(August 1, 2021 / JNS) The late Leonard I. Beerman (1921–2014) “was reviled by many in the mainstream Jewish community” for disparaging Israel, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA David Myers noted in a July 23 webinar on the “History of Zionism and the Legacy of Rabbi Leonard Beerman.”
Myers unintentionally justified past denunciations for his anti-Israel radicalism in his discussion with the Islamist Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). That Myers holds a chair in Jewish history further proves that such designations bear no relation to the holder’s commitment to Israel’s existence.
Marayati spoke with Myers as part of MPAC’s webinar series “The Palestinian Struggle: A New Approach.” An apologist for Hezbollah and other jihadist terrorists, Marayati noted that his “personal friend, a colleague,” Myers, is a fellow board member of the Leonard I. Beerman Foundation for Peace and Justice. Marayati stated that Beerman had become a pacifist after having briefly joined the Zionist Haganah paramilitary in 1947 during Israel’s War for Independence, for he realized that “war is not the answer.”
Beerman’s radicalism became evident in Myers’s remarks, for he noted that Beerman had met in 1983 with Yasser Arafat, the leader of the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Myers quoted from Beerman’s last sermon, a diatribe delivered on Oct. 4, 2014, at Los Angeles’ Leo Baeck Temple, in opposition to Israel’s then-ongoing “Operation Protective Edge” against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
As published in a new collection of Beerman’s works edited by Myers, and with commentary by Marayati and others, Beerman condemned “another 500 children of Gaza killed by the Israel Defense Forces with callous disregard for their lives.”
Unsurprisingly, Beerman “did not call himself a Zionist,” Myers noted, but rather inclined towards the thinking of Rabbi Judah L. Magnes, the first chancellor of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, founded in 1925. Beerman’s fellow pacifist had been among the fringe Jewish “voices of peace” who, in 1925, during the interwar British Palestine Mandate, had founded Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace), Myers noted. Thereby Magnes’s “vision of Zionism” was “full recognition of the national rights of both Jews and Arabs in the framework of a single state,” a “bi-nationalism,” said Myers.
Many had considered Magnes “foolhardy,” yet he was for Myers a “man of extraordinary principle and commitment, who understood the importance of talking to people with whom one disagrees.” Likewise, stated Myers, today Beerman would ask, “Should a state possess ethnic or religious markings in the way the state of Israel does?”
Beerman also “would be imagining that the era of the two-state solution is over,” as something rendered unworkable by Israeli settlements in the disputed territories won by Israel in 1967, Myers added, but this prospect did not worry him. Beerman “was one of the great believers in that shared Jewish and Islamic teaching that the loss of a single life is equivalent to the loss of the whole world,” Myers stated, implying that Judaism and Islam share equally humanistic values. He overlooked that the Koran’s invocation of this principle in verses 5:32-33 is merely a rendering of the Talmud that occurs within the context of references to a brutal death penalty for anyone who challenges Islamic doctrines.
Myers’s willingness to accept Jewish submission to a single Palestinian state reflected his cautiously optimistic understanding of historic Muslim treatment of Jewish minorities, as revealed in a conversation with Marayati. The modern Middle East is “terrible” for Jews, he conceded, but he wondered about past conditions before Zionism’s onset. In the medieval world, the “treatment of Jews under Islam was better than the treatment of Jews under Christianity,” although a “mixed bag,” said Myers, as “Jews had protected, albeit second-class status, as dhimmi.”
This “protected” dhimmi position of subjugated non-Muslim minorities “was quite a good status” in places like Islamic Spain, claimed Myers, although many scholars correctly question such historical assessments of Muslim rule. With no objection from Myers, Marayati invoked the common canard that dhimmi status entailed protection from outsiders, and not from Muslim conquerors themselves. Despite varying applications, the “dhimmi, by definition, is the protected, my honor, that was the intent,” he said.
Despite ample documentation of profoundly anti-Semitic doctrines in Islam from the faith’s very beginnings, Marayati invoked the false trope that Arab-Jewish conflict resulted from “political Zionism” in modern times.
“What we see today in terms of the conflict, as you said, is mainly due to the situation in Palestine and the Zionist movement,” he said to Myers, for an undefined “religious form of Zionism is something that we as Muslims accept.”
“Jews have a right to be protected in and around the holy land as part of our religious obligation,” said Marayati. Thus, Jews, like Middle East Christians who have suffered centuries of Muslim persecution, should rely upon the tender mercies of Muslims.
Myers’s own comments called into question the relative merits of Christian- and Muslim-majority societies for Jews. Before World War I, Eastern Europe counted three-quarters of world Jewry, “overwhelmingly the site of the largest concentration of Jews in the world,” he said.
Yet, one may ask, why did these Jews not try to reach ostensibly more hospitable Muslim lands? By contrast, he described how anti-Semitism surged in the Russian Empire following Tsar Alexander II’s 1881 assassination, prompting an exodus of some 2.5 million Jews for America’s non-Muslim promised land by 1924.
No such critical questions came from Marayati, who idolized Beerman as a “towering figure in our community.”
Myers, noting that Beerman was associated with the radical anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace, echoed that group when he called Israel’s Zionist pioneers “European Jewish settlers” who raised the “specter of colonialism.”
Myers provides cover for Israel-haters like Marayati. In the face of existential threats to Israel, he is a reliable advocate for appeasement, even if (or especially when) it endangers Israel’s future as a Jewish state.
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