Zionist critic runs for Zionist Congress – The Jewish Standard

Posted By on January 11, 2020

Peter Beinart entered the American Jewish communal conversation in 2010 with an article in the New York Review of Books, The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.

There, the already former editor of the New Republic argued that by ignoring Israels continuing occupation of the West Bank, Jewish leadership was alienating a generation of young American Jews. He expanded his argument in his 2012 book, The Crisis of Zionism.

Mr. Beinart, who now is a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a member of an Orthodox partnership minyan in Manhattan, wrote from the position of the Zionist left, advocating for a Palestinian state while supporting a strong Israel. Now he has made his Zionism official; he is number 14 on the Hatikvah slate for the Zionist Congress elections being held later this month. (He also is speaking in Teaneck this weekend; see box.) The Zionist Congress, founded by Theodor Herzl in 1898, guides policy for the World Zionist Organization and other Jewish institutions, including the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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The Hatikvah slate represents the Zionist left, including such organizations as Truah, Americans for Peace Now, the New Israel Fund, and the National Council of Jewish Women. It has placed opposition to settlement expansion at the top of its priorities. (The Israeli government has long funded West Bank settlement expansion through the World Zionist Organization, making the topic relevant.)

How popular is Hatikvahs position? In the 2015 elections, Hatikvah received eight delegates. In contrast, parties fielded by the Reform movement won 56 delegates, the Conservative movement earned 25 delegates and the Orthodox alliance got 24. The elections are held every five years; votes are cast by self-declared Zionists who live outside Israel and are willing to pay the $7.50 registration fee. (Voting begins January 21 at azm.org/elections.) If Hatikvah does better this year, it will be a sign of growing support for Mr. Beinarts argument that the Jewish community should not continue to sweep Palestinian rights under the carpet.

By running for the Zionist Congress, he said, Im trying to offer a different vision, one that reconciles Jewish national aspirations with Palestinian dignity.

The crisis of Zionism, in 2010 and now, is the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank, he said. I think its worse than it was in the Jim Crow South. The legal reality for black Americans in the Jim Crow South is that they were legally citizens of the United States but couldnt in practice vote. They couldnt access the rights they were theoretically entitled to.

For Palestinians in the West Bank who live under the control of the Israeli state, theyre not even theoretically citizens of the state in which they live. They dont have the right to due process theyre under military rule. They dont have freedom of movement. If this were not happening in Israel, a country we want to see the best of, it would not be controversial to see it as a profound violation of human rights, he said.

Isnt the occupation over?

Thats part of why its so important for people to visit and see for themselves, he said. A few hours there makes it much clearer where we stand. The Palestinian Authority is best understood as a kind of subcontractor for the Israeli government. The leaders of the Palestinian Authority need permission from the Israeli state to travel around the West Bank. They can be arrested by Israel. The Palestinian Authority handles functions Israel doesnt want to do itself, but the ultimate force at the end of the day is Israel. The Israeli army can enter the West Bank areas A, B, or C any time it wants.

I dont think American Jews really understand at a gut level what its like for people to live their entire lives without the most basic rights we take for granted. No right to move from town to town. To lack the right not to have your land taken. To lack a legal system where you have due process. The fact that your children can be taken in the middle of the night and can be held for days without you knowing where they are.

It doesnt have anything to do with Israeli soldiers being bad people. But any time you create a legal reality where people have no rights vis a vis the state that controls their lives, it has terrible consequences. If more American Jews were to see this for themselves, I think they would understand. In my experience, its true for right-wing American Jews too. A lot of things we say to each other cant survive contact with reality, with actual experience with Palestinians.

Mr. Beinart said that his 2010 predictions about trends in the United States largely have come true.

Theres mounting alienation toward Israel by younger non-Orthodox Jews and younger progressives in general, he said. Thats changing the Democratic Partys relationship to Israel. Were seeing more challenges to the nature of Zionism itself than we have seen in the past.

In his book, Mr. Beinart had called on American Jews to join him in boycotting Israeli settlements in the West Bank and their products. He was echoing a call issued decades ago by Israeli anti-occupation activists such as the author Amos Oz. But since the book was published, Israel has gone on the warpath against all boycotts including not only those of Israel proper, but of territories under its control, in the language of the Israeli law that has been replicated in anti-boycott legislation supported by mainstream American Jewish groups and passed into law in several states.

Does that mean Mr. Beinart wouldnt be allowed in Israel?

Its a little more complicated, he said. It applies more if youre the leader of an organization. But its an example of what Ive been worried about: the toxic way the fundamentally undemocratic and unjust control of people who lack basic rights spills across the Green Line of 1967 and threatens Israeli democracy.

On the other hand, Mr. Beinart said that his predictions that Israels policies in the West Bank would lead to the countrys international isolation have proved wrong.

I did not foresee the degree to which rising authoritarianism and nationalism in other parts of the world would make Israels international position stronger, he said, citing the strengthening of Israels connection to India and China.

With both China and India now trying to suppress their Muslims, isnt Israel now in good company? Why worry so much about Israel?

The fact that there are other countries around the world that are acting in ways we abhor does not seem like a very good reason to act in a way we abhor, Mr. Beinart said. If my neighbor is stealing and murdering, I should do it too? I thought Jews were supposed to have some kind of ethical mission in the world.

Still, why should Israels actions register in the face of whats going on elsewhere?

One answer is that the horrors that are being done by China in Xinjiang and India in Kashmir are not being paid for by the American taxpayer, he said. The U.S. is complicit in what Israel is doing in a way its not in other human rights abuses. Israel is by far the largest beneficiary of U.S. military aid.

Mr. Beinart disputes the view, put forward by the current Israeli and American administrations, that Israels relations with the Palestinians arent relevant to Arab states that are growing closer to Israel politically.

Theres a sleight of hand there, Mr. Beinart said. Theyre talking about a number of corrupt tyrannical regimes that dont represent their people at all. Are there a number of regimes that dont really care what Israel does to the Palestinians? Sure. Thats not new. Arab government have been screwing the Palestinians since before Israel was created. But in terms of popular opinion, its wrong. Look at polling in the Arab world and youll find that one of the biggest drivers of hostility to the U.S. is American policy toward Israel. Part of why its hard for the U.S. to support democracy in the Middle East is because, davka, a more democratic government that reflects the popular will more would take a tougher stand on Israel.

Mr. Beinart wrote The Crisis of Zionism as a call to the American Jewish center; that center, he said, is much weaker than it was a decade ago. Thats part of the general trend in American politics these days, he said.

J Street is a lot stronger. Its close to as influential in the Democratic Party as AIPAC. That was not the case when I wrote the book. Groups to the left of me, Jewish Voices for Peace and the BDS world has grown stronger. The far right has also grown stronger; ZOA has benefited from sharing an ideology with the Trump administration.

And for the future? What does he see from his perch as a 49-year-old college professor?

There is a broad generational difference, he said. Young people are further to the left than older people. It has to do with the long-term impact of the Great Recession on their prospects, on their ability to get economic security. And because so much of the gain from American economic activity is going to the very rich. And we have a welfare system that provides most of its benefits to the elderly rather than the young. Its taking young people who might be liberal and making them more radical.

Zionist critic runs for Zionist Congress - The Jewish Standard

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