Peter Beinart’s declaration of support last month for one democratic state in Israel and Palestine has caused a panic in the official Jewish community, which is dedicated to the idea of a Jewish state. Beinart’s defection represents a threat to establishment consensus (as we have said before), so the guns are out.
One revealing element of the response is, When push comes to shove, liberal Zionists and conservative Zionists make similar arguments. They all talk about the need for “separation” of Palestinians and Jews.
For instance, when New York Times columnist Bret Stephens attacked Peter Beinart for “disastrous” recklessness the other day, he began by quoting Amos Oz, the late Israeli novelist, explaining why “Jews and Palestinians couldn’t just live as equal citizens in a single state.”
Stephens is a conservative. Amos Oz was a liberal Zionist organization hero, memorialized by J Street as a “spiritual godparent”– even as he wrote about the Jewish right to live as a “majority” in Israel, which required “divorce” or “separation” from Palestinians, whom he accused of being Islamist jihadists who wanted to kill Jews.
Some liberal Zionists who have criticized Beinart have also employed arguments that would be unacceptable in the United States– such as the idea that Jews and Palestinians are incapable of cooperating politically. For instance, Michael Koplow of the liberal Zionist group the Israel Policy Forum says that a Palestinian can never really represent Jewish Israelis:
Ayman Odeh and the Joint List on their own are never going to be the standard bearer for the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis, even if they are the most logical opposition to Netanyahu on the issues and on pure personal animosity.
But wait a minute. Ayman Odeh is an accomplished politician who says that he would like to represent all Israelis. He has said that he would like to be Israel’s Martin Luther King Jr! On what basis then does a Zionist who lives in the United States stand up for Jewish Israelis who don’t want Odeh to represent them?
A similar argument against Beinart comes from Shaul Arieli, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum. Arieli praises the fact that Jews and Palestinians are “segregated” in the West Bank, again with the idea that the two communities cannot get along.
“Peter Beinart doesn’t realize that the Israeli-Palestinian divide is too wide to bridge,” Arieli writes. “[T]he spatial-demographic-social reality [means that]… it’s impossible to impose communal life on peoples that don’t desire it and don’t respect each other.”
Arieli seems to regard apartheid conditions on the occupied West Bank as a desirable accommodation of the fact that the two peoples can’t get along.
[T]he Israeli settlements are not integrated with the population of the West Bank. Sixty-two percent of the settlers work in Israel, and 25 percent work in their own communities’ school system, which is disproportionately subsidized. Only a few percent are employed in agriculture and industry, where 99 percent of the labor is provided by Palestinians; the road system serving the settlers is almost separate, lacking any logic in terms of planning.
There is no… no social or cultural interaction between Palestinians and Jews.
And segregation is a good thing. There are very few Jews in areas of the West Bank outside the settlement blocs, Arieli points out. “In other words, they are segregated in those areas….” As for Gaza, there is “total separation.”
These arguments might be more palatable if Arieli were not a member of the privileged group. Of course he doesn’t want to give up any of that privilege. But so what. Don’t Palestinians actually have more claim on the western conscience?
Arieli at least has the honesty to call this apartheid:
Has Beinart seen the results of a survey by the Institute for National Security Studies showing that 78 percent of Israelis are unwilling to grant residential or civil rights to Palestinians living in areas Israel might annex? These people support apartheid and oppose any relinquishing of control by Jews.
But if it’s apartheid then why should Americans do anything to honor the arrangements– let alone give $4 billion a year to Israel?
Arieli also indulges an argument that the Israel Policy Forum has promoted, that the gap in standards of living between the West Bank and Israel is too significant for the two areas to be unified politically.
How can a country with a per capita GDP of $40,000 absorb a population less than one-tenth as rich? Would the Jewish population accept the intolerable drop that would occur in health, welfare and education services with the absorption of a population equal in number where 98 percent occupy the lowest socioeconomic strata? Or would we witness a brain drain and an emigration of young people?..
The IPF’s economic argument against integration is a lot like Jim Crow rationalizations of segregation back in the day (as we pointed out before). Or against efforts today to deal with structural racism.
Of course, such attitudes have long been aired in the Jewish community, and long been objectionable. But Beinart’s declaration as a member in good standing has helped to expose these attitudes, and discredit them. It will be very interesting to watch J Street’s messaging. The organization has been able to ignore Palestinians and antiZionist Jews, because those voices were outside the tent. But it will be under great pressure now from Beinart and his following to ditch the separation/majority talk and actually entertain more hopeful visions.
Thanks to Scott Roth and Terry Weber.