Leftist columnist continues to support two-state solution

Peter Beinart

BY ERIC BERGER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Peter Beinart was briefly detained in August at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel without any “consistent or objective standard for my detention,” he later wrote in an op-ed.

The interrogator’s “standard was whether I planned to cause trouble—trouble meaning whatever he and his superiors wanted it to mean,” he wrote in the Forward.

To some Israel supporters, Beinart, a columnist for the Forward and the Atlantic, is trouble because he has called for a boycott of settlement products within the West Bank, which is not recognized internationally as part of Israel and governed differently than the rest of the country.

But he has also clarified that he does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which targets all of Israel. 

People to the left and to the right have criticized Beinart over those positions, but he sees his politics as part of the Jewish tradition “where struggle is actually valued. It’s pride,” he said in an interview with the Jewish Light. “That’s the way you are supposed to be as a Jew. You are supposed to care, but you’re not supposed to follow blindly.”

Beinart, the author of “The Crisis of Zionism,” has, however, found likeminded people at J Street, a Jewish organization that operates to the left of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but does not support the BDS movement. A group of local Israel supporters who oppose what they describe as “the increasingly right-wing leadership of Israel,” are launching a St. Louis J Street branch and will host Beinart on May 15 at Central Reform Congregation.

“I want an Israel that is secure, democratic and respected by other nations,” Sally Altman, an organizer of the local J Street chapter, wrote in a letter announcing the event. “I am proud of the gifts Israel gives the world: technology, medicine, food, fashion and prose. It is because of my love for Israel that I can’t keep silent about the injustice and erosion of civil liberties taking place in this Jewish State.”

Beinart, who was visiting Israel for his niece’s bat mitzvah, was released from detention after just over an hour. He joked that his children’s biggest concern was not accessing WiFi in the waiting room and said, “it was very, very mild. Most Palestinians experience much harsher treatment most of the time they go through Ben Gurion.”

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Still, “it was sad to me because in my conversation with the interrogator, I felt like I was talking to someone who didn’t even have a particularly good grasp of what I see as the liberal democratic principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. People have the right to publicly protest nonviolently — and even foreigners” have that right, “especially if they are diaspora Jews who have a very strong connection to the country.”

He went on to have a wonderful trip there, he said. 

The office of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement on the incident saying that he had immediately questioned the Israeli security forces as to how the detention happened and said “it was an administrative mistake. Israel is an open society which welcomes all — critics and supporters alike.”

A Jeruslaem Post columnist described Beinart’s op-ed about his experience as a publicity stunt. 

“Beinart is a major supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel,” Caroline Glick wrote. “Indeed, he is a central figure in the movement. This mere fact renders Beinart’s protestations of Zionism disingenuous, to put it mildly.”

But Beinart describes himself as a liberal Zionist and disagrees with the association of him with the BDS movement.

“Fundamentally, the difference is that the leadership of the BDS movement is mostly opposed to the existence of a Jewish State within any border and would want to replace it with some kind of binational state. That’s not my view. I support a Democratic Jewish State alongside a Democratic Palestinian state.”

(Beinart has described BDS supporters as people for whom “being Jewish is not about the bonds of peoplehood. It’s about standing with the oppressed.” A BDS supporter responded by writing that we “are not simply choosing to prioritize our ethical values over Jewish unity. Rather, we are working to transform our Jewish communities into ones that reflect our values.”)

Beinart has also defended U.S. Rep Ilhan Omar, D- Minn., in response to charges that she is anti-Semitic because of her statements on Israel. For example, some accused Omar, a freshman congresswoman, of using the anti-Semitic trope that Jews control government through money when she tweeted of U.S. lawmakers’ efforts against her over her statements on Israel, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” She then said she was referring to AIPAC.

“She has said things that were partially true but which were also very sensitive terrain where I think she did not speak as carefully as she should have,” Beinart said. “When you say that AIPAC’s power is about the Benjamins, that’s partially true. AIPAC’s power is in significant measure due the fact that it has the ability through its members to raise a lot of money and it develops relationships with politicians, which are greased by those donations. That’s not unique to AIPAC; we have a pretty corrupt political system. That’s the way other lobbying groups work as well, and Ilhan Omar was very explicit in talking about that, about the NRA, big pharma and the fossil fuel industry.

“Now, on the other hand, I think it was too flip what she said, that it was all about the Benjamins, because there  is this historic anti-Semitic trope of Jews controlling all the money. So I don’t think she went about that conversation the right way, but I don’t think it was an anti-Semitic comment when you understand her in context,” he added.

While Omar’s statements could signal that the Democrat party is moving to the left on Israel, the Jewish State also appears to be moving to the right.

When the country reelected Netanyahu last month following his announcement that he planned to annex the West Bank, some pundits declared that the two-state solution was officially dead.  

Beinart, however, predicts that there will be an intifada among Palestinians not only against Israel, but also against the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank. The unemployment rate in the West Bank was 16 percent in 2018, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and earlier this year, the Israeli government halted delivery of funds to the PA that it said were being funneled to terrorists and their families, which could worsen the economic situation in the West Bank.

Some Palestinians blame both Israel and the PA, and Beinart and others have forecasted a PA collapse.

“(The PA) has lost all legitimacy,” Beinart said. “Remember, it was designed to be the embryo of a state, not to be Israel’s permanent subcontractor of occupation.”

Israel would then be responsible for the day-to-day governance once done by the PA. 

“There is a one-state reality now where Israel controls all the territory, but I think that will be a recipe for future violence and wave after wave of rebellions and intifadas,” said Beinart. “So I still think the two-state solution is the worst, most unrealistic solution — except for all the others.”


An Evening with Peter Beinart

WHEN: 7:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 15

WHERE:  Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd.

HOW MUCH:Free and open to the public, but registration is requested at act.jstreet.org/signup/beinart-StLouis-051519. 

MORE INFO:For additional information, email [email protected] There is also a private event for donors with Beinart prior to the talk at 5:30 p.m. at a home in the Central West End. For more information, visit

http://bit.ly/Beinart-info.