In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Jewish columnist Peter Beinart writes that he has given up hope for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Beinart goes even further with his explosive statement that he “no longer believes in a Jewish state.”
Beinart tries to justify his position with arguments that over 600,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank eliminate any possibility of a two-state solution. He goes on to cite that before the Holocaust, many Zionists did not believe that a Jewish nation-state was “central in the Zionist movement” and it was only after the Holocaust that a Jewish state became the guiding principle of Zionism.
Beinart expands his point by saying that a binational Palestinian-Israeli state would bring “liberation” to Israelis as well as Palestinians. This reconstituted state would have equal rights and voting power for both groups.
Most Jews have to catch their breath, if not their temper, upon reading Beinart’s transformation of Israel from a Jewish state to a hybrid state that Jews and Palestinians would govern jointly. To counter Beinart, there are three major reasons why Israel must continue as a Jewish state.
First, Beinart bolsters his position with the example of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. His point is that the Catholics and Protestants were finally able to reach a political accommodation. Beinart does not mention that both parties were Irishmen living under established British law and spoke the same language. What Beinart fails to mention that comes closer to the Israeli-Palestinian situation is India, where there was a bloody separation between Hindus and Muslims that led to Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan – separation, not integration. Even Israel’s northern neighbor Lebanon, with its religious differences between Christians and Muslims, was unable to form a unified government. Deep-seated differences – be they religious, ethnic, or political – divide, not unify.
A second reason why the Israelis would refuse to give up their sovereignty as a Jewish state is pragmatic. Even if the long-standing enmity between Israelis and Palestinians could be resolved, an integrated state between the two groups would have to contend with basic, but critical, questions. What would be the official language(s) – Hebrew, Arabic with a dash of English thrown in? What would a proposed school system teach that would be acceptable to both groups? What religious holidays would be observed and would Sabbath be celebrated on Fridays, Saturdays, or both? And what about the Palestinian insistence on implementing “The Right of Return,” which calls for any refugee or descendent of a Palestinian refugee – which includes more than 5 million people – what is now Israel and the Palestinian territories? Would the returning refugees demand return of their former properties and, if not, would they want reparations?
To add to the complexities of integration, what role would Muslim Sharia law play in governance? These are questions of how two different societies would have to sublimate their religious and ethnic identities to live together under one national roof. Not likely, given the inability to achieve peace over the course of decades.
The last reason why Beinart’s proposed end of Israel as a Jewish state, and the most emotional, comes from worldwide Jewry. Jews know that their 2,000-year exile subjected their ancestors to cruel and pervasive subjugation as an alien people living on the fringes of Christian and Muslim society. Jewish nationalism, growing at the end of the 19th century and given shape and vision by Herzl’s Zionism, brought the realization that only in their own homeland could Jews control their lives and futures. This lesson of survival was brought home forcibly and with stark necessity by the industrial killing of six million Jews during the Holocaust. The urgency of a Jewish homeland was realized by the 1947 United Nations’ vote for a state of Israel followed by four major Israeli-Arab wars that Israelis fought to protect and preserve a Jewish homeland.
Beinart and his proposal for an Israel that is no longer a Jewish state seems to disregard the lessons of modern history when Jews fought and died for what has now become sacred soil. Beinart in his New York Times opinion piece presented his concept of Israelis and Palestinians living together in an integrated nation without consideration of the multifaceted differences that make such a state unlikely, unworkable if not impossible.
The glory of Zionism and the founding of Israel is that Jews now have a home, a place of refuge separated from the corrosive persecution that was their fate during exile. With Israel no longer a Jewish state and with Palestinian voting rights, how secure is the Law of Return that allows any Jew a home in Israel? With those same Arab voting rights, how long would it be for millions of Arab refugees to claim entrance to a state that was no longer majority Jewish?
If you asked whether Israelis should accede to the loss of their Jewish nation, what do you think their answer would be? If you were asked the same question, what would your answer be?
Herbert Belkin writes from Swampscott.