Peter Beinart; Correct Diagnosis, Bad Prescription
Guest Post by Steven Hemmat.
This past Thursday, I attended a talk given by Peter Beinart at the University of Washington Hillel. In addition to Hillel, the organizations J Street, the New Israel Fund and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle were among the other sponsors. Peter’s speech was similar to the ones he’s given to a number of other audiences, addressing the challenge of Israel maintaining itself as both a Jewish and democratic state with millions of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank. Peter’s speeches can easily be found on the internet.
At the outset, I must say that Peter is a very personable, intelligent and charming individual. He spoke well and articulated his position in a clear fashion. I also want to acknowledge Barbara Lahav of J Street and Ben Murane of the New Israel Fund for being very gracious and allowing me and several others to engage in discussions with Peter after the program.
Regrettably, the structure of Peter’s actual presentation was not intended for any meaningful exchange with the larger audience. Everyone had the opportunity to submit written questions on note cards; dozens of questions were handed in. However, the moderator Rabbi Oren Hayon never presented any questions – he simply said, for example, “several people had questions about…” this or that and Peter would go off to give his response. The only genuine question from the audience offered (which was really a comment) was, “After Gaza, I am ashamed of being a Jew.” Rather than explain that Israel defended itself against an onslaught of thousands of missiles and rockets by Hamas terrorists and we should be proud as Jews that Israelis invested in technology to protect civilians from harm rather than fire rockets and missiles indiscriminately at civilians in Gaza, Peter responded by stating that being Jewish is so much greater than Israel. Sigh…
Peter responded by stating that being Jewish is so much greater than Israel.
Our friends on the Left can be credited for recognizing and identifying a problem – millions of Palestinians imperil the Jewish character and democratic nature of Israel. However, their prescription for solving this challenging problem is based upon their ideology and a romanticized view of Arab and Palestinian politics and culture – to the point of being completely detached from reality. Not once did Peter mention the following words in any context during his presentation: “Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar (the three Israeli teenaged boys kidnapped and murdered by Hamas this past summer), rocket, missile, ISIS, Islamic radicalism, beheadings, Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s slaughter of nearly 200,000 people, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian Nuclear Program, or President Erdoğan of Turkey.”
Peter barely mentioned the threat of Hamas and its tunnels burrowed under Israel that intended to infiltrate a dozen or more Israeli communities with terrorists dressed in Israeli military uniforms, murder civilians, kidnap more, and drag the kidnapped victims back into Gaza through the tunnels. The casualties of such an attack – of both Israelis and Palestinians – would have been catastrophic and directly attributable to the evil intentions of Hamas. One might think that a serious commentator of Israeli/Palestinian affairs would incorporate this important information into his or her talk when advocating one position or another. This was not so in Peter’s presentation.
Not once did Peter mention the following words in any context during his presentation: “Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar.
By analogy, it is not enough for a physician to identify an illness; the doctor should not issue a prescription that kills the patient. Withdrawing completely from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) back to the “green line” – which are the 1949 armistice lines that lasted until 1967 where at its narrowest point is less than ten miles across Israel – will not miraculously make the Palestinians into peaceful Scandinavians. The Palestinian Authority, acknowledged by Peter Beinart himself as corrupt and authoritarian, has not prepared its people or set up an infrastructure to rule an actual country. Indeed, it has not taken any of the necessary steps to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel. It refuses to recognize that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, and it continues to incite violence against Israelis. Most recently, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas applauded the murder of a three-month-old Israeli girl in last week’s Jerusalem terrorist attack. In a Facebook post translated by Palestinian Media Watch, Sultan Abu-Einen hailed “the heroic martyr, Abed El-Rahman Idriss al-Shaludi.”
The doctor should not issue a prescription that kills the patient.
On the contrary, historical facts demonstrate that whenever Israel withdraws from land without the Arab population and its leadership having recognized Israel as a legitimate entity and having been prepared to accept the new situation (compare the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan to the situation with Lebanon and Gaza), the vacuum is filled by those who wish to do Israel great harm (Hizbullah and Hamas, i.e. “Islamic Resistance Movement”). Moreover, the charters of both Hizbullah and Hamas call for Israel’s total destruction, and Abbas of the Palestinian Authority recently created a unity government of his Fatah party with Hamas. History warns that those who ignore such charters and manifestos do so at one’s own peril; Hitler laid out his plans for the Jewish people in Mein Kampf prior to ascending power in Germany. A “two state solution” with an Islamic or secular terrorist entity on one’s border is not an acceptable solution.
Jewish settlements have not created ISIS, the turmoil and devastation in Syria, the trouble in Egypt, the chaos in Libya, the autocratic rule in Saudi Arabia, the Iranian nuclear program nor the collapse of Iraq.
All of this is completely ignored by the Left. Peter Beinart’s near total focus on Israel, settlements, and all of its admitted faults, along with its treatment of the Palestinians, confuses the debate. Jewish settlements have not created ISIS, the turmoil and devastation in Syria, the trouble in Egypt, the chaos in Libya, the autocratic rule in Saudi Arabia, the Iranian nuclear program nor the collapse of Iraq. Aside from the fact that Palestinians are subject to much worse treatment elsewhere in the Arab world and under Palestinian Authority itself, this myopic focus on Israel ignores the present reality of the Middle East which is currently aflame from the deserts of Libya to the borders of Iran. As commented by the eloquent former Labor Party Foreign Minister Abba Eban, “The ’67 borders remind us of the borders of Auschwitz.” Islamic fundamentalism is causing death and destruction throughout the world, even impacting our own neighbor to the north, Canada. This is the reality that Israel must face, and the disarming words of Peter Beinart do not change this reality.
To be sure, Israeli leadership on the Right has not as of yet articulated a clear idea of how it proposes to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. Perhaps until the Palestinians recognize the Jewish character of Israel and its right to exist, and until its leadership ends the incitement to violence, the Right intends for Israel to remain aloof and “maintain” the status quo. This is not an ideal situation, but maintaining the status quo with an uncertain future is preferable to writing one’s own death warrant.
Maintaining the status quo with an uncertain future is preferable to writing one’s own death warrant.
As I stated earlier, I credit Peter with diagnosing the problem facing Israel. It is his solution that I dispute. Undoubtedly Peter will continue to travel the country and deliver his talk to other audiences, and my critique will soon fade into the dark recesses of the internet blogosphere. Nevertheless, I want to strongly emphasize and advocate that we need to maintain a civil and respectful dialogue across the political spectrum within our Seattle Jewish community. Even if we do not always agree on politics and solutions to problems, the proper answers will not spring forth by those who shout the loudest or who disparage their political opponents.
We need to maintain a civil and respectful dialogue across the political spectrum within our Seattle Jewish community.
If we wish to engage our community in a substantive dialogue over these crucial issues, bringing a controversial speaker with no question and answer period is not the way to accomplish this discussion. Rather, a debate or forum between someone of the caliber of Peter Beinart with Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal or Professor Alan Dershowitz would offer a much more comprehensive, thoughtful and meaningful interchange.
Steve Hemmat is an attorney and a former board member and chair of the Planning and Allocations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. He is currently a co-president of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth and board secretary of the Seattle Hebrew Academy. This writing does not reflect the position of any institution or person other than the author.