The Tragedy of Jewish Values

My mother is Jewish. But I did not grow up thinking of myself as Jewish. I have no distinct memory of meeting a Jewish person until I was in my twenties. In 2012, when I was thirty years old, I went on a trip to visit a friend in New York. I decided to visit a Jewish neighborhood and I met an Orthodox Jew. Very quickly, I was invited to study at Aish Hatorah Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I accepted the offer and ended up staying for over a year. When I returned from Israel, I began to examine the conflict more intently. One author I chose to study is Peter Beinart. Clearly, he loves Judaism. From Judaism he learned that he must be deeply concerned about the Palestinians. He even loves to use the term, “Jewish Values.” For example, he wrote an article called, “You Don’t Need Jewish Values to Denounce Israel’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers.” As I learned more, I realized that there is a tendency among Jewish people who are critical of Israel to use the term, “Jewish Values,” as a weapon against Israel.

Professor Marc Ellis wrote, “Judaism Does Not Equal Israel.” One description of the book reads, “Ellis makes an unyielding case – based on the most cherished Jewish values – that the present policies of the Israeli state cannot reasonably be defended.” The anti-occupation group, “IfNotNow,” proclaims, “We are grounded in the values of the Jewish tradition.” The group, “Jewish Voice for Peace,” declares itself, “an organization that is inspired by Jewish values.” Beinart predicts that young progressive Jews will cease to support Israel because Israel has betrayed their liberal values. Recently Beinart tweeted, “one day the ADL should sponsor a debate on Jewish values between its staffers who fight discrimination in the US and its staffers who defend discrimination in Israel.”

In 2016, I tried to set up a debate at the University of Missouri between Beinart and Pro-Israel activist, Philippe Assouline. I emailed Beinart an invitation and received this response, “if you can find $7K plus travel, I’m happy to.” Too bad, I wasn’t able to raise the funds. Now, having stepped into my own views regarding Israel, in this article I would like to take up Beinart’s offer to debate the term “Jewish Values.” I mean, what would I think Jewish values look like if I only had Beinart as my example?

This blog is a little longer than average because it will take me a moment to unpack my views on the subject. I believe Beinart’s arguments are deeply flawed as they are based on: 1) the false claim that Israel does not support Palestinian democracy, 2) the false claim that Israel is responsible for the lack of a Palestinian State, 3) the fact that he makes no demand on Hamas to renounce violence, and justifies their terrorism, 4) his routine use of doublespeak and, 5) a false test to determine the moral success of Judaism and Zionism.

  1. Beinart makes a false claim that Israel does not support Palestinian democracy.

In his book, “Zionism in Crisis,” Beinart writes, “In 2006, after Gaza settlers left, the Palestinians held legislative elections, which, to the shock of the American leaders, Abba’s Fatah lost and Hamas won.” Beinart continues, “Israel faced a choice: risk Palestinian democracy or try to extinguish it. Risking Palestinian democracy would have meant accepting that Hamas had won control of the Palestinian parliament and supporting a unity government.” And, “When American Jewish leaders say that the Gaza withdrawal shows that Israel once again sought peace and the Palestinians once again chose war – and thus, that the occupation is not Israel’s fault – this is the choice they ignore. Israel’s choice, rather than supporting a unity government and negotiating a cease-fire, was to boycott Hamas until they recognized Israel, unilaterally renounced violence, and abided by past peace agreements.”

There are three distinct points in this statement: 1) The Palestinians freely elected Hamas, 2) Israel did not recognize Hamas as a bona fide winner and, 3) supposedly, because Israel did not honor Palestinian democracy, Jewish leaders cannot claim that Israel is not to blame for the lack of a Palestinian State. When these statements are taken to their logical conclusion, it can be demonstrated undeniably that Beinart supports terrorism.

First, the Palestinians freely elected Hamas. Hamas is an acronym for the, “Islamic Resistance Movement.” Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which creates terrorist branches in many countries, Hamas is merely one military branch of an international jihadist organization. The 1988 Hamas Charter explains, “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of the Muslim Brothers in Palestine. The Muslim Brotherhood Movement is a world organization, the largest Islamic Movement in the modern era.” Hamas functions in the exact same way as ISIL; ISIL is an acronym for, “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” ISIL specifies the borders of UN member-states, which it then works to destroy. Hamas functions identically: by listing the borders of a UN member state, Israel, and claiming to own all its territory. Put simply, Hamas was not formed to create a Palestinian State, instead Hamas was created by the Muslim Brotherhood to declare Jihad in the name of Allah and conquer the land of Israel.

Second, Beinart proposes that Israel is guilty because Israel did not risk helping Hamas establish their leadership. Beinart reasons that since the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them, then Israel is morally obligated to promote their decision. Beinart presents a two-horned dilemma: “Israel faced a choice: risk Palestinian democracy or try to extinguish it.” However, this is a false disjunctive syllogism. According to Beinart, Hamas should not be expected to have, “recognized Israel, unilaterally renounced violence, and abided by past peace agreements,” in order to be recognized by Israel. Beinart reverses the rational sequence of events, which normally would be that Hamas recognizes Israel and commits to a cease fire, and afterwards they would enter into negotiations to determine if they would be granted a state. Beinart  reverses the order: Israel must honor Hamas and help them advance along the path to being granted half the leadership in a future Palestinian State – and once Hamas rules in this state – then they can engage in negotiations to decide if they want to commit to a cease fire.

Third, Beinart argues that since Israel did not honor Palestinian democracy, Jewish leaders cannot vindicate Israel. In Beinart’s view, Israel failed morally because they refused to declare Hamas the winner until they, “unilaterally renounced violence.” The logical outcome of his argument is that Israel should help provide assistance to Hamas while they fire rockets at Jews. Clearly, Beinart’s two-horned dilemma is false: Israel did not face the choice of recognizing Palestinian democracy, Israel faced a choice between helping Hamas wage war against them, or not helping them wage war against them. Israel faced a choice between helping people firing rockets at them or not helping people firing rockets at them. Israel chose not to help terrorists murder more Jews.

  1. Beinart makes the false claim that Israel is responsible for the lack of a Palestinian State.

Beinart argues that Israel should recognize Hamas because they could form a unity government with the Palestinian Authority, with the future hope that they will reform and negotiate a two-state solution. He equivocates, “By participating in a coalition that was negotiating a two-state solution even though its (Hamas) charter rejects the two-state solution, Hamas would have been in a position oddly analogous to today’s Likud, whose platform explicitly rejects a Palestinian state.” But this is a false equivalence: Likud is a political party in a democratic nation that is already a member of the UN. In contrast, Hamas is waging jihad to destroy an existing member of the UN. The UN is based on a social contract. To become a member each nation agrees to sign the terms of its charter, which requires recognizing every member of the UN, including Israel. Existing members of the UN have the prerogative to oppose granting membership to groups which have never been members, especially groups who refuse to renounce terrorism.

Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel and defines itself as a resistance movement against international authority for the sake of Islamic authority. The 1988 Hamas Charter scoffs, “international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam.” Hamas refuses to meet the necessary conditions to be accepted as a member of the UN, and the Palestinians refuse to renounce Hamas, hence they have rejected the possibility of being granted a state in the UN. The Palestinians voted to elect Hamas, thereby choosing an Islamic supremacy group over joining the UN. Consequently, Israel is not responsible for the situation in Gaza, the Israeli military presence in the West Bank, or the absence of a Palestinian State.

  1. Beinart justifies terrorism.

Beinart insists he would never justify terrorism. In one debate Beinart stammered, “In what way have I ever excused terrorism? I have said again and again and again: I think it is immoral and self-defeating.” Well, the answer is – in multiple ways. First, in his book, he explicitly justifies terrorism, “Palestinians held for decades as non-citizens by an occupying army will periodically rebel.” Second, if Beinart wants the Muslim Brotherhood to be given a state, then he wants a terrorist organization to come to power, if he wants a terrorist organization to come to power, then he supports terrorism. When his statements are taken to their logical conclusion, then he wants the people who are murdering Jews to be given more power. Put simply, Beinart supports terrorism.

The same logic can demonstrate that Beinart advocates for the creation of an apartheid state. Beinart was in a debate regarding Israel’s Nation State Law, which defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people while clearly affirming the rights of non-Jewish citizens. Beinart mocked the law as racist. In response, Professor Eugene Kontorovich listed several features of the Palestinian Authority Constitution which discriminate against non-Arabs. For example, the constitution announces, “Palestine is part of the larger Arab world, and the Palestinian people are part of the Arab nation.” And, “Arabic shall be the official language.” And, “Islam is the official religion in Palestine.” And, “The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be a principal source of legislation.” Kontorovich points out that: “Peter says the Palestine Constitution isn’t a problem, because he says that there is no state of Palestine.” But, “surely American Jews should be very distressed to be calling for the creation of the state of Palestine, which on its first day would be an apartheid state, under every provision of its constitution.” Beinart yearns for the day when the Palestinian Authority will create an apartheid state. In short, Beinart supports apartheid.

  1. Beinart routinely uses doublespeak.

A. Beinart said, “you cannot deny the Jewish historical connection to that part of the world. To deny it is to deny Judaism itself.” But he also said, “all Palestinians feel that Israel was created as a racist colonialist project.” Describing Israel as a colonialist project denotes that Israel emerged recently. Beinart does not ask the Palestinians to admit that the Jewish people are indigenous to Israel; instead he sympathizes with their denial of Jewish history.

B. Beinart wrote extensively about the Palestinian elections, but regularly asserts that the Palestinians resist Israel because they have been denied the right to vote.

C. Beinart calls on the Israeli government to enter into negotiations without any preconditions, but he constantly says that Israel must cease settlement development in the West Bank, which is a precondition.

D. Beinart blames Israel for the lack of a two-state solution, but he also admits that the Palestinian Authority does not have the authority to create a state. In one debate, Beinart outlined the plans for a two-state solution. Beinart asserted, “Mahmoud Abbas has accepted all this,” but, “You have an Israeli government that has rejected the idea of a Palestinian State with ’67 lines.” However, in a recent interview Beinart stated, “The PA will collapse, it has no legitimacy among the Palestinians.” When Beinart admits that the Palestinian Authority has no legitimacy among the Palestinians, then how is Israel to blame if the Palestinian Authority cannot manage to create a state?

5) Beinart uses a false test to determine the moral success of Judaism and Zionism.

Beinart believes that Judaism is on trial. He asserts that, with the creation of Israel the Jewish people passed from an epoch of victimhood into a period of Jewish power. Beinart reflects that, “The shift from Jewish powerlessness to Jewish power has been so profound.” During an interview, Beinart sermonized, “For me, what’s on trial in Israel is Judaism.” It has had a magnificent set of, “ideas over the centuries… but the tricky thing was that the entire Jewish ethical tradition is forged in powerlessness, it’s never tested by power.” And, “if it turns out that Israel as the great test of Jewish power fails, because of its Jewish sovereignty… for me, in a certain kind of sense, so much of what I was raised to believe, and what I want to believe about the Jewish tradition becomes kind of bullsh*t.”

In Beinart’s understanding of Judaism, the ultimate test of Jewish values is how Jews treat minorities under their power. More specifically, will they help the Palestinians to obtain a state? Beinart declares that the Palestinians, “need to have national rights within their own state, a Palestinian national flag and national anthem, and the right of return to a Palestinian state. Plus they need to have full individual rights within the State of Israel. When those two things happen, they will constitute a ‘completion’ of the Zionist project.” For Beinart, the success of Judaism and Zionism is contingent on the creation of a Palestinian State, which has not happened; therefore, Zionism has been a failure.

       There are four major flaws in this argument. First, Zionism was formulated roughly half a century before Palestinian nationalism. The first Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. French, Italian and German newspapers reported on the event, but there was no Palestinian reaction because the Palestinian national movement did not exist until the 1960s. The reality is that Palestinian nationalism arose in reaction to Zionism as a means to eliminate the Zionist project. The 1964 Palestinian Liberation Charter claimed for itself the precise land under Jewish control. Why is Zionism a moral success or failure based on the success of another nationalist movement that didn’t even exist when Zionism was first created? Why is Zionism judged, based on another nationalist movement which was created for the purpose of destroying the Jewish nation?

Second, a self-determination movement is designed to create a homeland for one group of people. Without comparable precedent, Beinart believes that Zionism is incomplete without a Palestinian State. What independence movement is expected to be responsible to create independence for another group of people? Was the Irish independence movement a moral failure because it didn’t create a state for the Taiwanese? Professor Kontorovich pointed out this contradiction in a debate with Beinart, noting that: “Israel existed before the conflict with the Palestinians. And, it has an existence that is separate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Third, Beinart leaves out the free will agency of the Palestinians. Beinart literally makes Zionism responsible for creating a Palestinian state, as if the Palestinian leaders don’t exist to make decisions for themselves. Worse yet, this is not just a hypothetical scenario, since the Palestinians turned down an internationally recognized offer for a state. As Professor Kontorovich observed, “The Palestinians are the only national independence movement to ever have turned down internationally recognized independence in any part of the territory they seek for a state.”

       Fourth, Beinart’s assertion that Judaism has failed because Israel has not created a Palestinian State does not reflect the values of any religion. For example, there is a teaching in the Talmud, “if someone comes to kill you, get up early in the morning to kill him first.” People sometimes contrast this Talmudic teaching on self-defense with Christ’s teaching, “but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” The 1988 Hamas Charter quotes Muhammad calling for an end time war against the Jews, “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.”

Christ called on people to turn the other cheek when they were persecuted. That doesn’t mean Christ called on people to buy a sword and hand it to the guy giving them a beating so he could use it to finish the kill. No religion teaches that you have a moral obligation to help someone murder you. Expecting Israel to help Hamas obtain a state would oblige Israel to help a group of people whose declared intent is to destroy them. Nevertheless, for Beinart, since Israel has not aided the Palestinians in their mission to help a terrorist organization obtain a state, Israel, Judaism and Zionism are all moral failures. In my opinion, Beinart’s ideology, that Zionism has failed the moral test of Jewish power because Israel has not helped Hamas prevail, is morally deranged.

In 2015, Beinart wrote, “The Tragedy of Elie Wiesel,” an article about Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel. According to Beinart, the tragedy of Wiesel is that he defended Israel. The article was subtitled, “Why does such a great man keep apologizing for a government that betrays his ideals?” Another word for ideals is values, Beinart’s favorite buzzword, which is how I came up with the title of this article. Unfortunately, I have found that often, when a Jewish person uses the term ‘Jewish values,’ it will be followed by pronouncing Israel’s enemies to be innocent and the Jews to be guilty. To me, it is lamentable that anyone can use the term Jewish values to mean anything they want. It is a tragedy to use the term Jewish values to cheer on the people who are murdering Jews.

About the Author
Daniel Swindell is a Zionist. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Missouri, and has studied in Yeshiva.