By Philip Weiss
A month ago, Peter Beinart, author of the landmark piece on the Failure of the American Jewish Establishment, spoke to that establishment, the Jewish Federations General Assembly in Denver, about Israel’s p.r. crisis with young American Jews. The video of the panel, above, was lately posted.
The highlight is Beinart saying that there is only one state right now between the river and the sea, and Palestinians must have the right to vote in that state or Israel will be impossible to defend.
His comments begin at about 9:40. There’s a “crisis” in American Jewry. “There is not enough space created” in the American Jewish community for those like himself who say that “for me being pro Israel” means a belief in the Israeli declaration of independence which guaranteed “complete equality of social and political rights.”
And that forces me into profound conflict with an occupation that has lasted for 2/3 of Israel’s existence and desecrates those ideals by not giving citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank. …
Then Wayne Firestone, president of Hillel, says that we just need to invite Israelis to speak to the American Jewish community. Beinart bridles.
I guess the question that comes to my mind… is how you are defining Israeli… The Palestinians of the West Bank have been under Israeli sovereignty since 1967. So to my mind that makes them, whether we like it or not, till we have a Palestinian state, Israelis. There is only one state that has sovereignty and dominion over their lives.. They’re not Israeli citizens, but Israel is the state that controls much of their lives.
Moderator Ami Eden of Jewish Telegraphic Agency asks how Israel can counter “delegitimization.” Beinart says– this is at about 22:
Believe me I want to defeat Israel’s delegitimization as much as anyone in this room. I want Israel to remain a Jewish state for my children and grandchildren… At the core of Israel’s legitimacy is the fact that it was founded as a democratic and Jewish state….and delegitimization of Israel will rise in direct proportion to the degree that people believe that Israel is no longer living up to its own founding principles. If Israel can become again a country that offers citizenship to everyone in its borders, irrespective of race, religion, sex annd ethnicity, it will not need PR firms. Because although there will still be hard core anti-Semites and lunatics out there, pro Israel people will be able to go into any room and debate anyone and win. Because democracy is the language of our time, the lingua franca of our time… even in the Arab world. [If the occupation is permanent] and Israel becomes in some fundamental way not a democratic state, you can get 100 PR firms and you will gradually lose that debate and more and more empower those people who believe that the creation of a Jewish state was a mistake to begin with.
Then later, at about 3o, Beinart makes clear that he is talking about Palestinians in the occupied territories. Though he doesn’t seem to mean Gaza.
When I say Israel, I mean all the territory under Israeli domain. Some parts of which I wish were not under Israeli sovereignty. That is Israel. The people there might not be Israeli citizens, but that’s Israel. We have to take ownership of the fact that until a Palestinian state is created, that’s Israel…
This is pretty close to an endorsement of one democratic state from the river to the sea. Maybe he’s saving that for the publication of his book? Not that when Beinart speaks up for Judah Magnes, Henrietta Szold, Hannah Arendt and Ahad Ha’am, he invokes a tradition of cultural Zionism.
To what do we owe this breakthrough? The royal road of all consciousness-wakening on this issue: It is clear that Beinart has met Palestinians. Apparently through the group Encounter. He says that they are “at root” no different from us. Bravo. He says that American Jews have to talk to Palestinians who have suffered under Israel, including the 20 percent of Israel’s population which is not Zionist because it is not Jewish.
He also throws in all the non- and anti-Zionist Jews; the Jewish community has to start talking to them.
I wonder when Beinart will stop moving on this? He is an orthodox Jew who throws around words like machmir, for kosher stringency. He believes in the need for a Jewish state. He supported the Iraq war, honorably apologized for doing so, and has regularly spoken at AIPAC. And of course he gets a platform at the New York Review of Books, which has done nothing to extend Tony Judt’s brave assertion of eight years ago: one democratic state.
The long session at which Beinart spoke is chiefly remarkable for the disruption that has begun inside the Israel lobby’s ranks. American Jews know that what they are doing is unsupportable– in fact a woman from Encounter says that she meets more and more young Jews who resent the “snowjob” they’ve gotten from the Jewish community on Israel.
Two other incidents. A young Israeli woman named Donna with voice breaking says that she was lied to by the Jewish community about Israel. At the end of the video, the Shalom TV correspondent interviews her about what she means. She cites one of these lies: “How did Israel come to be in the first place. I think a lot of the narrative is distorted.. How did the Palestinians leave palestine. Did they leave by choice or get kicked out?” And then she says she has learned:
“Most of them were forced out.” But the Jewish community told her, “Either they left or they weren’t there in the first place.” To which she responds: “That was a very hurtful point for me… Yes they were there and yes they were forced out.”
The Shalom TV guy interviewing her then argues with her! It’s cruel. That’s at minute 54 or so.
Also, John Ruskay, a warhorse Israel lobbyist, admits at 39 or so that the orthodoxy that Jewish leaders demanded of the community for 60 years is outdated. “For a whole lot of reasons, for the last twenty years, the visuals have been a whole lot more problematic.”
The Israel lobby is splintering. Some of its advocates have met Palestinians! Thanks to Krauss for the tip.
About the author: Mondoweiss
Mondoweiss is a news website devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective. Mondoweiss is maintained by Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz.