Beinart’s fear of ‘Israstine’

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Peter Beinart says that leftwing advocates for a single state in Israel and Palestine are utopians; and to make his point, he asks what the army of “Israstine” will look like. I’ve seen him do it three times: here, here, and in yesterday’s Times.

[Y]ou have to believe that the “Israstine” army, composed of joint Jewish-­Palestinian ­brigades, would hold together under enormous stress because its members are more loyal to “Israstine” than they are to being Jewish or Palestinian. That’s even more delusional than the two-state solution. More likely, “Israstine” would be civil war under a common flag.

I agree with Beinart: It’s hard to imagine. But before we do that thought experiment, let’s look at  reality. What does the army of Israel look like right now? It is almost all Jewish and Druze. It does not represent 15 percent so of the Israeli population, Palestinian Muslims and Christians (beyond a handful from those communities).

The army of Israel looks a lot like the American army before it was desegregated 67 years ago. Actually worse than the Jim Crow American army; black men served in our army, in segregated units. The Tuskegee Airmen. But Palestinians don’t serve. Because they don’t have to and because they are not wanted: they are not thought likely to be loyal warriors for a Jewish state that is in conflict with other Palestinians.

And why would they want to? If the U.S. was constituted as a white Christian state, blacks and Jews surely wouldn’t want to serve in the US army.

Israel’s army shows that right now the country enforces Jim Crow laws worse than the American version that we buried 50 years ago.

As for Beinart’s critique of the one-state future as utopian, I agree that’s a real question. As Yousef Munayyer said in a debate with Beinart a few weeks back, none of the short term answers for Israel and Palestine look hopeful at all, and there are bound to be terrible problems on any road we go down. And don’t raise “bogeymen,” Munayyer said.

The future looks so scary because the conditions in Israel Palestine are reminiscent of revolutionary conditions in Algeria and the antebellum south, injustices so pronounced they  produced enormous violence. (That’s why I support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, it is a nonviolent means of putting pressure on Israel so its Jewish nationalist regime will see the light and begin dismantling a system of discrimination against Palestinians.)

As for the army of Israstine, it is something of a debating trick. Do fears of an unknown future justify keeping people of color in worse-than-Jim-Crow conditions? Of course not. Imagine telling American blacks in the 60s we have to put  the civil  rights movement on ice because we don’t think blacks and whites will be able to live alongside one another as equals. They wouldn’t have accepted the argument. Americans who believe in equal rights here– and who supported desegregating our armed forces 7 decades ago–  should stop enabling a system that makes Jews first class citizens and Arabs second class ones.


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Is Beinart really saying that the inability to imagine an army composed of Palestinian and Jewish soldiers is a sufficient reason to reject one state with equal rights for both? Let’s imagine then? First, assume that Israstine in fact does uphold full citizenship with equal rights for Palestinians and Jews… Read more »

First, a huge thanks to the crew who probably put in a long arduous weekend improving our experience with MW. Kudos to all. Now to the subject at hand. If any positive outcome is to be realised in the P/I conflict, then Zionism must be defeated and assigned to the… Read more »

Beinart says he cannot imagine the army, but what he really cannot imagine is a state, successor to today’s Israel, in which Jews have no overwhelming predominance and privilege over all others. He cannot imagine all or some of the macho (or religious fundameltalist) Jewish Israelis agreeing (or being forced)… Read more »

“Do fears of an unknown future justify keeping people of color in worse-than-Jim-Crow conditions? ” Palestinians living within Israel’s 1967 lines are not living in anything like Jim Crow conditions. Those in the West Bank and Gaza face more serious oppression, and arguing for the type of solution that has… Read more »

He should read MLK’s I Have a Dream speech, to help him imagine that state, and to help him understand why his outlook is so similar to that of Southern segregationists, who themselves had difficulty imagining the US as it exists today, 50 years after the Civil Right movement. It… Read more »