Peter Beinart: I never said the Palestinians were
blameless. They're obviously not. But Abbas and Fayyad (especially the
latter) are the Palestinian leaders most reconciled to Israeli
statehood we've ever had. Yes, they're weak, but has Israel done all it
could to strengthen them--to show that it's possible to halt settlement
growth without an intifada? Hamas killed a friend of mine, so i'm not a
fan. But Israel decided to let it run in the election, and I think
after it won the best response would have to been to support a
Palestinian unity government, perhaps with the proviso that we deal
with the non-Hamas ministers, as we do with the government in Lebanon
in Hezbollah. Instead we stupidly pushed Fatah to try to take power
violently in Gaza, which backfired because they lost the contest of
arms (and made us look incredibly hypocritical after Bush's democracy
rhetoric). I'd have insisted that Hamas stop rocket fire but allowed
them to fudge recognition of Israel for now and not to demand they
abide by past peace agreements (that was the stupidest condition, I
think, because various Israeli governments have failed it). Yes, Hamas'
victory was tragic, but I don't think it was inevitable that we had to
get to where we were in December 2008. I understand that wars like the
one in Gaza always inflict a terrible human toll, but it's important
that you've exhausted other options first, and I don't think the US, or
JG: Let's step back for a minute. Do you consider yourself a Zionist? What is your goal with this essay?
PB: I do. I think it's partly because my
parents aren't American, actually. My grandmother was born in
Alexandria, Egypt, then moved as a girl to Elizabethville (now
Lubumbashi) Congo, now she lives in a third dying Jewish community
(albeit the most beautiful in the world) in Cape Town, South Africa. So
I really believe that Jews--if not perhaps American Jews---need a
Jewish state to go to in time of need. Whenever I waxed too patriotic
about America, my grandmother used to say, "the Jews are like rats," we
leave the sinking ship. So yes, I'm a Zionist. I'm close enough to
people who still have their bags packed.
But I'm also a liberal.
My hero growing up was Joe Slovo, who spoke only Yiddish until he was
nine and upon moving to South Africa as a boy from Lithuania (we South Africans are almost all Litvaks, except my mom's side, who are Sephardi) became the head of the military wing of the African National
Congress. There are Slovos in every place Jews have gone, people who
have devoted themselves as Jews (though i'll admit Slovo was not as
good a Jew as say, Abraham Joshua Heschel) to the fate of non-Jews.
There's a tension, but for me the value is in the tension, in loving
Zionism and Judaism and also feeling that one's love of who one is
impels one towards moral universalism. I see that spirit powerfully in
the Israeli left--which is why I quoted Lapid in my piece. It's the use
of Jewish suffering as a moral imperative not only to act on behalf of
imperiled Jews, but of imperiled non-Jews that really touches me. I see
that spirit in Zeev Sternhell and the students at Sheikh Jarrah--and
feel they could be the guide for a different Zionism in the US. But I
don't see one whit of it in Netanyahu, Lieberman or Ovadiah Yosef. And
I don't see much of it at AIPAC or the Presidents' Conference. For me,
that's the tragedy.
Read Part II of the interview here.