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February 24, 2023 11:01 am

Peter Beinart’s Deceptive Attack on Israeli Democracy

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avatar by Chaim Lax


Peter Beinart. Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

Peter Beinart is at it again.

In his latest guest opinion piece (read: political screed) for The New York Times, Beinart uses the ongoing domestic Israeli debate over judicial reforms as a platform from which to dive into his favorite activity: Manipulating facts and spouting intellectually dishonest arguments in order to demonize the Jewish state and its Jewish citizens.

Here are the top 10 issues (out of many) with Beinart’s portrayal of Israeli democracy, political leadership, and history:

1. Israeli Demography

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In an effort to undermine Israel’s claim to being a democracy, Beinart writes that “Democracy means government by the people. Jewish statehood means government by Jews. In a country where Jews comprise only half of the people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the second imperative devours the first.”

This is a misleading statement since Beinart is including the population statistics for Gaza (where Hamas is in control) and the West Bank (where the majority of Palestinians are under the control of the Palestinian Authority).

In Israel, the vast majority (74%) of citizens are Jewish, with a sizable minority (21%)  of Arab citizens and those classified as “other” (5%).

2. Peter Beinart vs Yair Lapid

Beinart portrays former Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid as illiberal and undemocratic, by pointing to an essay by Lapid that discusses Israeli democracy but fails to make any mention of the Palestinians.

However, Beinart’s analysis is misleading since the essay is not a defense of democracy but rather a pointed critique of a political opponent (i.e. the Netanyahu government).

Thus, it is not surprising that Lapid did not mention the Palestinians because democracy and equality were not the focus of his essay.

3. Peter Beinart vs Benny Gantz

Another Israeli politician whose democratic credentials Beinart seeks to undermine is Benny Gantz.

Beinart questions how Gantz can be considered a defender of democracy when, as Israel’s minister of defense, he designated six Palestinian human rights organizations as terror groups in 2021 and subsequently shut them down.

As Beinart seeks to portray this as another case of Israeli hard-handedness toward the Palestinians, he fails to inform his readers that these organizations’ deep ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have been well-documented by a number of organizations, including HonestReporting.

4. Israel’s Palestinian Citizenship Law

Beinart refers to a law that denies naturalization to Palestinian spouses and children of Arab citizens of Israel as “discriminatory” and a tool for ensuring an Israeli Jewish majority.

He fails to inform his readers as to the central justification for the law’s continued enactment since 2003 — the many cases of Palestinian family members using their Israeli papers in order to carry out or assist in terror attacks.

5. Who Owns Israeli Land?

Beinart writes that “Most of the land inside Israel proper was seized from Palestinians during Israel’s war of independence in the late 1940s.”

This is factually incorrect, because more than 70% of the land was state land under the British Mandate and had never been owned by private individuals. Of the remaining land, 8.6% was owned by Jews, 3.3% was owned by Arabs, and 16.9% was the property of absentee Arabs.

6. Palestinian Refugees

In another example of Peter Beinart’s tenuous grasp of Israeli history, he writes that during Israel’s War of Independence, “More than half the Palestinian population was expelled or fled in fear.”

Once again, the facts belie Beinart’s claims. It is true that some Palestinian Arabs were expelled from certain strategic areas while others fled to neighboring Arab states in fear of the Jewish forces.

However, a sizable number of Palestinian Arabs who left at that time did so at the behest of Arab leaders, who encouraged them to leave until Arab forces could quash the nascent Jewish state.

7. Housing in Arab Communities

Beinart seeks to undermine Israel’s democratic credentials by parroting reports by government commissions and human rights organizations on Arab municipalities in Israel and the destruction of illegal Arab housing.

However, all the reports that Beinart refers to are from 2017 and earlier. Why? Because since 2015, Israeli governments have made a concerted effort to improve the housing situation in Arab municipalities.

This has included increasing government funding for these communities (including housing), placing a moratorium on the demolition of illegal Arab houses, an expansion of housing permits for Arab areas, permitting Arab communities to expand on state land, and easing the application process for housing tenders in these areas.

Like any democracy, Israel is constantly learning and seeking to better itself vis-a-vis its relationship with its minority population.

But Beinart ignores these inconvenient facts which would undermine his one-dimensional view of the Jewish state.

8. Israel’s Arab Citizens

Beinart states that the protests against the government’s proposed judicial reforms have “included very few Palestinians” (Beinart’s way of referring to Israel’s Arab citizens), since they allegedly never enjoyed the same rights as Jews to begin with.

While it is true that Israel’s Arab citizens have been less vocal in these demonstrations, Beinart’s simplistic analysis fails to allow for the fact that prior to the publication of his piece, Mansour Abbas (the leader of the Arab party in the previous Israeli government) and other Israeli Arab politicians publicly spoke out against the reforms.

In addition, only one day before Beinart’s piece was published, 200 leading Arab-Israelis signed a public petition against the reforms and the perceived effect that they will have on the Arab community.

Clearly, these Arab citizens of Israel have not written off democracy in the Jewish state like Peter Beinart has.

9. Ahmed Tibi’s Views

Similarly, as part of his evidence for Israel’s “undemocratic” relationship with its Arab citizens, Beinart quotes a 2009 quip against Israeli democracy by veteran Arab Knesset member Ahmed Tibi.

It would have been too inconvenient for Beinart to note Tibi’s much more recent statement that, his feelings about the Israeli judicial system notwithstanding, he was opposed to the reforms because “at the end of the day the Supreme Court is the refuge of the minority.”

10. Peter Beinart’s False Sense of “Equality”

Near the end of his piece, Beinart decries the fact that in 2018, the Knesset speaker refused to allow a discussion on legislation proposed by three Arab parliamentarians that sought to anchor in law “the principle of equal citizenship.”

While this surely sounds like the three Knesset members had noble intentions, Beinart once again fails to include the relevant context.

The proposed legislation was opposed by both left-wing and right-wing members of the Knesset as well as the Knesset’s legal counsel because it was not simply about equality but rather about the upending of Israel’s Jewish foundations, including the main use of the Hebrew language and the removal of Jewish symbols from the state’s national emblems.

Peter Beinart’s manipulation of facts and spreading of half-truths in the mainstream media is nothing new. As Shany Mor pointed out in 2013, part of Beinart’s modus operandi is to make “sweeping judgments on scant evidence, that rely on out-of-date and out-of-context quotes.”

And to what end does Beinart engage in this deception? Ultimately, he hopes for the dissolution of the Jewish state in favor of a fantastical utopian one state.

As HonestReporting recently pointed out in a Twitter discussion, Beinart’s views “fail to secure the Jewish home” or “provide safety to the Jewish people.”

Thus, when he is given the opportunity to publicly warp reality in favor of his dangerous ideas, it is incumbent upon his readers to critically examine his words and not fall for his de-contextualized and dressed-up analysis of Israel’s complex reality.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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