A Few Thoughts on the Other Zion Square*

| March 20, 2012 | 0 Comments

We have no interest in pitting this site against the other Zion Square, launched a day after this one by Peter Beinart at the The Daily Beast, with funding from the New America Foundation and a partnership with Americans for Peace Now. We have our own plans for this site, and they don’t concern any other site.

Considering the timing of our launches, however, the issue has been raised and questions have been asked, and while we explained our position on this in our previous post, we did want to take one moment to give our impression of ‘the other Zion Square’ and perhaps differentiate us just a bit. This won’t be a regular feature of the site, but we may discuss this again, just as we may discuss any issue that relates to Israel, and certainly Beinart has created an issue that relates to Israel with his new blog.

NewAmerica.net Modern Zionism title

'Modern Zionism' on NewAmerica.net

First, a small point. The New America Foundation lists the Zion Square blog on their web site under the heading ‘Modern Zionism’. This is an interesting turn of phrase. What makes it ‘Modern’? For that matter, what about the blog makes it about ‘Zionism’? I suspect many, if not most, of the bloggers who are writing for them would not consider themselves Zionists at all. The title suggests something of the Post-Zionist movement, something which David Frum pointed out just this Saturday is nothing more than anti-Zionism in sheeps’ clothing. Indeed it seems that one, if not the primary, goal of the blog is to redefine Zionism to be more compatible with modern Liberalism. We’ll revisit that idea in a moment.

Beinart writes in his introduction to the blog, that it exists to correct a perceived flaw in Jewish discourse on Israel, that such discourse is increasingly disconnected from reality. That disconnect, according to him, has three effects – it endangers Palestinian dignity, American security, and lastly the Jewish future. Furthermore Beinart mentions two examples of this, the settlement of Ariel (a favorite example of his) and the Jewish holiday of Purim. Let’s take a look at these two examples of his.

Ariel is the fourth largest settlement in the West Bank, and the largest that is not near the green line. It has somewhere in the region of 17,000 residents. It also hosts the Ariel University Center of Samaria, a large Israeli university with over 12,000 students. Among those students are a growing number of Arab students. Also, a conference by an organization called The Best Plans Project, seeking to find a solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict, was hosted at Ariel University this past December, and attended by Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs. The goal of the conference, and the project in general, is to solicit many possible plans from many people and crowdsource a workable peace plan that everyone can agree to among the Arab and Jewish participants. Perhaps seeing Ariel as the epitome of what is wrong with Israel’s view of peace and what he thinks will cause Israel to not ‘survive as a democratic Jewish state’ is the wrong view. Beinart is convinced that Ariel will slice a future Palestinian state in half, but perhaps it can be viewed as a bridge to reconciliation. Perhaps Ariel and its university can remain, and provide a place where Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinian Arabs can meet and talk in peace. Why is this dismissed as a possibility? It would appear Beinart can only see the negative aspects of anything beyond the green line, but perhaps there is something positive as well? Beyond that, will Beinart insist that Gaza and the West Bank never be connected because it would slice the State of Israel in half? Mahmoud Abbas has already stated he would not agree to a non-contiguous state, so how does Beinart deal with that?

Purim was recently celebrated by Jews around the world. It is a celebration of survival. Even if the story itself ends with Jews killing their enemies, it was not out of a desire for blood. It was a desire to survive. As the story goes, an order sealed by the king could not be repealed, and the order to kill all the Jews in Persia on a certain day had already been given. Thus a second order was sealed, that allowed the Jews to defend themselves from their attackers. Even so, perhaps the bloody ending of the story is not well known simply because Jews do not seek out bloodshed and do not memorialize it. The holiday is about celebrating survival, not the means by which that survival occurred. Indeed, it seems an odd choice for Beinart to use, since in fact the Jews were given the ability to defend themselves. Unfortunately, many times in history that was not the case. If you want to say that the holiday is memorializing the defeat of the Jewish people’s enemies, then the parallel to todays Israel is even more striking, as many people seek to remove Israel’s ability to defend itself. It’s commonly mentioned that the 1949 Armistice Lines, which made up the border before 1967, gave Israel a section in the middle that spanned only 9 miles wide (near Netanya), not easily defendible. Of course, the 1949 Armistice Lines also put almost every major Israeli city within range of the types of missiles that are currently reigning down on southern Israel from Gaza.  The distance from Tel Aviv to the green line is only 11 miles.

Beinart continues his introduction by attempting to portray why he thinks young Jews in America are finding themselves more distant from Israel than in the past, and thinks that the Jewish establishment is stuck with Jews as victims as their primary theme. We’re not sure what Beinart is referring to when he declares that Arabs who live in Israel must be given full citizenship, when Israeli Arabs have the same rights as Jews, significantly more than Arab citizens of even many Arab countries receive, and Arabs sit in the Knesset and on the Supreme Court. Oddly his actual quote was ‘a new commitment to full citizenship for those Palestinians who live within the green line’. What makes them Palestinian? Beinart must have missed the recent poll that showed a majority of Israeli Arabs were proud to be Israeli, even if they didn’t always agree with the Israeli government. The ultimate proof of this would presumably come if an agreement is reached on a land swap, and Arabs living in Israeli land to be swapped to a Palestinian State choose to stay in Israel by moving elsewhere within Israel, or staying in the Palestinian state. We suspect many, if not the majority, would choose to stay in Israel.

We don’t want to cover the whole article point by point, but there is one more point we want to take a look at, and then another point Beinart made more recently in his NY Times Op-Ed. Beinart throws out a list of things he thinks are good changes for Israel, and would not threaten the definition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’. One of these items is restricting the right-of-return to those Jews ‘actually fleeing persecution’. How, seriously, does Beinart suggest defining who is fleeing persecution? Is this set on a country-by-country basis? or on a personal basis? If by country, would France a week ago have counted? What about after the murder of four Jews this week? Would only Jews from Toulouse be allowed entry to Israel? and only until the killers are found? Should there be quotas set up for different countries? If Israel would suddenly announce that Jews from a given country would now be allowed entry because they were being persecuted, would that not increase their persecution? This kind of short-sighted statement by Beinart unfortunately seems very representative of his thinking. Amazingly, he says he wants to insure the existence of a Jewish State, while at the same time restricting which Jews are allowed to move there. Moreover, his idea would presumably bar Jews from the United States from moving to Israel. Perhaps this is his way of solving the dual-loyalty issue once and for all, by insuring Jews cannot move to Israel from the US.

Lastly, there has been a lot of coverage in the last few days on Beinart’s NY Times Op-Ed on Sunday. Certainly the most commented-on statement in his Op-Ed was that he thinks Jews should boycott the settlements, while opposing the boycott of Israel within the green-line, what he terms ‘democratic Israel’. Beinart calls this Zionist BDS. There are so many problems with this idea, similar to his idea of restricting the right-of-return. If indeed he doesn’t believe that the 1949 Armistice Line is the final border, then why boycott settlements that are destined to be part of Israel after a peace agreement? If he’s interested in peace, then how is boycotting settlements going to help, when Jewish-owned businesses in the West Bank employ tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs? What exactly would closing down farms and factories across the West Bank do to the Palestinian economy? Who in the end will actually be hurt more? One can’t assume that those businesses would be re-started by Palestinians to pick up the slack, and indeed the destruction of greenhouses in Gaza after the pullout there would seem to give evidence that much of the industry in the West Bank would just cease to exist, and those tens of thousands of workers would be out of work permanently. Would this help foster peace, or create an environment where violence is more likely?

As we mentioned earlier, it would seem Beinart wants to shift Zionism to fit more closely into his more Liberal ideas, to create a ‘Modern Zionism’ that he can feel better about supporting. Unfortunately, all he seems to have accomplished is to mash-up several short-sighted ideas and made them sound a lot better than they really are. Nothing in Israel is as simple as he makes out, and while he claims to want a Zionism that is as complex as it once was, he actually wants one that ignores much of the reality on the ground. He claims that the Jewish establishment is ignoring reality, but he seems just as, if not more, ready to ignore the facts that make him uncomfortable. As Marc Tracy asks in his analysis of Beinart’s Op-Ed yesterday, is Beinart trying to create a salve on the consciences of those Jews who are afraid to drop their Zionism altogether?

Fortunately, the group of Jews of which Beinart represents, like those who affiliate themselves with J Street, at whose conference Beinart launches his new book next week, are not some ignored ‘silent majority’ but indeed are among a small minority of Jews who are trying to push their own agenda on the rest of the Jewish population. In the end, even with all the money and all the organizations that back Beinart, bankrupt and short-sighted ideas cannot win out when brought to the light. As with much of the online debate on these topics, Beinart fails to bring solid, and dare we say honest, research and analysis to the topic of Israel and Zionism. Most people want to find a solution to the conflict that is happening here in Israel, but cutting corners and ignoring the effects of one’s ideas in the interest of feeling good about yourself, is not a good way to do it. This site is dedicated to bringing such flawed ideas into the light, as well as bringing new and fresh ideas forward. We may not solve the conflict, but we hope to at least raise the level of discussion. The time is past for half-thought-out ideas, and ignoring what the real effects of policies you espouse will end up causing. This site doesn’t exist to make anyone feel better about themselves, but to open a dialogue on serious issues related to Israel and the Middle East. I hope everyone reading this will help in that goal.

* Update: A week after posting this, Peter Beinart changed the name of his blog to Open Zion. There now is no other Zion Square.

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