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Beinin concluded his remarks by quoting from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), a section of the Jewish Oral Law, which states that the world has three pillars: truth, justice, and peace. Channeling the misguided preoccupation with viewing Judaism as a vehicle for “social justice,” Beinin focused on that pillar, stating that a solution to the current conflict should begin with “a full hearing…to the grievances of all parties,” since “exacting full retribution” against those responsible for the conflict—in his view, primarily Israel—cannot be determined by human beings “in any case.” “Enough justice must be established,” he continued, “to enable reconciliation and coexistence.”
Then it was Zipperstein’s turn to speak. Although he was to provide the pro-Israel perspective in the discussion, Zipperstein’s speech consisted primarily of elaborating on the overarching theme that both sides of the conflict are equally at fault and thus deserve equal respite. “No one needs to be a saint to be recognized as deserving a state,” he said, and “no people needs to prove that they are a light unto the nations in order to live in peace.” After sharing several gems of wisdom such as “Israel and Palestine remain, for the foreseeable future, linked at the hipbone, wishing the other would go away,” he summed up his remarks by stating, “Neither side in this dispute can be bludgeoned into making peace.”
An open discussion between the participants followed that included topics ranging from the role of American Jews in the conflict, to the nature of the Jewish state, to the future of the Palestinian people. In brief, Beinin argued that “we [American Jews] have no credibility to speak abstractly” about the conflict in a non-academic arena since American Jews do not experience it firsthand; that Israel is “an undemocratic state” which cannot be a democracy until a “civil war between religious settlers and secular liberals” occurs; and that a Palestinian state, if it came to exist, would probably be “a miserable state with dictatorial tendencies.” At least on the last point, he was close to the truth.
Though it was apparent throughout the event that Beinin labored to keep his rhetoric low-key and more nuanced than usual, his radical views inevitably slipped out. And, as much as he would like to wish otherwise, peppering his speech with biblical quotes did not—and never could—make up for that.
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.
[Editor’s note: To see Joel Beinin’s profile in Frontpage’s Collaborators series, click here.]
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