Open Zion

08.31.12

Another Response to Peter Beinart on Israel-Agnosticism

Peter Beinart recently asked what makes Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) “so treif.”  Beinart is bewildered why JVP is excluded from the “organized American Jewish community” because, in his estimation, the group is not anti-Israel but “Israel-agnostic:” it does not oppose or support a one or two-state solution.  Well, here are some questions that may help answer why JVP is “so treif.”

1) On the JVP page stating its so-called agnosticism linked to by Beinart, the organization explicitly endorses the Palestinian right of return, which is a straightforward call for the end of the Jewish state.  Is the Palestinian right of return something the “organized American Jewish community” should accept?

2) On January 30, 2009, the Free Gaza Movement, one of the lead organizers of the flotilla campaign that attempted to violently breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, issued a mission statement, with positions nearly identical to those of JVP.  (Several JVP members were aboard the flotilla and, as an organization, it supported the flotilla. Is the Free Gaza Movement “Israel-agnostic” as well? Is breaching Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip something the “organized American Jewish community” should get behind?

3) At least one proud JVP member (the coordinator of JVP at the University at Arizona) has pretended to be Jewish.  Should the “organized American Jewish community” stand behind attempts to use one’s Jewishness for political expediency?

4) Judith Butler, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a self confessed “Israel-hater” who is currently embroiled in controversy over her receipt of the Theodore W. Adorno Award, is on JVP’s board of advisors.  She also thinks that it is “extremely important” to understand “Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.”  Why is a self-confessed “Israel-hater” on the board of advisors for a group that is merely “Israel-agnostic”?  Is recognition of Hezbollah and Hamas as “progressive” and “part of the global Left” something the “organized American Jewish community” should do? 

5) JVP board members signed a letter declaring, “Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-semitism and Hitler's genocidal policies. As Edward Said emphasized [sic], what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.”  According to the State Department, an example of the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests itself could include: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”  Is anti-Semitism something that the “organized American Jewish community” should welcome? 

6) If anti-Semitism is not enough, perhaps we should ask Beinart to explain his about-face on JVP.  This past year, Beinart apparently canceled a talk after learning that a JVP board member was scheduled to moderate the event. Did JVP undergo some recent, radical transformation that now makes them acceptable to Beinart? Even Norman Finkelstein, the noted Israel-basher and “Holocaust-industry” critic, admits that groups like JVP have no credibility when they feign Israel-agnosticism. Why does Beinart not realize this obvious truth?

But Beinart did not stop there. He not only called JVP “Israel-agnostic,” but he compared its agnosticism to Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel.  According to Beinart, being a “liberal democracy” is also a defining characteristic of Israel.  The Emergency Committee for Israel is seemingly agnostic on whether it supports Israel’s permanent occupation of the West Bank.  Permanent occupation of the West Bank is not something liberal democracies do.  Thus, despite presenting themselves as being pro-Israel, Beinart’s logic transforms the Emergency Committee from pro-Israel to “Israel-agnostic.”

But this syllogism is flawed. Although Beinart is fond of highlighting the guarantees of equality in Israel’s declaration of independence, there is one small problem: “neither the declaration nor any other enactment of the state contained the word ‘democracy’ or derivatives thereof” let alone the words “liberal democracy.”  (It does, however, contain the words “Jewish state.”)  If liberal democratic values are not a prerequisite to being pro-Israel, then the Emergency Committee for Israel is, in fact, pro-Israel, even if one disagrees with all of their positions and tactics. 

While Israel’s founders no doubt envisioned a democratic state—not the 21st Century liberal democratic state envisioned by Beinart—and recent additions to Israel’s Basic Laws have rectified this lacuna, there is an irreconcilable tension between Israel’s Jewish character and its democratic one.  For a liberal democrat like Beinart, it is easy to ignore this tension at present, when the Jewish character of Israel is not threatened. But if, for example, JVP got its way and Israel allowed the return of millions of Palestinian refugees, all of whom are given the right to vote, would Beinart choose a liberal democratic Israel, even if it meant the end of a Jewish one?