This morning I woke up to two pieces of news that were circulating on social media. One was an article, a proclamation of sorts, by Peter Beinart, a Jewish-American columnist, journalist, and liberal political commentator. It was causing a buzz and being touted as “groundbreaking”. The other was a much more common incident, only notable because it had happened to an international supermodel, Bella Hadid. To me the two stories merged into one, as I explain below.
I’ll begin my post with the groundbreaking news.
By “questioning Israel’s existence as a Jewish state”, Peter Beinart, who is, in some people’s view, “the only liberal Zionist worth taking seriously”, has generated a lot of excitement on social media, and jubilation among some progressive anti-Zionists who have long butted heads with Beinart and like-minded people on this issue.
Writing for Jewish Currents, Beinart explores the wrenching angst so many other Jews typically testify to publicly. First, he asks the question, what makes someone a Jew? He answers it referencing “the broad center of Jewish life — where power and respectability lie” as, above all “supporting the existence of a Jewish state.”
Beinart then rejects this world view, a rejection that feels to him “akin to spitting in the face of people I love and betraying institutions that give my life meaning and joy. Besides, Jewish statehood has long been precious to me, too. So I’ve respected certain red lines.”
Next he puts forth the rationale that caused him to cross a “red line”: As a result of the annexation plans, he has come to realize that Jewish statehood means permanent Israeli control of the West Bank, and so, for the first time in his life, he began to wonder “whether the price of a state that favors Jews over Palestinians is too high.” He announces: “It is time for liberal Zionists to abandon the goal of Jewish-Palestinian separation and embrace the goal of Jewish-Palestinian equality.”
And then he says, “This doesn’t require abandoning Zionism … [Israel] is a Jewish home in the land of Israel.”
What? That broke the spell for me — a Palestinian, listening in on a Jewish conversation. I didn’t bother to read the rest (it’s a rather long article). To me, it wasn’t going to feel “like the dam(n) wall is bursting”, as someone cleverly put it. It felt like Palestine was still being falsely labeled as “the land of Israel”!
What Palestinians are demanding is decolonization, to be followed by reconciliation, which means first and foremost, an admission by people like Beinart that Palestine is and will always be Palestine, not “The land of Israel — the traditional Jewish name for an area of indefinite geographical extension in the Southern Levant”, as described by Jewish lore.
Moving on to Bella Hadid’s story, it read: ‘On Tuesday, the model shared a photo of her father Mohamed Hadid’s passport on her Instagram Story, showing his place of birth listed as Palestine, with the caption, “I am proud to be Palestinian.” The Victoria’s Secret model, who is of Palestinian and Dutch descent, then asked, “Are we not allowed to be Palestinian on Instagram? This, to me, is bullying.”’
By the end of the day, Instagram apologized to Bella Hadid for removing the picture of her dad’s passport. “A spokesperson for Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, told Page Six in response, “To protect the privacy of our community, we don’t allow people to post personal information, such as passport numbers, on Instagram. In this case the passport number was blurred out, so this content shouldn’t have been removed. We’ve restored the content and apologized to Bella for the mistake.”
This incident is a manifestation of the power and reach of the ideology of political Zionism, notwithstanding Instagram’s apology, which no one really believes (Check out similar censorship in “YouTube censors video, produced by If Americans Knew”, about daily life for Palestinians).
Political Zionism necessitates the erasure of Palestine and Palestinians from recorded memory. And as Chris Barghout writes in a comment to this post that I am now incorporating here, the U.S. government is also complicit in this erasure:
My dad was born in mandate Palestine 1932. When he became a US citizen back in 1973, his passport came back born in “Israel”. He sent it back, it was for a second time born in “Israel”. He contacted a lawyer in New York City, and the passport agency said there was no such thing as a Palestinian. We sued the US government and it went to the federal court and proved that in 1932, the US government did do business with Palestine so therefore there was such a thing as a Palestinian. It cost my dad thousands of dollars to prove there was a thing as a Palestinian, and since then there is precedent which allows others to do the same. Be clear though, our government was complicit in denying the existence of Palestine and Palestinians until it was forced to do otherwise.
Zionism is the idea that Jews, for various reasons, cannot coexist comfortably with other peoples in the world and therefore need a “homeland” somewhere, anywhere, to “ingather”.
Such an idea is unacceptable to anyone whose own country is that coveted “homeland”. It is unacceptable as long as the concept involves a supremacist settler-colonial state and it is similarly unacceptable, even if it involves “equality” and a single state, but remains within the same Jewish settler-colonial paradigm.
About Beinart’s “conversion”, Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss writes: “Beinart’s endorsement of Ali Abunimah shows that the Palestinian narrative of Zionism is now in the Jewish tent, and it’s never leaving.”
“The Palestinian narrative of Zionism” sees little moral authority or legitimacy in any of Israel’s leaders beginning with the country’s pre-state machinations on the world stage. When Beinart writes a sentence such as, “A struggle for equality could elevate Palestinian leaders who possess the moral authority that Abbas and Hamas lack” (referring to Ayman Odeh, a Knesset member), I wonder if such a struggle could “elevate” Israeli leaders (past and present) who possess no moral authority or legitimacy whatsoever in Palestinian eyes.
In 2015, Alice Rothchild, American obstetrician, filmmaker, and social-justice activist, wrote in Mondoweiss: “Let liberal Jews weep for their dream of Israel, and move on.” Beinart needs to move on to another tent.
Palestinians have no place in a Zionist Jewish tent (entity) of any shape or form. But Israelis could have a place in our tent.
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.