Peter Beinart’s cocoon
In the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart is upset that the organized American Jewish community doesn’t invite Palestinian Arabs to speak at their events. He believes that American Jews don’t give enough empathy to Palestinian Arabs.
For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press. The organization Birthright, which since 1999 has taken almost 350,000 young Diaspora Jews—mostly Americans—to visit Israel, does not venture to Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Of the more than two hundred advertised speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, two were Palestinians. By American Jewish standards, that’s high. The American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum earlier this year, which advertised sixty-four speakers, did not include a single Palestinian.
…Guidelines like Hillel’s—which codify the de facto restrictions that exist in many establishment American Jewish groups—make the organized American Jewish community a closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control. And the result is that American Jewish leaders, even those who harbor no animosity toward Palestinians, know little about the reality of their lives.
Beinart grudgingly admits:
This lack of familiarity with Palestinian life also inclines many in the organized American Jewish world to assume that Palestinian anger toward Israel must be a product solely of Palestinian pathology. Rare is the American Jewish discussion of Israel that does not include some reference to the textbooks and television programs that “teach Palestinians to hate.” These charges have some merit. Palestinian schools and media do traffic in anti-Semitism and promote violence.
Still, what’s often glaringly absent from the American Jewish discussion of Palestinian hatred is any recognition that some of it might stem not from what Palestinians read or hear about the Jewish state, but from the way they interact with it in their daily lives.
Beinart is at least as guilty of willful blindness as the American Jewish establishment he is insulting. His “Open Zion” site all but ignores the Palestinian Arab hate and antisemitism, just as he attempts to minimize it and contextualize it here as a natural result of things Israelis did. He says that most terror attacks are the result of anger at Israeli actions from the first intifada, without mentioning who started the first intifada. No doubt Israel’s initial reaction was more severe than would be acceptable today, but at the time Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza would travel freely to pre-1967 Israel and Israelis would visit freely to Arab areas, without fear.
The restrictions that Beinart is so upset about today came because of Palestinian Arab terror, not the other way around.
Moreover, while Beinart talks about checkpoints that exist today, what does he think would happen if a two-state solution that he so passionately supports would occur? They wouldn’t be checkpoints – there would be national borders. Try commuting to another country every day, let alone an enemy country, and see how painless it is.
American Jewish leaders have access to The New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian and, yes, Open Zion. Jewish Americans read Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen. The idea that they somehow live in a pro-Likud bubble is ridiculous. They know far more about Palestinian Arab claims and grievances than readers of Open Zion know about the day to day incitement against Israel and Jews in Palestinian Arab lives – not just “textbooks and television programs” but virtually every newspaper, every school, every medium.
This is the stuff I expose along with MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch and others.
Beinart would like to pretend that we cherry pick the worst examples. To an extent that is true. That’s how the media works – to show the worst in order to illuminate the facts – something Beinart is doing in this very essay.
However, as someone who reads quite a bit of Arabic media daily, I can assure Beinart and my readers that the hate isn’t an anomaly, while people like Salam Fayyad are the silent majority. No – within the “cocoon” of Palestinian Arab life, there is zero tolerance for any viewpoint that is the least bit conciliatory to real coexistence and peace. The hate is pervasive, not anomalous. Anyone who would speak to an American Jewish organization would, by that very fact, lose all legitimacy from their own people.
Beinart knows this, but he won’t dare say it.
One need only look at this post from yesterday to see that this is true. Not only is there virtually no voice for true peace among Palestinian Arabs, but even the slightest attempts at coexistence are demonized and practitioners blacklisted.
How often does Open Zion report on this? For that matter, how much does the NYT, BBC and other mainstream media (the recent Forbes piece being a rare exception) report on this?
Where are the Palestinian Arab “Open Zions?” Where are the people who really want co-existence who can speak out without being tarred that worst of all insults – “collaborators”? You will not find any Arab Beinarts writing for Palestinian Arabic media.
Beinart’s own self-created cocoon where he pretends that most Palestinian Arabs want peace is even more bizarre. In his entire lengthy essay, he does not mention Islamic fundamentalism once. The reason is once again willful blindness – Beinart knows that there is no way that fundamentalist Muslims, represented by Hamas – winner in the last PA elections – would ever accept Israel’s existence in any manner.
So Beinart chooses to ignore that problem and pretend that Salam Fayyad, an unelected former prime minister who barely scraped together 2.4% of the vote for his own party, is mainstream and Hamas is all but nonexistent.
Even though he admits that “Virtually every Palestinian I’ve ever met considers Zionism to be colonialist, imperialist, and racist. ” Sure, let’s invite them over to the Hadassah meeting so we can hear all about it!
That is willful blindness of a far worse kind than anything he can say about the American Jewish establishment.
The real cocoon is the one that looks at the Middle East and pretends that it is Jewish American leadership that is somehow more in denial than liberals like Beinart. The real cocoon is the place where the extent of Palestinian Arab intransigence and hate is downplayed and glossed over as simply a few TV programs and textbooks, with no mention of, say, Gaza being controlled by a separate party that considers all of Israel to be “occupied.” The real cocoon is the place where, even in light of the Arab Spring, Muslim fundamentalism simply isn’t worth mentioning as a problem.
Israel doesn’t want to oppress anybody, but it has an obligation to protect its citizens – the supreme obligation of any nation. The line it needs to walk in order to do that is a thin and jagged one, and one that for the most part has been successful. Today there is less terror than ever before even as restrictions on Palestinian Arabs are being slowly lifted. This is what should be emphasized, highlighted and encouraged.
Beinart, though, is blind to the real facts – because he is the one who lives in a cocoon.