Host Paul George commented on the “sourness of Israeli politics, the definite move further and further right” before asking Beinin, “How do these young Israelis break out of this—get an alternative viewpoint and put their lives on the line like this?” Beinin chuckled, saying “this is exactly what I’m trying to figure out.” Some of the young people in the rallies have ex-Communist or otherwise leftist parents, he explained. Others are “animal liberationists who’ve become anarchists . . . [who] look at society and say, ‘oh, no, this society is wrong from top to bottom.’” And still others have right-wing parents who “are not on for this kind of thing at all,” he added. Beinin blithely commented that these “right-wing parents” are not very conservative compared to the “neo-fascism of mainstream Israeli politics.”
Before turning to audience questions, the host asked Beinin for his take on the proposed legislation in Israel to modify new citizens’ oath of loyalty to the state. Though individuals who choose to become Israeli citizens today must swear loyalty to Israel as a democratic state, “the new wording will call Israel a democratic and Jewish state,” Beinin proclaimed, prompting audible tongue-clicking from the audience. “The content of what Netanyahu is demanding,” he continued, “is that Palestinians endorse Zionism” even though “the PLO in 1988 recognized Israel.” This last comment was ironic coming from Beinin, as he made sure to emphasize earlier in the program that many Palestinians today feel no loyalty to Fatah, the PLO’s successor organization. Additionally, recognizing Israel in one carefully-worded political statement is a far cry from endorsing Zionism. Beinin capped off his discussion of this issue by claiming that “there are lots of Jews who don’t endorse Israel as their homeland.” To the extent this is true, academics such as Beinin bear some responsibility for helping to cultivate anti-Israel sentiment among Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.
In the question and answer session, Beinin was confronted about his earlier description of Israeli society as neo-fascist. He backed away slightly, saying he “wasn’t ready to go there yet,” before adding, “there certainly are . . . people in very powerful places in Israeli politics and society who I would not hesitate to call neo-fascist . . . and Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister, is one of them.” He referred again to the “fascist element in Israeli society,” claiming that leftist Israelis’ own use of the term “fascist” legitimizes its use.
Beinin then contended that “mainstream Israeli political culture has a very simple explanation for [anti-Israel sentiment worldwide]: they’re anti-Semites.” As a corollary, he added, “the only thing that means anything [to Israelis] is any diminution of the support of the United States.” In other words, Beinin continued, “the battleground is here. That’s where the cutting edge of the struggle is.” Presumably, by “struggle” he meant the struggle to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Minutes later, he and the host both encouraged the audience to actively “take on” American financial support for Israel.
As one would expect, Beinin has been energized by what he believes to be the growth of the Israeli anti-Israel movement. He did acknowledge that this movement is “still marginal in Israeli politics” and that the actual demonstrations reached their peak several years ago, but he clearly pined for a leftward swing of the pendulum of Israeli politics and seemed more than willing to give it a hard push. Hopefully, the survival instinct of Israelis is sufficiently strong to prevent that from happening.
Jonathan Gelbart is a senior at Stanford University majoring in International Relations. He is the president of Students for an Open Society and former world news editor of the Stanford Review, an independent publication. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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