Covering Hamas and Palestinian society: A response to Peter Beinart

Israel/PalestineUS Politics

On Friday Peter Beinart wrote a piece for his website Open Zion criticizing Mondoweiss saying we ignore human rights abuses by Hamas. Using an example of a recent story about Hamas banning women from participating in a Gaza marathon, he said we “don’t want to publicly air dirty linen” and accused the site of “tolerance for certain brands of thuggery” comparing us to apologists for totalitarianism. Beinart is wrong on several fronts, and while we don’t want to get into an accounting debate over what his threshold for a proper number of articles critical of Hamas would be, we do want to respond to the problems with his broader critique.

The focus of our site is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the consequences of the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, and the U.S. domestic politics which relate to the conflict. Because of the close diplomatic and military relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and because of our personal relationship to Israel as Jews, we also focus on Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people covering day-to-day news as well as explaining the roots and history of the conflict. We occasionally cover internal Palestinian politics, but it’s not a focus of the site. If the U.S. government were funding Hamas we’d feel differently, and if there was a propaganda and lobbying effort in the U.S. to justify and promote oppressive Hamas practices we would cover it. But this isn’t the case.

We have run pieces that have been critical of Hamas politically or militarily, but from our perspective the struggle to reform Palestinian society is an issue for the Palestinian people to decide for themselves. Beinart says Hamas denies “women the basic freedoms every Mondoweiss contributor would demand in the United States.” He’s right, we demand those freedoms in the United States. We stand with and support Palestinians working to make Palestinians society more equitable, and have published pieces to this effect, but we don’t see it as our place to dictate to Palestinians what their society should look like. We demand rights for the Palestinian people that they demand for themselves. We do cover the illiberal polices and practices within Israeli society because for decades we have been told the U.S.-Israel relationship is built on a foundation of shared values, and Israel is often portrayed simply as an extension of the Upper West Side. When we cover the Israeli government’s plans to segregate buses or examples of racism in Israeli society we do so to expose the lies of pro-Israel hasbara and critique the oppressive conditions the “special relationship” serves to bolster.

Rather than being truly concerned for the well being of Palestinian women, Beinart is policing the Israel/Palestine debate and determining whose rights matter and when. For Beinart, Palestinian human rights are paramount in Hamas-run Gaza — “Human rights can be menaced by every national and ideological camp, and thus must be defended against every national and ideological camp” — yet he declared to Jeffrey Goldberg he opposes equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel because it contradicts his own political mission of maintaining a Jewish state — “I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state.” In addition, and more shocking considering his attack on us, Beinart was silent on the human rights of these very same women when Israel was bombing Gaza this past November. How then should we understand his new found concern for Palestinian human rights?

Beinart’s argument (or “concern trolling” as author Chase Madar described it over Twitter) is reminiscent of those who use internal struggles within Palestinian society as an excuse to postpone Palestinian freedom. He writes, “the decisions Hamas makes now will shape how it behaves when Palestinians more fully govern themselves, as they one day surely will. To imagine, as leftists often have, that you can ignore the moral character of a national liberation movement until it achieves liberation is naïve. By then it will be too late.” Beinart apparently thinks his concerns about Palestinian “moral character” supersede the daily oppression that Palestinians live under. Oppression, which we should add, Beinart very rarely comments on in his work for Open Zion.

However the most profound thing Beinart gets wrong is how he describes “the nature of the struggle.” He writes, “Less important than what the pro-Palestinian left says to the Zionist right is what it says to itself about the true nature of its struggle. Is the goal merely an end to Israeli control over Palestinian lives or is it individual liberty and accountable government.” Our answer to Beinart is — Yes, at this point in history it would be miraculous to “merely” end Israeli control over Palestinians lives. Soon we will be marking the 65th anniversary of the Nakba and there is no end in sight to Israeli control over Palestinian lives. Beinart should understand that the struggle for “individual liberty and accountable government” will only fully take place once Palestinian rights are truly honored and Palestinians themselves can take full agency over their lives and the society they want to build.

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