The Seth Rogen Drama: We Need Honest Talk About Israel

Aug. 3, 2020 – By ZACK BABINS

Last week, Canadian Jewish actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, while promoting his new movie, An American Pickle, the saga of a poor Yiddish immigrant to New York City who is preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (based on a quirky story by Simon Rich, available here), discussed his Jewish identity and feelings about Israel.

You may have read about it: Rogen rejected an inherent link between Jewish identity and Zionism, called the idea of Jewish statehood the product of “an antiquated thought process,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the ways he – the son of two kibbutzniks and Jewish summer camp alumnus– was educated when it came to Israel. 

I may disagree with Seth on a few points – I happen to think that as long as everyone else has a state, we should probably have one too – but this much is true: The way that our community teaches young Jews about Israel, Palestine – and the conflict just doesn’t square with historical records – and there is an instinct to exile and dismiss the Jews who ask frank and difficult questions about Israel.

The realities of the Aliyah movements, the British Mandate, the War of Independence, the wars of 1967 and 1973, intifadas, settlements, and countless failed peace processes, are too messy for one op-ed and one day. But in our day schools and summer camps, and our primary educational programs, they are simplified to create a vision of Israel that is blameless, perfect and miraculous – a vision far more naïve and utopian than even Herzl’s. 

“We took a deserted land and made the desert bloom.” “We (out of the goodness of our own hearts) withdrew from Gaza and just look at what they did there.” “We accepted the Partition plan and they didn’t.”  

It wasn’t until my final year of university, and my decision to write a thesis on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, that I – who had attended Hebrew school for nine years, was active in the local Jewish fraternity, president of Hillel, and had just participated in a Birthright Israel trip – learned, for instance, that the Israeli acceptance of the 1947 partition plan was far from unanimous, with Menachem Begin and the Revisionist Zionist camp calling it “illegitimate.” 

During that year of research and writing, I encountered many pieces of information that directly and forcefully disproved many of the ideas that I had been raised with. I confronted the reality of a real country making political decisions and strategic military calculations.

I felt lied to. On many occasions, I was mere sentences away from abandoning my emotional stake in Israel altogether. On some days, the only thing stopping me from washing my hands of the whole messy falafel was a mentor who encouraged me to embrace the nuances and test my values against them.

Any conversation about the Jewish future has to include a frank, reasonable discussion about the role of Israel and its ability to represent Jews around the world. It is unsustainable for us, as a people, to continue mythologizing a real, complex place and exiling those of us who express dissatisfaction with realities once we learn them. 

After all of that, after the threat of annexation, the continued attack of the rabbinate on progressive values, and much more, I remain a Zionist for this reason: 

I am a Jew, and a Jew in a world that is dangerous and hostile to Jews: Israel, for all its faults, remains a place where Jews can be safe as Jews, an increasing rarity in 2020. While I am relatively safe as a Canadian Jew, I know far too much Jewish history to think that this safety is forever guaranteed.

But a small part of me, in the back of my head, knows that there is a second reason. I remain a Zionist because anything else risks alienation and condemnation. From my friends, my family, the community I grew up and worked in. From the Jewish Twittersphere. 

I’ve been to Israel three times and I’d like to visit again in the future. In pre-coronavirus times, Israel has barred entry to, among others, Diaspora Jewish BDS activists. I’m not interested in taking a 12-hour flight only to get deported from a country that claims to be my homeland. 

My Zionism is nuanced. It is critical, it is measured, and I do my best to keep it in line with history and the values with which I judge every other political issue in my life. But it is not the only thing that makes me a Jew. Far from it. 

I’ve long been party to conversations – and handwringing – about the Jewish future. For a long time, assimilation and intermarriage were the boogeyman. Now, it’s insufficient (right-wing, reactionary, unquestioning) Zionism that gets one labeled as a traitor to the Jews. 

The truth is, when we lie to our kids, they resent the lie as much as they resent us. The truth is, to ensure a Jewish future, we have to tell the truth about the Jewish past. And that means a conversation about Israel that’s rooted in reality and history, not myths and utopias. These questions are not going away, and will only get louder. The truth is, we ignore them – and dismiss young Jews with serious concerns – at our own risk.


Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.

Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

By BOB KATZ

The writer Peter Beinart, a well-known and influential progressive Zionist, who had long advocated a two-state solution, recently reconsidered his principles. In a controversial and much-discussed essay, published in Jewish Currents in early July, he proposes an altogether different paradigm.

In his carefully written, well-researched essay, Beinart concludes that the traditional view of Zionism was no longer viable, a two-state solution was unachievable, and the only alternative to Israel becoming an apartheid state would be for it to forge an alliance with the Palestinians and create a unified state in which all citizens were equal. Most importantly, he emphasizes that if Israel continued to govern close to three million non-citizen, non-voting Palestinians on a fraction of the West Bank, it would be unable to avoid the “apartheid” label. And once the world came to regard Israel as an apartheid state, its days would be numbered.

Beinart recognizes that a one-state solution would require difficult compromises. At the same time, he points to the existence of two states within Belgium, notes South Africa’s successful transition to democracy, and proposes the example of the peace accord that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Far from persuading me to abandon Zionism and accept a one-state solution, Beinart’s essay left me all the more convinced of the importance of Zionism, and the necessity of a two-state solution. At the same time, I am in full agreement with his bleak view that, if annexation continues, whether creeping or formal, Israel will fit the definition of apartheid, in which case it will not be able to survive the type of international condemnation that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Beinart describes the logic and benefits of a unified Jewish-Palestinian state but does not offer a plan to bring about a union. Instead, he points to the largely successful integration of Palestinian Israelis into the pre-1967 borders and observes that, given Israel’s control of the West Bank, “Israel-Palestine is already binational.” He posits that education and income parity would lead to workable compromises for all Palestinians. Over the past 53 years, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to negotiate a two-state solution. There is no reason to assume that the two sides – three if you consider Gaza a separate entity – will do any better negotiating a one-state solution.

Beinart’s assertion that it would be feasible for Jews and all Palestinians to unite within a peaceful state, such as exists in present day Israel, ignores the fact that the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship have a very different recent history than the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It would require the integration of dispossessed people who have long seen the PLO and Hamas as their only prospects for freedom from a Zionist tyranny.

Beinart dreams of a unified state with a constitution in which both Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. Even with constitutional protections, it is not hard to imagine both sides attempting to dominate the other. Whatever constitutional rights Armenians once had in the Ottoman Empire were extinguished by 1923 with virtually no intervention from the outside world. Iran was a multi-cultural state until it felt a need to deal with apostates such as their Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. In Iraq, Sunnis persecuted Shiites until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, at which time the Shiites persecuted the Sunnis. And everyone persecuted the Kurds.

The author argues that extremists would be mollified in a state in which all peoples were full citizens with equal rights. A quick change of heart would be inconceivable. A unified state would have to persuade crazed Jewish settlers and suicidal Hamas fighters to set aside their murderous practices in the interests of peace with their mortal enemies.

Beinart’s essay does not deal with a division of so-called “holy sites.” The tombs of Hebron are sacred to Jews and to Muslims. A binational state of Israel would have to reconcile the legitimate concerns of Hebron’s Palestinians, whose Jewish extremist persecutors have erected a statue to honour Baruch Goldstein as well as the fears of indigenous Jews who remain haunted by the 1929 Hebron Massacre. Beinart also ignores the interests of fundamentalist Christians, who believe that only if there is a Jewish state in Israel can there be a Second Coming. 

Beinart discusses Gaza, pre-1967 Israel, and the West Bank as if they were in a bubble, free from external forces. Guaranteeing the security of Jews in a binational state would require more than a peace between Palestinians and Jews. Just as many Jews deny the rights of Palestinians in the interests of a truly Jewish state (see: Israel’s Basic Law, enacted in 2018), many Muslims dream of an all-Muslim Middle East. In 1948, five Arab nations attacked Israel with the stated purpose of preventing a Zionist entity from existing in the Middle East. 

The principal reason the Egyptian and Jordanian governments currently recognize Israel is because, at least for now, cooperation is a more viable alternative than war. The principal reason the Sunni states, which are still at war with Israel, no longer emphasize destroying the Zionist entity is because, at least for now, they are more worried about Iran. There is no reason to assume that Iran would be any better disposed to a Jewish power-sharing relationship in a binational Israeli-Palestinian state than they are to sharing power with the indigenous Jews who still live within their borders. 

Beinart’s bubble ignores the fact that members of non-Islamic religions are in decline in most Middle Eastern states. The Christian population in all of the Sunni states has shrunk dramatically in the past century. Lebanon has been shattered by sectarian wars. Christians leave their homelands because they believe that they live in countries that, with the possible exception of Syria, want the Middle East to be entirely Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad ordained. In Egypt, there have been frequent slaughters of Coptic Christians, whose population has declined by roughly 25 percent in the past 60 years. In a unified state, Jews would be a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of Islamic states that have rarely shown good will to their Jewish populations.

Beinart proposes post-apartheid South Africa as a model of a successful binational state and points out that white Afrikaners’ fear of violence proved unwarranted once the majority Black population gained equal rights. The example of South Africa becomes less compelling when one considers how badly integration fared in Rhodesia, South Sudan, the former Ethiopia, or post-partition Pakistan. Bi-nationalism also failed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Northern Ireland is for Beinart another example of an apparently intractable conflict resolved once a peace accord was in place. However, the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were very different than the issues dividing Jews and Palestinians. In Northern Ireland, historical grievances notwithstanding, the two adversaries were English-speaking, white-skinned Christians. Neither party was divided by differing Biblical commandments or shared holy sites.

Moreover, the example of Northern Ireland’s generally, successful transition to coexistence becomes less compelling when contrasted with the example of the former Yugoslavia, where a functional, post-war coexistence collapsed into mayhem following the 1980 death of Marshal Tito. 

In Northern Ireland, with Ireland to the south and England to the east, Catholics and Protestants each had neighbors with an interest in “their people” and keeping the peace. Israel does not have any neighbours who see the Jews as “their people.” 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu required three elections before he could form a precarious coalition with “Alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Although Likud’s and Kahol Lavan’s ideologies are similar, they are just barely cooperating. And neither party was willing to cooperate with HaReshima HaMeshutefet (the Joint List). A country that could not welcome Israeli Arabs from HaReshima HaMeshutefet into a coalition would be even less likely to accept Fatah as a partner—or Hamas as the opposition. 

I am in strong agreement with Beinart’s belief that unless a just and democratic solution is found for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an apartheid state, subject to constant security threats from within and without its borders. I have a keen recollection of how the collective efforts of the Commonwealth turned South Africa into a pariah state, even as Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, emphasized that they were “our kith and kin.” There is no prospect of a successful binational Jewish-Palestinian state! The future of Israel and Zionism depends on Jews and Palestinians each being able to live in prosperous democratic states of their own. 


Bob Katz is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now’s national board and chairperson of the Toronto chapter.

Letter to the Editor – July 27, 2020

The Two-State Solution: What Now?

Thank you Joseph M. Steiner for getting to the most important issue in Peter Beinart’s articles (Peter Beinart’s “Yavne” and its Critics, July 24). You write publicly what many of us have already known. The two-state solution is a mirage. The question becomes, “what now?”

Charlie Lior

Toronto

Peter Beinart’s “Yavne” and its Critics

By JOSEPH M. STEINER

On July 7, U.S. journalist and commentator Peter Beinart published an article in Jewish Currents entitled Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine. A shorter version appeared in The New York Times the next day (“I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State”).

In them, Beinart asserts that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible, and he advocates for a single binational state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with equal rights for all.

In the succeeding days, Beinart’s article garnered much attention in the Jewish world, most of it highly critical, some verging on caustic.

I approach the task of evaluating his thesis and the critiques to which it has been subjected as someone who has long been committed to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is important to be clear on the elements of Beinart’s argument, which has three components:

• That settlements have so penetrated the West Bank that separation from Palestinians there is impossible. Hence a two-state solution is impossible, and a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is inevitable. Indeed, he says, a single state is already in place as a result of Israeli settlements and the legal and physical infrastructure created to support those settlements.

• A binational state won’t be so bad. In fact, it would be a good outcome.

• A binational state has an intellectual “pedigree” going back to some early Zionist luminaries.

All of the many responses I have read focus only on Beinart’s second and third arguments, but not on his first. Even a response from Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two of the most astute analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, addresses only Beinart’s benign view of a single state, failing entirely to respond to his first argument – that a single state is inevitable. (“Don’t Give Up on the Two-State Solution,” The American Interest, July 14, 2020).

I don’t propose to address Beinart’s second and third arguments for the simple reason that if Beinart is correct about the impossibility of the two-state solution, the issues arising from his other two arguments will not affect the outcome, even if he is dead wrong in both cases.

The only issue is whether the single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a genuine binational state – one in which all current Israeli citizens and all current Palestinian residents of the West Bank are citizens with equal rights in every dimension – or an apartheid state. In either event, the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is doomed. 

Some might argue that this situation has been brought about by Palestinian intransigence. I agree that the Palestinians have been intransigent in the face of numerous genuine efforts by Israel to negotiate separation on terms reasonable to both sides. But ascribing fault for the present situation is a useless exercise. The point of Beinart’s first argument is that the situation renders separation impossible.

To liberal, progressive life-long Zionists, this is a depressing outlook and not one to which we will readily acquiesce. But, as one test of Beinart’s first argument, ask yourself the following question: Can you conceive of any Israeli government of any political complexion taking either of the following actions as part of a genuine peace agreement, with the Palestinians meeting all of Israel’s security needs?

• Either requiring the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only those settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line), to evacuate and relocate west of the Green Line (or, perhaps, into the settlements adjacent to the Green Line);

• Or, telling the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only of the settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line) that they are on their own, that they will no longer have Israeli defence or economic assistance. They can maintain their Israeli citizenship, but simply as expatriates, or acquire Palestinian citizenship, or both. Those who maintain their Israeli citizenship will receive the same consular assistance, and in the same circumstances, as Israeli expats in any other foreign country, but nothing more.

If the answer to that question is “no,” then, I would argue there is no conceivable separation agreement that could ever be reached between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank. And that takes us right back to the single state, which is either genuinely binational or apartheid.

Beinart’s case for the death of the two-state solution is not premised upon annexation according to the Trump plan or Netanyahu’s campaign pledges. He argues that the settlements have already so penetrated the West Bank that separation is impossible. Indeed, there is a great risk that, if the current threat of formal annexation of whatever magnitude fades away, liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists will breathe a sigh of relief thinking that we have dodged a bullet.

More likely, considering 53 years of history since 1967, “creeping annexation” will continue as settlements in the West Bank expand and new settlements are created. Recent experience has shown that when the Israeli government reluctantly takes any steps against any settlement, even one that is illegal under Israeli law, those steps are accompanied by “compensation” to the settlement movement in the form of expansion of other existing settlements or transfer of the affected residents to another location in the West Bank to create yet another settlement. What “compensation” will Netanyahu feel compelled to provide if he fails to deliver on his annexation promises? 

Israel needs effective security. While a military presence in the West Bank is currently essential to Israeli security, civilian settlements in the West Bank contribute nothing to that security. Indeed, they exacerbate security issues.

I would be overjoyed to be confronted with a convincing rejoinder to Beinart’s first and primary argument. Like most liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists, I have clung to the two-state solution for decades as the basis for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at some indeterminate time in the future.

Beinart challenges us to ask whether we are clinging to an illusion. If so, whither Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Whither Zionism?


Joseph M. Steiner
Joseph M. Steiner

Joseph Steiner is a member of the boards of New Israel Fund of Canada, Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, Bialik Hebrew Day School (of which he is a past chair), and the Shalom Hartman Institute, and an associate member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is a past chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and of its former Board of Jewish Education. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Bob Rae: The UN is a Complex Place in a Complex World

July 16, 2020 – By DANIEL HOROWITZ

When former Ontario Premier Bob Rae was asked to become Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations earlier this month, he found it an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“It’s a very uncertain time in the life of the world and I was very honoured to have been asked. I am delighted to be taking on this challenge,” Rae, who served as Ontario’s NDP premier from 1990 to 1995, told the CJR in an interview.

Bob Rae
Bob Rae

“I couldn’t refuse the job because of the significance of the times we are living in, and the significance of COVID and the impact it is having,” said Rae who served as interim federal Liberal Party leader from 2011 to 2013 and starts his new job on Aug. 4. “That is something that requires a different approach, which I’m glad to be able to advocate on behalf of our government.”

The biggest challenge before him, he said, is the COVID crisis.

“How do we recover globally from COVID and how do we work together to ensure universal access to a vaccine?” asked Rae. “And how do we ensure that the worst financial and economic impacts on countries will be averted?

“That’s going to require a lot of my time and energies, and working with other countries.”

The UN is not the only place where these discussions will take place but the topic will be “front and centre” at the world body.

When Rae assumes his newest role following the completion of Marc-André Blanchard’s four-year term at the UN, he will also go into the family business: Rae’s father, Saul, held the same position from 1972 to 1976.

Looking back at those days, his obviously proud son said he learned a lot by watching his father in action.

“I remember as a high school student, when my Dad was ambassador to the UN in Geneva, witnessing first-hand the challenges of working in a multilateral environment, and the job’s constant pace,” Rae recalled. “My Dad had a personal style that included a lot of humour and reflection – both qualities that I hope I’ve inherited.”

As for the Middle East, Rae is quick to point out his government’s belief in a two-state solution.

”Since the late 1940s and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine, the Canadian government has been a supporter of the notion of two states for two peoples,” Rae explained. “We were there when Israel was admitted to the UN; we’ve had diplomatic relations with Israel since the early 1950s. We’ve had a strong bilateral relationship with the state of Israel for a very, very long time. We’ve been part and parcel of the entire diplomatic process which proceeded since 1967 – to encourage the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel, and for Israel to accept a two- state solution.”

Rae said the policy “struck us then as a logical approach to take, and frankly, it still underlies the positions we’ve taken.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne have made it clear that they do not support Israel’s unilateral annexation of territories in the West Bank, Rae went on.

“We still believe that direct negotiations between the parties are going to be required in order to establish any possible deal,” said Rae. “But I think we all recognize that the differences between the two sides are quite strong and have remained so for a long time, and getting to a settlement is going to be very, very difficult.”

Canada has never recognized Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem or the West Bank, he noted. That’s why the government has said that Israel’s annexation plans, on hold for now, would make a settlement of the conflict “more difficult in our view.”

As for those who might see the UN as irrelevant, Rae countered: “I always said that if we didn’t have the UN, we’d have to invent something like it.”

It’s a complex institution, he noted, because it reflects a complex world.

“I believe very strongly that we need greater international cooperation to deal with the major challenges of our time,” he said. “The UN makes mistakes. The General Assembly doesn’t always vote the way we’d like them to vote. That happens. But it’s like any other institution. It’s an important part of the architecture of what’s going to be required to make the world a stable and more prosperous place.”

EDITORIAL: Annexation Will Destroy Hopes for Peace

Over the course of the last 50 plus years, the dire need for a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis has always occupied the minds of world leaders. When there were breakthroughs, be it former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s recognition of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreement or former prime minister Ehud Barak’s attempt at a negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, nothing seemed to work.

For those who longed for a settlement, it seemed a stalemate, as inadequate as that was, still left open the possibility of peace.

But, as of this week, Israel’s plans to annex a portion of the occupied territories, though temporarily on hold for reasons unknown, still seem to be careening toward some form of completion. Annexation in any form will destroy the hopes for a Middle East peace. Indeed, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a fuller annexation come to fruition, the chances of Israel’s very survival as a Jewish state may well come into question.

The plans set forth cannot help but render impossible any contemplation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Many Jews in the Diaspora have railed against Netanyahu’s plans. Even the stalwart American Jewish Committee, which has always found ways to defend some of Israel’s harshest policies, warned in a recent article that in annexation, “The price will be borne in the erosion of Israel’s longstanding claims against Palestinian unilateralism, in breach of Oslo Accords promises, and in increasing cynicism in multiple constituencies – including within our own community – about Israel’s commitment to peace.”

Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most successful pro-Israel lobbying group on Capitol Hill, has, according to the Times of Israel,  let it be known that while it will not publicly criticize Israel, it will also not cry foul if others do so, as long as the criticism stops at the issue of annexation.

Here in Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has been quiet about annexation, but given its usual full-throated support of anything Netanyahu offers, its silence speaks volumes.

Progressive Zionist organizations have rejected any idea of annexation. A recent letter written by New Israel Fund, Jspace Canada and Canadian Friends of Peace Now and signed by many well-known Canadian Jewish writers, thinkers and advocates (including Bernie Farber publisher of the CJR), was adamant in its opposition to annexation. In part, the letter read, “An annexation agenda assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence. Illegal under international law, unilateral annexation could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security and further destabilize the region.”

We continue to dream of a negotiated two-state solution. We fear that without it, Israel as a safe haven for Jews, as a democratic state that embraces the concepts of freedom and human rights will disappear. Jews of good conscience can no longer be silent.