In a review of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, Mark LeVine writes: Its criticism is far too narrow and timid, while its proffered solution – a focus on settlements and more vigorous support for a two-state solution – is at least a decade out of date. It is almost entirely unrelated to the realities on the ground, which have rendered the creation of a territorially and economically viable Palestinian state a pipe dream.
The problems with Beinart’s argument are almost all apparent in the first few pages of the book; indeed in its first lines. He begins by declaring: “I believe the Jewish people deserve a state dedicated to their protection in their historic homeland, something enjoyed by many peoples who have suffered far less. As a partisan of liberal democracy I believe that a Jewish state must offer equal citizenship to all its inhabitants.”
Putting aside that there are other kinds of political arrangements that could guarantee Jews “protection” in their homeland besides the exclusivist Zionist one, the simple fact is that a Zionist state cannot offer “equal citizenship” to all its citizins, since the whole point of being a Zionist state is that in crucial areas it gives institutionalised preference to Jews, at the inevitable expense of non-Jewish citizens. If it didn’t give preference to Jews then it wouldn’t be a “Jewish” state in any politically meaningful sense; it would just be a democracy.
Indeed, however laudable Beinart’s desire for Israel to behave “in the spirit of [the Rabbinic sage] Hillel” and “not do to others what Jews found hateful when done to them”, it is a century too late. Israel, like every other settler society, could only have been born out of doing things to the country’s indigenous inhabitants that they certainly would not have wanted done to them.
Peter Beinart’s liberal Zionist fantasy