Aug. 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD
Peter Beinart has a solution for the decades-old crisis in the Middle East: Start seeing Palestinians as human beings.
Once that happens, the controversial journalist told an on-line discussion Aug. 18, the movement to make Israel a fair and just society for all its citizens can start.
“The Jewish community talks about Palestinians, but does not talk to Palestinians,” he told the session. “That process of talking about people instead of to them is dehumanizing.”
One result of that process, he said, is the “omnipresent” Jewish view of Palestinians as terrorists – an idea that stifles any effort to bring the two communities together.
Beinart, an American journalist and commentator who appears frequently on CNN, has become a controversial figure after publishing a July essay arguing Jews must give up the idea of separate Israeli and Palestinian states in favour of a single nation with equal rights for all its citizens.
“The question isn’t, ‘are Jews willing to live in a country that’s half Palestinian,’ but ‘are they willing to live in a country where half of the population is disenfranchised?’” he asked.
Winning equal rights for Palestinians, he added, will be a result of the same kind of social movements that were led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and Mahatma Gandhi in India.
“One state is more likely to produce that kind of movement than a divided entity,” he said. “One day things are going to shift on the ground because the Palestinians will not accept their denial of rights forever.”
Beinart admitted his argument isn’t likely to change the minds of Israeli leaders; it’s just human nature for those in power to be reluctant to give it up.
“When one group has all the rights and power, they’re very unlikely to want to change that,” he said. “We have to make Israelis understand they can’t continue to control millions of people who lack even basic rights.”
The Zoom event was jointly sponsored by JSpace Canada and Khouri Conversations. JSpace describes itself as a progressive voice for a negotiated Middle Eastern settlement while opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Khouri Conversations is a non-profit agency supporting the Canadian ideals of inclusion and multiculturalism.
Seeing Israel as anything other than a Jewish state is a tough concept for many to absorb, the panel heard.
For example, JSpace moderator Karen Mock, for example, said her organization remains dedicated to the idea of “two states for two people,” while also supporting a settlement based on “mutual recognition, peaceful coexistence and security.”
That position was echoed by Bob Katz, chair of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Friends for Peace Now.
“I am absolutely wedded to the two-state solution and it’s going to be very hard to shake me from that,” he said.
Katz added that an important step forward is to prevent Israel from expansion into the West Bank with more Jewish settlements and new infrastructure, such as a proposed medical school in the region.
“It’s critical for Jews here to convince Jews in Israel not to create new facts on the ground like that every time they turn around,” he said.
Steve Arnold worked 42 years in Canadian journalism, retiring in 2016 from The Hamilton Spectator. He holds a BA in history and political science, an MA in public policy analysis and has received 25 awards for writing excellence. He now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.