The flaw of Beinart’s conception of Israel’s ‘flawed but genuine democracy’

on 33 Comments

There is a lot to say about Peter Beinart’s op-ed in today’s New York Times. Phil ran down the contours of his argument, but one thing that struck me was how absent Palestinians seem in Beinart’s vision. Sure he mentions the occupation, but only as so far as it impacts the perception of the Israel west of the green line. Palestinians are absent in his conflict between “democratic Israel” and “non-democratic Israel.” This is a perfect illustration of what Austin Branion writes about today in Mondoweiss – for liberal Zionists the occupation is simply an obstacle to them securing their (imagined) Jewish state.

Putting aside his contortions over the forms of boycott he endorses, Beinart’s binary of the conflict facing Israel is wrong. He claims “there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it.” It is a simple and obvious point, but one that needs to be repeated nonetheless — Israel is only a “genuine democracy” for its Jewish citizens. Here are just a few data points that we published last September on Palestinian citizens of Israel:

  • There are more than 30 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel. directly or indirectly, based solely on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third class citizens in their own homeland.
  • 93% of the land in Israel is owned either by the state or by quasi-governmental agencies, such as the Jewish National Fund, that discriminate against non-Jews. Palestinian citizens of Israel face significant legal obstacles in gaining access to this land for agriculture, residence, or commercial development.
  • More than seventy Palestinian villages and communities in Israel, some of which pre-date the establishment of the state, are unrecognized by the government, receive no services, and are not even listed on official maps. Many other towns with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns.
  • Since Israel’s founding in 1948, more than 600 Jewish municipalities have been established, while not a single new Arab town or community has been recognized by the state.
  • Israeli government resources are disproportionately directed to Jews and not to Arabs, one factor in causing the Palestinians of Israel to suffer the lowest living standards in Israeli society by all socio-economic indicators.
  • Government funding for Arab schools is far below that of Jewish schools. According to data published in 2004, the government provides three times as much funding to Jewish students than it does to Arab students.
  • In October 2010, the Knesset approved a bill allowing smaller Israeli towns to reject residents who do not suit “the community’s fundamental outlook”, based on sex, religion, and socioeconomic status. Critics slammed the move as an attempt to allow Jewish towns to keep Arabs and other non-Jews out.
  • The so-called “Nakba Bill” bans state funding for groups that commemorate the tragedy that befell Palestinians during Israel’s creation in 1948, when approx. 725,000 Palestinian Arabs were ethnically cleansed to make way for a Jewish majority state.

In addition, check out these posts with Haneen Zoabi and Ilan Pappe that cover some of the same ground.

Beinart would seem to indicate that these are unfortunate facts, but that Israel is a democracy still coming into being, and the occupation is impeding this progress. While promoting his new book he frequently refers to the Israeli declaration of independence, which he also mentions in his Times piece:

When Israel’s founders wrote the country’s declaration of independence, which calls for a Jewish state that “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” they understood that Zionism and democracy were not only compatible; the two were inseparable.

The issue Beinart misses is that the state of Israel is not a flawed work in progress, but is operating just as it was designed. The “flaw” is in its construction as a Jewish state. Here is how Fida Jiryis, a Palestinian Christian living in the Galilee, described her experience in a post on Mondoweiss last week:

I am one of those Palestinian Christians living inside Israel to whom Oren refers. At no time in my life have I ever felt the ‘respect and appreciation’ by the Jewish state, which Oren so glowingly references. Israel’s Christian minority is marginalized in much the same manner as its Muslim one or, at best, quietly tolerated. We suffer the same discrimination when we try to find a job, when we go to hospitals, when we apply for bank loans, and when we get on the bus — in the same way as Palestinian Muslims.

Israel’s fundamental basis is as a racist state built for Jews only, and the majority of the Jewish population doesn’t really care what religion we are if we’re not Jewish. In my daily dealings with the State, all I have felt is rudeness and overt contempt.

“Israel’s fundamental basis is as a racist state built for Jews only.”

The fact is that over the entirety of Israel’s 63-year existence, there has only been a period of about six months in 1966-1967 that Israel did not rule over a large Palestinian population to whom it granted no political rights. Just after Israel’s founders were finished penning the words that Beinart finds so inspiring, they placed Palestinians inside Israel under martial law, where they would stay for the next 17 years.The facts above regarding Palestinian citizens of Israel show how little has changed.

More and more, life inside the green line is being to resemble that in the occupied territories. The occupation is the result of Israel’s history to this point, not an outlier from it. While I agree that Beinart’s call for a settlement boycott does represent a minor step forward for the discourse within the American Jewish community, it misses, and obscures, the true core of the conflict.

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33 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    March 19, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Mike D Yeah?with your bad self running things
    What’s up with your bad breath onion rings
    Well I’m Mike D and I’m back from the dead
    Chillin’ at the beaches down at Club Med
    Make another record ’cause the people they want more of this
    Suckers they be saying they can take out Adam Horo(W)itz !!!

    hahaha. Nice one Adam – can I call you Ad-Rock?

  2. Les
    March 19, 2012, 3:50 pm

    “Genuine” democracy complete with occupation and ethnic cleansing and without justice.

  3. David Samel
    March 19, 2012, 3:52 pm

    Adam, great analysis of Beinart’s op-ed. He clearly starts from the unshakable position that the concept of a Jewish State may not be challenged. He then proceeds to ignore events and circumstances, like the Nakba and continuing second-class citizenship, that would pose such a challenge. I suppose he’s moving in the right direction, and my impression is that he is sincere, but he’s nowhere near ready to sacrifice Jewish privilege for true equality if that means even questioning the Jewish State. Beinart recognizes that Greater Israel resembles apartheid South Africa, but does not see that removing the uglier stains and polishing Green Line Israel as bright as possible would still leave a discriminatory state with a dark history of ethnic cleansing and a present and future that are hopelessly out of date with contemporary demands of racial and ethnic equality.

  4. Elliot
    March 19, 2012, 4:35 pm

    Thanks, Adam. Beinart’s piece is obviously significant in legitimizing BDS. He actually implies that the power of the BDS movement is equal to that of the State of Israel.

    However, as previous commentators have pointed out already, the Declaration of the State of Israel is itself fundamentally flawed. Its preamble leading up to the clause Beinart quotes has nothing to say about Palestinians. The entire list of premises for the establishment of the State of Israel is exclusively about Jewish and Zionist claims, aspirations and justifications. In other words, not only will all these laws have to be revoked, but Israel will need a new anthem, new Basic Laws drafted and a new Declaration of Independence. Sounds to me like we are back to the drawing board.

    Even the God that the Israeli Declaration of independence invokes is the Jewish God (“Rock of Israel”). How can the State be expected to do better than its God?

    With regard to the West Bank, Beinart’s glaring flaw is his timing. The State of Israel is not in the process of erasing the Green Line – it is almost done. It’s a sad comment on American Jewry that it’s taken 40 years to begin to undo what it sanctioned in the 70s.

    The reason it’s taking so long is that Israel and the Zionists thought they could get away with it. Now that the West Bank has become a liability to the State of Israel, they are trying to ditch it. So, it’s not that the Occupation is inherently wrong, or that, even now, they have woken up to the existence of the Palestinians, but that the Occupation is suddenly bad for the Jews.

    • Rusty Pipes
      March 19, 2012, 5:55 pm

      Not to mention that the parts of Israel’s Declaration of Independence that are referenced to show its democratic, inclusive nature were added solely for the purpose of gaining admission as a nation to the UN. Among the many promises that Israel made to gain admittance, but subsequently ignored.

      • Elliot
        March 19, 2012, 6:05 pm

        Rusty Pipes – that’s interesting. Would you post the reference? thanks.

  5. pabelmont
    March 19, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Adam, If he (1) reads this and (2) believes it and (3) meant his article as TRUTH, then he will be left WITH NO HOPE, NO ILLUSIONS.

    If, however, he meant his article as LITURGY in the (newish) religion of the Jews, the SANCTITY OF (STATE) ISRAEL, then he’ll hope his co-religionists brush you off.

    Which religion will win? the reform Jewish religion of Tikkun Olam, of universal human rights, do not unto others, etc. (Adam’s) ? or the new touchy-feely religion of NICE ISRAEL (Beinart’s, NYT’s)?

    There is a third religion, ISRAEL MILITANT (Bibi’s) which is allied to the ancient Jewish religion, with all its Amaleks, swords, blood, “it would have been enoughs” — and its Jews first, others nowhere.

    Beinart appears to be a prophet of the NICE ISRAEL (“it is a democracy, really!”)
    but he is allied (as a shill) with ISRAEL MILITANT because he will not believe in human rights and the reality of the Palestinian people and their rights.

  6. Annie Robbins
    March 19, 2012, 5:08 pm

    the more anyone digs into the truth about israel the more flawed it looks. hopefully the article of beinart’s will be like honey to bees, and once people become more and more involved they will discover the ugliness that resides everywhere right out in the open for all to see.

    i think it’s too late to make a two state solution anyway but people won’t know that till they try, so let them try. this is bring a lot of attention to bds. anyone starting out boycotting the settlements could then be persuaded to boycott a corporation inside israel making the lionshare of their profits from the occupation.

    great article adam.

    one more thing, that ‘non democratic israel’ name? what the heck is he thinking? why not just call it palestine if the west bank doesn’t work for him? why on earth would he think palestinians would start calling the west bank israel? insane and clueless.

  7. seafoid
    March 19, 2012, 5:40 pm

    The 2 Israels are the Israel of the American Jewish imagination

    and the real Israel
    which is this
    and this

  8. marc b.
    March 19, 2012, 6:33 pm


    As I write this, I cringe. Most settlers aren’t bad people…


    Israeli settlers have taken over dozens of natural springs in the West Bank, limiting or preventing Palestinian access to much-needed water sources, a United Nations report said on Monday.

    The report produced by the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said at least 30 springs across the West Bank had been completely taken over by settlers, with Palestinians unable to access them at all.

    In most instances, the report said, “Palestinians have been deterred from accessing the springs by acts of intimidation, threats and violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers.”

    The report said an OCHA survey carried out in 2011 identified a total of 56 springs that were under total or partial control of Israeli settlers, most in the part of the West Bank known as Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and military control.

    “Springs have remained the single largest water source for irrigation and a significant source for watering livestock” for Palestinians, OCHA said, noting that some springs also provide water for domestic consumption.

    “The loss of access to springs and adjacent land reduced the income of affected farmers, who either stop cultivating the land or face a reduction in the productivity of their crops.”

    • Blake
      March 19, 2012, 7:58 pm

      “Settlers” suggests peaceful pioneers wishing to integrate with locals. Israeli “settlers” are anything but. They are aggressive squatters, 500000 of them in over 100 illegal colonies – ugly blots on an otherwise lovely landscape. They include gangs of armed delinquents & religious nutters who terrorize local villagers, vandalize their crops, pollute their land & harass their children.

  9. Hostage
    March 19, 2012, 6:36 pm

    While promoting his new book he frequently refers to the Israeli declaration of independence, which he also mentions in his Times piece

    I’ve documented elsewhere that Ben Gurion said the authors of Israel’s Declaration of Independence simply “put in the basic phrases demanded by the UN.”

    During the subsequent hearings on its membership application in the UN, Israel cited the Declaration of Independence – which had been signed by the members of the Provisional government – as the fulfillment of its obligation to supply a declaration on the subject of the fundamental laws of state regarding equal rights.

    The General Assembly required each of the new states to acknowledge an undertaking to implement equal constitutional rights for minorities under the terms of the plan for the future government of Palestine contained in resolution 181(II). Within two years, the government of Israel denied it had ever signed any such declaration. So, it’s pointless to lecture Israelis about its contents. They have never amounted to anything more than hasbara, so far as their own government is concerned.

    • Elliot
      March 19, 2012, 9:33 pm

      I recommend the link that Hostage provides in the comment above. He provides a lot of material in it about the State of Israel’s lack of commitment to being a democracy both at its inception and later.

  10. piotr
    March 19, 2012, 7:02 pm

    There is also purely pragmatic deficiency of “sanctions on settlement products”. This is almost hilariously painless program of sanctions. In other cases the logic seems to be “what it would take to convince the regime to change its policy”. For example, excluding the banks of a nation from any making any transfers through main systems of Federal Reserve, Swift and whatever they have in UK, hence making it damn difficult to trade in US dollars, Euros and British pounds. I did not invent this model of economic sanctions. Israel could rely on markets in China, India, Sri Lanka, Arab countries, Africa and survive, but then again, it could figure out that a change in policy would be better.

    One can prioritize. Yes, Palestinian citizens and residents of Jerusalem suffer deep discrimination, but the oppression in West Bank and Gaza is of a different order of magnitude and makes a clear cut case for a drastic remedy. The type of restriction on most elementary personal rights and freedom as exists in those territories does not exist anywhere in the world, and it is enforced using all advantages of modernity, aerial surveilance, data banks, control exercised down to the level of outhouses and chicken coops that can be duly demolish. High tech methods of shitting onto an entire village.

    But what is the remedy? Boycott of one line of beauty products and one line of water purifiers on voluntary basis? The type of sanctions currently imposed on Iran is perhaps not politically feasible right now, but the need is as dire (or more: we compare a putative weapon program with very real oppression), and the resistance of the government is as vehement.

    Thus my baseline would be: copy sanctions imposed on Iran, and lift when a simple list of condition is met, removal of settlements and restrictions on Palestinians that are not congruent with their autonomy. But in the meantime civil societies of various countries can strive to impose largely symbolic, but not hilariously skimpy sanctions on voluntary basis, as perhaps this will send a sufficient signal to the population of Israel.

    • NormanF
      March 20, 2012, 12:45 am

      There are certain restrictions on movement and freedom of association but they all have to do with decades of Arab terrorism against Israel. Lifting them depends on the end of the preaching of hatred, incitement and violence on the the other side. The Arabs are not prepared to make peace with Israel today and as long as that remains in the case, certain reasonable limitations on their freedoms will remain in force and it has nothing to do with any Israeli desire to oppress them.

      Israel does not have a written constitution but then neither do the UK nor New Zealand. There is no need to rush having one and every free society on earth has evolved based on its own national history and unique set of circumstances. And as long as the entire Jewish people are not in Israel, it would not be appropriate to adopt a single law to govern them for all time. The Jewish State has functioned exactly as intended. Its the richest, freest and most progressive country in the Middle East. This is a country liberal people should be willing to support. True, its far from being the ideal in some respects but I challenge any one to show me one country on earth that has reached a nebulous standard of perfection. Judged by any realistic criteria, Israel is a success story that has rightly caught the human imagination.

      • Adam Horowitz
        March 20, 2012, 10:29 am

        I’m sorry, I know I should have axed this comment as classic troll bait, but I found it too funny to not post. It is a perfect specimen of old school, 100%, gold plated hasbara. Thanks Norm!

      • Bill in Maryland
        March 20, 2012, 10:36 am

        Thanks for preserving this quaint gem Adam!

      • eljay
        March 20, 2012, 10:58 am

        >> The Jewish State has functioned exactly as intended.

        Ah, so the Jewish state is aggressive, oppressive, thieving, colonizing, destructive and murderous by design, and not by accident. That clarifies things a bit.

        >> This is a country liberal people should be willing to support.

        No one should be willing to support a state – Jewish state or other – that is aggressive, oppressive, thieving, colonizing, destructive and murderous by design.

  11. Blake
    March 19, 2012, 7:56 pm

    Read the Declaration for the Establishment of the State of Israel. The words ‘democratic’ and ‘democracy’ simply do not appear.

    May 28 1993 edition of Yedioth Ahronoth, Ariel Sharon rebutted the notion of Israel being a democracy:“The terms ‘democracy’ or ‘democratic’ are totally absent from the Declaration of Independence. This is not an accident. The intention of Zionism was not to bring democracy. It was solely motivated by the creation in Eretz-Isrel of a Jewish state belonging to all the Jewish people and to the Jewish people alone. This is why any Jew of the Diaspora has the right to immigrate to Israel & to become a citizen of Israel.”

    • Hostage
      March 19, 2012, 9:49 pm

      Read the Declaration for the Establishment of the State of Israel. The words ‘democratic’ and ‘democracy’ simply do not appear.

      Of course not. According to revised statistics provided by the Mandatory Administration, the Palestinian Arab population of the proposed Jewish state was slightly larger than the Jewish population. Notwithstanding that fact the People’s Council that named itself as the Provisional Government was comprised entirely of Jews. This after 25 years of collaboration with various Palestinian leaders. See Hillel Cohen, “Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948″, University of California Press, 2008.

      Needless to say the People’s Council was only interested in establishing Jewish rule when it met to discuss the Declaration and the so-called Constitution (the Transition Act):

      Draft of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel
      Sitting 3 of the People’s Council
      14 May 1948 (5 Iyar 5708)
      JNF Building, Tel Aviv
      The Chairman, D. Ben-Gurion: Today is a day of greater opportunities and graver dangers than we have faced for many generations, a) The Mandate has ended and we must establish Jewish rule; b) War has been declared on us. This war may be intensified by an invasion by the regular Arab armies.

      Our defense forces are functioning with the utmost dedication on all fronts and will do their duty. Arrangements have been made with regard to the danger of invasion.
      We have assembled here today to make preparations and dispositions for independent Jewish rule. You have before you two documents for consideration: the first, a declaration; the second, the first draft of an interim constitution, which is urgently needed so that the Jewish institutions will be able to function during this period.

      We will start with the first document: “The Declaration by the People’s Council of the Establishment of the State of Israel.”

      — Netanel Lorach, Major Knesset Debates, 1948-1981, Volume 1 – People’s Council and Provisional Council of State, 1948-1949, pp 44

      • seafoid
        March 20, 2012, 7:17 am

        “The Chairman, D. Ben-Gurion: Today is a day of greater opportunities and graver dangers than we have faced for many generations”

        Obviously bibi follows a very distinguished line of horseshit peddlers .
        1948 was worse than the Shoah, was it ?

  12. tombishop
    March 19, 2012, 9:27 pm

    Is there really any fundamental difference between liberal Zionists, Netanyahu, and Christian Zionists? Look at this video of Netanyahu speaking a few days ago to the annual conference of John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. After ten minutes of schmoozing with the Christian Zionists about shared Bible stories, Netanyahu launches into lies about how “Arabs” have equality in Israel, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is the most tolerant society in the Middle East, and how a theocratic state is the only way to protect the Jewish people. Do liberal Zionists disagree with what he is saying? The speech is here:

    • Elliot
      March 20, 2012, 7:56 am

      Tombishop – ha ha! Netanyahu quotes the U.S. constitution “All men are created equal, with inalienable rights…” to support his claim that the U.S. and Israel have shared – Jewish! – values.

      AIPAC now includes Christian Zionists. Netanyahu has these regular love fests with Hagee’s camp.
      “The State of Israel – the only Jewish and Western Christian State in the Middle East”

  13. Pixel
    March 19, 2012, 11:11 pm

    I could also imagine what might be going on inside the tortured mind of Joel Steinberg’s mother, after the bloody images of Hedda Nussbaum and five-year-old Lisa Steinberg convinced a jury of her son’s guilt.

    To the bitter end of the trial, his mother refused to believe her son capable of such violent battery and murder.

    She built a case against Hedda, portraying her as a lousy mother, a drug abuser, so out of control she must have been “asking for it”- something, anything, to explain this alien son in the news, not the boy she once knew, not the son she so carefully raised.

    The choices I saw for her, listening to long months of shocking testimony, were these: Deny reality, or start weeping and never stop.

    – “American Mom: Motherhood, Politics, and Humble Pie”
    by Mary Kay Blakely

  14. Patrick
    March 19, 2012, 11:27 pm

    The ‘flaw’ is with Beinart who equates ‘democracy’ with majority rule. In a genuine democracy all people are guaranteed basic rights, are treated equally under law, and are protected against a tyranny of the majority. Within the Green Line Israel is just that for its minorities – a tyranny of the majority.

  15. Nevada Ned
    March 19, 2012, 11:40 pm

    I don’t know why so many people seem to think that Peter Beinart is some sort of genius.

    His real claim to fame is that he fervently supported the Iraq war, as editor of The New Republic. Beinart knows (and knew) very little about Iraq, but he was a hawk, and Marty Peretz liked him, so there you are! Beinart now has some second thoughts about the disastrous war.

    Now Beinart, an observant Jew, has made some critical remarks about Israel. So? That makes him a genius? For a lot of American Jews his age or younger, Israel hardly comes up on the radar screen at all. American Jews are more and more indifferent to Israel.
    And guess who is a sharp-eyed observer of this trend? Norman Finkelstein, whose new bookon the subject, Knowing Too Much, will be out soon.

  16. Peter in SF
    March 20, 2012, 4:43 am

    One thing I found noteworthy — or at least it should be noteworthy — is Beinart’s use of the pronoun “we”, referring to himself and other American Jews. The pronoun “we” can be either inclusive or exclusive, but if you read this op-ed closely, you see that he’s consistent in using “we” in the inclusive sense, that is, “you and I and other American Jews”, not “I and other American Jews (not you, dear reader)”. If he were publishing this in some specifically Jewish publication, that would make sense, but he’s publishing this in the newspaper of record of a country where Jews make up only 2% of the population. I can’t even find any part of the piece where he’s addressing non-Jewish readers! Another sign that American Jews have become the establishment, as Phil likes to point out.

  17. Justice Please
    March 20, 2012, 6:22 am

    “there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it”

    How very wrong. Paradoxically, the occupation has not much to do with racism, but with violently driving people off from land you crave. Israel itself is the much more racist part of Beinarts dualism, because it claims to be the state of a mythical Jewish people. Because on their passport, Jewish Israelis have “Jew” printed and not “Israeli”. Because to the government, you are a Jew if your mother is Jewish, an inherently biological and racist argument.

  18. Kathleen
    March 20, 2012, 10:14 am

    “”Israel’s fundamental basis is as a racist state built for Jews only.” This describes exactly what I have always thought about the demand that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. For years we heard the Israeli government and officials demand that Israel must be recognized by the Palestinians. The last five years or so the demand switched to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Total racism.

    The “liberal Zionist” claim is a contradiction in terms to me also.
    I first read about the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency some 20 years ago. Systemic apartheid. Well thought out , implemented and expanded. Democracy? Don’t think so

    Off topic but not really. On Absence
    Noticing on all and I generally do not say ALL MSM outlets this week when they are talking about the massacre of 16 individuals 9 of them children in Afghanistan they are always focused on the soldier who allegedly committed the massacre. They start by saying “there are no excuses” for the massacre..and then they spend the next 5 minutes bringing attention to numerous deployments, his character before he was in the service, dissapointments in his life etc etc. They all seem to be helping this man build an insanity plea. NEVER EVER AND I MEAN NEVER EVER HAS ONE MSM HOST OR GUEST FOCUSED ON WHO THE PEOPLE AND THE CHILDREN ARE THAT THIS MAN ALLEGEDLY MASSACRED. NOT ONCE HAVE I HEARD A HOST OR GUEST FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE IN AFGHANISTAN WHO WERE KILLED. No pictures of the children massacred. Nothing TELLING. Not MSNBC’s Al Sharpton, not Ed Schultz, not Mika of Joe Scarborough, not Diane Rehm, not CNN, not Fox etc. NO one. Talk about dehumanization in our military….dehumanization in the US media. Focus on the children killed, the adults, no names. Total absence

    Anyone else who watches, listens, reads MSM outlets noticing this?

    • piotr
      March 20, 2012, 11:30 am

      War breeds insanity. Something to remember when we are puzzled by actions of people who live in “traumatic stress” without any “post-“. To CHOOSE eternal war, as many Israeli and “pro-Israeli” advocate is an addiction to insanity. After all, the world makes much more sense when you decide what is real and what is not.

  19. Kathleen
    March 20, 2012, 10:19 am

    Adam this is a great post. Thanks

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