it.

The unfettered hatred of Jews among the Palestinian leaders, from the Nazi-loving Haj Amin Al-Husseini to the Holocaust-denying President Abbas, has kept them from accepting even the most reasonable Jewish presence in our homeland. It is not merely naïve to believe that capitulation to demands for ethnic cleansing will bring about reconciliation, but it is immoral to acquiesce to them, since it will in all likelihood lead to further death and suffering for all sides. Yes, sticking around the neighborhood is sometimes messy and necessitates facing moral dilemmas. But don’t worry, Mr. Beinart: my neighbors and I are made of stronger stuff than you may be able to imagine. Strong enough to not allow ourselves to succumb to hatred, strong enough to aim at building rather than tearing down. Even strong enough to write to those who would preach for our boycott.


What do you think about Peter Beinart’s call for Zionist BDS? Join the debate.

About the Author
Naftali Moses, born in NYC, has lived in Israel for over 30 years. He holds a PhD in medical history from Bar-Ilan University, and teaches and writes on the nexus of medicine and Judaism. The author of "Really Dead?" and "Mourning Under Glass", he has also translated several books on Jewish thought into English, published on philosophy in the Mishna, and aggadah.