The Guardian published an op-ed by Peter Beinart defending the decision by several members of the Corbyn-wing of the US House of Representatives, including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, to boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to a joint session of Congress today. The protest is meant to express their opposition to what they dishonestly call Israeli ‘apartheid’.
The piece (“Why progressives like AOC are right to boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog”, July 18), makes the argument that Herzog, the former head of Israel’s Labor Party, is just as “racist” and oppressive towards Palestinians as those on the Israeli far-right.
Among the examples Beinart points to, as putative examples of Herzog’s villainy, are his support for Israel’s security fence, his visits to Israeli communities across the Green Line, and even the fact that he denounced Ben & Jerry’s initial decision to cease selling its ice cream to settlements.
But, it’s in the following paragraphs where Beinart – the former “liberal Zionist” turned anti-Zionist – shows his true colours:
But even when Herzog has argued for territorial withdrawal, he’s often done so in the language of Jewish supremacy. “In about a decade,” he warned in 2015, “the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority.” Israel must therefore divest itself of West Bank Palestinians because “I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister in Israel.” Among Jewish Israeli politicians, this kind of ethnonationalism is common. But it’s still ethnonationalism – the belief that the government exists to serve a particular tribe, not all the people under its domain. Even if Israel did leave the West Bank and Gaza [sic] – a prospect that now seems impossible – 20% of its citizens would still be Palestinian.
It should be no surprise that progressives like Omar, Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez – who are fighting desperately against ethnonationalists who want to entrench white Christian supremacy in the United States – would boycott an Israeli president who has made Jewish supremacy the guiding principle of his political career.
Briefly, lets remind Beinart that Israel did, of course, leave Gaza in 2005 – an inconvenient fact in the anti-Zionist narrative because that withdrawal didn’t bring peace as the “peace processors” promised, but, rather, the rise of Hamas, an antisemitic extremist group committed to Israel’s annihilation, rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, and many rounds of war.
But, of course, to acknowledge this would mean assigning agency to Palestinians, something he is loath to do.
But, now let’s address the most malevolent charge against Herzog, that, by virtue of the fact that he wants to maintain Israel’s Jewish majority – that is, he is a Zionist – he’s endorsing “Jewish supremacy”.
Regarding this, we should point out that, until his political conversion only a few years ago, Beinart himself was a Zionist committed to maintaining Israel as a Jewish state – which means, according to his current moral formulation, he can be described now as a recovering ‘Jewish supremacist’.
But leaving Beinart’s ideological 180 aside, we need to unpack what we’re talking about when we talk about “Jewish supremacy”.
The idea of “Jewish supremacy”, as historian Gil Troy has explained, was once the antisemitic rhetoric only the extremist and white supremacist right (including the Nazis) used. Troy noted that Washington’s Holocaust Museum houses a photograph of a Hitler Youth proclamation that “Adolf Hitler which translates to “Hitler breaks Jewish supremacy with his movement.”
But, the fact that a variation of this scurrilous charge has become popular within a segment of the radical anti-Israel left, is a great illustration of the horseshoe theory of antisemitism – the theory in which the far Left and the far Right often share an overlapping set of anti-Jewish prejudicial attitudes that distinguish them from the ideological center.
As Michelle Rojas-Tal observed, both ideological extremes can’t agree on anything except blaming the Jews (and the Jewish state) for the world’s ills.
Just as right-wing anti-Semites have historically imputed the worst motives and hurled the most incendiary, fantastical and conspiratorial charges to warn of the global danger posed by this miniscule minority, anti-Zionists have adopted a similar tactic.
They accuse the world’s only Jewish state – where nearly half of the world’s Jews now live – of being morally beyond the pale, guilty of the worst form of racism, the uniquely unpardonable and original sin of “supremacism”. By extension, it naturally follows, anyone who supports Zionism, which includes the overwhelming majority of diaspora Jews, are supporters or abettors of this malign supremacist ideology.
Naturally, however, the high priests of progressivism such as Beinart – those within the ‘community of the good’ who believe that they know better than Israelis themselves, the countless victims or inheritors of unimaginable generational traumas as the result of statelessness, what’s in their long-term best interest – never apply the equation which results in Israel, by virtue of it being a Jewish state, being labelled “supremacist” to any other nationalist movement.
Palestinians who want a uniquely Palestinian state, where Jews would be barred from citizenship or, at best, be a tolerated but (almost certainly) unequal minority, aren’t accused of Palestinian supremacy. Similarly, the 57 self-described Muslim states – more than a few of whom effectively expelled their Jewish populations in the mid 20th century – which belong to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation similarly aren’t accused of “supremacy”.
For that matter, is the democratic EU state of Latvia, which, despite roughly 25% of the population being ethnically and linguistically Russian, have a constitution declaring “its inalienable right of self-determination in order to guarantee the existence and development of the Latvian nation, its language and culture throughout the centuries”, engaged in a project of ethnic supremacy?
Several other EU states, it should be stressed, have constitutions codifying its mission as “the national home and locus of self-determination for the country’s majority ethnic group”.
Finally, leaving the egregious double standards of anti-Zionists aside, let’s remember what’s at stake in the normalisation of the grossly dishonest epithet of “supremacism” hurled at Jews: what Yossi Klein Halevi refers to as the “classical continuity of thousands of years of symbolising the Jew” by turning them, individually or as a collective, “into the symbol of whatever it is a given civilization finds as its most loathsome quality”, which today is racism.
Indeed, it should surprise nobody that studies in the UK demonstrate that those with the most toxic anti-Israel views are far more likely than the general population to also hold classically antisemitic views.
Though we don’t know what’s in Peter Beinart’s heart, one thing is certain: his decision to use rhetoric which has the effect of turning the Jewish state, and, by extension, non-Israeli Jews who see Zionism as integral to their Jewish identity, into moral pariahs illustrates shows how divorced he is from the lives, values and fears of most Jews.
It also demonstrates a stunning degree of carelessness about the increasing dangers of antisemitism.
- Peter Beinart’s Grotesque Utopia (Shany Mor)
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- Economist glamourises the Lion’s Den terror cell (CAMERA UK)