Joel Beinin’s Love Letter to the ‘New Protest Generation’

The Stanford professor reaches out to Israeli youth who hate Israel.

Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin made the latest in a series of appearances on the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) Palo Alto cable television program “Other Voices” on November 2, 2010. The subject of the show was “Israel-Palestine: A New Protest Generation” and, as before, it provided a platform for Beinin’s anti-Israel animus.

The show began with a brief discussion of what Beinin delightedly called the “overall decline” of the United States, evidenced by the “failure even at the crude military level in both Iraq and Afghanistan” and the resulting inability to employ the military “as an instrument of policy.”

Following these inflammatory claims, the interview turned to its focus: the recent phenomenon of young, Jewish Israelis—most of whom belong to a group called “Anarchists Against the Wall”—participating in Palestinian rallies against the “illegal settlements” and the West Bank security barrier. As Beinin put it, these Israelis stand “shoulder to shoulder with Palestinians” with the goal of preventing “some of the violence that the army might direct against them.”

Beinin pointed out that a culture has emerged in which Palestinians are willing to deem Israelis “one of us” if rubber bullets or other Israeli military actions cause them to suffer debilitating injuries during rallies. He described a recent tour of the West Bank led by an Israeli who had “lost sight in his left eye” at one of these rallies and, as a result, was considered a hero by the Palestinians. “I might as well have been going around with Yasser Arafat,” Beinin exclaimed. This Israeli, he boasted, was one of the leaders of what he called the “successful divestment [from Israel] campaign at Hampshire College” in 2009. In fact, it was not a successful divestment campaign, as was widely acknowledged at the time.

In an ominous development, Beinin noted that these young Israelis are now “following Palestinian leadership.” To be more specific, he remarked, they “help [the Palestinians] conduct the struggle as the [movement’s] popular committee has decided it should be conducted.” Beinin claimed that these young Israelis are motivated by their willingness to look at their “colonial privilege” and “[think] about it seriously,” something the older “Israeli peace movement” did not do. Members of this “militant, persistent Israeli opposition,” he later added, are willing to act repeatedly as the front line in the protests, despite the “enormous psychological and physical toll” involved.

Palestinians, Beinin contended, organize regular meetings to coordinate their activities with this new cohort of Israeli activists. He narrated a typical dialogue:

If [the Palestinians] say, ‘We would like you [the Israeli activists] to bring hundreds of Israelis on this day,’ we might tell them, ‘that’s not possible; it’s a holiday. How about that day?’

“It’s the Palestinians who are running the show,” Beinin noted approvingly.

He went on:

The Israeli young women . . . [have begun to] meet with the Palestinian women separately. Then they come to the [larger group] meetings and say, ‘This is what the Palestinian women want.’

This gender segregation is necessary because Palestinian women, as Beinin pointed out, “don’t come to meetings with men they don’t know.” The fact that the Palestinian contingent would completely ignore its female members were it not for the participation of Israeli women apparently does not bother Israeli “peace activists.”

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.