Beinart v. Gordis: The Israel dilemma


Peter Beinart, the journalist and political columnist, asks in an essay published last week in Jewish Currents: “What makes someone a Jew — not just a Jew in name, but a Jew in good standing — today?” He answers: “In haredi circles, being a real Jew means adhering to religious law. In leftist Jewish spaces, it means championing progressive causes. But these environments are the exceptions. In the broad center of Jewish life — where power and respectability lie — being a Jew means, above all, supporting the existence of a Jewish state. In most Jewish communities on earth, rejecting Israel is a greater heresy than rejecting God.”

Beinart argues that Israel’s settlement of the West Bank has made a two-state solution impossible, and asserts that “it’s time to envision a Jewish home that is a Palestinian home, too,” whether by confederation or a binational state.

Beinart’s proposed one-state solution brought a quick response from Daniel Gordis, the U.S.-born Israeli scholar and writer. Their stimulating debate makes clear why a two-state solution is crucial for Israel and the Palestinians.

Gordis’ response is both powerful and snarky. “Beinart is a smart guy; he knows that for his readers to buy his thesis, it is important that they not know very much. Luckily for him, that is a safe bet.” But he quickly gets to the point that things look different on the ground in Gordis’ Jerusalem than they do from Beinart’s Manhattan perch: “To assume that fear of annihilation is what motivates Israeli life is to illustrate how little he knows about Israel. In fact, the miracle of Israel is that we no longer worry about annihilation.” And he argues that “Beinart cares more about the future of the Palestinians than he does about the future of Judaism’s richness.”

Gordis excoriates Beinart’s dovish “infantilization” of the Palestinians, which “has always struck me as utterly racist.” He points out that after each peace plan came an intifada and suggests that Israel has no reason to wait for the Palestinians. “Peter Beinart believes that because we cannot get the Palestinians to recognize our right to a state, we should knock over our proverbial king and give up the project.”

To be sure, Gordis’ emotional defense of a country he lives in trumps Beinart’s at-a-distance liberal intellectualization. But Gordis offers no answer to the very real conundrum Beinart is trying to resolve: How to preserve the Zionist dream of a homeland in Israel without it turning into an apartheid state? Beinart never uses the word “apartheid,” but he doesn’t have to. If there is no Palestinian state, and if Israel does not grant the Palestinians full rights of citizenship, it will no longer be the democracy Israel’s founders conceived. But, as Gordis argues, giving Palestinians equal rights could lead to the disappearance of Israel’s

Jewish character and even of its Jews.

The debate is invigorating. The alternatives are not. And that’s why a two-state solution is so critical. Israel should never have to choose between being Jewish or democratic. It can and should be both — living side by side with its Palestinian state neighbors.

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