A recent post here in Mondoweiss printed Michael Manekin and Peter Beinart’s sunless one-state prognostications. They claim equal rights in Palestine can’t work. Their arguments are bad – and they make bad arguments in service of Jewish privilege in Palestine.
Before addressing the arguments themselves however, it’s worth considering The Cult of the Sober-Minded Analyst. You know them when you see them – the men and women who employ a gravitas-laden manner of speech to make a point. They overlay stentorian pronouncements with a patina of foreboding. It’s supposed to be impressive when people do it but it’s really just masque; bluster can’t supplant intellectual or moral authority, particularly when its real purpose is to dismiss alternative views as “unserious.”
Anyway, the arguments:
Manekin claims that one state is a “fantasy.” He doesn’t use the word “solution” because he regards it as inapplicable, now and forever, it seems.
In fact, Palestine/Israel is already one country. It’s just a state riven by deep apartheid and a doctrinal belief held by one half of its inhabitants that they are the just beneficiaries of racial privilege. It’s an odious outlook but one that (some) Zionists proclaim accords with humanist values. They project a crimson light through the year 1945 to color our present-day reality. The rest of us, meanwhile, struggle to draw breath in 2015.
The second argument goes to “safety.” In honesty, I struggle to suppress my deep and abiding contempt for Zionism when its supporters argue for apartheid through the evocation of personal insecurity. All things flow from the suppurating wounds of 1948. The savage occupation and apartheid regime guarantee the abscess’s continued productiveness. But a spirt of generosity dictates that the arguments are addressed in good faith.
So: If you want “safety” dismantle your apartheid regime. Commit your efforts in forums and conference calls to defunding and dismantling the vicious “reality on the ground.” Spend less time worrying about the maintenance of your Jewish privilege in Palestine. It’s an ugly thing that only you and a dwindling number of wan zealots really believe in.
The last point Manekin makes is about the army. How can an army work in a single shared state, he asks. There’s a subtext here. “How can an army that spent decades savaging, pillaging, dispossessing, and murdering work in a shared state?” The right answer is that it can’t. Like every implement of apartheid it will have to be reformed just like the army in South Africa (if not Iraq) was. It also stands to reason that the army’s role will be diminished in society – since it will no longer be charged with oppressing the apartheid subjects of the state.
The spirit of the question – the psychological frame necessary for its issue by anyone – is of more serious concern than the question and its answer are. It seems to assume a static or reactionary posture whereby an individual’s (or civil society’s) efforts and real social and political outcomes are untethered to anything, much less to one another. History unfolds. And the efforts of ordinary humans to shape it are ineffectual. In other words, Jewish-Israelis like Jewish privilege in Palestine, so why bother?
It is unlikely that Manekin and Beinart really believe that they are powerless – they wouldn’t engage in Zionist advocacy if they did. Rather, their message appears to be targeted at activists who would work for true equality. “Don’t do it,” they seem to say, “It’s just too hard. Plus, my safety… and it’s dangerous…”
Ultimately it’s an argument born of moral or political weakness. It’s a reflection of unacknowledged personal disempowerment (who, after all, is more irrelevant at this stage than “liberal Zionists?”). It amounts to pleading, “I do not have the power to shape events, but please, don’t you either.” It’s an argument that would cause Theodor Herzl, once a politically-empowered racist in Palestine, to lament the desiccated state of his intellectual inheritors today.
And that’s the real story here. We are in the privileged position to watch a loathsome and once-fierce intellectual movement wither in full public view. The unimaginative and embarrassing reactions to student activity on college campuses belie a childish and petulant view of Zionist exceptionalism. Truly, they’ve trundled a long way from, “If you terrorize them, they will come.”