Do We Really Have to Read Beinart Again?

Had I not known Peter Beinart’s periodic cries for attention, I’d probably be angry with his chutzpah.
July 9, 2020
Peter Beinart (Photo by Joe Mabel from Wikimedia Commons)

On July 8, as I was skimming through The New York Time’s op-eds, I noticed a story by Peter Beinart under the headline, “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” I thought, what else is new? But the subhead was detailed enough to reveal that Beinart supports one state for Israelis and Palestinians.

I saw no reason to look at the story again. For some time now, Beinart, a journalism professor and editor-at-large of Jewish Currents, has made a name for himself by being the naughty boy in the Jewish sphere. Occasionally he writes or says something preposterous and gets a hefty dose of attention. There is always outrage from critics, debate among people who still have energy to debate such things and adulation from those whom Beinart gives a voice.

Then Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa asked me to write something that addresses Beinart’s arguments. I read the story and learned that there is a longer and fancier version of the same story. The basic idea, though, is the same: A two-state solution is no longer possible. “The goal of equality is now more realistic than the goal of separation,” Beinart writes. That is, for a few decades he supported one unrealistic idea — his ideal version of a two-state solution — and has now replaced it with another unrealistic idea: his ideal version of a one-state Jewish-Palestinian homeland.

What are the counter arguments to Beinart’s “solution”? There’s just one: No. This is not what we want. A more elaborate version of this argument is that you do not take two groups of people with a murderous history who don’t want to live together and force them to live together. If a husband and wife dislike each other and have a history of domestic violence, would you suggest that the best way for them to move forward is to share a room?

Had I not known Beinart’s periodic cries for attention, I’d probably be angry with his chutzpah. Because of some fancy idea he has about Israel — a country in which he doesn’t live — he basically wants to dismantle it — the country where I live. He has the nerve to pretend to be a fellow Jewish traveler while suggesting to destroy my home.

Adi Schwarz, co-author of the new book “The War of Return,” summed it up succinctly: “Being generous with the lifeblood of others is not a sign of high morality. On the contrary.” His co-author, Einat Wilf, tweeted: “Peter Beinart understands very little of what the conflict is about (Arab rejection of Jewish self-determination in land), but he understands trends in American Jewish identity. His essays signal to Jews what opinions will get them accepted (for now) by their fellow progressives.”

If you need more evidence against this misguided idea (I hesitate to even call it an idea; American-born Israeli author Daniel Gordis was right to call it “little more than a screed that is an insult to the intelligence of his readers”), understand that Beinart doesn’t get what Israel and Zionism are all about. He misrepresents the project and then declares the project dead.

Beinart wrote, “The essence of Zionism is not a Jewish state in the land of Israel; it is a Jewish home in the land of Israel, a thriving Jewish society that both offers Jews refuge and enriches the entire Jewish world.”

He is wrong. For most practicing Zionists — who live here and decide what Zionism is — the essence is indeed a Jewish state. In Beinart’s imaginary world, substituting the Jewish state for a far-fetched idea of a Jewish home is not such a big deal. But it is.

Beinart writes that the urgent need for new ideas is based on the moral call to prevent the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. He wrote, “Today, Israeli leaders find the status quo tolerable. But when Palestinian violence reveals that it is not, those leaders — having made separation impossible — could inch closer to policies of mass expulsion.”

Maybe. Probably not. We’ve managed a long time and with a lot of violence without resorting to ethnic cleansing. But even if you accept the necessity of Beinart’s warning, there is a much simpler way to prevent a catastrophe. Convince the Palestinians to refrain from the “violence” that could trigger “mass expulsion.”

Another problem is that a one-state solution does not preclude the option of ethnic cleansing. See Yugoslavia as an example.

On the plus side, what Beinart writes is largely unimportant. He is not the first to propose a one-state solution and likely won’t be the last. He will try to pitch his latest gimmick to a new generation of Jews (anyone for a book deal?). He will find some takers among radical American left-wingers. But where he gets it wrong again is that one of the main reasons Israeli Jews want a state is because they don’t want to be the world’s pawns. Israel is armed to the teeth. It is savvy, tough and resilient. And if Beinart or any of his self-righteous friends want to take away our state, they can come for it. Let’s see how far they get.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

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