David E. Weisberg
David E. Weisberg

Peter Beinart’s Unwisdom

The ToI has just published Zvika Klein’s interview with Peter Beinart, whom the New Yorker magazine describes as “the most influential liberal Zionist of his generation.” The New Yorker’s take on matters concerning Jews, Israel or Zionism is probably not one-hundred-percent reliable—that is, not unless you’re a Jew living on Manhattan’s West Side, in which case it’s holy writ.  But I suppose we nevertheless ought to pay attention to someone who might possibly be a person with some influence and who calls himself a “cultural” Zionist rather than a Zionist.

Part of the interview addresses whether or not some of the criticism directed at Israel from the progressive side of the political spectrum amounts to antisemitism.  Mr. Beinart thinks that in almost all cases the answer is no, while Mr. Klein is not nearly so sure.  I, for one, don’t care.  As a person who wants to see Israel prosper and thrive, I think that criticism of Israel should be examined with two considerations in mind: whether the criticism is based on true or false statements of facts, and whether the moral component of the criticism is justified or not.  If both those conditions are satisfied, then the criticism is valid; if not, the criticism is invalid.  Nothing important is added, in my opinion, by asserting that invalid criticism was also antisemitic.

After the antisemitism issue, Beinart stakes out two other positions. One addresses Palestinian suffering; the other concerns “cultural” Zionism.  When asked what “cultural” Zionism means, Beinart answered that he doesn’t “believe … in a Jewish State.”  Instead, he believes “in a Jewish society which didn’t have to be constructed like a state….  Not in a Jewish State, yes in the importance of a Jewish society in Israel, which can flourish in ֵa state of all its citizeֵns or a federation which gives equal rights to all. The Jewish People need a place, but there doesn’t have to be a Jewish State.”  He goes on to ask: “If you believe in equality, how can you create a state which claims members of a certain race, or certain religion, belong to it more than others?”

Beinart prefers that there not be a Jewish state, and that’s his privilege.  I think most Jews, in or outside Israel, believe that the historical persecution of Jews demonstrates that a Jewish state is a vital sanctuary, and that the idea of a tranquil and safe Jewish “place,” surrounded by Muslim-majority Arab nations, is fantasy.  With regard to his plaint about equality, I think a state can treat all its citizens equally, even if it permits people of one religion to become citizens more easily than people of any other religion.  And if such a state does not exemplify perfect equality, there is no state in the world that perfectly achieves any moral goal.  Immanuel Kant observed: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”  If the perfect is the enemy of the good, enmity abounds.

I want to turn now to Beinart on Palestinian suffering:

I believe in Jewish Peoplehood; Jews all over the world are my distant relatives. … But I also believe the Palestinians are suffering more than the Israelis. If for every Jewish child killed five Palestinian children die, then, to me, it’s the same as something bad happening to my relative and at the same time something much worse happening to the neighbor at the end of my street….”

When asked why young American Jewish progressives are so critical of Israel, Beinart said: “They believe the core problem is that the Palestinians are under the occupation of a Jewish State[.]” Clearly Beinart agrees.

Palestinians undoubtedly suffer more than Israelis.  By every measure—income, wealth, health, lifespan, rates of employment, and, yes, casualties in armed conflicts—Palestinians fare worse than Israelis.  But now a second factual question arises: Why are Palestinians suffering so grievously?  What causes their suffering?  The notion that the Palestinians’ “core problem” is that they are “under the occupation of a Jewish State” cannot stand up to serious scrutiny.

Suppose tomorrow Israel relinquished all control over its border with Gaza and, after evicting all settlers, it also relinquished control over the West Bank.  Would a golden era of Middle East peace, and of Palestinian happiness, commence?  I think not.  First there would be a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.  Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority would be unable to stop that takeover, just as they were unable to stop Hamas from seizing control of Gaza in 2007—only Israel’s presence in the West Bank preserves Abbas’ position.  And after Hamas gained control of the West Bank, attacks on Israel would probably become more frequent.  Israel would defend itself.  Hamas, as is its practice, would use Palestinian civilians as human shields, and more Palestinians would die.

The “core” of Palestinian misery is a bizarre, dysfunctional two-headed government: one head in the West Bank—Abbas, who now is in the sixteenth year of his four-year term as president of the P.A.—is effectively brain-dead; the other head in Gaza—the Islamist terrorists of Hamas—sincerely believes in a religious obligation to erase every trace of Jewish sovereignty “from the River to the Sea.”  My own belief is that Abbas and/or his successors will never be able to defeat and disarm Hamas.  Hamas is motivated by fanaticism, while the P.A. is essentially a criminal enterprise devoted to skimming off the top of international charity.  Fanaticism will always overpower cupidity.  For as long as Palestinians are unwilling or unable to control a group of fanatical terrorists who are ready to be martyred in the cause of destroying Jewish sovereignty, there will be no peace.  Without peace, Palestinian misery will persist.

I don’t know whether Beinart is “influential” to any important degree (and I hope he is not) but, if he is, he’s influencing people to go down the wrong path.  His childish, simplistic arguments should be refuted, and then he should be ignored.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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