SPEAKER 1: Thank you, Fred, and welcome to all of you. It's a pleasure to see you all here. And it's my pleasure to introduce Peter Beinart. Some of you might recall that Peter is not the first time here on campus. But Peter actually participated in the fall as part of our debate that we organized on September 11, 10 years after, what are some of the lessons. And so I'm very happy to welcome you back to campus.
Peter is the Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, and he is associate professor of journalism and political sciences at the City University of New York. Peter Beinart graduated from Yale University in 1993. And he was winning after that Rhodes Scholarship and went to Oxford University for graduate study, where he earned the master of philosophy in international relations.
Fred already mentioned that the latest book of Peter Beinart is the book, The Crisis of Journalism, and it's here. You can purchase one of the books after the event. But he also published two other books that I'd like to mention. The one is called The Good Fight-- Why Liberals-- and Only Liberals-- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. That was published in 2006, and more recent in 2010, The Icarus Syndrome-- A History of American Hubris.
In addition to writing books, Peter Beinart also contributed to a number of journals and newspapers like the Time. He's senior writer, senior political writer, for the Daily Beast. And for this one, he also edits a blog, which is entitled The Open Zion.
He has written for many publications, as I mentioned, New York Times, New York Review of Books, Wall Street Journal, and many others. And Week Magazine named him as columnist of the year of 2004.
Beinart also served as the manager editor of the New Republic and as senior editor and as editor of the same journal. He was senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations from 2007 to 2009. And he also appeared, and many might have seen him there, on several television and radio programs.
So his latest book on the crisis of Zionism-- and I have another quote that is related to this book, of course, and I would like to quote here President Bill Clinton, who actually said about the book, "This is a deeply important book for anyone who cares about Israel, its security, its democracy, and its prospects for just and lasting peace." So please join me in welcoming Peter Beinart.
PETER BEINART: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. This is a sensitive subject, the relationship between American Jews and Israel. After my book came out, a friend said, have there been any harsh words, personal attacks, ad hominem denunciations? And I said, you mean outside of my own family?
My wife sent out an email, you know, the kind that spouses sometimes will send out. She said, you know, you can agree or disagree with what Peter wrote. But we're very proud that he wrote a book.
So very quickly, she got an email back, I would never buy that book. He's a fraud. He's a threat to the Jewish people. I want nothing to do with it. And my wife forwarded on the email. And she said, who was that, that person really very upset? And I said, don't you remember? That's my cousin David. My mother said it's a good thing that my grandmother doesn't know how to blog.
I thought I would start with a story. I was watching YouTube videos of Tasmanian devils with my four-year-old son. He had a Tasmanian devil phase for some reason. And he went to the bathroom. I checked my email. I had an email from a friend in Israel. I opened the email. It was a link. Check the link.
The link was of a Palestinian man in the West Bank being arrested. He was being arrested because he had tried to link up his village to some water pipes that had gone through a nearby settlement and military base. We talk a lot-- people talk a lot-- about issues of equity in land in the West Bank but not quite as often about issues of equity in water. But according to some studies, Jewish settlers in the West Bank use about five times as much water per person as do Palestinians in the West Bank. So in settlements, you can find often quite extensive irrigation systems and swimming pools, whereas according to the World Health Organization, the rate of water access amongst Palestinians in the West Bank is below the minimum level that they recommend.
And this man later told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that there was actually not enough water in his village for the children to brush their teeth before they went to school. It's interesting when you think about the issue of water, that water as a reflection on individual and national character runs very deep in Jewish tradition. One thing you notice if you read Genesis, the first book of the Torah, first book of Tanakh, of Hebrew Bible, is that a lot of people meet their spouses at wells.
Because in fact, wells turn out to be quite a good test of people's character. So for instance, when Abraham sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for his son Isaac, Eliezer chooses Rebecca at the well because Rebecca not only gives Eliezer water but waters his entire flock. So this question of the use of water actually runs very deep in our Jewish tradition.
And the fact that Palestinians in the West Bank would end up at the short end of the stick on water policy is not really very surprising when you think about it. Jews in the West Bank are citizens of a state, the state of Israel. They vote for its government. Palestinians in the West Bank are citizens of no state. They don't vote in Israeli elections. So it's not surprising they would end up on the short end of the stick in terms of water allocation. It's just one relatively mundane example of what it means to have a territory in which citizenship is ethnically based.
So it's a bit of a difficult scene to watch this video. The man is being hustled into this kind of paddy wagon like vehicle. And there are women from the village who are screaming. And then I see in the video, there's a boy. He's about my son's age. And he's trying somewhat hysterically to try to get to his father as his father is being taken away. And then I heard something that really stopped me cold, because the boy is yelling to his father as his father is being taken away. He's yelling, baba! Baba! And as it turns out, when my son was very little, we thought he would call me abba, which is the Hebrew word for father. But he couldn't say abba, so he started calling me baba, which is the name, actually, that he to this day uses and his sister uses to talk to me.
And then I hear he's coming out of the bathroom. And I think, oy, how do I get back to those Tasmanian devils but fast? But it got me thinking, you know, now my son is six. What if he's 12 or he's 18? He sees something like this. What am I going to tell him?
My son is a little budding Zionist. He goes to Jewish school. He has an Israeli flag in his room. He doesn't really know anything about the Palestinians, but I've noticed he's become quite anti-Egyptian as a result of the Passover story.
In fact, sometimes I find that although I talk a lot in my writing about generational divisions amongst Jews and the way in which younger American Jews have a different perception of things, that my critics might be interested to learn that I often feel like I'm losing the younger generation even in my own family. Because my conversations with my son often can resemble sometimes my conversations with my right wing critics at the Wall Street Journal or commentary.
We're going to Israel in June. So I said to my son Ezra, I said, where would you like to go in Israel? And he said, Mt. Sinai. And it was an uncomfortable pause. And I said, well, you know, actually that's really not part of Israel anymore. Israel gave that to Egypt. He looked at me with horror, and he said, they gave it to Pharaoh? So again, this is the product of Jewish schooling, which can be challenging sometimes if you're a liberal-minded parent.
But I was thinking, what would I tell him if he saw something like this? And it turns out the Israeli government, the Israeli defense forces, have been worrying about some of the same things. Because this video had been getting around a bit on the web. And so they put out a statement. And the statement was that the village had put this boy up to acting in a particularly hysterical manner because they knew there were video cameras there. And they knew it would be a public relations embarrassment for the Israeli military.
I have to say, my first reaction was gosh these Palestinians have much better control over their four-year-olds than my wife and I do. But I thought, OK, I could tell him that. And what would be the message? The message would be, these people are completely unlike you. Don't allow yourself to become emotionally invested in their grief whatsoever, because there is a massive gulf between them and you. You can't understand them. They don't think and act the way you do. Keep your distance.
And I think in a way, that's been the message that the American Jewish organizational establishment has been telling young American Jews for several decades now. There's been this enormous effort to de-sensitized and distract young American Jews from the reality of what an occupation actually looks like on the ground. And I think I understand why this effort has been made. I would even go so far as to say that there's a part of me that sympathizes with it. I think the feeling has been amongst the leaders of the American Jewish community that the connection to Israel amongst young American Jews is so weak, that the embers of Zionism that they so desperately want to fan amongst young American Jews are so weak, that to confront young American Jews to any degree with the painful realities of what an occupation looks like would undo much of what they are trying to achieve, which is to raise another generation of American Zionists.
So I understand why this effort has been made. But I think it's been a tragic failure. And when I say it's been a failure, I mean a failure not primarily in terms of our moral obligations as Jews towards the Palestinians, although those are real, but even more intimately to me, a failure in terms of producing what I most want my son and daughter to be, which is liberal Zionists, people who have a deep attachment and love to the state of Israel, not just because it's a Jewish state, but because it's a liberal democratic Jewish state, because it's a state that was born in 1948, three years after the Holocaust, while the stench of Jewish death still hung over Europe, while Israel was fighting against all its Arab neighbors in a war for its very survival, fielding a ragtag army composed in significant measure of people with numbers tattooed on their arms, and that in that moment, Israel wrote the Declaration of Independence that promised complete equality of social and political rights, irrespective of race, religion, and sex.
I want my son and daughter to fight for that vision of Israel against anyone who menaces it, not only Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hassan Nasrallah, but indeed, even the leaders of Israel's own government, if their policies violate and threaten those principles. And in terms of producing those kind of Zionists, I think we in the American Jewish community have failed.
And in explaining how, I want to try to paint a sociological picture of the American Jewish community as it relates to Israel. I think you can understand the American Jewish community vis-a-vis Israel as a kind of a pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, what you have what I call the American Jewish establishment, this alphabet soup of different organizations, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC, the federation system, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
I've always felt that it was only Jews that needed an organization simply composed of the presidents of other Jewish organizations. But I don't know. Maybe other ethnic groups do it that way as well. My wife said to me a while ago, she said, maybe we could apply our family for membership in the Conference of Presidents of Minor American Jewish Organizations.
I think if you look at what defines this American Jewish establishment, it's defined by a number of features. The first is generational. It's dominated by people who came to their connection to the state of Israel, really I would say, between 1967 and 1982-- 1967, the Six Day War, when American Jews were terrified by the prospect that Israel's very survival might hang in the balance with its neighbors massing for war, and then this incredible moment of exhilaration and euphoria that seized the American Jewish community in the wake of Israel's apparently miraculous victory in 1967. And then the very bitter days in the 1970s following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, culminating for the American Jewish community in Israel in the infamous 1975 Zionism equals racism resolution at the UN. This was really the cauldron in which the Zionism, I think, of much of the American Jewish leadership was forged.
Why does this matter? It matters because the people who lead the American Jewish community, by and large, came to their connection to the state of Israel at a time when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was very, very new, when the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank numbered, perhaps, in the several thousands, when the culture and politics and theology of occupation was much more marginal in Israel than it is today; at a time when there was not a single settler in the Knesset, whereas today Israel's foreign minister lives halfway across the West Bank; at a time when the Haredi or ultra-orthodox population was much smaller and less politically influential than it is today; before the Russian immigration of the 1990s that has now produced Avigdor Lieberman and his party, Yisrael Beytenu; at a time when, in some ways, at least, Israel was a more innocent place. And I think one of the functions that these American Jewish organizations serve for people of that generation is to mirror back that more innocent-- I would say in some ways even Disneyfied vision of Israel-- for a generation for whom it resonates because it fits with the image they formed of Israel in their youth.
The second thing that defines this American Jewish establishment is that its members are relatively secular. It's not to say they don't have any religious connection, but their Zionism is less an outgrowth of traditional religious commitment and more a substitute form of Jewish identity instead of traditional religious commitment. And I'll explain why I think that matters in a minute.
And the third thing that defines this American Jewish establishment is what I think of as a quite profound ideological contradiction. If you go to the websites of any of the organizations that I've mentioned and simply try to answer this question, why should we as American Jews, indeed, as Americans, support the state of Israel, the answer you will not get is the biblical answer. We should support the state of Israel because look at [INAUDIBLE], look at the Torah. It says that God gave us the land. We were sold the Cave of Machpelah. That biblical answer, which often tends to resonate, frankly, more with Christian evangelicals, is not really at the heart of the way American Jewish organizations justify their support for the state of Israel.
You're much more likely to find, instead, a statement that what we cherish about Israel-- we should support Israel because Israel shares the democratic values, the liberal democratic values, that we cherish as American Jews, and indeed, as Americans. But the American Jewish organizations rarely publicly contemplate the idea that truly supporting Israel because Israel shares liberal democratic values might mean you had to be in public opposition to the policies of Israel's own government. And yet, I think if we're honest about it, those internal threats to Israel's democratic character are quite grave.
Israel, within its 1967 lines, is a democracy, not a democracy like the United States in many ways, not a perfect democracy, but still, I think a quite vibrant and remarkable democracy, given the fact that Israel has lived with nearly constant war since its creation in 1948, a strain that I think would have turned societies less nourished by liberal democratic ideals into police states long ago. And yet, in the West Bank, Israel cannot be called a democracy. In the West Bank, Jews have citizenship and the right to vote and live under civil law. Palestinians lack citizenship, lack the right to vote, live under a combination of military, Ottoman, and Jordanian law. When Jews and Palestinians clash on the West Bank, Jews go before civil courts. Palestinians go before military courts. Jews carry identity cards with a blue cover that gives them relatively free access of movement. Palestinians carry identity cards with an orange or green cover, which dramatically restricts their movement.
And with the Jewish settler population of the West Bank increasing at three times the rate of the Jewish population inside the green line, at some point, it will simply be impossible to create a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. And on that day, Israel will no longer truly be a democracy. It will be in permanent control of millions of people to whom it will not, and cannot if it wants to remain a Jewish state, give citizenship. And it will become, in some ways, something like an apartheid state.
And while I don't use that term lightly, I use it because in invoking it, I'm not quoting Jimmy Carter. I'm quoting those two well-known anti-semites Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, both of whom have warned, in the last several years, that this is the future that Israel faces if it cannot dislodge itself from the West Bank.
I'm not suggesting that Israel bears all the blame for the fact that there has not been the two-state solution that is necessary to preserve Israel as a democratic Jewish state. The Palestinian National Movement has undermined itself terribly over the decades with its resort to terrorism-- terrorism, which I call in my book, grotesque and unforgivable. There has been a troubling tendency amongst Palestinian leaders to minimize or simply deny outright the depth of the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel. And there are real questions about whether Palestinians would ever make the concessions on the right of return of Palestinian refugees that would be necessary to allow a two-state solution to come to pass.
But the one thing we know for certain is that if there is a chance that Palestinian leaders will not forego a large scale right of refugee return in exchange for a contiguous viable Palestinian state on 95-plus percent of the West Bank, we can be darn sure they'll never give it up if what they're getting in return is a Swiss cheese state that, in fact, would constitute much less of the West Bank than that. And that, unfortunately, is the potential future that we face if Israel continues to subsidize people, to essentially pay people, to make it cheaper for Israelis to live in what I call non-democratic Israel than in democratic Israel.
The American Jewish organizational establishment does not see it as a threat to Israel's democratic character that Israel now has a foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who in his youth was a member of [INAUDIBLE] explicitly racist party, [? Kah, ?] a party that called for expelling Palestinians from Israel and called for criminalizing sexual relations between Palestinians and Jews; a man, Avigdor Lieberman, who has repeatedly tried to prevent Arab Israeli parties from running in Israel's elections; a man who has called for jailing Palestinians who publicly commemorate the destruction of their homes in 1948; a party Yisrael Beytenu, who according to Haaretz at a major Yisrael Beytenu conference in 2009, a large throng of Yisrael Beytenu supporters were seen yelling "death to Arabs" at passing cars. And this is not a marginal figure. In 2009, Yisrael Beytenu came in third in the Israeli elections. According to Haaretz in the mock elections held in Israeli high schools, the party came in first. Avigdor Lieberman leads the second largest political party in Benjamin Netanyahu's government.
The third largest party in Benjamin Netanyahu's government is the Sephardi ultra-orthodox party Shas, the housing minister of which said last year that he saw it as his duty as housing minister to promote the quote, unquote, "spread of the Israeli Arab population," and the spiritual leader of which Rabbi Ovidia Yosef, arguably in some ways the most influential rabbi in Israel today, said in a [INAUDIBLE] Torah, a commentary on the Torah last year, that the relationship between Jews and Gentiles could be analogized to the relationship between a human being and a donkey.
I'm not suggesting for a minute that this is all that one needs to know about the state of Israel. I am, after all, the person who put an Israeli flag in my son's room. I would have put an Israeli flag in my daughter's room as well, but she wanted it in pink, which we're still looking for.
To me, the fact that Israel has a vibrant free press, an independent judiciary, very feisty civil society organizations, universities that launch wholesale attacks on not only the government policies, but in many ways, the whole ideological foundation of the state of Israel, to me, that is really at the heart of the miracle of the Jewish return to sovereignty in the land of Israel. For me, that's at the heart of what makes Israel precious. But it's precisely, it seems to me, because we believe that it's precious, that we have an obligation to face honestly the fact that there is a struggle in Israel today between people who believe that what makes the Jewish state precious is its liberal democratic character and people who have a very different vision of the kind of Jewish state they would like to see.
And in that struggle, the American Jewish organizations, despite the fact that American Jews in domestic politics almost always lean towards the left, despite the fact that American Jews voted 78% for Barack Obama, in that struggle over the liberal democratic values that domestically American Jews hold very dear, in that struggle in Israel, the American Jewish organizations do the equivalent of turning off the computer.
The last fat feature of this American Jewish establishment, and in some ways the most intriguing, is that it is not reproducing itself in the younger generation. If you look at young American Jews, this bottom corner of the pyramid, you see two very different phenomenon. The only place that Zionism is really vibrant today amongst younger American Jews is in the orthodox community. Older American Jews are sometimes inclined to see orthodox Jews as a relatively small and marginal percentage of the American Jewish population. And that's, to some degree, because in their age group, it is. They are. Only about 10% of American Jews self-describe as orthodox.
But orthodox Jews are growing very fast as a percentage of the American Jewish population, because the orthodox Jews have more children, get married earlier, and intermarry much less. So that while only 10% of American Jews are orthodox, 40% of the children in families that are members of synagogues are orthodox, which gives you a sense of how the trajectory of committed American Jewry may well change in the decades to come.
And the good news in the orthodox community is the orthodox community is doing a terrific job of raising Zionists. According to the American Jewish Committee, 79% of orthodox Jews 18 to 40 feel very close to the state of Israel. That's the good news.
The bad news is that the Zionism that is emerging in much of the younger orthodox community does not even pay lip service to the idea that what makes Israel precious is its liberal democratic character. Instead too often there is the Zionism of the land, Zionism of a deep connection to the biblical land of Israel without very much concern for the rights and dignity of all the people, Jewish and non-Jewish on the land.
A couple of examples-- there is in New York City something called the Israel Day Parade. It's coming up relatively soon. It itself is a barometer of these changing tides in the American Jewish community. It used to be a relatively secular affair. If you go, as I did with my own children last year, now you find that it's really dominated by kids like them who go to Jewish schools, and in particularly orthodox Jewish day school.
And after the Israel Day Parade, there's something called the Israel Day Concert. IT was an explicitly orthodox affair co-sponsored by National Council of Young Israel, which is a major American orthodox Jewish organization. In 2006, a retired Israeli general named [? Efia ?] [? Tom ?] gave a very controversial speech where he called for the expulsion of many Palestinians from the West Bank. That was in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, he was the keynote speaker at the Israel Day Concert in Central Park.
If you look at the poster for 2009 and 2010 that was plastered all over Jewish neighborhoods-- especially orthodox Jewish neighborhoods-- in the greater New York area, you saw that every family that co-sponsored the event-- it's a very Jewish thing-- got to put their name on it and got to dedicate their co-sponsorship in someone's memory. Well, if you look closely at that poster from 2009 and 2010, you'll see that one of the families that co-sponsored the event dedicated it in the memory of Rabbi Meir Kahane.
I'm not suggesting that most American orthodox Jews hold racist or extremist views towards Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims. In fact, our own family has been members of orthodox synagogues for many, many years. And I have enormous admiration and affection for the modern orthodox community. But I think there is an attitude often of indulgence towards these racist attitudes that exist in the orthodox community. And the struggle in the orthodox community is to invest the Zionism that is emerging amongst young orthodox kids with some sense of connection to an earlier species of American orthodox Zionism that had much more humanistic and universalistic spark.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who was the most important modern orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, when he heard news of the massacre by pro-Israel Christian forces at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in the early 1980s, he publicly said that unless the Mizrahi, unless the national religious organization supported a government investigation of that massacre, he would publicly resign from the organization.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, when he was teaching rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1948, and he heard word of the massacre at Deir Yassin, where Palestinian villagers were killed during Israel's war of independence-- and you can imagine all of the alibis that would have been available for anyone who loved Israel at a time when Israel was in a war for its very survival. He went before his rabbinical students and said, I will not teach you today in the shadow of Deir Yassin. I'm going to go off and think about whether I need to do teshuva, whether I need to do repentance for what was done today in Zionism in Judaism's name.
It was a member of the Knesset in the 1950s and '60s named Mosha [? Oonah ?] from the [? Mofdal, ?] from the National Religious Party, himself an orthodox rabbi, who said in one speech, why are the Arabs here? God does not do anything by accident. If God did not want the Arabs to be here in the land with us, they wouldn't be here. So they must be here for a reason. What is their theological significance to us? Perhaps their theological significance is that they are a test. They are a test of how we exercise our power over a less powerful minority group given our history of the way we were treated.
There was a time when orthodox Zionists saw themselves as the conscience of the Zionist movement, not the people who saw a messianic project fulfilled simply by conquering more and more land, but in fact who believe that if there was anything messianic about the Jewish return to the land of Israel, that we would know that the messianic project was starting to succeed not when we conquered more and more land, but indeed, when there was peace. That kind of orthodox Zionism, it seems to me, is what we need to try to reinstill in a new generation of younger American orthodox Jews.
And then there is the final corner of the pyramid, that larger group of non-orthodox younger American Jews. And here you find that Zionism really is in collapse. That same American Jewish committee survey that found that 79% of orthodox Jews feel very close to the state of Israel found that amongst non-orthodox Jews of the same age, the figure was 16%. And part of the problem here is simply a massive failure of Jewish education. The American Jewish community is one of the wealthiest and one of the most religiously illiterate Jewish communities in the history of the world.
The Jewish community tells Jewish parents that the most important thing they can do is to raise their children with the level of Jewish commitment that will allow Judaism to flourish in their own families when they become adults. But then if they think they might be interested in sending their children to full-time Jewish schools, they learn, oh by the way, those schools are so prohibitively expensive that you practically have to take out a second mortgage to afford them. And by the way, they're often academically mediocre and crumbling, and they don't often know whether they're going to be around in two or three years, but go for it. That's the most important thing we can encourage you to do.
Even compared to other diaspora communities like Canada or Australia or Britain or France or South Africa, the American Jewish school system is very weak. And so the American Jewish community does not raise its children with what I think is the most important thing you need to have to have a connection to the state of Israel, and that is, knowledge of, fascination with, and joy in Judaism. Instead, we are a community that in many cities has built better Holocaust memorials than it has built schools, and thus, produced a generation of young people who may be more familiar with Auschwitz than with [INAUDIBLE] Torah. And that is part of the reason, it seems to me, that outside of the orthodox community that you don't have a deep connection to the state of Israel.
But interestingly, even if you look at the most religiously committed group of non-orthodox American Jews, the people graduating from reconstructionist reform and conservative rabbinical schools, the people starting new Jewish organizations, the people who have created the independent minyan movement, which is probably the most religiously significant movement that's taken place amongst young American Jews today, you find that even there there are these remarkably high degrees of alienation from the state of Israel. When Arnold Eisen, who was then a professor at Stanford University, was tapped to lead the Jewish Theological Seminary, which is the seminary that oversees conservative Judaism, he decided he wanted to meet with some of the most dynamic and committed younger American Jewish leaders. In an essay that's been written about this meeting, which as it happens, took place on Yom Ha'atzmaut, which we just celebrated this week, Israel's independence day.
At the end of the meeting, he and another older academic suggested that the young people in the room rise with them and sing Hatikva, Israel's national anthem, and were shocked when they declined. And here I think the problem is that young American Jews, especially outside the orthodox community, are liberals. American Jewish college students are twice as likely to self-described as liberal as our non-Jewish American college students.
And yet, the American Jewish community has given these young American Jews no space in which to reconcile their liberal democratic values, their commitment to human rights, with the state of Israel. Instead, they're essentially asked to embrace a hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil conception of the state of Israel. Young American Jews who feel that the glory of the Jewish tradition involves its spirit of open debate and critical inquiry are told, essentially, to start with the assumption that everything the Israeli government does is right and then reason backwards to figure out why. They're sent on birthright programs that send them to Israel, and yet never allow them to have any meaningful interaction with Palestinians who constitute 50% of the population that is under Israeli control.
And the more intellectually sophisticated they are, the more freethinking they are, the more insulted they are by this unwillingness to discuss the dirty linen that exists in the Israeli and American Jewish closet. And I think beyond that, young people of all ethnicities and religions of this generation have a particular hunger, in my experience, for authenticity. This is, after all, the most marketed to generation in history. And I find with young people today, they can smell 1,000 miles away something that is inauthentic. And when you try to have a conversation about the state of Israel, which essentially skirts around most of the most difficult issues, you essentially come off as inauthentic to a group of people who I think are hungering for exactly that, for authenticity.
Beyond that, the failure to be able to discuss Israel's occupation in the West Bank with younger American Jews is part of an even more profound failure, I would say, in the American Jewish community to discuss what it means to live in an age of Jewish power. The conversation, the way the American Jewish, organized Jewish community, talks about its own narrative is so often as simply a story of victimhood and survival. Not that Israel does not still face real external threats, it does. But there is very little recognition in the way American Jewry talks about itself at the communal level that the Jewish condition has fundamentally changed both in the United States and in the Middle East where Israel is now a regional superpower since the middle of the 20th century.
Think even about the way we American Jews talk about our holidays. You ask most young American Jews, well, what have you been taught about the holiday of Purim? They'll say, oh, sure Purim. I know about Purim. Yeah. That's Esther. Haman tried to kill us in Persia, but Queen Esther and her uncle Mordecai, they saved us. And well, then the whole story is over, and we eat our hamantaschen, which is delicious. And that's it.
You know, as they say, how do you define an American Jewish holiday? They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat. [LAUGHTER]
But that's not how the book of Esther ends. The book of Esther does not end with Jews being saved from Haman's plot. It ends with King Ahasuerus giving Jews the right to seek revenge and Jews killing 75,000 of Haman's people. It ends with an act, a very troubling act, of Jewish power, an active Jewish power about which our tradition has much to say. But we don't talk about that part.
You ask young American Jews about Hanukkah. And they'll say, oh, sure Hanukkah. Yeah, I know Hanukkah. The Syrian Greeks, they wouldn't let us practice Judaism. They oppressed us. But the Maccabees rose up, and they repelled the Syrian Greeks. They created a Jewish state. They rededicated the temple. The oil lasted for eight days, and then we eat our latkes. They're really delicious.
But why do we end the story there? The Maccabees became the Hasmonean Dynasty. That was the last experiment in Jewish statehood before our time. It was a very, very difficult experiment. There is a reason that the rabbis didn't like Hanukkah, in addition to the fact that God doesn't really appear. They also had a lot of trouble with what Hanukkah led to, which was this very disturbing experiment in Jewish statehood.
Again, it's a discussion about Jewish power which is of particular relevance to young American Jews growing up as a privileged population in the United States and seeing Israel as a regional superpower in the Middle East. And yet, that aspect of the Jewish tradition that I think would have the most meaning as a vehicle for talking about Israel and about talking about our responsibilities to Israel is what's never part of the Jewish story.
So it seems to me that we need to try to have with younger American Jews a different kind of conversation about Israel. And it starts with no longer using Israeli democracy as an alibi-- so to say, because Israel is a democracy, everything is fine here-- and instead using Israeli democracy as a rallying cry-- to say, this democratic state of Israel is your birthright and your patrimony. It was won at a cost in blood and suffering that you can scarcely imagine. And if you fail to pass it down to your children and grandchildren, it will be a stain upon your lives, that you will be judged very harshly by Jewish history, and your own life will be changed, that your life will suffer, your experience of Judaism will suffer, if Israeli democracy falls just as much as your parents and grandparents lives were ennobled by the creation of the Jewish state in the first place.
Because after all, what do you think is precious about Judaism? What most young American Jews are likely to think is precious about Judaism is the Jewish tradition of fighting of justice and human dignity, the vision of justice and dignity that Jews spun during our long night of powerlessness and oppression that inspired so much of the world. And if it turns out that that Jewish ethical tradition, that as we say around this time of year, around Passover, that we know the heart of the stranger, because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. If it turns out that that tradition of social justice and human dignity is only relevant when Jews are powerless but cannot inform the actions of a Jewish state once Jews have power, then in retrospect, what good is it? That Israel is the great retroactive test of the Jewish social justice tradition, because Israel is the test of whether that tradition can still have meaning when Jews wield power.
And so it seems to me that we need to tell young American Jews that there was a time in this country when the best of their parents' generation could have been found in places like Mississippi and Alabama, struggling for American democracy in its moment of peril. And they should find some way of being involved in the struggle for Israeli democracy in Israel's moment of democratic peril. And they should be told that that video that I saw when my son was in the bathroom was shot by brave young Israelis who went to the West Bank to bear witness to what was being done in their name because they believe in the promise of Israel's declaration of independence, and they find it baffling and dispiriting that the largest diaspora Jewish community in the world, one that they know was at the forefront of the civil rights movement, and of the labor movement, and of the women's rights movement, of the gay and lesbian movement, that it is seen as so indifferent to their struggle for democratic values inside Israel.
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, "Dark and dreadful would be our life today without the comfort and joy that radiate from the land of Israel." But then he said, "Israel's existence alone is not enough." The question, Heschel said, is, how do we make this a state worth waiting 2,000 years for? It seems to me that's the question we should ask the next generation of American Jews. How do we make this a state worth waiting 2,000 years for? And hope that in their answer that Heschel's Zionism, the liberal democratic Zionism [? of ?] Israel's declaration of independence, can be reborn. Thank you.
SPEAKER 1: [INAUDIBLE]
Yeah, I'll take questions, yeah, yeah. I'll be very happy to take any questions anyone might have. Please.
AUDIENCE: I heard you on Fresh Air a little while ago, and you were talking about the tension to being a Jewish state and a democratic state, and you were kind of relating that to the national security and civil liberty [? have a ?] similar tension.
PETER BEINART: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I was wondering if you could elaborate on that a little bit, because civil liberty's what we believe in, but we have to give up some of them for national security. How do you kind of put that [? with ?] the Jewishness [INAUDIBLE]?
PETER BEINART: So that's--
SPEAKER 1: Would you summarize the question?
PETER BEINART: Yes, I'll summarize the question. Sure, sure, sure. The question was, how can you reconcile liberal democracy on the one hand and Zionism. And as I say at the beginning of my book, there is an inherent tension between the two. On the one hand, Israel's declaration of independence promises complete equality, irrespective of race, religion, and sex. On the other hand, Israel has as its mission statement a special obligation for the protection and representation of the Jewish people as exemplified in its preferential immigration policy for Jews; its national anthem which speaks of the Jewish soul; its a flag, which has a star of David on it and is designed to look like a tallis, a prayer shawl.
And I think the first thing I would say is that Israel is not the only country with that tension. America does not have it. But in fact, many European countries have crosses on their flags. And many countries, especially in Eastern Europe, have privileged immigration policies for the dominant ethnic group. These are all countries that we would still consider to be democracies.
So if you believe in the legitimacy of the project of Jewish statehood, as I do, because I think that given the history of the Jewish experience in diaspora, culminating in the Holocaust, I think there is a need for a Jewish state dedicated to Jewish refuge and protection. That may seem remote to some younger American Jews growing up, thank goodness, safely in the United States, who don't see any large concentration of Jews anywhere around the world who seem like they need the state of Israel. But I would suspect that if you happen to be amongst those younger American Jews whose parents are from the former Soviet Union, or whose parents are from Latin America, in fact, this way not seem as remote.
I'm old enough to remember when the state of Israel sent airplanes to Ethiopia to pick up some of the most destitute and reviled people on the face of the earth and take them back to be reunited with the people who they've been disconnected from since the days when the temple stood. So I still believe in the legitimacy of a Jewish state as refuge.
The Jews in the diaspora have also been immeasurably benefited by the Zionist movement in its recreation of Hebrew as a living language as a kind of cultural center for Jews around the world. American Jews have enough problems just as it is. One can only imagine how difficult our situation would be, our effort at continuity would be, if in fact there had not been the recreation of Hebrew as a living language.
So the question seems to me, how can Israel move towards a greater reconciliation between liberal democracy and Zionism? And part of that effort seems to me, actually, that in some ways the fulfillment of the Zionist project has to be the creation of a Palestinian state. Why? Because how can you justify the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel-- or they're often called Arab Israelis-- inside Israel's 1967 borders don't have a flag and a national anthem that they feel that resonates with them.
And I think part of the answer is, in fact, for there to be a state which has a Palestinian national anthem, and a Palestinian flag, and a Palestinian right of return, so that there is one country, at least, in the world that represents, that symbolizes, that Palestinian national identity and aspiration. That's part of the effort.
The other effort is that Israel has to move much, much more profoundly than it has towards true individual equality for its Arab citizens. There's really no reason at all that Israel needs to invest and spend more on schools in Jewish towns and neighborhoods than in Arab ones, or that the allowances for childhood-- payments-- have to be higher for Jews than Arabs. There's only one Israeli prime minister who really taken this on in a significant way. That was Yitzhak Rabin during [? SEAM ?] his second prime ministership in the early 1990s, when he built dozens of health clinics in Arab neighborhoods, when he equalized the payments that you get when you have children, when he instituted affirmative action for Israel's civil service. And in fact, people who were in Israel at that time, and the data shows, that it actually really did have an impact on the way that Arab Israelis felt about their connection to the state of Israel.
And that seems to me what Israel desperately needs to do, both for its moral identity but also for its own national security. Because making Arab Israelis feel connected and part of the state of Israel, and loyal to the state of Israel, even though in their heart of hearts they would wish it were not a Jewish state, is really terribly important to Israeli national security. Because as frightening as another uprising, a Third Intifada, would be in the West Bank, if it happened inside Israel's own 1967 lines with Israel's own Arab citizens, it would be that much more terrifying still. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: When you describe that Zionism and Israeli security, what's your take about what's going to happen or not in terms of the Zionist perspective about Iran?
PETER BEINART: Well, there's a fascinating drama playing itself out in Israel today about the question of what Israel should do with Iran. And what it is is a kind of revolt by the Israeli security establishment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak. It's really something quite remarkable to behold-- something that never really happened in the United States during Vietnam or Iraq, although perhaps we would be better off if it had.
The former head of Mossad, which is Israel's external spy agency, came out and said-- this is the guy who was in charge of the Iran file from 2002 until 2011-- that attacking Iran would be the stupidest idea he'd ever heard of. And then this week, Yuval Diskin, who had been from 2005 to 2011 head of Shin Bet, which is the internal security agency-- so [? Digan's ?] counterpart-- basically said that Barak and Netanyahu were messianic, and that this would be a terrible idea. And the head of the IDF chief of staff has said that he believes the Iranians are rational, leadership is rational, which runs completely counter to everything that Netanyahu said.
And so it's been a remarkable parade of statements. I don't think there's anyone in the Israeli political elite who's not worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon. I think they should be worried. An Iranian nuclear weapon would be a shift in the power balance against Israel, towards Israel's enemies, and potentially start off a nuclear arms race that would be very destabilizing in the Middle East. But that fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon is different than the Holocaust-drenched way in which Benjamin Netanyahu tends to talk about it as an existential threat to the state of Israel.
It's striking that actually many of Israel's top military leaders have said they do not believe that an Iranian nuclear weapon represents an existential threat. They think it's a threat, but not an existential threat, and that it's one in which there must be a cost benefit calculation about how effective military action would be. And many of Israel's leaders, like many of America's military leaders, seem to think that a military action could be quite ineffective given how spread out the Iranian nuclear program is, the fact that we don't even know that we know where all of those sites are, the fact that many are buried deep underground, and the fact that Israel doesn't have the refueling capacity to basically spend enough time bombing Iran, and then surveilling-- because once you bomb a place, you don't know if you hit anything unless you can stay long enough to do the surveillance, take the pictures, to see. Israel doesn't have that kind of refueling capacity for Iran, which is much further away than was Iraq where they hit Osirak reactor in 1982.
Plus, you might turn a relatively pro-American population into a rabidly anti-American and anti-Israeli population and produce a whole spate of terrorism that would be very frightening. So I think that there is more willingness in the Israeli military leadership to try the Obama approach, which is sanctions coupled with diplomacy, then there seems to be among the Israeli civilian leadership, Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak.
AUDIENCE: I had a question about the concrete tactics or strategies that American Jews or American citizens could take vis-a-vis the crisis of Zionism and sort of a potential apartheid scenario or situation in Israel. And [INAUDIBLE] have sort of a local example at Cornell, which as many of you know, is building a university in New York City in collaboration with an Israeli University, Technion. And although this is a very exciting opportunity, Technion does have some connections to the occupation. So I'm kind of curious what your views on are for Americans who are concerned about this crisis, concerned about the possibility of apartheid, what they can do in situations like these, which are morally ambiguous which involve sort of very gray shades in terms of moral responsibility, moral involvement with the occupation.
PETER BEINART: I think collaboration with Israeli universities is exactly the right thing for a university like Cornell to do. First of all, universities tend to be hotbeds of progressive and liberal thought in Israel, in fact, exactly the kind of places that I think one wants to try to support. But beyond that, because I think that Israel is not an apartheid state inside its original 1967 lines-- I mean, there is structural discrimination against Israel's Arab population. But Israeli Arabs have the right to vote and citizenship, which after all, Palestinian refugees were not given in Syria and Lebanon, two of the countries to which they fled or were expelled, however you want to describe it, in 1948.
So if Israel is an apartheid state within its 1967 lines, I really don't know what word you would use for many Arab countries that deny citizenship to people who are not of the primary ethnicity. What would you call many of the Gulf countries, that for instance, deny the right of citizenship to their large guest worker population? I think it makes nonsense of the term apartheid. So I would oppose any boycott divestment sanction that applies to all of Israel.
I think there is a different question about a targeted boycott towards the West Bank itself, products from the West Bank itself. And here I was myself interested by the example of some of Israel's own most famous writers-- David Grossman, Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua, all who said that they would not perform in the cultural center, in the settlement of Ariel. And I think that sends a very different message. It sends a two-state message. But for Americans, it seems to me, if you going to do that, it's not enough simply, in my mind, to not buy products from the West Bank. You need to also have some statement of affirmation for Israel's products and services inside the green line so that you're drawing a distinction.
That's really what people like Grossman are doing. After all, they live in Israel inside the green line. But they're saying, we distinguish between democratic Israel and non-democratic Israel. And I think that finding ways of distinguishing between the way we relate to the products and services of democratic Israel and the West Bank, I think, for Americans and American Jews, I would put that in a very different category from anything that applied to all of Israel. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Your speech was very interesting. [? You ?] [? make ?] [INAUDIBLE] I think every individual on the face of the earth needs to be treated with dignity and respect. You use terms of theological basis of the reunification of Jews in 1948. You use the terms liberal, progressive. I guess the question would be, given the history of the Jewish state-- in your own words-- has been almost a constant war since 1948. And they are a country with defined borders. It is a legitimate government. It is a Democratic form of government.
Given the history of the conflict in the Middle East, and given the animosity, the hostility-- you put a lot of emphasis on social justice, which I agree with the concept. But if you look at the facts in reality, do you think if the emphasis was switched a little big so that the primary focus of the Israeli government was on social justice toward the people in the surrounding area, do you think the emphasis on goodwill toward your fellow human beings would be reciprocated back onto themselves?
PETER BEINART: That's a good question. So I guess I would start by saying, first of all, Israel, unfortunately, is not a country with defined borders. This is exactly the problem. I mean, Israel has--
AUDIENCE: I think it was until they were attacked in '67 and '73 with the Yom Kippur War.
PETER BEINART: Well, there was an armistice line forged in 1949. That's what we call the green line. Those were not internationally recognized borders. And then Israel-- you're right-- in the Six War took the West Bank and Gaza Strip and also the Golan Heights in the Sinai, which is now given back. But Israel does not have an internationally recognized border, which I think is actually a security problem for the state of Israel.
The Israeli government is a democracy inside the green line. But it's not really a democracy in the West Bank where 2.5 million Palestinians don't have the right to vote. I mean, if you conducted the thought experiment of what would happen if you allowed those West Bank Palestinians to vote, Israel's government would look very different than it does today.
In fact, even if you just had elections just inside the green line-- you didn't allow Jewish settlers to vote, you didn't allow anyone in the West Bank to vote, then I think it's quite likely that Benjamin Netanyahu would never have been Israel's prime minister. Because settlers vote very much to the right in Israel. And that's been an important part of what gave him the very small margin that allowed him to win in 1996 and again in 2009.
I believe that Israel's democratic character is essential to its national security. And it's interesting, actually, that-- and I was just doing some checking of this-- of the 15 living former heads of the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, Mossad and Shin Bet, who have publicly expressed a position, 14 support a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. And it's not because they're bleeding hearts. It's because they believe that-- or at least my gloss on why they support it would be-- there is, I think, a struggle amongst the Palestinians and in the Arab world more generally about Israel. No one in that struggle are people who wake up every morning saying, thank goodness a Jewish state was created in our midst. There are very, very few Palestinians and very few Arabs who take that position.
But I think that the real struggle is between people who will reluctantly live with Israel's existence along roughly the 1967 lines, if the Palestinians have the rights and dignity that come from statehood, versus another group that essentially will fight for however long it takes, no matter how many die, in order to try to destroy the state of Israel. And while there are often very, very troubling and disturbing things that come out of the Arab world-- profound anti-Semitism, a vicious anti-Semitism, a scapegoating of Israel as a way of avoiding their own problems-- it's important that we also recognize the gestures that have been made.
In 2002 and again in 2007, every country in the Arab and Muslim world-- 57 countries-- said they would accept Israel's right to exist if Israel returned to the 1967 lines and had a just and agreed upon solution to the refugee problem. The Palestinian Authority in 2008 took out ads in Israeli newspapers, reprinting what was called the Arab Peace Initiative. And Israel did not respond.
So now we rightly criticized Palestinian leaders like Yasser Arafat for not responding in the way he should have in 2000, 2001. But I think there have also been times at which Israel has not responded in the way it should to strengthen those forces in the Arab world who would be more willing to live at peace with Israel. And from a security point of view, even if you conceded that controlling the West Bank and having the Israeli military there was important for Israel's security, I believe actually it's a net minus for Israeli security, for the reason I mentioned.
But even if I conceded that Israel needs the West Bank for its security, that would not explain why you need to build settlements there. I mean, even if you believe that an IDF presence was necessary for Israeli security, even on the most narrow military grounds, putting Jews in far flung settlements throughout the West Bank is a security nightmare. I mean, if there were to be some Arab invasion across the Jordan Valley again, these isolated outposts of Jewish settlement would be a nightmare for the IDF to try to protect and evacuate. So I think even on security grounds, there's really no rationale for settlement construction, it seems to me.
Go ahead. I saw your hand up.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] a couple of things. A two-state solution [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 2: Would you speak up a little?
AUDIENCE: Sorry. As regards to the two-state solution, where do you think the leadership is going to come from? Because it's apparent to me that it doesn't exist and the motivation doesn't exist with senior leadership in Israel. And the leadership in the Palestinian Authority is split between the [INAUDIBLE]. And it seems to be a [? continuing ?] [INAUDIBLE].
PETER BEINART: Yeah, yeah.
AUDIENCE: Perhaps [INAUDIBLE] with the Arab Spring and security situation under [INAUDIBLE] somewhat slightly altered, especially as with regard to Syria and Egypt. That does have an impact on a two-state [INAUDIBLE]. It does and doesn't have an impact on the two-state solution. Because the Palestinians aren't the biggest security threat or biggest security problem as the surrounding states are. And this Hoping the impression I've got from Israeli friends that I've had when I've been to Israel, [INAUDIBLE].
PETER BEINART: So I just want to make sure I understand the question.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, sure. [INAUDIBLE] the way that things [INAUDIBLE] is going to come from for a two-state solution. It's all [INAUDIBLE].
PETER BEINART: Yeah.
PETER BEINART: Yeah, well, I think you're right. I mean, I think right now you have a very strong Israeli government, relatively strong Israeli government, but not an Israeli government that's shown much interest in negotiating a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines-- I think a Palestinian leadership in the West Bank that actually does have some interest in it, but Israel is very weak, and a Hamas government that has also not shown very much interest in a Palestinian state along 1967 lines.
My hope with Israeli politics is that Benjamin Netanyahu, or whoever replaces him, will come to the conclusion that past Israeli leaders of a more hawkish persuasion have come from. Ehud Olmert was also from Likud. And yet, he ultimately offered a Palestinian state in almost 95% of the West Bank. Because he came to realize that it was in Israel's interest. Yitzhak Rabin, although member of the Labor Party, had been very hawkish. He was the person who during the First Intifada called on, said that Israel had to break the bones of Palestinian rock throwers. And yet, he came to the view that this was in Israel's interest.
So I hope there is some precedent for this kind of transformation. And I hope that Netanyahu will come to this shift, or if not him, that someone will come to the fore. On the Palestinian side, I think a Palestinian unity government is necessary. It's risky. It's risky to include Hamas in a unity government, because Hamas has not accepted Israel's right to exist. The values of Hamas I consider loathsome, and Hamas has the blood of a lot of innocent Israelis-- including a close friend of mine-- on their hands. And yet, the question is, it seems to me, what is your strategy vis-a-vis Hamas? This partial blockade of Gaza is, in some ways, I think, serving Hamas very well. It's actually, basically, allowed Hamas to destroy the independent business class in Gaza, secure complete control over the economy, and blockades don't have a very good record in terms of changing ideologies.
I mean look at Fidel Castro. Blockading them for 60 years has been the best thing that ever happened to Castro. It gives him a permanent excuse for all his mismanagement and corruption. I think the better thing to do would be to allow Hamas into a Palestinian unity government. We don't have to deal with the Hamas ministers. We deal with the government of Lebanon. We just don't deal with the Hezbollah ministers in that government. Let [? Abasta ?] continue negotiating.
And then the Palestinians will presumably, if there is a deal, put it to a referendum amongst the Palestinian people. And then the Palestinian government has to say that this referendum, if it passes, is the end of claims. That's it. It's peace. The current Hamas position, which is that it would only produce a long-term cease fire, what they call a hudna, is unacceptable.
But that's Hamas's position now, without any negotiation or any interaction. It's possible that Hamas could travel the road towards saying that they will accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum permanently. And it's interesting, actually, that even if Hamas as a party doesn't recognize Israel-- and it's interesting, if you look at Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu's party, Likud is also on record as opposing a Palestinian state. So how does Netanyahu get around it? He says, we'll put it to a vote of the Israeli people. And that will be binding. That's what seems to me.
I think also, ultimately, Israel would do well to let Marwan Barghouti out of jail. Marwan Barghouti is perhaps the most popular-- especially if you want an alternative to Hamas. Barghouti is maybe the most popular Palestinian leader. I think someone who has shown some real interest in a two-state solution and in reconciliation with Israel, even though he undeniably has blood on his hands from the Second Intifada. He was one of the leaders of the Second Intifada.
But the harsh truth that Yitzhak Rabin recognized when he shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993 is that there is going to be a peace between people who have blood on their hands, and on the Palestinian side, people who have been involved in terrorist actions, almost certainly. So I think that would be the better way to proceed.
And much, as you say, will be determined by the regional picture. In some ways, it's really very threatening for Israel, the potential rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that could potentially-- I don't think it's likely, but it's certainly possible, that they will revoke the peace treaty with Israel. On the other hand, Israel has benefited, I would say, from what's happened in Syria where Hamas has had to break from the Syrian government, and to some degree, break even from the Iranians, which has actually left Iran with less influence amongst the Palestinians than it did before. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about typical American Jews who are, I guess, hesitant to get involved in these sort of conversations, because they see this clash between [INAUDIBLE] and American Jewish establishment today. As a leader in the Pro-Israel student community at Cornell, I don't really feel that I see those sort of people around. I feel that I much more encounter Jewish students who don't really identify so strongly as being Jewish, and Israel plays no important role in their lives.
So while I agree with the conversation that's more intricate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is important to be had, I think it's often put on the back burner. Because most people simply don't care at all. It's not that they're liberal and they see the occupation and it, you know, breaks their heart. It's just that they simply don't care. So what advice to you have, I guess, for me, to [? convincing ?] those difficult conversations with people who, on the basis, have no interest.
PETER BEINART: Yeah. Well, thanks. It's a good question. I guess I'll repeat the question. The question is, is this alienation really a product of people being politically alienated from Israel's occupation, or isn't it simply the fact that they're pretty disconnected from virtually everything Jewish? I guess what I was trying to suggest in my speech is that I think that both things are going on amongst different cohorts of the population.
I think you're right, that for a larger mass of young non-orthodox American Jews, the distancing from Israel is simply a product of distancing from all things Jewish. And yet, amongst the elite emerging leadership of non-orthodox American Jews, again, people who are coming out of the rabbinical seminaries, the people in the independent minyan movement, the people who, I think, in some ways are reviving, in many ways, of young non-orthodox American Jewish life, you see this very sharp alienation, which is much more based on politics.
Daniel Gordis, for instance, whose politics I do not share, but actually wrote an essay in Commentary Magazine, basically bemoaning the fact that he felt like many of the younger rabbis and rabbinical students who are clearly connected to being Jewish were actually taking positions very sharply at odds with the state of Israel. In terms of your struggle to get people connected to Israel in any way, I mean, look, it's difficult by the time people get to college. I mean, people are already pretty far along by that point.
But I would say that I think sending young American Jews to Israel on birthright programs is good. I mean, I think it's great. I think all Americans Jews-- I mean, all Americans, but certainly all American Jews, should have the opportunity to go to Israel and have all the wonderful experiences that I had when I was a kid. It is an amazing experience for many, many diaspora Jews to see a Jewish society, to see this extraordinary kind of group of people, Jews from every corner of the world with this incredible mix of traditions, all yelling and screaming at each other, trying to cut each other in line, and trying to rip each other off in business, but all doing it-- I'm joking-- but doing it in a way that actually feels, in some strange way, like you are at home in a strange way. You feel a very deep connection. And I think that's terrific.
So I think that should be encouraged. But I think that the way to encourage the right kind of conversation is also by bringing them into contact with Palestinians. And so if going to Israel is a vehicle for people to connect more to their Jewish identity, that's great. But I think then they should also have an opportunity to connect to the Palestinians who will make them think in harder ways about Israel's democratic challenges. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: So I [INAUDIBLE] I have a question slash comment and another question.
PETER BEINART: Well, they have to be short if they're two.
AUDIENCE: OK. The first comment is I think you're obviously extremely knowledgeable about this, and I thank you for coming here and educating us a bit. I guess in reading your book, especially in the first couple chapters, I felt a discomfort as a young American Jew, as a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. My parents were kicked out of Poland in 1960.
There's a bit of blame in the way that the argument goes, that this crisis that we're experiencing is one of Zionism and not of another side to the story. I think there's also a narrative in the beginning of the book when you're talking about how American Jews feel when they go to temple, how they feel disconnected, which I don't at all. But I know I may not be a representative sample. So I know that your book is a mix of your opinion and as well as events that you've noticed.
As having this platform, this wonderful platform, to start this discussion, do you feel a responsibility as a steward of the Jewish people to talk to Jews and non-Jews, to have a sensitivity towards that that your whole family's upset. And how do you address that sensitivity of you're mixing a narrative and fact, like your opinion and fact? And a student just quoted this phrase as "the crisis of Zionism," as if it's fact already. And do you feel a responsibility, and how do you address that so that people like me who feel discomfort can not feel that discomfort?
My second question is kind of--
Sorry, it's long.
PETER BEINART: This one has to be very short.
AUDIENCE: OK, this one is very short. My second question is a "now what" question. So the question is, we create a two-state solution. And the number one distributor of aid to Palestinians at this point is Israel. So that solution, if a two-state solution becomes a reality, how is that going to actually change the equity of the issues that exist? Like, how do you see Israel's contribution to what will be the Palestinian state? And will be possible to not generate further resentment if the states separate? And then you have a Palestinian state that's poor, without all this Israeli commerce and Israeli aid, how do you see that really having a really good future?
PETER BEINART: OK, well, thank you. Thanks for both of those. I mean, you're right. My book is an argument. It's my opinion. I try to illustrate that, back it up with evidence. But it's my opinion. Others will look at the facts, the same history, the same evidence, and make a different argument. And that's fine.
In terms of dealing with these sensitivities, I tried as best I could to try to convey my own sense of devotion, admiration, awe towards the Jewish people and the Jewish state. But I also feel that our inhibitions about talking about these things publicly have been a major part of the problem.
And inside the Jewish community, sometimes people say, well, you know, you're a nice Jewish boy. But if you say all these bad things about Israel, then other people are going to hear them-- and you might actually really be doing it for the best of motives. But they hate Israel, and they're going to take this and run with it.
And I think, do people think-- yes, there are people outside. There are people around the world who hate Israel. And there are other people around the world who don't hate Israel but are upset about Israel's policy. But do we think that they need me to tell them that there are troubling things going on in the West Bank? I mean, truthfully, people outside the United States-- certainly in the Arab Muslim world, but even in Europe and other parts-- have seen this on their TV and media far, far more than mine. In fact, mostly I think what they would see, say, if they read my book was feel like it's a fairly sanitized picture, and in fact, the picture in which I try very explicitly to justify Israel's existence and also say what I think makes Israel admirable.
So I guess that's why I don't see it that way. On the question of the two-state solution, you know, the first thing that Palestinians would get in a two-state-- you know, you have to remember, 60% of the West Bank is Area C, which is off limits to Palestinians. So while most of the Palestinian population is in Areas A and B which means Palestinians are under their own civil or even security authority, the most of the land in the West Bank is off limits to them.
So surely from an economic perspective-- and that's part of the reason that travel is such a challenge within the West Bank, because you have to travel across Israeli controlled areas, where you have checkpoints. It really slows down the movement of people and goods. And so just having a contiguous state in the West Bank-- on 95-plus percent of the West Bank-- I think itself would be an enormous economic boon for the West Bank, since it would make the movement of travel and services much, much easier.
And I think that what the economic future of the West Bank would be-- who knows. I think over the longer term, probably it would be most successful if it was closely economically interlinked with both Israel and with Jordan, which has a very large Palestinian population. And one thing that a Palestinian state would be able to access that the Palestinian Authority can't access now is actually the money and expertise of the Palestinian diaspora. Palestinians have actually quite a successful diaspora in Latin America, in Canada, in Europe, in the United States.
But one of the things that's, I think, keeping those people from coming back, returning, and investing, and using their expertise is, first of all, they don't want to live under occupation. It's a pain in the neck. Secondly, because it actually makes business so much more difficult to do when you don't have a contiguous state.
So I actually believe this could be a greater opportunity for economic development in a Palestinian state than you have today. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: My question is about whether or not there needs to be reform, [INAUDIBLE] return to ethos, such as you talk in Israeli political institutions. I was struck by how when you talk about Israeli politicians who don't like, they're all in power today-- [? the ?] prime minister [? and ?] the foreign minister. When you talked about Israeli politicians you liked, they all seem to be dead.
PETER BEINART: Olmert's not dead.
AUDIENCE: So the first question is about the Israeli Left. My [INAUDIBLE]. Unless he does something silly like attack Iran, Netanyahu's cruising to reelection. [INAUDIBLE] the Israeli Left, and I'm wondering if the crisis you're talking about is really a crisis of the death of one of the great socialist democratic parties in the world, the Israeli Labor Party. Is that reforming itself? Is there any hope for that? And would your book look differently if there was a viable Left?
It's never been clear to me why they didn't reach out to Israeli Arabs or-- like the Congress Party of India did. It became the representative of Muslims, in many ways. It's never been clear to me why it wasn't. And that leads to my second question, which is [INAUDIBLE]--
PETER BEINART: Sure, sure, the second one has to be short.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. You talk about the trade off between a Jewish state and being a liberal democratic state. And you mention Eastern European countries that have crosses on their flag. It seems to me [INAUDIBLE]. Is that really a parliament that can represent all the people that it claims to represent? You're talking about this early period, the '50s, as almost like a golden age. It's not clear to me it was a golden as you're making it out to be.
PETER BEINART: No, it certainly was not gold. I mean, Arab Israelis lived under martial law until 1966. I mean for me, one of the great historical tragedies of the occupation of Israel's taking control of the West Bank in 1967, which Ben-Gurion warned against, was that six months earlier, he finally actually lifted martial law, which put real limits on the movement of Arab Israelis inside the green line. And then you take over this territory where you have millions of Palestinians who have no citizenship whatsoever.
So I think that Israel will never be a democracy like the United States. There will always be a trade off between its Jewish and democratic characters. But even then, it's still significant that the Arab citizens of Israel do not want to live in a Palestinian state. I mean, Avigdor Lieberman has this idea that he wants to redraw the boundaries so a certain area called the triangle would be put into a Palestinian state. The population did not want to. They want to live under a Jewish state, even though they feel second class citizens.
This is a Hebrew-speaking population who does participate in Israeli elections, which I think is very significant. So I think this is always going to be a difficult relationship. Over the long term, it may be that you actually do contemplate things like adding a stanza to Hatikva so there's at least some part of it that Arab Israelis can resonate with. Because one of the terrible ironies is Israel has an Arab Israeli member of its Supreme Court, which is, I think, it can be very proud of. But that Arab Israeli member of the Supreme Court will not rise and salute the national anthem of the flag because it talks about the Jewish soul and doesn't feel connected to it.
So I think over time, you could think about-- Israel doesn't have a constitution. So in many ways, many of the things are in some ways in flux. I mean, one of the deep ironies that is very rarely talked about about what it means to have a Jewish state is that Israel has never been able to define what a Jew is. I mean, people would be at war within three seconds. So in many ways, that is part of the challenge but also the fluidity of these. And I think that in there, I think there is opportunity for a more inclusive definition.
On the question of the Israeli Left, first of all, I like Ehud Olmert actually more and more. And Olmert is still very much alive. The Israeli Left-- you're right. The Israeli Liberal Party has collapsed. I think the drama is much bigger than the collapse of the Israeli Labor Party. I mean, the Israeli Labor Party has not really been, I think, able to-- it's still like a very old fashioned, top down social democratic party from the 1950s. It hasn't really responded to globalization very much, and in some ways it's been eclipsed by Kadima by leaders from the right like Olmert and Sharon and Tzipi Livni who have been more proactive in terms of talking about a two-state solution and moving towards it.
I mean, what Livni said in her speech leaving the Knesset yesterday, which was that Israel is sitting on a volcano and that Israeli democracy is in mortal danger. So this is quite a strong statement coming from a woman who herself comes from a Likud background. And I think that's part of those voters have moved from Labor to Kadima.
Meretz, which is the party further left, also has never really recovered from the Second Intifada. And the Second Intifada was a huge blow to the Israeli Left, because the popular narrative in Israel was that Israel tried to give the Palestinians everything at Camp David, and then Palestinians responded with this violent uprising. So we tried, and we don't have a partner.
I think that the reality of what happened at Camp David and Taba and the Second Intifada and with the Gaza withdrawal is much more complicated and multi-causal. But as a political matter, the Israeli Right has won the narrative, and that's been part of the reason that the Israeli Left has been in such bad shape, alongside demographic shifts, which have led to populations that lean right like the ultra-orthodox and modern orthodox and Russian populations being greater.
SPEAKER 1: Looking at the time I would say one more question.
PETER BEINART: OK, all right. Great. Or you know what? Maybe could I take a couple and-- so ask them all quickly, and then I'll answer them all. So please, go ahead.
AUDIENCE: First of all, I think this book is very important, and I wish that member of Congress would read it. Secondly--
PETER BEINART: Got to be short, got to be short.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] one of the things you last spoke about, what exactly does it mean to be a Jewish state? Netanyahu is demanding the Palestinians to recognize [INAUDIBLE] not just of the state but as a Jewish state. If Palestinians responded and said, well, we recognize that Israel is designed for the protection and safety of the Jews so they can worship freely and practice their culture, they have their ties to the land just as we do, but that doesn't necessarily mean a Jewish a majority. Would that be good enough?
PETER BEINART: OK. Very good question. OK, so somebody in the back. Now, more people are raising their hands. Now we're in trouble. All right, I think I'm just going to take like the four that I saw immediately.
AUDIENCE: If I could ask a question about Iran. You mentioned national security, and I was wondering if you could comment on the use of more unconventional and indirect [INAUDIBLE] such as cyber warfare [INAUDIBLE]?
PETER BEINART: OK, OK. Great. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Part of what I appreciate really deeply about you're doing and what you said today is that you're calling-- you're not just speaking about what people need to do in Israel. You're talking to American Jews to really think about what we need to do, and I wanted to tell you that the [INAUDIBLE] [? knows ?] [? about her, ?] [INAUDIBLE] just in fact changed four words of Hatikvah at the request of some publications in Israel the last few days. She sent the emails five minutes before I walked in here that she's received, some very supportive and some vilifying her in the worst of ways.
And I think for us, I would want to say-- those who are Jewish among us-- want to ask ourselves a question of, where are our commitments? And what personal risks are we willing to take for vilification and for marginalization? And this is not a question. It's an expression of deep gratitude for what you are doing, because many of us, for 30 years, have been [INAUDIBLE], have shared a lot of the concerns. And we've been too quiet, afraid for what would come. And your courage is very, very important.
And [INAUDIBLE] all of us to find, whether it's small steps we take. [INAUDIBLE] our leader, but to look for what we can do in America. Because only when American Jews, who are thoughtful and concerned about Israel, speak up and change American policy will anything really change in Israel.
PETER BEINART: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] peace in the Middle East and peace in the world. And it's really-- we have a lot of power, and we need to do something now.
PETER BEINART: Thank you. I should have cut you off, but I was enjoying it too much.
AUDIENCE: It's the language you use about not just [HEBREW] but [HEBREW].
PETER BEINART: Oh, OK. Very interesting, OK. All right. We'll take there and there, and then and if anyone else, I'm happy to talk to them afterwards. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: I was wondering if you could talk more about the Birthright program and similar programs, and in terms of having real conversations that are productive with Palestinians. I was on Birthright program in January, and they took us to the security border with Gaza. We drove through the West Bank. They showed us the green line [INAUDIBLE]. They talked about land swaps. But you're right, there's no conversation. And it left me quite perplexed and wondering how it could happen and what context could that be framed?
PETER BEINART: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I didn't really know.
PETER BEINART: OK, that's a great question.
AUDIENCE: What part, if any, do you see for non-Jews in helping resolve the crisis of Zionism?
PETER BEINART: OK. Great, great, great. All right, this is great. OK. There's obviously-- you know, people will write textbooks about unconventional warfare that Israel has been waging and maybe with the US's help against Iran. I don't know very much about it, because I don't get led into those meetings.
But clearly there's been an enormous amount of cyber warfare going on. There's also been targeted assassinations it seems of Iranian officials. And I would imagine that stuff, that will probably continue from the Israeli side. There's also been another fascinating dynamic, which is kind of cyber warfare by individual Israelis and people in the Arab world.
There was a series of attacks over the last few months by basically people in the Arab world against the Israeli computers. And these were not governmental things, and then actual individual Israeli hackers, basically hackers going to war with one another, which I thought was just, from an international relations point of view, kind of a fascinating thing to watch as you had kind of citizen to citizen warfare of a sort, that the [? States ?] actually were not really able to be in control of.
In terms of Netanyahu recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, I think it's a mistake. And I think it suggests a kind of hidden agenda. The Palestinians should accept that a deal has to mean the end of claim. That's legitimate. And they have to recognize Israel. And in fact, the PLO recognized [? Israel ?] in 1993.
But to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I think, first of all is hard for the Palestinians to do because the Arab Israelis don't want it to be a Jewish state. And so it's seen as selling out the Arab Israelis. And I don't see essentially why that's necessary. I mean, Arab Israeli citizens and the government of Israel are going to have to figure out the role of Arab Israelis. But I don't think it's the role of the Palestinians in the West Bank to have to make their statement about what the internal character of the state of Israel is.
It's also, I think, been used by Netanyahu as a way of trying to get the Palestinians to give in on refugee return. And the problem here is the Palestinians, I think, will have to make dramatic compromise on refugee return. But you can't ask them to make it at the beginning of the negotiations. If you believe they're going to give up on it at all, it's the best card they have to play. I mean, what we know from some of the Israeli negotiators, like Yossi Beilin, who's spent a lot of time with the Palestinians, is his belief was that the ultimate final trade in a deal would be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem with sovereignty over the Temple Mount in exchange for Israeli control over Israeli immigration policy, which is to say, Israeli control over how many Palestinians would actually return, which would be a relatively small number, perhaps in the tens of thousands.
And I think to ask the Palestinians, as Netanyahu wants to, to give up on the right of return at the beginning of a negotiation means, essentially, they have no card to play with what they really want, which is the capital in East Jerusalem and sovereignty over the Temple Mount. So I think it's unrealistic to expect it at the beginning of negotiations.
On the question of Birthright, I guess I would say-- I think one thing that the American Jewish community could try to do, in terms of conversations with Palestinians, is simply find ways of allowing Palestinians to tell their own personal stories. Even if you don't want to engage, even if you think it's too difficult to engage in a political conversation, I think it's very important for American Jews to simply hear the life stories of Palestinians, especially because American Jews spend a lot of time thinking about our own stories of dislocation and how we were dispersed into different places.
The Palestinian story is, in many ways, similar. I mean, Palestinian families, many of them were united before 1948. Then some people ended up in Gaza or the West Bank or Egypt or Syria or Lebanon or Jordan. And I think those personal stories, just as we would like Palestinians to be open to stories of the Holocaust, for instance, I think are really important in creating a basis of human connection that I think can then be the basis upon which to have a political conversation.
And on the question for non-Jews, and I do recognize that sometimes this talk can seem a little Jewish heavy. I think all Americans have the right and maybe even the responsibility to be engaged in this conversation, first of all, because American national security interests are at stake. I think that while Israel itself and the '67 borders is a strategic asset for the United States. I think Israel's occupation of the West Bank is a strategic liability for the United States. And I strongly suspect that's the view of the leadership of the American military, which is part of the reason that David Petraeus made the comments that he did last year, and because it fuels anti-Americanism around the Muslim world and even can be a contributor to jihadist terrorism, although not certainly the only contributor.
And I think the other thing is that American Christians have every right to act to make a moral statement based on their own moral perspective and their own religious traditions. American Christians, American Muslims-- I think they need to be sensitive to the security issues involved for the state of Israel. They shouldn't trivialize those because they're real. And they also need to be sensitive to the way in which-- sometimes they should try to be sensitive to the way in which American Jews can be very sensitive to certain kinds of rhetorical tropes that can have resonances of anti-Semitism. But that should not keep them from saying what they believe and speaking out. They're moral issues that exist within the state of Israel that everyone has a right to comment on.
There was a report on 60 Minutes a week or so ago about Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and the way in which Palestinian Christians are very, very negatively impacted by Israel's occupation. And Palestinian Christians have every right to be concerned about that and to speak about the inequity of the occupation. So I think that the last thing I would want would be for this to be a Jewish-only conversation. And I think, actually, we as American Jews have a responsibility to counter the tendency of some, unfortunately, of American Jewish leaders to invoke anti-Semitism to make it harder for non-Jews to enter into the conversation.
We have to say very clearly that everyone has the right to be considered to be innocent of anti-Semitism until proven guilty and that everyone should be able to speak in this conversation without fear that they might be called an anti-Semite and therefore kind of pushed out of the conversation. I think American Jewish leaders who do that really should be ashamed for that kind of effort at making people of goodwill feel like they can't participate.
SPEAKER 1: Let me do the closing and just thanking all of you for coming, and definitely for asking all these very interesting questions. But please join me in a special thanks to our speaker [INAUDIBLE].
Just a reminder, there's the book for sale now, and Peter agreed to sign books, if you would like.
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Peter Beinart, Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, spoke at Cornell on May 1, 2012.
The talk was part of the Einaudi Center's Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.