Peter Beinart has been doing great work lately. Last Friday he had a long piece in the Forward on Gaza that step by step took apart every rationalization for the brutal collective punishment of 2 million people and said American Jews are responsible. “Our community’s complicity in the human nightmare in Gaza should fill every American Jew with shame.”
And two weeks ago at J Street, Beinart ran down the American Jewish establishment for its support for the settlement project that has destroyed the two-state solution, for its Islamophobia, for its destruction of American political dissent on Israel. And he called for Democrats to demand that the next presidential nominee state, Not a penny for your illegal settlements.
At that appearance he also said that when the American progressives call for a one-state solution, this will become a very powerful force in U.S. politics; and offering the Palestinians a state without Jerusalem is like saying there’s a country in Westchester but you can’t go to Manhattan.
I offer extensive excerpts of Beinart’s J Street speeches just below, but it is important to acknowledge that Beinart’s power lies in the fact that he is himself a member of the Israel lobby inasmuch as he is a supporter of a Jewish state, but is angrily dissenting from the leadership and therefore helping to fracture the rightwing orthodoxy of official Jewish opinion. Sadly, people pay more attention to Jews than non-Jews, and to Zionists than anti-Zionists. That’s our discourse.
Just as important: Beinart has grown more outspoken because he senses the presence of a youthful Jewish multitude who are to his left, who are non- or anti-Zionist. They are pushing him left. Because those young Jews are listening to Palestinians, and they believe in equality.
Here’s Beinart on the American Jewish community’s Islamophobia:
Very often in my experience, progressives in the American Jewish community self censor themselves. There are things that they think and believe in the privacy of their hearts and minds that they are too afraid to say… First of all, that means acknowledging… the American Jewish community is knee-deep in anti-Muslim bigotry. Many of the most prominent anti-Muslim bigots in American public life are funded from prominent people in the American Jewish community. I’m talking about Frank Gaffney and Pamela Geller and the Gatestone Institute. We are very deeply implicated in this wave of bigotry which is making life so difficult for Muslims in the United States.
On the need to get American politicians to finally take a stand against settlements:
We need Democratic politicians who are willing to say, if I’m elected president, not one cent of U.S. money will go to support the settlements. [huge applause] And if we have Democratic leaders in Congress like Chuck Schumer who will will fight against the Democratic president who wants to do that– as Harry Reid was when he betrayed Obama when he did the outlandish thing of suggesting there should be a Palestinian near the 67 border– then we need different kinds of Democrats in congressional leadership
On the American Jewish responsibility for the horrifying conditions in Gaza (on top of Hamas and the P.A.’s responsibility):
You know who else bears blame? The American Jewish community bears blame. Because we have been a critical part of a strategy which has been utterly ineffective in weakening Hamas but has devastated the people of Gaza. … We need to elect politicians who are willing to talk not only about what Israel is doing in a particular moment when people are going to the fence, but about a completely different strategy vis-a-vis Gaza, one that actually recognizes that destroying the people of Gaza is not necessarily the best way to move them toward the recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
On the need to pressure the Israeli government, and the American Jewish refusal to do so.
There was always this argument in the American Jewish community that if you only reassure the Israeli government more and more they’d be more and more willing to come to a solution. We’ve seen that that’s been fundamentally profoundly disproved. The Israeli government, and this would be true with a more centrist government, will be satisfied with the status quo.
The only way to move the Israeli government from the status quo is by pressure. There’s destructive pressure and constructive pressure. Right, The pressure has to be nonviolent and it should be in support of Israel’s right to exist.
The notion that giving the Netanyahu government more and more– on this Jerusalem move, we’ve seen what Netanyahu does, there’s just been an acceleration of this settlement process.
Young people don’t care about having a Jewish state. (37 minutes in). They want equal rights for Jews and Palestinians.
I think that the discourse of the two state solution is fading and there is a very wide generational chasm, on the left among Americans, among Palestinians and among American Jews.
I am deeply invested in the two state solution. I think it’s the most practical outcome. I also believe as a Jew in a post-Holocaust world, that I do want there to be one country in the world that has a special responsibility for the protection of Jewish life. (Applause) But I will tell you that when I talk to younger people, if they become convinced that what is on offer is one state, they will move toward saying, The fundamental issue for us is basic human rights. (Applause) And if we cannot secure basic human rights for Palestinian people in a two state solution because the Israeli government through its settlement actions with the support of the American Jewish community has made that impossible, then, you want to have a debate about a one-state solution, we’ll have a debate about the one-state solution. We will support one secular binational state with equal rights for all. (Cheers) That’s not my view, but when that horse leaves the barn on the American left, it will be very very powerful…. And we are ever closer to that tipping point, in which people will say, If we have to have one-state solution, I have very little doubt that a very large percentage of younger American Jews and younger Americans in general will choose what they see as human rights and equality even if it means the end of the Zionist dream.
On the necessity for a viable Palestinian state. Here Beinart said that the Israeli offer to Palestinians is to have “glorified autonomy” in about half the land of the West Bank, Areas A and B, with no capital in East Jerusalem, no discussion of the right of return, and no discussion of Gaza either, and Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley.
If you want to call that a state, go ahead. Call it an empire for all you like…. When people talk about the two state solution, we’re talking about a viable Palestinian state. (applause)
That means it has to have a capital in Jerusalem, because having a Palestinian state without a capital in Jerusalem is like creating a country in Westchester that can’t get into Manhattan. [Cheers] It means that you cannot be virtually bisected by the settlement of Ariel, which stretches halfway thru the West Bank. It means that you can’t have soldiers permanently on 25 percent of the West Bank. And it means that you cannot pretend that the Palestinian refugee issue does not exist.
The horse has left the barn on the two-state solution. You can see it in the response of Israeli lawmaker Yoel Hassan from a centrist party; he pushes back against Beinart and says he’s dreaming.
My sense is that Beinart wants to be a Jewish community leader who can speak for the non-Zionists of IfNotNow; he has moved a good ways from where he was just five and six years ago, propelled by the anti-Zionist grassroots, among them many Palestinians. Now he is helping to create a progressive opposition storyline inside the Jewish community, along with Natalie Portman and Bernie Sanders. They are doing more to move Jewish opinion than anyone, and that will mean: accepting the end of the two-state solution.
And while it’s unfair that he should count more than non-Jews and anti-Zionists, that’s the way things are structured in American leadership. Years back, Beinart was mainstreamed for saying very similar things about the American Jewish leadership to what Walt and Mearsheimer had said about the lobby, and were smeared for saying. Because Beinart used to speak at AIPAC, is a strongly-identified Zionist, and had supported the Iraq war, that credential worth more in the craven establishment than even his Rhodes scholarship.
So he will help to break up the old bigoted order, which is all we’ve ever wanted, an open debate. Look at his tweet to Alec MacGillis of Pro Publica after MacGillis tweeted angrily about the number of Palestinians shot in the legs and maimed at the Gaza border.
Alec–you’ll get attacked for this tweet. Don’t stop. One of the things that sustains right-wing dominance of the Israel debate is that many non-Jewish progressives are too scared to speak their values. Enter this debate. We need you.
Thanks to James North.