Canadian Jews join the debate over whether a Jewish State is necessary

A July 8th article in the New York Times by Peter Beinart, a well known Jewish American intellectual, landed like a bombshell in the Jewish community around the world. Beinart, long a supporter of a 2 state solution, declared he no longer believed in the idea of a Jewish State. The article has provoked vigorous debate among Jews in America, in Israel, and to a certain extent, in Canada. Read more….

The idea of a 2 state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, in which two separate states – a Palestinian one and a Jewish Israeli one – has been by far the dominant position among North American Jews for some time. Allowing for the creation of a small Palestinian state seemed to many to be the best way to ensure an uncontested future for a Jewish majority State of Israel. It is the official position of the Government of Israel and that of the Palestinian Liberation Organization although they remain far apart on all the elements of a potential agreement.

It is also the consensus position of ALL Canadian federal parties, as well as the accepted position of the international community.

But many North American Jews have been concerned however, that aggressive Israeli actions, including building settlements in the West Bank are undermining the possibility of creating a Palestinian state, and that this could compromise international support for Israel itself. Several liberal Zionist organizations in Canada were very vocal in opposing Israel’s announced proposal to “annex” a significant amount of territory in the West Bank for this very reason.

But until now, while Jews could be for or against annexation, there was a consensus on the goal of having a Jewish State.

Into this debate plunges Peter Beinart, a 39 year old Jewish American columnist, journalist, and political commentator and editor of “Jewish Currents” magazine. Beinart is an intellectual heavyweight, not just among Jews, but in American intelligentsia generally. Among liberal Zionists he has been a rock star and an articulate proponent of a 2 state solution. But in his shocking article in The New York Times, Beinart announces that he no longer supports the foundational idea of a Jewish State.

For decades I argued for separation between Israelis and Palestinians. Events have now extinguished that hope, wrote Beinart, in a kind of mea-culpa.

“Israel has all but made its decision: one country that includes millions of Palestinians who lack basic rights. Now liberal Zionists must make our decision, too. It’s time to abandon the traditional two-state solution and embrace the goal of equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.”

Fiery denunciations, handwringing angst, and some praise

Beinart’s article was the immediate subject of an intense debate among Jews in America and in Israel itself. He was the object of criticism in many articles in “Haaretz” the left/centre Israeli daily, including an interview with Haaretz columnist Chemi Shlev.

Jewish American lawyer and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz did not mince words, claiming Beinart’s essay was “a study in historical ignorance, willful deception and arrogant rejection of democracy”. He claimed that Beinart was proposing a “final solution” for Israel and the Jewish people – a thinly disguised reference to Hitler’s “final solution”.

Deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Ken Jacobson, declared that “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”

In a strong article in the Times of Israel, “End the Jewish State? Let’s try some honesty, first”, blogger Daniel Gordis basically accuses Beinart of being a comfortable American Jew living in Manhattan who doesn’t understand the first thing about Israelis… or about Palestinians.

But Beinart did get a small amount of Jewish support in Israel. Jerusalem based Israeli activist Jeff Halper argued that “Beinart doesn’t go far enough” because, while giving up the idea of a Jewish State, Beinart still claims to hold to Zionism, which Halper rejects.

Canadian Jewish reaction

Reaction from Canadian Jewish institutions has ranged from scathing adhominem attacks, to thoughtful opposition to a willingness to engage in discussion.

CIJA’s Israel Office Director David M. Weinberg seemed intent on attacking Beinart as a person, writing: “The progressive “pope,” Peter Beinart, seeks to denude the Jewish state of its rightful place among the nations. Alas, he seems to have decayed into a cocoon; inside a reactionary, defeatist brain that secretes poison“.

On the other hand, Canadian liberal Zionist organizations, like Canadian Friends of Peace Now (CFPN), and the New Israel Fund of Canada (NIFC), who oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and support a 2 state solution, appear to have been caught a bit by surprise by Beinart’s “defection”. Some of their own members may have mixed feelings about Beinart’s conclusion, and the organizations have not yet entered the debate directly.

Canadian Friends of Peace Now President Gabriella Goliger in her newsletter to members drew attention to a rebuttal to Beinart written by Bob Katz ,a board member and chapter head (Toronto) of Canadian Friends of Peace Now. His article is titled: Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

Ben Murane, Executive Director of New Israel Fund Canada told CTIP “All of us like and admire Beinart a lot and I think he’s raising a really important conversation. (…) Whether or not the two-state solution truly is dead, he’s doing a huge service by reviving the focus on ending Israel’s occupation.” Murane also pointed me to an article which had been penned by Joey Steiner, a member of NIFC’s board. Steiner’s article is called Peter Beinart’s “Yavne” and its Critics.

Corey Balsam, National Coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), which is not Zionist, was categorical in his support for Beinart. “Beinart’s embrace of a movement for equality represents a major turning point in the conversation amongst North American Jews regarding Israel/Palestine. Of course, he is now simply expressing what many Palestinians and Jewish groups like IJV have long concluded — that the answer is justice and equality, not ethnonationalism and apartheid. But the fact that it is coming from Beinart — essentially the poster child for liberal Zionism and the 2-state solution until just a few months ago — is hugely significant.

Further resources

Beinart’s article has created a veritable “storm” of webinars discussing and debating his idea. Some are debate/discussions with Beinart. Other are discussions about Beinart. The best discussions I have found have been a series of 3 fascinating webinars, organized by The Foundation for Middle East Peace, based in Washington, D.C.

Each of the three FPME webinars is well moderated and professionally organized and well worth the investment in time for those interested in learning more.


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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  1. An interesting dilemma Peter Beinart has put the extreme right wing Netanyahu approach supported by the extreme Israeli lobby: either get on with a 2 state solution based on the 1948 lines or continue occupation apartheid and annexation and rights denial of Palestine with the clear prospects of being forced eventually into a one state democratic solution whether or not confederated.. The precedent is of course similar to South Africa which held out for decades for apartheid and against one person one vote albeit in different demographic circumstances. . This situation has been produced by the extreme Zionists desire for all the land, absolute control and rejection of the concept of any Palestine and it is up to them to solve the problem with a real 2 state solution. Screaming that a democratic Jewish Palestinian state is antisemitic, anti Israel and promoting a Nazi final solution just will not cut it any more as the 1 state solution starts to obtain greater credence.

    1. Hi George,

      Remember our conversations about this topic during Peter’s “Come and See” trip to Israel/Palestine way back in 2013? Glad to see you coming around.

      All the best. Keep well.

  2. Thanks Peter, I plan to watch the webinars, and I am forwarding the email, without identifying you, to Jewish and not Jewish friends. Ximo


  3. Thank you for bringing that to our attention Peter. I missed the article, even though I read the Times daily. I must say that further annexation, if it is inevitable, surely formalises the need for a new analysis of what political entities are sustainable. The analysis is past due, but our fixed formulas have rendered many of us incapable of being open to new possiblies. The word BUT always intervenes. This pushes us a little further. Paul PS:have you seen the United Church petition in relation to Palestinian childen — to appoint a Canadian envoy to press for changes?

  4. The “two-state solution” was not killed by Israeli actions, it was never alive, The minimum requirements for being a sovereign state would be control of its borders, and the ability to defend itself. Israel was never prepared to allow either. Further, no matter where the border would be there would be people on both sides who either felt that they were on the wrong side of the border or that they had rights to land on the other side. The only solution to the ongoing conflict would be a single democratic state with equality for all inhabitants.

    The question that we should be discussing is one that never gets mentioned – how to make a transition from the present situation to the single state. Simply opening the borders overnight would be a disaster. There are people on both sides whose hatred and sense of entitlement are so strong that they would attack people and properties on the other side. Further, there must be an agreed procedure for resolving property disputes. Many Palestinians had property either taken or destroyed. They or their descendants would expect to return to their homes and have their businesses or farms restored. However, there are Israelis who bought or built on the same properties following the laws that were in place at the time. Those individuals would feel entitled to some compensation for properties that they lost.

    There is a relatively recent situation that might provide some insights and precedents. After East Germans voted to join the Federal Republic (West Germany), there was a year of transition in which both states continued to exist. There were properties in the East that had been abandoned or seized from people who had moved to the West and had subsequently been bought by (or given to) those who remained. Both the former owners (or their descendants) and the present owners felt entitled to the property. Years after the unification, there were disputes that had not been resolved.

    There are many differences between the two situations. Most important, both sides considered all involved to be Germans and there was no fear or hatred to fan the the flames. Nevertheless, if we accept that Beinart’s solution is the only solution, there are a lot of difficult questions about getting from the present situation to a peaceful future that need to be discussed and German unification may provide some insights into how to answer them.

    1. Both German unification and South Africa end of apartheid are good precedents worth studying. Another is Cyprus amid new possibilities of some sort of confederal single state where minority Turkish Cypriots enjoy both equality and protection. There may be something to learn even the coming together of the 13 colonies into USA and BNA colonies into Canada and various Spanish American colonies into countries..

      All of the examples had enough commonalities to respect the equality proposition of one person one vote. That does not seem to be the case in Israel Palestine now and likely future which is why 2 state soln remains preferable until it is not. Lots of precedents here too for 2 or multistate like Czeck Slovakia, East Timor, Kosovo in broader context of breakup of Yugoslavia. It is question of which works and when..

  5. The East/West Germany example works because there was never a war between the two Germanys. The Palestinian Arabs have been in a war with the Jews, and then Israel, when the Palestinian Arabs, with the aid of the Arab Liberation Army, started the genocidal Palestinian Civil War.

    The Jewish community no longer believes in Peter Beinart.

    1. Hey Frank, the thrust of my article was not to say that the Jewish community agrees with Peter Beinart.
      I think its pretty clear that a majority, including you, disagrees strongly with him. I actually quoted quite a few who feel that way. However, what I pointed out is that a small but increasing number of American and Canadian Jews are having a hard time reconciling their liberalism with their support for a Jewish State. I believe the evidence supports that conclusion.

      1. Pete, it still appears that the number of American and Canadian Jews who agree with Beinart are a miniscule minority. The majority in the liberal wing have no problem reconciling their support of Israel with their values as the alternative side, the Palestinian Arabs, appear to have few progressive leanings, if any.

      2. Mr. Sigman,
        I agree that Beinart appears to be in a minority among American and Canadian Jews. Black Lives Matter was also a minority tendancy among Black Americans until recently. I have no idea how many liberal Jews are having trouble reconciling their liberalism with the Zionism. My guess is that a lot are troubled by it. We will see how this evolves.
        Your statement about Palestinians is surprising. What is your source for this? I certainly have met lots of Palestinians with progressive leanings. And quite a few who are also very conservative – religiously and socially.

  6. Peter, I also thank you for bringing together all this material (which I have yet to read through).

    I just looked up another most substantial article from the New York Times which came to the same conclusion over 20 years ago (it convinced me when I first read it then). “The One-State Solution” by Edward Said ( .

    Said reviewed the historical context and wrote: “I see no other way than to begin now to speak about sharing the land that has thrust us together … sharing it in a truly democratic way, with equal rights for each citizen”

  7. Although the one state with equal rights for all, seems to be the only possibility in the face of how the settlements are situated, we should keep in mind a couple of scenarios.
    The extreme Jewish settlers are too radical and will bring a blood bath, even killing Israeli Jews. I don’t think the Israeli army will be ready to deal with them.
    Secondly, if we look at South Africa. A month ago there was a webinar here. Two speakers said that even if ever the one state happens, and that’s a big if ever, the Palestinian situation will not improve much.
    One of the speakers was a Torontonian ex Israeli freelance film maker said that she visited South Africa and really not much change is from the apartheid time.
    In Israel’s case they will have a free hand to buy all good homes, farms etc, etc. and will make sure to be the masters.
    Indeed the Palestinian situation is grim.

    1. Hey Jake,
      South Africa still has many problems and the whites still have many privileges. But I have never heard anybody argue that it was better under the apartheid system.
      There are still groups of vengeful whites today who try to protect/regain their power and influence. The SA police has to deal with them.
      In Israel/Palestine, even under a 1 democratic state system, we can expect that for many years, perhaps a generation, Israeli Jews will dominate economically and politically. There will be many problems. There will be different Palestinian parties with different ideas about how to go forward. Some Jews will resist to the bitter end, others will accommodate.
      It would be unrealistic to think that under a 1SS constitution all will be resolved. But the struggle for justice will move into a new phase.

  8. Thanks for putting this together Peter, I was struck Mr. Beinart’s opening remarks in the webinar in which he states that he came to this conclusion over time and that he could no longer convince himself that a two state solution was still viable. I wonder when the international community will come to this conclusion.

    1. Hey Stephen, There is another big obstacle which both Beinart and Munayyer referred to in the video. While most Palestinians I have talked to say they prefer one democratic state – the PA and the current leadership of the PLO which most government see as the representative of the Palestinians, still clings to the fading hope of a 2 state solution. The PLO has not had elections for more than 10 years so that could change in the event of a new election.

      Unless and until a credible Palestinian voice is calling for one democratic state, it is unrealistic (and probably unfair) to expect international governments to do so.

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