As Peter Beinart leaves Open Zion to pursue writing about other subjects of interest, he has taken an uncompromising stance against Liz Cheney’s grudging tolerance of her sister’s sexual orientation. He doesn’t buy Liz’s declaration of “compassion” for Mary, a word that connotes “pity for the morally diseased.” Beinart condemns those who “avoid open expressions of contempt” but “merely insist that gays and lesbians live as second-class citizens, denied the fundamental rights that Liz, Dick, and Lynne Cheney take for granted.”
It’s nice to see Peter Beinart take such a strong stand on equality. Too bad he does not feel it should be a universal principle. Here is what he has to say about Palestinian citizens of Israel: “I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. 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. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state.”
So while it is unacceptable for anyone to insist that gay citizens be relegated to second-class status, Beinart has no difficulty insisting that Palestinian-Israelis live as second-class citizens, denied the fundamental rights that Israeli Jews take for granted.
How does Beinart’s view differ from the one he condemns when expressed by Liz Cheney? Cheney values adherence to her religious principles over equality for all; Beinart values adherence to the notion of a Jewish State over equality. If anything, Beinart is more hypocritical, because he professes to place such importance in his liberal principles, in particular an insistence on equality under the law. Indeed it would be difficult to imagine any other circumstances in which a good liberal like Beinart would tolerate inequality: for gays in the US, Muslims in Western Europe, Tamils in Sri Lanka, Hungarians in Slovakia, indigenous people in Bolivia and Peru. Apparently his sole exception to the otherwise inviolable rule demanding equality for all applies to Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Note that Beinart appears to be a sincere liberal Zionist, one who truly opposes the occupation, supports a Palestinian State, and frets about those laws and policies within Israel that he sees as unnecessarily discriminatory. He presumably would favor true freedom and self-determination for the millions of Palestinians suffering under Israeli military occupation. Still, he understands that a Jewish State will inherently require some government-imposed discrimination in favor of Jews, even American Jews such as himself, over indigenous non-Jewish people. And he is OK with that.
Beinart lectures the Cheneys: “you cannot lovingly or respectfully or compassionately tell one group of Americans that they must accept legal inferiority just because of who they are.” But he says exactly the opposite thing about Palestinian citizens of Israel: you can tell them that they must accept legal inferiority just because of who they are.
This is the inherent contradiction in liberal Zionism. No principle is more hallowed in liberalism than equality under the law, which cannot co-exist with the system of ethnic privilege promised by the Jewish State. In fact, supporters of such a transformation to an egalitarian society are routinely and falsely depicted as calling for the “destruction” of Israel. Even Norman Finkelstein has adopted such language. Beinart might never use that word, but how can he be so clueless as to mouth platitudes about second-class citizenship, denial of fundamental rights, and legal inferiority when Zionism is such a fundamental part of his makeup?
Beinart closes his essay with an excerpt from Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail: “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…We will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” How would Beinart respond if a Palestinian wrote the same words to him?