When Peter Beinart called for one state with equal rights for Palestinians and Jews in Israel and Palestine last month, his essay had enormous impact. Beinart was licensing mainstream discussion of ideas that have been discussed for years on the marginalized left. So the Jewish Currents essay had the effect of undermining official two-state lip service, which has only served Israeli goals and heightened Palestinian suffering by offering false hope.
Because of its threat to establishment consensus, Beinart’s piece unleashed rage and vituperation from dedicated Zionists. Dershowitz all but called him a Nazi. The ADL said his argument is antisemitic. Dan Shapiro called the argument “utopian nonsense.”
The harshest charge comes from Daniel Gordis, an Israeli author, who likens Beinart to a Holocaust denier, for attacking a “fundament” of Jewish history, that Jews will only be safe if Israel exists. And the American Jewish community should treat Beinart as a “traitor” and “pariah” and shun him for his writing that essay. And the same goes for Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
Gordis has quite a platform in the U.S. He is a favorite at AIPAC, conservative synagogues, and the New York Times. He has attacked Beinart at the American Jewish Committee site and on the Jewish Broadcasting Service.
Let’s hear Gordis in his own words from the JBS on July 14. Gordis described Beinart as a traitor, and said he had often debated Beinart over the years, but refuses to share a stage with him now.
I’m done. I think there are certain lines you cannot cross without being a traitor to the Jewish people. And I know that’s a very strong phrase.
Mark Golub: What’s the line he crossed for you?
The minute you want to destroy Israel as a sovereign Jewish democratic state– I will put this very strongly… you are on the wrong side of history and the claim can be made that you have made yourself an enemy of the thriving of the Jewish people. I believe that the Jewish people in 2020 is in the position that it’s in, not only in the Middle East where I live but in the United States for American Jews and in Europe for European Jews, it’s not perfect anywhere to be sure, but all of those groups… would all be in much worse place were it not for the fact of what a sovereign independent Jewish democratic state has represented for the last 72 years….
It is what breathed new life into American Judaism after American Jews were ashamed of what they had and had not done during the Shoah in the 1940s. It breathed new life into Jewish literature.
You want to end that? I think you’re on the wrong side of history and I think you’re on the wrong side of fate when it comes to the future of the Jewish people. You can write whatever you want, but I can’t appear on a stage with that.
Golub asked, what about Jews having simply a home in Israel, not a state; but Gordis returned to the Holocaust.
Did Hitler win the war? There’s a reason we’re coming back to this with Peter… Hitler won the war. If you’re asking Did Polish Jewry survive? No. He wanted to wipe it out and he did wipe it out and a couple of decades later when people start talking about Zero Population Growth, who are the only people that get on that bandwagon– the Jews. Now Peter is saying that having a state means you do bad things because you get into the business of power and into the business of who’s included and who’s not included so the Jews should get out of the state business. OK, well why don’t the Americans get out of the state business first. Seriously– because no one is going to kill the Americans. And America I would actually argue tragically and in all seriousness, is never going to overcome its race problem– forget entirely, even significantly, and I say that with great sadness– so why don’t the Americans first disband and become 50 independent states or a gazilion independent counties?…
I don’t mean this to be cute, I mean this to be really serious. There is something dysfunctional about a people that when somebody says we should stop having population growth the first people to do it are the ones who just got slaughtered during the second world war, and now people are coming to terms with the problematics of the nation state, and we say, you know what, we want to be first in line…
So I really think in all seriousness there is a psychological, self-defeating, self-destroying component of American Jewish life because of its universalism that is dangerous and that Israelis frankly look at it and they scratch their heads and they want no part of it and to use the Israeli phrase, they turn off their hearing aids and let Peter Beinart say whatever Peter Beinart wants to say.
Gordis went on to say that giving Palestinians an equal hand in running the state is a recipe for destruction.
Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims hate each other. Every single Israeli Jew? No. Every single Palestinian Muslim? No. But as populations have they basically been at each others’ throats for 100 years? They have….
Peter you’re talking about the future of the Jewish people. Show me where in the Muslim world Sunnis and Shiites can split the same country and not destroy themselves. Look at Syria, look at Iraq, look at Iran, look at Jordan, look what happened in Egypt with Morsi… You expect the Jews and the Palestinians to get along better than the Muslims and the Muslims. You have to be smart enough to acknowledge that that’s almost unthinkable.
So what he’s saying is, I Peter Beinart live on the Upper West Side of New York. I circulate in all kinds of progressive circles and It’s very uncomfortable for me that the Israelis do what they do in my circles so in order to assuage that discomfort, what I really need you Israelis to do is is to go out of business. And I think there’s something fundamentally immoral about it. There is something really that is a betrayal of the Jewish people in a way that makes me frankly not angry but unbelievably sad…
Here comes Gordis’s Holocaust denial analogy. First he brought in Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as enemies of the Jewish people.
[Beinart] has a lot of followers. He’s a bit of a pied Piper to put it very mildly and in the progressive Jewish community not a small Pied Piper. And I want to know, Does the Jewish community, the establishment Jewish community that Peter Beinart does not like and does not admire, do they say, we’re sorry actually– When you cross the line and say you do not think that Jews should have an independent state, You’re now a pariah. We would no sooner have a congressman who is opposed to Israel being an existent state come and speak. I mean are you in the same camp as Ilhan Omar, are you in the same camp as Rashida Tlaib?
Because if you are in that camp then we should treat you the same way we treat them… which is that we call you an enemy of our people. I don’t know if the Amerian Jewish establishment and community at large have it in them to actually say that about some one.
Now we know that we can say that about Holocaust deniers, right? If someone comes and says, I have new evidence. I have calculated the number of trains and the tracks and the number of people or I calculated how much Zyklon B gas Germany could have possibly– something like that, we would say we say we’re not interested in your evidence, we’re not interested in having that conversation, it’s a complete nonstarter conversation, because in having that conversation what you want to do is deny a fundament of Jewish history–
And here’s what I would say a fundament of Jewish history is. Two thousand years of Jewish history prove that the Jewish people cannot live safely and securely without an independent sovereign state of their own in which they are responsible for their own destiny. 2000 years of history prove that.
My question now and it’s not to Peter Beinart, it’s to my colleagues who run the American Jewish community which I admit I left a quarter century ago but they’re my friends and I have enormous amount of admiration for these people, Can you actually say No, we’re done. You say that — again, it’s not a perfect analogy– but it’s as if you were denying the Holocaust and you wanted to raise the evidence. Again, there are certain fundaments of Jewish history that are not discussable. Happy to discuss annexation, happy to discuss occupation, happy to discuss whether to call it West Bank or Judea and Samaria, happy to discuss how brutal or not brutal the Israeli occupation has been… but when you say that the first thing in 2000 years that has kept the Jewish people safe ought to be destroyed not by the Arabs, but by the Jews themselves, then I think you’re a traitor. I think you’re a traitor to the Jewish people, and I say that with sadness, but that’s the reason I could not now sit in a recording studio with Peter and I could not now sit on a stage with Peter.
I think that our peoplehood and our belonging to the Jewish peole and the essence of the Jewish people demand that there be certain red lines. and I think it’s an interesting question to the Jewish community whether they’re willing to draw those lines and stick with them.
A few comments.
Gordis’s summons to Jewish leaders speaks to the unity of Judaism and Zionism in the minds of Zionists and the official Jewish community. The miracle of Israel is the achievement of the Jewish people in the second half of the 20th century, they say, and 95 percent of American Jews support it, and it is a heresy to question its existence. Even J Street subscribes to this ideology in that it bars Jewish anti-Zionists from its podium, while it holds discussions with Daniel Gordis. And the American Jewish Committee hosted Gordis for an hour, even after he made this vicious accusation against Beinart, to discuss the writer.
Gordis’s attack shows how passionate is the attachment of Zionists to Zionism: when someone who calls himself a Zionist calls for equal rights for Palestinians, he must be vilified and shunned. Imagine how Palestinians who seek a hearing are to be treated! I have always underestimated this vehemence, though it is the reason I lost jobs and have been shunned by the organized Jewish community (with Gordis himself regarding me as so unmentionable that he objected when I wrote that I had attended a seder or two at his house when I was growing up in Baltimore and our fathers were professors at Hopkins Medical School; a vivid memory to me, and my mother, which he says is false).
This is a parochial argument, openly. Gordis doesn’t like universalism. He is a particularist. The call on Jewish orgs to shun someone for betrayal recalls widespread efforts to shun the intermarried, also on particularist grounds. Which failed.
My people are traumatized by the Holocaust. It is understandable, but it distorts perception.