Why Peter Beinart is Wrong (again and again…)
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote an excellent essay for Newsweek where he stated that “Anti-Zionism is the new Anti-Semitism:”
What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.
Anti-semitism is a virus that survives by mutating. In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, Israel. Anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism.
The legitimization has also changed. Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights. It is why Israel—the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary—is regularly accused of the five crimes against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide. This is the blood libel of our time.
Anti-Semitism is a classic example of what anthropologist René Girard sees as the primal form of human violence: scapegoating. When bad things happen to a group, its members can ask two different questions: “What did we do wrong?” or “Who did this to us?” The entire fate of the group will depend on which it chooses.
If it asks, “What did we do wrong?” it has begun the self-criticism essential to a free society. If it asks, “Who did this to us?” it has defined itself as a victim. It will then seek a scapegoat to blame for all its problems. Classically this has been the Jews.
Today the argument goes like this. After the Holocaust, every right-thinking human being must be opposed to Nazism. Palestinians are the new Jews. The Jews are the new Nazis. Israel is the new crime against humanity. Therefore every right thinking person must be opposed to the state of Israel, and since every Jew is a Zionist, we must oppose the Jews. This argument is wholly wrong. It was Jews not Israelis who were murdered in terrorist attacks in Toulouse, Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen.
Peter Beinart in Haaretz feels he must defend anti-Zionists, especially Palestinian anti-Zionists, as being wholly separate from classical antisemitism.
It’s an elegant formulation. But there’s a problem. The claim that medieval Jews deserved blame for the murder of Christ, or that nineteenth century Jews were genetically inferior, had no rational basis. To believe it, you had to be an anti-Semite. It’s not irrational, however, to believe that Israel is seriously abusing Palestinian human rights. Anti-Semites may exploit those abuses to vilify Jews. But you don’t have to be anti-Semite to find them profoundly troubling.
In Beinart’s twisted mind, the difference between classical antisemitism and today’s anti-Zionism is that the old antisemitism had no “rational basis,” giving as examples accusations of deicide and racism. But that implies that Beinart would not consider other accusations against Jews that had a germ of truth in them to be antisemitic. Therefore, Beinart’s logic would imply, saying that Jews should be hated because they control the banks and Hollywood and the media is not antisemitism, because there is a rational basis for believing it – at least as much of a rational basis for hating Israel because that country is supposedly guilty of genocide and apartheid.
Sacks is saying that antisemites choose to blame Jews because they need a scapegoat. Is there really any difference between that way of thinking and demonizing Israel?
Sacks dismisses Israeli human rights abuses in one phrase: Israel is “the only fully functioning democracy in the Middle East with a free press and independent judiciary.” But in the West Bank, Israel is none of those things. The vast majority of people in the West Bank are Palestinians who cannot vote for the state that controls their lives. They are not citizens of the country in which they live. Their Jewish neighbors enjoy a free press and an independent judiciary. But West Bank Palestinians live under military law, which, among other things, forbids ten or more of them from gathering for a political purpose without prior approval from the Israeli military, even if they gather in someone’s home.
No one is saying that life is wonderful in the West Bank for Palestinians (although it compares quite well to life in most of the Arab world.) But the point is that the hysterical accusations of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing is just as irrational as accusing Jews of drinking Christian children’s blood.
Beinart cannot admit that quite obvious fact.
In his essay, Sacks only mentions the word “Palestinians” once. But it’s impossible to understand contemporary anti-Zionism without them. Palestinians didn’t become anti-Zionists because they needed a rationale for hating Jews and found the old ones outdated. They become anti-Zionists because their experience with Zionism was extremely rough.
Time for Beinart to twist history for his own purposes:
In the early twentieth century, Palestinians constituted the vast majority of people in British mandatory Palestine. Like colonized peoples around the world, they began developing a national consciousness and a national movement aimed at securing their independence. As Jews began migrating to Palestine in large numbers, the Zionist movement—which sought a Jewish state—became an obstacle to their national desires.
That is exactly backwards. Zionism predates Palestinian nationalism by any measure. Most Palestinians became “nationalists” as a means to destroy Jewish self-determination, not as a positive movement. I’ve proven that in this blog numerous times, but you only have to look at how the Arab nationalists in Palestine wanted to be part of Syria until Sykes-Picot ruined that plan – only then did the idea of Palestinian Arab nationalism gain any currency, and it was wholly meant as a means to frustrate Jewish nationalism.
Beinart is purposefully reversing history.
Yes, Palestinian nationalists made mistakes (for instance, their rejection of the 1947 partition plan) and committed crimes (for instance, the 1929 Hebron massacre). But you don’t have to consider Palestinians blameless to understand why they might view Zionism in a negative light.
The people who massacred Jews in 1929 (and 1921 and 1936-9) were nationalists? Oh, please. They were purely antisemites, and their actions prove Rabbi Sacks’ point perfectly. Their “anti-Zionism” was a thin smokescreen for their hate of Jews, and if you look at any contemporaneous newspapers and books from the era, the antisemitism was explicit and pervasive.
Yes, some anti-Zionists are anti-Semites. And yes, of course, some Palestinian anti-Zionists are anti-Semites. But equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism means claiming that virtually all Palestinians are anti-Semites, even Palestinians like Knesset Member Ayman Oudeh, whose political party, Hadash, includes Jews, or intellectuals like Ahmad Khalidi and commentators like Rula Jebreal, who have Jewish spouses.
Beinart stoops so low as to use the “some of my best friends are Jewish” line to defend rabid anti-Zionists.
Anyway, it means no such thing. While it is true that most Palestinians really are antisemites – there are things called “polls,” you know – Rabbi Sacks is speaking about how people who want to hate Jews nowadays use anti-Zionism as their excuse, just as they historically used anti-capitalism or anti-communism or eugenics theories as excuses in the past. Either way, it is hate. But Sacks is not claiming that everyone who has a problem with Israeli policies is an antisemite. That is Beinart’s straw man that underlies this essay, and its logical conclusion is disgusting:
Equating anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism turns Palestinians into Amalekites. By denying that they might have any reason besides bigotry to dislike Zionism, it denies their historical experience and turns them into mere vessels for Jew-hatred. Thus, it does to Palestinians what anti-Semitism does to Jews. It dehumanizes them.
After purposefully misstating Rabbis Sacks’ arguments, Beinart all but calls him a racist. (This is after praising him in the first couple of paragraphs.)
In truth, most Palestinians really are antisemites. Many are not. But that is not what Rabbi Sacks is saying. His point is that the arguments that are used against Zionism – not criticism of Zionism but the desire to destroy Israel – are virtually always prompted by antisemitic tendencies.
Beinart’s desire to justify his own criticism of Israel makes him want to defend the indefensible. This essay is Beinart’s attempt to conflate legitimate criticism of Israel with blind hate for Israel that is behind BDS and “Zionism is racism” and “From the river to the sea…” And the only way he can succeed is by lying.
One has to wonder why Beinart, who claims to be only against the “occupation,” tries so hard to legitimize those who want to see Israel destroyed.
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