Josh Warhit

Peter Beinart Is Wrong About Zionism and Dominance

Peter Beinart is wrong when he suggests that “Zionism… requires Jewish dominance.” 

What Zionism requires is that Jews stand firm against others who demand dominance.

The vast majority of non-Jews in what by 1920 had become Mandatory Palestine, as well as the vast majority of people in the broader region, hate Zionism first and foremost because its goal of Jewish sovereignty upends their conceptions of what they should be – dominant and exalted – and what Jews should be – inferior and humiliated. By and large, they refuse to tolerate borders that leave room for Jewish sovereignty and consider themselves licensed to deliberately kill civilians (“by any means necessary”) until Jews surrender every inch of land. 

Palestinians’ most fundamental grievance is not, as Beinart claims, “their lack of freedom.” If lacking freedom were their most fundamental grievance, they would have spent decades pleading with their leaders to accept a two-state solution that affords them self-determination without ending Israel as a Jewish state. They also would have spent decades condemning deliberate violence against Israeli civilians – violence that chipped away at Israelis’ once substantial support for Palestinian statehood. 

Palestinians didn’t do these things because their fundamental grievance is not that they lack freedom, but rather that they don’t dominate as they believe they are entitled to dominate. Their national cause was fostered precisely for the sake of Arab and Muslim dominance, and their discourse bemoans a lack of this dominance more than it bemoans anything else.

By contrast, Zionism’s raison d’etre is to make Jews safe and capable of defending themselves, not to make Jews dominant over others. That’s why it embraced partition, which would have divided Mandatory Palestine, a new and temporary-by-design political unit, into two brand new separate countries without jeopardizing anyone’s home or democratic rights. The movement’s success was contingent on two things: conducive borders in a place that had no borders, and unconditional entry for Jews. Neither of those two things threatened anyone’s freedom. 

This isn’t to say that Zionism doesn’t come at others’ expense. What it means is that insofar as it comes at others’ expense, it does so in terms of their preferences and not in terms of their human rights. 

All civilizations differentiate between coming at the expense of preferences and coming at the expense of rights, and no civilization considers the former to be a moral transgression. And yet, when Beinart makes reference to Zionism coming at Palestinians’ expense, which he does quite often, he fails (or refuses) to differentiate.

Many people who dislike Zionism have a clear preference for what was once Mandatory Palestine to be one country. We Zionists don’t see why this preference should be weighed as anything more than just that – a preference. ​​It’s not on us to press a reset button when Jewish sovereignty makes people upset.

If a society refuses to tolerate its first national borders because those borders also enable Jewish sovereignty, that society’s refusal should be its own problem, not ours. If the society overwhelmingly supports deliberate efforts to kill us, our right to pursue adequate self-defense is not conditioned on enfranchising its members.

Dominance as a function of others’ attempts to kill you is not equivalent to dominance for its own sake. It’s right and wise to dominate people who refuse to live alongside your sovereignty in peace.

About the Author
Josh Warhit works in public relations. He lives in Tel Aviv.
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