On July 9, for an hour, Peter Beinart abased himself before Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement. In a webinar sponsored by Jewish Currents, Beinart listened to Barghouti make one extreme claim after another and let almost all of it go by unchallenged.
Early on, Barghouti averred that the BDS movement is inspired by the Palestinian “tradition of nonviolent colonial resistance.” Certainly, we can grant that BDS is nonviolent. But is nonviolence in any way a tradition when it comes to Palestinian resistance? Did Beinart challenge Barghouti on that point? He did not.
Barghouti explained that a Palestinian “right of return” is the cornerstone of the BDS movement, without which there can be no solution to the conflict. Of course that would mean the end of the Jewish state. In its place, one might expect that Barghouti envisions a binational state. However, he actively opposes the idea. That’s because Jews — including Jewish Israelis — are not a nation. Thus, Barghouti says, 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.
So what kind of state does Barghouti envision? After some equivocation, he allowed that it would be an Arab state. After all, the “natural context” in which it would exist is an Arab region. But there’s no need to worry, he tells us. In the past, Jews have “lived well” under the Arabs. When Beinart suggested that some Jews might be anxious about living under an Arab majority with no control over their fate, Barghouti replied, “This is a very racist claim.” Beinart moved on.
Later, Barghouti claimed, “There have never been pogroms in the Arab Middle East.” This was perhaps the only point at which he drew a challenge from Beinart. Barghouti then corrected himself to say that there were no pogroms before the advent of Zionism and that “after Zionism, everything changed.” That was enough for Beinart to let him off the hook.
As Barghouti would have it, the Jews of Palestine can be divided into two groups: (1) “indigenous” Jews whose presence predated Zionism; and (2) “settler colonial” Jews who arrived after the beginning of Zionism. The first group and their descendants are legitimate. Indeed Barghouti graciously acknowledged, “Of course, Jews have always been part of the indigenous people of Palestine.” On the other hand, Barghouti maintains, Zionist settlers are not indigenous to Palestine and thus have no right to live there.
This is not a new theory. It dates from the mandate period, when it was promulgated by the inveterate anti-Semite Hajj Amin al-Husseini — the foremost Palestinian leader of the time. It reflects the traditional view that Jews are an acceptable part of the Arab world, as long as they remain an extreme minority, living as dhimmis.
Beinart credulously asked whether it’s possible for Jewish Israelis to stop being settler colonialists. Barghouti replied that yes, they can do so by becoming “indigenized,” thereby assuming the role of “Palestinian Jews,” whatever that means.
Why didn’t Beinart push back on all this nonsense? Perhaps it’s because, on several key issues, he and Barghouti really aren’t that far apart. Let’s look at a few examples. Beinart has written, “It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.” In a later piece, he went on to add that Jews were never entitled to a state in the first place. That’s because, he explained, “national self-determination cannot mean the right to your own state.” Most recently, Beinart has said that Israelis should seek repentance for the Nakba by forfeiting Jewish sovereignty and allowing five million Palestinian refugees to “return” to the land inside the Green Line. Thus, he and Barghouti agree that the very existence of the Jewish state is an injustice, and the only proper solution is to dismantle it. To end the conflict, there must be an end to Zionism.
According to a recent New Yorker profile, Beinart has been reading a lot of books by Palestinian authors. They seem to have taught him something important: As Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf have written, Beinart “is slowly inching towards understanding the core of the conflict. He finally realizes that the conflict is clearly not about all those things that we were told for decades.” He now sees that what it is really about is the Palestinian demand to “return” to the land inside the Green Line. Therefore, as Schwartz and Wilf note, “Beinart proposes that Israel accept that demand to settle millions of Palestinians inside Israel, arguing that it is both doable, desirable, and above all — a deep realization of Jewish values. Doing so, he believes, would redress decades-old Palestinian grievances, which would in turn allow peace and prosperity to prevail.” But what Beinart misses, Schwartz and Wilf argue, is that “Demanding ‘return’ was never meant to achieve peace, but to obtain the same goal that escaped the Arabs in the war of 1948 — the prevention of Jewish self-determination.”
Failing to understand this, Beinart persists with his naïve claim that Jews can exercise self-determination, in a Jewish home, without a Jewish state. His recent conversation with Barghouti should have disabused him of that notion. But it probably didn’t.