Tony Greenstein | 28 July 2020 | Post Views:

Peter Beinart’s Bombshell Decision to Abandon Support for a Jewish State in favour of a Single Democratic Binational State Shows that Zionism has lost the Political and Moral Argument

The Recognition by Liberal Zionism’s Apostle that Democracy and a Jewish State are Incompatible is a Breakthrough that cries of ‘anti-Semitism’ won’t silence

Peter Beinart is a Professor of Journalism and Political Science at City University, a former Editor of New Republic andthe Editor-at-large of Jewish Currents. Beinart is at the heart of the liberal Zionist establishment in America. His recent support, in Jewish Currentsfor a single binational state, not a Jewish state, has sent shock waves around the Zionist blogosphere. Beinart argued in the New York Times that‘For decades I argued for separation between Israelis and Palestinians. Now, I can imagine a Jewish home in an equal state.’

Liberal Zionists have vented their fury with Beinart for this ‘treachery’. Beinart still considers himself a Zionist but is he?

Yitzhak Laor, Israel’s finest poet, wrote in ‘The Myths of Liberal Zionism’ that there never was such a creature as a liberal Zionist. Liberal Zionism is an oxymoron. It is like supporting a democratic dictatorship.  At least when Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister expresses his wish to create a Christian ethno-nationalist state he calls it for what it is – an ‘illiberal Christian democracy’.’

Zionism is based on creating a Jewish state in which the Palestinians are guests. Its intention, from the very beginning, was to exclude the indigenous population.  As Herzl wrote in his Diary

This is what a Jewish State results in

‘When we occupy the land, we shall bring immediate benefits to the state that receives us. We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country.’ (Diaries pp. 88,90)

This was as much the policy of Labour Zionism as it was of the Revisionists. The only difference was that the latter were more honest. The Revisionists believed that only a policy of force, an Iron Wall would convince the Arabs that Zionism was here to stay. As Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote in his famous essay of the same name:

My readers have a general idea of the history of colonisation in other countries.  I suggest that they consider all the precedents with which they are acquainted, and see whether there is one solitary instance of any colonisation being carried on with the consent of the native population. There is no such precedent.

The liberal Zionists sought to cajole the Arabs, by guile and sweet honeyed words, that Zionism would benefit them but the reality was all too obvious. Wherever Jewish settlements were established, the Arab workers were expelled from the land rather than being re-employed as wage labour. As Tony Lerman wrote, Liberal Zionism’s only role is to act as a

‘fig leaf for the only Zionism that does have political agency today—right-wing, messianic, ethno-nationalist settler Zionism—it’s positively harmful.’

Although Labour Zionism has almost died in Israel, it is alive and kicking in the British Labour Party where it is leading the McCarthyist anti-Semitism’ campaign, whose purpose is to demonise the critics of the State of Israel.

There have been predictable attacks on Beinart such as that of David Weinberg for whom Beinart is a ‘a shill for Israel’s enemies’, a ‘woke and deracinated American Jew’ whose concern for the Palestinians is akin to understanding Nazi SS stormtroopers!

Another leading Zionist who invoked the Nazi analogy is Alan Dershowitz, a right-wing American lawyer. Dershowitz’s thoughtful analysis in Newsweek was ‘Beinart’s Final Solution: End Israel as Nation-State of the Jewish People’. The same Zionists who insist that any comparison between Israel and the Nazi state is anti-Semitic never hesitate to compare their enemies to the Nazis.

The reaction of ‘liberal’ Zionist Daniel Gordis, was little different. Gordis described Beinart as ‘a traitor to the Jewish people’ for calling for an end to Israel as a Jewish state. ‘Beinart’s position is in line with many anti-Semites.’ Gordis asks rhetorically “Are you in the same camp as Ilhan Omar and in the same camp as Rashida Tlaib?” declaring that “if you are in that camp, then we should treat you the way we treat them…  we call you an “enemy” of our people.”

The Stab in the Back meme was used by German nationalists to portray Jews as disloyal and traitors – this is now used against Jewish anti-Zionists

Talk of ‘traitors’ and ‘enemies of the people’ is part of the lexicon of the far-Right yet it comes naturally to ‘liberal’ Zionism.

In End the Jewish State? Let’s try some honesty, first Gordis vents his anger. Beinart is accused of stringing together ‘an astonishing array of sleights of hand and misrepresentations’ Gordis speaks of ‘dozens of misrepresentations’ but thankfully spares us the detail.

He does though engage in a few sleights of hand himself, such as his assertion that ‘the miracle of Israel is that we no longer worry about annihilation’. Which is strange given Zionism’s weaponisation of the Holocaust. Idith Zertal wrote that there hasn’t been a war involving Israel ‘that has not been perceived, defined, and conceptualized in terms of the Holocaust.’ Israel has mobilised the Holocaust ‘in the service of Israeli politics.’ [Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, p.4]

Begin described Yasser Arafat as Hitler in his bunker during the siege of Beirut. The examples of how the Holocaust informs Israel’s settler siege mentality are legion. Yet according to Gordis Israel is

a grand experiment in the cultural, intellectual, historical, linguistic and religious rebirth that can unfold when a people is restored, with sovereignty, to its ancestral homeland.’

Which is as good an example as any of the maxim that scratch a liberal Zionist and you will find the same old racist. Beinart’s heresy is that he ‘cares more about the future of the Palestinians than he does about the future of Judaism’s richness.’  Gordis ‘grand experiment’ is at the expense of 2 million Palestinians caged in Gaza and a military rule in the West Bank. The culture that Gordis speaks of exists on the back of torture, child imprisonment, settler violence and racism. This is the Liberal Zionism that Beinart has betrayed.

Israeli soldiers interacting in the West Bank last month with a Palestinian woman protesting the demolition of an unapproved animal shed.Credit…Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA, via Shutterstock

Gordis’ final insult is that Beinart is ‘much more American than Jewish.’  This really is a sin that cannot easily be washed away in the eyes of Zionism.  In Gerald Kaufmann’s phrase, Beinart is a ghetto, gutter Jew. He is part of Zionism’s despised Jewish Galut.

Beinart links the dehumanisation of the Palestinians to the way that Zionism has internalised and instrumentalised the Holocaust. The attribution of genocidal aspirations to the Palestinians is a latter day abuse of the Holocaust and a consequence of this dehumanisation. Beinart quotes Holocaust survivor Yehuda Elkana’s essay in Ha’aretz, The Need to Forget’ that relations with the Palestinians are mediated by ‘a particular interpretation of the lessons of the Holocaust’ which sees everyone as against us. Not only is it a lesson that is nationalistic and militaristic but it paints Zionism’s enemies as modern-day Nazis.

Beinart describes the results of Zionist colonisation but refrains from describing Zionism as a settler-colonial movement. Instead he describes the dehumanization of Palestinians as ‘a cancer’ which

‘not only turns Palestinians into Nazis, it turns anyone who takes up the Palestinian cause into a Nazi sympathizer, guilty of antisemitism until proven innocent.’

And now, as if on cue, Beinart himself has now attracted such accusations.

Thus the enmity of the Palestinians for Zionism has nothing to do with the actions of Israel. Rather the Palestinians are motivated by anti-Semitism. It is as if the Irish were motivated by racial hatred of the English rather than Drogheda and Bloody Sunday.

It was left to Gideon Levy to draw out the significance of Beinart’s conversion on the road to Damascus. American Jews, he wrote ‘are beginning, if belatedly, to take a clear-eyed look at Israel, its darling.’ American Jews have become increasingly disenchanted with an Israel which does things to Palestinians that they would call anti-Semitic if done to them. Beinart is the voice of an increasingly alienated American Jewish youth.

What has particularly angered liberal Zionists is that Beinart has belatedly recognised that the 2 state solution is dead. Levy describes it as a ‘delusional mirageFor 53 years there has been a single state here’ an ‘apartheid regime’. The fiction of 2 States and the ‘Peace Process’ has enabled Apartheid in the West Bank to be justified.

Alan Dershowitz

The blackmail used against a single state is the same as that which was employed in southern Africa, the settler fear that it would unleash a tidal wave of violence from their victims. Yet as Levy points out ‘when a government of equality is established’ then ‘all its inhabitants win freedom and can exercise their rights’. It is part of Zionism’s culture of violence against the Palestinians.

Jonathan Leiter writes that ‘it’s likely that most liberal Zionists will continue to choose the path of denial’ referring to the major American Jewish Organisations. American Jewish groups are not going to fold because of Beinart’s insights yet nonetheless he has, like Tony Judt before him, challenged the basic premises of Zionism in a way that will resound with younger American Jews. Beinart has posed two very clear alternatives – a democratic or a racist, exclusivist Israel. Liberal Zionism has chosen the latter.

8 liberal Zionist Jewish organizations gave the game away when they declared that annexation would prove that the Israeli government no longer seeks a two-state solution, and that it has chosen a system of permanent repression and inequality over liberal democracy. Their complaint was based on the consequences for the Israeli state:

Such action will drive further the wedge between many American Jews and Israel. It would undercut the bipartisan nature of support for Israel in the United States and risk triggering serious international diplomatic consequences.

It is the attachment of liberal Zionists to ‘the peace process’ that has enabled Israel to consolidate its territorial gains. At least the right-wing Zionists were more honest. Leiter concludes by arguing that

‘The lack of a viable two-state solution does not mean that American Jews will stop believing in one. Political fictions of such existential importance take a long time to die.’

Just as there are some people who deny the Holocaust or who believe in a flat Earth there are those who will cling to the idea that an ethnic Jewish state can be democratic. Ideas persist beyond the material circumstances that gave birth to them. [see Marx and Engels. Selected Correspondence. p. 498]

Jonathan Cook describes the development of Beinart’s disenchantment with the Israeli state and how his rejection of the ‘most fundamental tenet of liberal Zionism’ the need for a Jewish state verges on the sacrilegious. Netanyahu’s annexation proposals ripped the ‘comfort blanket’ out of the liberal Zionist hands.

Cook quotes Ha’aretz’s Anshel Pfeffer its ‘in-house liberal Zionist’ who argues that Israel doesn’t need a moral narrative since its existence is one of pragmatism. This is a glaring admission that Zionism has lost the war of narratives. As Cook notes, the issue isn’t what Israeli Jews think but what Israel’s western sponsors demand. 

Peter Beinart’s A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine’

Like many Jews before him, Beinart has fallen out of love with Israel. A state based on a single ethnicity, especially one defined by religion, cannot be other than a racist state. Today India is becoming the new Hindu Israel. Beinart is aghast at what Israel has become and how it has transformed the Palestinians into the Jews’ historical enemy:

‘Through a historical sleight of hand that turns Palestinians into Nazis, fear of annihilation has come to define what it means to be an authentic Jew.’

Racist Comments by Israel’s Chief Rabbis are two a penny

Israel, Beinart notes, views its relations with the Palestinians through a ‘Holocaust lens’. For example on the eve of the invasion of Lebanon, Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared that ‘The alternative to this is Treblinka’.

As Peter Novick and Norman Finkelstein have argued, the Holocaust has become the new Jewish religion. However it is a religion in the service of a state. Instead of drawing universal, anti-racist lessons from the Holocaust Zionism drew nationalistic conclusions. Racism was only wrong when Jews were the victims. Those Jews who rejected Zionism could not complain about anti-Semitism. One of the barbs thrown at anti-Zionist Jews is that by embracing the Arab ‘enemy’ they deserve to have been murdered by Hitler.

For Zionism anti-Semitism was the understandable reaction of non-Jews to the Jewish stranger in their midst. As Jacob Klatzkin, Editor of Die Welt,(1909-1911) explained:

‘If we do not admit the rightfulness of anti-Semitism we deny the rightfulness of our own nationalism… Instead of establishing societies for defence against the anti-Semites who want to reduce our rights, we should establish societies for defence against our friends, who desire to defend our rights.’

Zionism concluded that Jews must have their own militaristic state based on the same principles that led to the persecution of the Jews. Except that this time it wouldn’t be the Jews who were the victims. The opponents of that state, the Arabs, were cast as the new Nazis.

This was what Rabbi Kashtiel of the Bnei David pre-military training college argued

Some like Rabbis Kashtiel and Radler went so far as to conclude that Hitler was ‘100% correct’.  His only mistake was to choose the wrong target! In the hands of the Jews Hitler’s racist ideology would be correctly applied – to the Arabs. Kashtiel and Radler were ‘educators’ at the Bnei David military prep school and Eli Yeshivah, which is closely connected to Rafi Peretz, the Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.

Netanyahu, with his address to the 2015 World Zionist Congress, exonerated Hitler claiming that it was the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem who was responsible for the Holocaust. According to Netanyahu, Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’, Hitler then asked: “What should I do with them?” and the Mufti replied: “Burn them.”

What a member of the fascist Lehava, which the new Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotoveli funded, proclaimed

Beinart describes the apartheid discrimination that Palestinians experience in the West Bank, complete with Jewish only roads and settlements. He also observes that the Green Line dividing pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank rarelyappears on most Israeli maps and that with some 650,000 settlers colonising the West Bank and Jerusalem, there is now no possibility of a two-state solution. This is the background to the question which provides the theme to the essay,

‘whether the price of a state that favors Jews over Palestinians is too high. After all, it is human beings—all human beings—and not states that are created b’tselem Elohim, in the image of God.

Beinart declares that

It is time for liberal Zionists to abandon the goal of Jewish–Palestinian separation and embrace the goal of Jewish–Palestinian equality.

This is where Beinart effectively marks his break with Zionism, although he still doesn’t recognise the implications of what he is saying. It is a long-standing Zionist fiction that Israel can defy the laws of logic and be both a democratic and a Jewish state.

How can a state based on one religion not discriminate against those who are not of that religion? How can defining nationality on the basis of religion not be racist? Unfortunately Beinart does not ask these questions explicitly. He is an empirical non-Zionist. Beinart maintains the fiction that you can be a Zionist and support equality. The history of Israel proves otherwise.

In 1948 Israel solved its ‘demographic problem’, having too many Arabs in the Jewish state by the simple expedient of expelling them. In 1967 it was unable to expel the Palestinians of the West Bank although about 300,000 were expelled. Beinart fears, quite rightly, that annexation will provide the political opportunity for another mass expulsion and quotes Israel’s Democracy Institute that over half of Israeli Jews, in the event of Area C in the West Bank being annexed, favour the expulsion of its Palestinians. According to the IDI:

The Jewish public’s preferred solution for the Palestinians who live in Area C, in case it is annexed, is to transfer them to the areas under the Palestinian Authority’s control. The solution preferred by the Arabs is to grant full citizenship rights… 

Annexation is ‘a waystation on the road to hell.’ It is this which has led Beinart to the conclusion that a Jewish state cannot be other than a racist state. Beinart’s Zionist critics place the blame for the failure of the 2 State Solution squarely on the victims, the Palestinians as colonialism has always done. This is why those hoping for any major rupture inside the Zionist movement are likely to be disappointed.

Beinart has belatedly reached the same conclusion that increasing numbers of American Jews have reached. The only alternative to apartheid and ethnic cleansing is equality. It is this which drives his Zionist critics mad. To them, equality is genocide. The idea of a state with equal rights for all its inhabitants is anathema to Zionism because such a state cannot be a Jewish ethnic state. It is the death of a nation.

What particularly infuriates his liberal Zionist critics is that Beinart criticises Apartheid within 1948 Israel. He quotes the leader of the Joint List, Aymen Odeh, in which he describes a situation in which “700 Jewish towns and not a single Arab town” have been built in Israel since its founding. It is an abiding principle of the Zionist ‘left’ that pre-1967 Israel was a haven of equality. They forget that from 1948-1966 Israel’s Arabs lived under military rule.

Rabbi Dahan was Deputy Defence Minister in Netanyahu’s 2015 Government

Beinart’s comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa, breaks new ground for a liberal Zionist critique. Some Zionists will concede that the situation in the Occupied Territories is like Apartheid but they fiercely resist its application to pre-1967 Israel.

Despite its eloquent wording with its obscure Yavne metaphor, the essay is intellectually incoherent in one respect. Beinart still hesitates in cutting the umbilical chord to liberal Zionism. Beinart argues that embracing the goal of Jewish–Palestinian equality does not require abandoning Zionism and observes that when in 2018 the Knesset passed the Jewish Nation StateBasic Law which determined that only Jews have the right to national self-determination in Israel, several ‘members of the Joint List proposed an alternative, which affirmed “the principle of equal citizenship for every citizen.” The Zionist parties however rejected equality in favour of Jewish supremacy.

Dealing with the argument that hatred between Israeli Jews and Arabs is intractable, Beinart notes that the same excuse was used in respect of southern Africa: ‘progress often appears utopian before a movement for moral change gains traction.’ He observes that what lies behind such arguments is a dehumanisation of the colonised, otherwise ‘it would be obvious that they, too, prefer not to kill or be killed when they can achieve their rights in more peaceful ways.’

Despite making the comparison with post-Apartheid South Africa Beinart shies away from its example of a unitary non-racial state. Beinart argues that the ANC ‘never saw itself as representing a separate Black nation, but rather the South African nation.’ This is true but instead of drawing the obvious conclusion that Palestinians should include Israeli Jews under the umbrella of Palestinian nationhood, Beinart argues for a binational state.

Beinart attempts to rewrite the history of Zionism so as to suggest that at one time the Zionist movement was benevolent and inclusive, that it did not envisage statehood.  He argues that

‘the demand for a Jewish state did not define Zionism until the 1940s. This wasn’t only true for “cultural Zionists” like Ahad Ha’am. It was also true for “political Zionists” like Theodor Herzl, Leon Pinsker, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and even, for much of his life, David Ben-Gurion.’

This is simply not true. It is rewriting history. In 1896 Herzl published a short book, ‘The Jewish State’. Statehood was Herzl’s aim and he set about achieving this by attempting to secure the backing of the imperialist powers. Chaim Weizmann, the President of the Zionist Organisation  declared, not in 1940 but at the 1919 Peace Conference that “the Zionist objective was gradually to make Palestine as Jewish as England was English”. That was why Ben-Gurion and the Zionist movement consistently opposed any democratic representative institutions in Palestine until they achieved a majority.

If the Zionists did not oppose a binational state until the 1940s why, from 1920 onwards did Histadrut, the Labour Zionist colonising agency, support a campaign of Jewish Labour and Jewish Land? In deliberately creating an Arab-free economy, Zionism was sowing the seeds of transfer.

When Beinart says that ‘The early Zionists were concerned, above all, with creating a place of Jewish refuge and rejuvenation.’ this again is untrue. Zionism’s goal was the preservation of the Jewish race/nation. Hence their hatred of assimilation which, according to former Education Minister Rafi Peretz “is like a second Holocaust.” Their chosen instrument was statehood.

Zionism never was a refugeeist organisation. Barely 1% of Jews fleeing the pogroms of Czarist Russia went to Palestine. In Palestine itself Arthur Ruppin and the Jewish Agency had a strict policy of selecting immigrants. Two thirds of Jews who wanted to immigrate to Palestine in the 1920s were denied certificates of entry.

Beinart is wrong to state that ‘it was the Holocaust that fundamentally transformed Jewish thinking about sovereignty’. The 1919 King-Crane Commission that Woodrow Wilson set up found that ‘the Zionists looked forward to a practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine.’ [Tom Suarez, ‘State of Terror – How terrorism created modern Israel’, p.44. In May 1911, Arthur Ruppin, the Director of the Palestine Office, ‘suggested in a letter to the Zionist executive a limited population transfer’ of Arabs dispossessed by Jewish land purchases to other lands near Aleppo and Homs.

Of course, whilst they were still a minority, the Zionists talked in euphemism’s about a ‘Jewish national home’ and more ambiguously a ‘Jewish Commonwealth’ but the idea of statehood was fixed from the very beginnings of Zionism.

At the Zionists’ Biltmore Conference in New York in May 1942 the demand was first made explicitly for a Jewish state. This was when the death mills of Auschwitz were in full operation. As Noah Lucas observed Ben Gurion was determined that

‘The forces unleashed by Hitler in all their horror must be harnessed to the advantage of Zionism. … By the end of 1942… the struggle for a Jewish state became the primary concern of the movement.’

The Holocaust took second place to statehood. Ben-Gurion’s strategy was that

‘Disaster is strength if channelled to a productive course. The whole trick of Zionism is that it knows how to channel our disaster, not into despondency or degradation, as is the case in the Diaspora, but into a source of creativity and exploitation.’ [The Burning Ground, p. 853]

Beinart observes that the Zionist movement views activists who boycott Israel ‘as a greater threat to Jewish life than white supremacist politicians whose followers attack synagogues’ without reaching any conclusions as to the nature of Zionism itself.

Beinart instinctively grasps that Zionism cannot be reformed internally and that Israel is headed on a path that will lead to it becoming a pariah. However he still clings to the myths of Zionism and its origins. It is this which leads him to characterise the situation as a conflict of 2 people, to be solved by a binational state.

None of his Zionist critics comes to grip with Beinart’s arguments as to the consequence of Israel’s occupation. They prefer to attack the messenger. However a binational state would simply replicate the present problems of racism and segregation it would not overcome them. It would channel religious sectarianism into legal channels.

The only solution is on the lines of South Africa. A single unitary state enabled joint Black-White participation in political movements. That is what is necessary in a new Israel/Palestine. Jews and Arabs should be members of political parties because, like most of the world, they share the same political beliefs.  Their ethnicity or religion should be irrelevant but in a Jewish state or even a binational state you would have Jewish and non-Jewish parties.

The significance of Beinart’s article is considerable but lies not in terms of heralding a split in the American Zionist movement. What it does do is provide legitimation for the increasing number of Jews who have become disillusioned with Israel. It helps to bring the argument for de-Zionisation of Israel into the mainstream.

The same rules apply to Israeli society as any other class society. If you give power and privilege to one section of the population and base the very existence of the state on that section, don’t expect the outcome to be any different from that in any other racist states. As in Israel today, ruling elites will always deploy racism as a method of ensuring the loyalty of the masses.

Beinart’s analysis still shies away from understanding that Zionism was flawed from the outset, not simply in terms of the Palestinians but for Jews too.  Zionism began by an acceptance of anti-Semitism and this was its original sin, its mark of Cain.

Tony Greenstein

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