“It’s time to imagine a Jewish home that is not a Jewish state.”
Those words – which appeared in a New York Times opinion piece last week – have created a tempest in that segment of the Jewish world that regards itself as progressive. They were written by journalist and commentator Peter Beinart, who, until the publication of the article, was one of the darlings of the Jewish Left.
Now he seems to be everyone’s favorite anti-Semite, the catch-phrase for anyone who disagrees with the Zionist mainstream. “Denying the right of Jews to a national homeland is anti-Semitism,” wrote Ben Dror Yemini in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest daily, before apparently realizing the absurdity of his knee-jerk response.
“Beinart is not Anti-Semitic,” Yemini added quickly. “His intentions are different, but his position assists the anti-Semitic campaign.”
I’m glad we clarified that.
Even some columnists in Haaretz, the only surviving island of sanity in Israel’s media, have gotten into the act, describing Beinart’s about-face as “utopian” and “jumping ship”.
Personally, I’ve never had much time for Beinart’s blinkered and earnest liberal-Zionism, in which, “the dream of a two-state solution that would give Palestinians a country of their own let me hope that I could remain a liberal and a supporter of Jewish statehood at the same time.” Seventy-two years after the nakba and fifty-three after the occupation, intelligent people shouldn’t have been lulling themselves to sleep with such dreams.
But, to Beinart’s credit, he saw the light. “Events have now extinguished that hope,” he writes, pointing to the close to 700,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and the fact – obvious to all but those who refuse to see – that “the leaders of Israel’s supposedly center-left parties don’t support a viable, sovereign Palestinian state.”
Hardly anyone in Israel does. For decades, Israel’s leaders have had their fingers crossed behind their backs when talking of a two-state solution. It was the price they had to pay for the billions of dollars in American aid and access to European markets. No-one really believed they were serious, did they?
With Trump now in charge, Israel has largely dropped the charade. Talk of a two-state solution elicits little more than sniggers these days. Now it’s all about annexation – the de facto situation for years already, but the stamp of kashrut that the messianic right seems to need to cross ownership of the territories off their bucket list.
Beinart says he now believes in a bi-national state – “a Jewish home that is also, equally, a Palestinian home. And building that home can bring liberation not just for Palestinians but for us, too.”
Yet, oddly, he writes that “this doesn’t require abandoning Zionism… It requires distinguishing between form and essence. The essence of Zionism is not a Jewish state in the land of Israel; it is a Jewish home in the land of Israel…”
Oops, just when he was getting it right he blew it.
It is true that Herzl originally spoke of a Jewish home in Palestine and the issue of full statehood was open until the Biltmore Conference in 1942, if not later – but that home never, ever included Arabs. The wimps of Brit Shalom may have spoken of Jewish-Arab equality but real, macho Zionists never did.
From the start of Jewish settlement in Palestine, the issue that most concerned the leadership of the Yishuv – aside from security – was avoda ivrit (Hebrew labor), which was code for separate development. Ostensibly a means of opening up jobs for new Jewish immigrants by getting Jewish farmers to hire only Jewish workers, avoda ivrit was in fact the means of developing an ethnically-pure Jewish society – long before the establishment of the state. Hebrew labor was achieved through violence and racism. Even David Ben Gurion, an activist for Hebrew labor, at one point accused fellow Jewish workers of treating Arabs with violence, arrogance and condescension.
Jewish racism and anti-Arabism dating back to the dawn of Zionism are well documented. “They behave toward the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, commit unwarranted trespass, beat them shamefully without any good reason, and brag about doing so,” Ahad Ha’am wrote in the 1880s. According to Israel Rokach, a resident of Jaffa, the Jewish farmers “do not think of the fellahin (peasants) as human.” And that was well over 100 years ago.
Many more scales need to fall from Beinart’s eyes before he understands that the essence of Zionism was – and remains – racism, ethno-centrism and Jewish exceptionalism. Those are the values on which the current generations of Israelis were weaned – and they don’t make for successful bi-nationalism.
Peter Beinart is on the right path. It took courage to write what he did and I applaud him for it. But he’s deluded if he thinks that Jewish statehood is the only obstacle – on the Jewish side; the Palestinians have their own obstacles – to the establishment of a bi-national state. The Zionism that he continues to swear by is rancid. There is no way it can serve as a moral basis for the state’s Jewish component
Israel’s Jews have been brought up to be conquerors, bosses and masters. They are uniquely unqualified to live as equals alongside Palestinians. A good place to begin a process that might, eventually lead to bi-nationalism would be an honest reckoning with Zionist dogma and praxis.