Words matter. But like so much of the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what one word means to progressive American Jews often means something entirely different to Palestinians. This can lead to confusion, at best, and bloodshed, at worst.
For example, as previously posted here, most progressive American-Jewish commentators and Palestinians call for an end to the Israeli “occupation.”
But by “occupation,” most progressive Jews mean Israel’s control of Judea and Samaria, commonly known as the West Bank. For most Palestinians, on the other hand, ending the “occupation” means the “liberating” of “historic” Palestine “from the river to the sea” (the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea), in other words, all of present-day Israel. The difference in interpretation of the word “occupation” is of existential significance.
A similar conflict has recently arisen regarding the meaning of the term “one-state solution.”
In a shocking op-ed in The New York Times, titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State,” Peter Beinart, political commentator and prodigal son of Zionism, suddenly abandoned his long-standing support for a “two-state solution” to the conflict (independent Jewish and Palestinian states). Instead, he called for the replacement of the State of Israel with a binational state populated by both Jews and Palestinians living equally, he imagines, in harmony under a benevolent democratic regime.
In a longer article in Jewish Currents—from which the Times op-ed was condensed—Beinart waxes poetic in his portrait of the kumbaya state of Israel-Palestine. He imagines a country where on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish and Palestinian co-presidents lower a flag at Yad Vashem as an imam delivers the Islamic prayer for the dead, while a similar memorial ceremony is held at the site of the future museum of the nakba (“catastrophe”) with a rabbi reciting the Jewish prayer for the dead.
It all sounds so promising.
However, critics, including this author, previously have demonstrated that Beinart’s vision of a peaceful binational state is delusional, given the more than a century of Arab efforts to annihilate the Jewish state through relentless wars, horrific terrorism and single-minded ethnic cleansing.
This article will focus on the manner in which Beinart’s version of a binational state differs dramatically from the Palestinian version, just as is the case with the meaning of the term “occupation” discussed above.
In his call for a binational state, Beinart references Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian-American writer based in Washington, D.C. Munayyer has been advocating for a one-state solution long before Beinart awoke to the idea.
In his seminal article—”There Will Be a One-State Solution, But What Kind of State Will It Be?”—Munayyer sets forth his vision for a single state that departs significantly from Beinart’s view. Rather than being grounded in “equality,” as is Beinart’s, Munayyer’s state is founded on retribution or what he calls “restorative justice.”
He insists on a constitution that would “recognize the wrongs done to Palestinian refugees and begin a process to repatriate and compensate them.”
Munayyer emphasizes that “the new state would need a truth-and-reconciliation process focused on restorative justice,” and that “for inspiration, it could look to past efforts in South Africa and Rwanda.”
Taking the “truth-and-reconciliation process” from South Africa as a model, as Munayyer does, gives serious cause for concern. That process included a “restorative justice” court where victims of human-rights abuses sought reparations, and the alleged perpetrators of abuses could seek amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution.
The results of South Africa’s truth-and-reconciliation process are mixed. However, the mere analogizing of Israel’s vibrant democracy with the horrific institutional system of apartheid (a common ploy of anti-Zionists) is far-fetched and odious. The prospect of Israeli political leaders, academics and military officers, not to mention ordinary citizens, standing before a South Africa-style truth-and-reconciliation court in an effort to “restore justice” does not bode well for the proposed one-state formula.
Of course, at the end of the day, Beinart’s solution to the conflict is nothing more than a progressive Upper West Side Jew’s pipe dream and would normally warrant little attention. However, his screed has crossed an otherwise impregnable red line that threatens to spread if left unquarantined.
Prior to Beinart’s conversion, even to question the legitimacy of the Jewish State was considered beyond the pale. Everyone, including Beinart, respected that red line (“questioning Israel’s existence as a Jewish State is … akin to spitting in the face of people I love”). But Beinart now concedes that he has crossed that red line.
The current question is whether Jewish leaders and organizations will normalize Beinart’s heresy by giving him a platform to spread his message of destruction. Will the matter of Israel’s very survival become part of the normal conversation in civilized discourse?
Shortly after Beinart’s op-ed was published in the Times, he appeared in conversation with a leading rabbi on the Jewish Broadcasting Service. The moderator expressly refused “to vilify” Beinart, treating him quite deferentially and inviting him back to discuss his position further.
In sharp contrast, the noted historian Daniel Gordis—who had previously debated Beinart on numerous occasions, and even shared a podcast with him—declared Beinart to be a “traitor to the Jewish people” and a “pariah.”
Gordis stated emphatically, after the Times piece appeared, that he would refuse to appear on the same stage with Beinart from now on.
Beinart, of course, is free to say whatever he wants to whoever will listen to him. The rest of us, however, are equally free to refuse to normalize a conversation about terminating the only Jewish state in the world.
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications, including “The Washington Post,” “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Times of Israel” and “Moment” magazine.