The wisdom of Peter Beinart’s grandmother

Peter Beinart now advocates a bi-national state in Palestine. But he has never needed Zionism and appears to have internalised today’s ‘woke’ categories which pass over in silence the oppression of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews, such as his own Egyptian-born grandmother, argues Lyn Julius in Fathom. 

Lyn Julius at Jewish Book Week in 2018

At the beginning of July, Peter Beinart, bellwether of US Jewish liberalism, sent shockwaves rippling through the Jewish world when he penned a long essay disavowing Zionism and advocating, in place of Israel, a bi-national state where Palestinians and Israelis would enjoy ‘equal’ rights.

Many critics have pointed out that ‘Beinartistan’,  as onedescribed it, would soon become yet another Muslim Arab state with a vanishing Jewish minority. And if Islamic fundamentalists have their way, its Jews would swiftly find themselves reverting to the status of dhimmis’, with few rights under Muslim religious law.

How come a liberal like Beinart has bought into such a ‘dangerous delusion? Because he has never needed Zionism and because he appears to have internalised today’s ‘woke’ categories, which see Jews as benefiting from ‘white privilege’. He seems to want to promote, in the words of Einat Wilf, ‘Jewish powerlessness in an effort to restore [Jewish] moral purity.’

In progressive Western circles, Zionism has become decidedly un-cool. Self-declared Zionists, like the writer Bari Weiss, complain of bullying at the New York Times. In the vogue for identity politics, Jews are framed as white oppressors.

This postmodern conceptual straightjacket perverts historical truths. It dictates that only ‘people of colour’ can be victims, while the oppression of one million Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of pre-Islamic Jewish communities, among other minorities, from the Arab Muslim world from the 1940s, the subject of my book Uprooted!, must be passed over in silence.

The long history of oppression of Mizrahi Jews in the Arab Middle East is the key to understanding the main drivers of the conflict with Israel – an Arab and Muslim inability to tolerate difference, to co-exist with minorities, and an abhorrence for any exercise of Jewish power.

Yet in the Western progressive mind, bound tight as it is by the postmodern conceptual straitjacket, only Palestinians can be victims. The Mizrahi Jews are airbrushed out of public discourse. In the current jargon, they are ‘cancelled’. In this topsy-turvy world, merely to draw attention to Arab and Muslim antisemitism invites accusations of racism or ‘Islamophobia’.

Progressive orthodoxy even denies Jewish indigeneity, as one woke Manhattan rabbi recently tried to do, perhaps because it conflicts with the false settler-colonial paradigm which the left habitually applies to Israel. The fact that over 50 per cent of Israeli Jews have roots in the Middle East is simply ignored.Most Israeli Jews found refuge in the only state that would defend them unconditionally from persecution. By empowering Palestinians at the expense of Jewish Israelis, Beinart and other anti-Zionists would once again put Jewish destiny in the hands of others.

Someone who did appreciate the absolute need for Zionism was Peter Beinart’s Egyptian-Jewish grandmother, Adele Pienaar. Born in Alexandria, she was driven out by Arab nationalism. In an 2014 elegyhe wrote: ‘The lessons she drew from her experience of vulnerability and dislocation were straightforward: Jews should be on the lookout for trouble and should take care of each other since no one else would … her nightmare for Israel was that Arab nationalism would imperil its Jews in the way that Arab nationalism had imperilled Alexandria.’

Beinart’s essay, in effect, disparages his grandmother’s ‘tribal’ and instinctive Zionism in order to virtue signal to a narrow liberal intellectual milieu. It is a tragedy that he thinks the imperilment of Israel is a price worth paying for that, as the ‘vulnerability’ and ‘peril’ his Grandmother knew has not gone from this world. As for the Middle East, only a fool would think the Jews will continue to thrive without a state of their own.

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