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.“
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.
- The first one, entitled “Imagining Together a Shared, One-State Reality“ featured a thoughtful discussion between Beinart and Yousef Munayyer, a well known Palestinian American, who was formerly executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
- The second webinar, entitled, Palestine/Israel, Israel/Palestine — Imagining the Way(s) Forward with Palestinian Thought Leaders, featured four Palestinians in discussion about alternatives to a two state solution.
- The third, entitled, Palestine/Israel, Israel/Palestine — Imagining the Way(s) Forward with Jewish Israeli Thought Leaders, featured four Jewish Israelis – two in favour of a 1 state solution and two arguing instead for some kind of “confederation”.
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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