- - Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Peter Beinart is at it again. If you don’t know to whom I’m referring you might count yourself lucky, not bother to read the paragraphs that follow and pick up a summer novel instead.

For those not dissuaded: Mr. Beinart is a writer and TV commentator who has long wished to be regarded as a bold thinker, someone who says what lesser men dare not — though nothing that could possibly trigger the exquisite sensitivities of those who identify as “woke.”

In a profile written 10 years ago, Andrew Ferguson judged Mr. Beinart “one of the most energetic careerists anyone has ever seen,” adding: “What makes Beinart’s campaign of self-promotion conspicuous — week after week, year after year — is its utter lack of inhibition. There’s a kind of insouciance to it.”

Once upon a time, Mr. Beinart was a wunderkind. In 1999, at the tender age of 28, he was named editor of The New Republic. In those days, he called himself a neo-liberal and publicly supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein. When the U.S. intervention in Iraq went south, he publicly regretted his earlier opinion. It would be unfair to say the New Republic’s descent from preeminence to irrelevance was all his fault, though his contribution should not be minimized.

After leaving that publication, he resurrected his notoriety by posturing as a Jewish critic of Israel — a Zionist, yes, but an intensely anguished one. This ensured that the progressive media would embrace him.

In 2010, in the New York Review of Books, he decreed that “morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral.” Mr. Ferguson described the essay as “a mess: a goulash of overstatement, baseless accusation, statistical sleight-of-hand, strategic omission, and wince-making self-regard. As a piece of attention-getting, however, it was a masterstroke, and it’s on those terms, rather than its own, that the article and Beinart are best understood.”

Last week, Mr. Beinart published an op-ed in The New York Times that has made him, once again, the focus of attention. Its headline: “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.”

Putting aside the predictable personalization of a policy question, it’s a dangerous proposal — not for Mr. Beinart, of course, but for Israelis. Or rather it would be if it were taken seriously. Reassuringly, even dovish supporters of the Jewish state appear to get that.

“Calling for one state for Israelis and Palestinians is neither original, nor a remotely viable solution to this long-running conflict,” wrote Dan Shapiro, who was President Obama’s ambassador to Israel. “It’s a disaster in the making for Israelis, the Jewish people, Palestinians, and US interests.”

He added: “His proposal means the elimination of the very purpose of Zionism: the sovereignty in their homeland that the Jewish people deserve and history proved repeatedly they suffered grievously without.”

Daniel Gordis, a left-of-center Israeli author, wrote that Mr. Beinart’s scheme would mean that “Jews would quickly become a minority here, just as they were in Europe.” Where that would lead is no mystery since Hamas and Hezbollah openly advocate the extermination of Israeli Jews, as do Iran’s current rulers.

Mr. Gordis concludes that “many of us are horrified by what is still not right here, but we have no interest in Beinart’s suggestion that we therefore commit national suicide. Peter Beinart believes that because we cannot get the Palestinians to recognize our right to a state, we should knock over our proverbial king and give up the project.”

So far, Palestinian rulers in Gaza and the West Bank have not weighed in. On one hand, it must give them comfort to see an American on the left declare himself a post-Zionist in the pages of an influential newspaper. On the other hand, were Palestinian leaders interested in developing support for a binational state of “Israel-Palestine,” there are steps they could take to demonstrate its feasibility. 

For example, they could support “normalization,” meaning increasing Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and cooperation. But the Palestinian Authority (not to mention Hamas) vehemently opposes normalization — “tatbia,” in Arabic. Ordinary Palestinians have lost their jobs for inviting Israelis to join them for holidays, celebrations or even a cup of coffee. Palestinians engaging in commercial relations with Israelis risk arrest.

The PA also could adopt a more benign view of Jewish “settlements” in the West Bank. They could say: “Just as there are two million Arab Israelis, so we expect there to be Jews living in the West Bank. We can negotiate their status.” Instead, of course, the PA insists that any and all lands claimed by Palestinians must be “cleansed” of Jews.

A final point: There’s no need to theorize about whether it’s possible, at this stage in history, for a Jewish minority to enjoy fundamental rights in a Muslim-majority country. Jews once lived in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon — throughout the broader Middle East. In some lands, they suffered terrible persecution. In others, they were merely treated as second-class citizens. In the aftermath of World War II, almost all were forced to flee. Many went to Israel, where they and their descendants now constitute a majority of Israeli Jews.

Today, 57 states belong to the Organizations of Islamic Cooperation. Jews no longer live in most of them, but it’s relevant to ask: In how many of those countries are other ethnic and religious minorities guaranteed human and civil rights?

Peter Beinart knows the answer. He knows how much blood has been shed in Syria and Yemen’s civil wars. But as Mr. Ferguson recognized a decade ago, nothing, not even the prospect of his one-state solution turning into a final solution, could inhibit his insouciant self-promotion.

• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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