Brandishing bulldozers: The Beinart-Gordis debate (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By MARTIN SHERMAN 05/11/12)
JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-Top
I wish you all, the parents and the entire tribe of settlers...
restorers of the Jewish settlement in Hebron... great blessing and
joy in raising your son. Bringing your son into the covenant of the
Patriarch Abraham, in the city of Abraham after 40 years separation
from it, has a special symbolic significance. It bears testimony to
our continuous connection to this place, to which we have returned
never to leave.
– Yigal Allon, January 29, 1969
These sentiments, conveyed in a congratulatory letter from the Labor
Party’s iconic moderate, to a family in Kiryat Arba, the Jewish
neighborhood adjacent to Hebron, on the occasion of the first brit
ceremony in the community, underscores how decoupled from historical
fact and political context the discourse on the Palestinian issue has
Allon, who commanded the Palmah in the War of Independence, served as
deputy prime minister, education minister and foreign minister under
Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin.
He was arguably the first mainstream politician to explicitly propose
making far-reaching territorial concessions in Judea and Samaria, in
what came to be known as the Allon Plan. Yet even he, the
archetypical “pragmatic” secular Zionist, understood the profound
significance of Hebron for the Jewish people, its heritage and its
Relativity of ‘radicalism’
It is instructive to keep this in mind when assessing last week’s
debate between Peter Beinart and Daniel Gordis at Columbia
University, sparked by the publication of Beinart’s book The Crisis
In the opening minutes of his address, Beinart berated the government
for assisting in the construction of a cultural center in Kiryat
Arba, which he dubbed “one of the most radical and remote settlements
in the West Bank.”
Radical? But wasn’t it endorsed by a revered Labor leader, the author
of the policy of “territorial concessions,” as a “place to which we
have returned never to leave”?
Indeed, wasn’t it David Ben- Gurion who in 1970 declared, “We will
make a great and awful mistake if we fail to settle Hebron, neighbor
and predecessor of Jerusalem, with a large Jewish settlement,
constantly growing and expanding, very soon.”?
So what makes Kiryat Arba “radical” – established as it was in the
era of Labor-hegemony, years before a Likud-led government was
conceivable, in an era when Zionism was presumably still true to its
liberal-humanistic principles, allegedly so dear to Beinart’s heart?
Moreover, what makes it “remote”– barely 24 km. from the Malha
shopping mall in Jerusalem, roughly the same distance from London’s
Whitechapel to Heathrow Airport – and considerably less than the
distance from the US Capitol to Dulles International Airport in
Washington? How “remote” is that?
Contextual lacunae and factual lapses
Nowhere could the unfortunate audience get the sense that “radical,
remote” Kiryat Arba was created under the Labor Party, and situated
so close to Israel’s capital that both could easily fit within the
confines of many Western cities. Nowhere could they get the sense
that the development of the Jewish presence in Hebron was not some
deranged initiative of renegade right-wing religious radicals, but a
reflection of the vision of the founders of state – even those who
embraced the “land-for-peace” formula.
It is thus a great pity that Gordis did not seize the opportunity to
rectify this – along with many other contextual lacunae and factual
lapses in Beinart’s presentation. After all, as one of participants
remarked, she came because “as a Jew invested in Israel, I thought
it’d be an opportunity to educate myself.”
And there was much need to “educate” the attendees in light of
Beinart’s cavalier attitude toward the truth – with regard to both
what he said and what he didn’t.
For it was not only the cultural center in Kiryat Arba that irked
him. He also berated “this government” for supporting the cultural
center in Ariel – a city of almost 20,000 residents and a University
Center with a student population of 13,000.
For some reason, Beinart avoided mentioning (perhaps out of
ignorance, perhaps not) that the establishment of Ariel was approved
by none other than Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres while
serving as defense minister under Nobel Peace Prize laureate Yitzhak
Rabin, who never dreamed it would not remain under Israeli control in
any future agreement.
Settlements: Sources and sponsors
Listening to Beinart one would never guess that settlements were a
mainstream initiative, launched long before any “insidious” Likud
government could hijack Zionism and distort its noble liberal
principles, enshrined in Israel’s declaration of Independence that he
is so wont to refer to (more on that later).
I am certain that many in the Columbia crowd would have been
astounded to learn that the real sponsor of the settlement project
was not some wild-eyed, bearded rabbi or a shrill settler extremist,
but none other than Shimon Peres himself. I am sure they would be
astonished (as Beinart himself might be) to discover that Peres
authored a book in which he prescribed the need to “create a
continuous stretch of new settlements; to bolster Jerusalem and the
surrounding hills, from the north, from the east, and from the south
and from the west, by means of the establishment of townships,
suburbs and villages – Ma’aleh Adumin, Ofra, Gilo, Beit El, Givon, to
ensure that the capital and its flanks are secured, and underpinned
by urban and rural settlements.”
Peres elaborated: “These settlements will be connected to the Coastal
Plain and Jordan Valley by new lateral axis roads; the settlements
along the Jordan River are intended to establish the Jordan River as
[Israel’s] de facto security border; however it is the settlements on
the western slopes of the hills of Samaria and Judea which will
deliver us from the curse of Israel’s ‘narrow waist.’” (Compare and
contrast Peres’s use of the term “Judea and Samaria” with Beinart’s
recently proposed “undemocratic Israel.”)
‘Zionism’ devoid of Zionist antecedents
Note that this policy prescription was articulated a decade before
the “ominous specter” of Avigdor Liberman, the “illiberal” Russian
immigrants or messianic Orthodox zealots – Beinart’s pet villains –
appeared on the political scene as a force of any significance, to
sully the theory and practice of Zionism.
One can only wonder what real antecedents Beinart can invoke for the
brand of cuddly Kumbaya Zionism he professes to embrace, and whose
alleged abandonment has led to the growing alienation of young
American Jewry. Certainly up until the end of the previous century,
no Israeli leader of significance embraced it.
It would have been an anathema even to post-Oslo Yitzhak Rabin, who
in his last address to the Knesset, in October 1995, advocated a
permanent settlement with the Palestinians in which Israel’s
frontiers “will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Betar and
other communities east of what was the “Green Line... and [t]he
establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria like the
one in Gush Katif.” (Again, note the terminology.)
Is Beinart lamenting the loss of a long-loved ideology or inventing
(read “fabricating”) a new, antithetical and unattainable ideal,
which never existed in the past and can never exist in the future?
Again, sadly, the contextual history of the settlement enterprise was
not conveyed to the audience who were left largely uneducated on this
Misinformed or misleading?
As in Beinart’s previous writings and appearances, so his address on
this occasion was replete with distortions, half-truths and blatant
untruths too numerous to refute in a single opinion column – even a
lengthy one. But here are some of the more blatant.
In an attempt to portray the settlers as avaricious and self-seeking,
Beinart alleges that “this government is essentially paying Israelis
to move across the Green Line,” claiming it “has reversed its
predecessor and made significant chunks of the West Bank a national
priority zone eligible for a host of subsidies.”
I guess he must have missed the headlines earlier this year
proclaiming that the settlements had been removed from the “national
Thus under the heading, “Gov’t to withhold aid from settlements”
(February 2), Attila Somfalvi, political correspondent of Ynet,
wrote: “The government has decided to exclude 70 West Bank
settlements from the list of national priority areas,”
adding: “Government sources estimate that Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu was concerned that including the settlements in the list
will hurt the latest efforts to restart the peace talks with the
That certainly puts a different spin on things, and suggests that
care should be exercised before taking Beinart’s words at face value.
While it is true that some questions regarding government aid for
settlements in Judea and Samaria remain, the picture that emerged
from the research I conducted for this article is that – in practice –
virtually no government incentives are available to anyone wishing
to “move across the Green Line.” (I use the term “virtually” so as to
err on the side of caution, as I am not aware on any such incentives.
Perhaps Beinart could enlighten me.)
Enmity not ethnicity
Much of Beinart’s chagrin is directed toward Israel’s policy in Judea
and Samaria which applies different administrative/legal systems to
Israeli citizens and to non-Israeli Palestinian residents. For
Beinart, this constitutes a “flagrant violation” of the pledge
enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence to “ensure complete
equality of social and political rights... irrespective of religion,
race or sex.”
One wonders if it is really necessary to explain to a professor of
political science (as Beinart is) that the Declaration of
Independence applies to a limited segment of humanity – Israeli
citizens – not to the entire population of the world.
It is certainly not applicable to hostile aliens – at least
potentially – of whom well over 90 percent support organizations
(either Fatah or Hamas) whose founding documents call for the
eradication of Israel.
To suggest, as does Beinart, that Israeli policy toward the
Palestinians is based on considerations of ethnic identity reflects
either ignorance or ill-will, and is robustly refuted by Israel’s
treatment of its citizens of other non-Jewish ethnic origin, who
indeed enjoy “social and political rights... irrespective of
religion, race or sex.”
Any fair-minded assessment clearly shows that it is not Palestinian
ethnicity but Palestinian enmity that lies at the root of the
application of different administrative systems. Moreover, it is not
this policy of differentiation that reflects racism but the demands
for its abolition.
For these demands embody an inherent – but unequivocal – negation of
the Jews’ right to self-defense, an assumption that Jews can be
assailed with impunity – and the expectation that Jews should die
meekly. That is the real racism – a racism with which Beinart appears
Not a suicide pact
Since Beinart appears far more concerned with Palestinian suffrage
than Israeli security he should remember that “West Bank”
Palestinians are stateless not because of Israel, but because they
were unilaterally – and apparently illegally – stripped of their
As one prominent Palestinian legal expert put it: “More than 1.5
million Palestinians went to bed on 31 July 1988 as Jordanian
citizens, and woke up on 1 August 1988 as stateless persons.”
Perhaps before recommending reckless abandon as a template for
Israeli policy, Beinart would do well to refer to the wisdom
expounded by some of the Supreme Court justices in his own country.
For example, he might heed the words of the chief US prosecutor at
the Nuremberg Trials, justice Robert Jackson, who cautioned that if
one “does not temper [one’s] doctrinaire logic with a little
practical wisdom, [one] will convert the constitutional Bill of
Rights into a suicide pact.”
He might do well to peruse the opinion of justice Arthur Goldberg,
who observed that “while the Constitution protects against invasions
of individual rights, it is not a suicide pact.”
Finally, Beinart might refer to the prudent sentiments of Thomas
Jefferson, who pointed out that “strict observance of the written law
is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not
the highest.... To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the
written law, would be to lose the law itself, thus absurdly
sacrificing the ends to the means.”
Beinart should apply all this to the situation in which Israel finds
itself. Perhaps this will generate the realization that just as the
US Constitution is not a suicide pact, neither is the Israeli
Declaration of Independence.
I could go on disputing and refuting virtually every one of the
points raised by Beinart in his debate with Gordis. Almost without
exception they were demonstrably based on false assumptions or
misrepresentations, omissions or exaggerations, half-truths or even
His sources were almost invariably some failed politician clinging
forlornly to a discredited doctrine, embittered ex-civil servants or
blatantly biased political organizations.
Yet for some reason, Gordis, who recently penned a rather telling
riposte of Beinart’s book in this paper, chose to be largely non-
confrontational and to avoid assertively challenging either the
credibility of Beinart’s sources or the cogency of his arguments.
Although he began making an excellent opening point – that
essentially there is “nothing Israel can do to end the conflict – not
even land for peace” – he ended up severely undermining his case,
declaring that he had no real disagreement with Beinart on most
issues and that basically they shared the same vision for Israel –
even if they differed on how to attain it. Acknowledging a priori
that your adversary’s case is essentially valid is not a recommended
strategy for winning arguments.
Perhaps most disturbing was his reassuring Beinart he too had many
reservations about the settlements and that “many are going to have
to get bulldozed.”
“We have shown in Gaza,” continued Gordis, trying to convince Beinart
that settlements are not a real obstacle to a viable Palestinian
state, “that we know how bulldoze when we need to bulldoze.”
That is not the lesson of the 2005 Gaza disengagement. The real
lesson is that even if we do bulldoze, it is of no avail.
It is pity that Gordis chose not drive this home.
Idiot or enemy?
Whichever way you slice it, Peter Beinart is complicit in promoting
the dangerous hoax of Palestinian statehood, and in a manner highly
detrimental to Israel.
There are only two possible explanations for his actions: He is
either sincere or he is not.
If he is sincere, he is merely a “useful idiot,” and he should be
treated as such. If he is not, then he is engaging in activities that
are intentionally detrimental to Israel. He is, therefore, an enemy –
and should be treated as such. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY