The premier association of Jewish-studies scholars is planning to provide a platform in December for radical professors to promote “binationalism” to replace Israel.
Binationalism has a long and ugly history in the Jewish world. When Palestinian Arabs slaughtered 69 Jews in Hebron in 1929, Hebrew University chancellor Judah Leon Magnes responded that Jews should give up the dream of a Jewish state and instead agree to a “binational” Arab-Jewish state of Palestine.
According to the Magnes plan, Jews would never be a majority in their own homeland. Immigration would depend on the consent of Palestinian Arab pogromists like the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Of course, like all Jewish “peace” proposals over the years, Arab leaders unanimously rejected the Magnes scheme. The idea of even a small number of Jews being admitted to the Land of Israel was unthinkable to them.
But the fact that there was no Arab partner didn’t stop Magnes and his tiny band of followers from continuing to advocate binationalism. Even after the rise of Hitler, when the lives of millions of European Jews depended on finding a haven, Magnes continued pushing a plan which, in practice, would have left most Jews trapped in Europe.
The term “tone deaf” does not even begin to describe a man who was so utterly out of touch with the needs of his people that he was ready to deny most of them shelter in their most desperate hour.
That’s why binationalism vanished in disgrace from the Jewish public conversation decades ago. At the time, it would have been a disaster for the Jewish people. Today, it would mean the dissolution of Israel.
Yet, believe it or not, a handful of Jewish-studies professors appear determined to resurrect the discredited, shameful scheme.
On Dec. 19, the annual convention of the prestigious Association for Jewish Studies to be held in Chicago will feature a panel titled “Binationalism Revisited‒Palestinian, Zionist and Jewish-American Perspectives.”
How do we know it will be an attempt to glorify and legitimize binationalism, rather than an impartial scholarly analysis? Well, start with the panelists’ own glowing description:
“The binational solution to the political problem of Jewish and Arab coexistence in a shared land has ignited the imagination of various Jewish thinkers since the early days of Zionism. Binationalism … appeared to negotiate the moral demands of Jewish tradition with the political precepts of modern nationalism, enabling a Jewish political realization that would not come at the expense of the local Arab population.”
Take a look at who will be speaking on the panel. Every one of them has a record of extreme criticism of Israel. Thus, there is every reason to assume that they will portray binationalism in a positive light and present it as a desirable alternative to the Jewish State of Israel.
The chair of the panel will be Professor Claire Sufrin of Northwestern University. She was one of the signatories on a June 2020 open letter that accused Israel of “state violence”; charged that Israel was intent on “creating apartheid conditions in Israel and Palestine”; and declared that “all Jewish settlements in occupied territories captured in 1967,” which includes many neighborhoods of Jerusalem, are “illegal.”
Another speaker is Professor Samuel Hayim Brody of the University of Kansas. He, too, signed that letter slandering Israel for “apartheid” and “state violence.”
In a 2016 essay, Brody deceptively referred to binationalism as “bi-nationalist Zionism.” That’s an oxymoron if there ever was one. It’s a crude and blatant attempt to legitimize binationalism by pretending that it’s just a different form of Zionism. But that’s false. An ideology that rejects Jewish statehood and would deny Jews majority status in their own homeland cannot be described as Zionism.
Also on the panel: David Barak-Gorodetsky, a Reform rabbi who teaches at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. He is the author of a recent book glorifying Judah Magnes as a “prophet.” Don’t expect Barak-Gorodetsky to offer an objective, scholarly analysis of binationalism at the conference. In fact, don’t expect him to say a single critical word about the political schemes conceived by his hero.
The fourth panelist will be Jehad Abusalim. He’s a Gaza Strip-born extremist who serves as education and policy associate of the “Palestine Activism Program” at the American Friends Service Committee. The committee is Quaker and has repeatedly compared Israelis to the Nazis.
Abusalim was an active promoter of the “Great Return March,” weekly riots staged by thousands of Palestinians at the Gaza-Israel border throughout 2018 and 2019. Many of the rioters threw firebombs over the border fence, hoping to burn Israeli soldiers to death.
He was also a speaker at a “virtual rally” organized by an anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for Peace, in March 2020. The theme was “End the Blockade on Gaza.” Since the only things that the “blockade” actually prohibits are weapons or dual-use items that can be used as weapons, the purpose of the rally was, in fact, to permit the arming of Hamas.
It comes as no surprise that Abusalim finds binationalism delightful; it would mean the end of the Jewish state, a goal he obviously embraces. And now he will speak at a major American Jewish academic conference.
This, sadly, is what a significant segment of the Jewish scholarly world has become. This is the radical agenda that extremists are trying to bring into the Jewish mainstream. And these are the professors who are teaching our college-age children about Israel and Jewish history.
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020.