Zion Square, Peter Beinart’s group blog on Israel and the region at The Daily Beast, launched this morning. Beinart has written a defense, “Why Zion Square?” Newsweek has published a long excerpt from Beinart’s forthcoming The Crisis of Zionism, adapted with a lead based on last week’s AIPAC Conference, chronicling President Obama’s initial stance of pressuring Israel on settlements (which Beinart praises) before backing down. As I reported Friday, Zion Square endeavors to welcome a wide range of opinions whose center is nonetheless, by Beinart’s own admission, to the left of the center of mainstream American Jewish discourse.
In light of an email I received Friday afternoon from the Palestine Center’s Yousef Munayyer, one of Zion Square’s regular columnists, it’s worth taking stock of the ambition and, some would say, audacity of Beinart’s project. Arguing that my post “suggests I am a supporter of a ‘Jewish democratic state,’ ” Munayyer explained, “This is a gross mischaracterization of my views.” He added: “You may state that I am a ‘firm supporter of the Palestinian right to return, an end to the Israeli occupation, and equal rights for all people living throughout the land regardless to religion, nationality, or ethnic background.’” He requested a correction; I clarified the post, which had reported that Beinart believed “most of Zion Square’s contributors” are for a Jewish, democratic state. In recent writings, Munayyer has expressed support for boycott, divestment, and sanctions and the Gaza flotilla. For several years, he has advocated Palestinian unification while not insisting on Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
Zion Square’s purpose statement insists, “We believe in a two state solution in accordance with the liberal Zionist principles articulated in Israel’s declaration of independence. … But we also believe in respectful argument with those who disagree; we aim not to draw red lines but to debate them.”
This morning, Munayyer added, “If I was in Peter’s position, I probably wouldn’t have set it up precisely this way, but I don’t think that that means the opportunity to put a Palestinian perspective in a mainstream perspective should be missed.” He continued, “There is an over-saturation of Zionist perspectives in the American debate on Israel/Palestine. I hope my column at the blog on Israel/Palestine at The Daily Beast, a site with three million or so unique viewers per month, is a step toward opening the broader discussion to anti-Zionist voices.” He added, “I believe it is in the interests of American audiences to read Palestinians.”
In “Why Zion Square?” Beinart declares, “We plan to put front and center the very questions that official Jewish discourse rules out of order. That means challenging liberal Zionism from the left and the right. It means hosting biweekly columns by the hawkish Israeli historian Benny Morris and by the anti-Zionist Palestinian-American writer Yousef Munayyer.”
In an email to Tablet Magazine, Beinart stood by his selection of Munayyer. “I also said I wanted my own position to be challenged,” he argued. “[Benny] Morris, [Einat] Wilf, and perhaps [Yehudah] Mirsky will challenge it from the right. I think Yousef, as a smart and honest believer in a secular binational state, will challenge it from the left. That’s part of why I asked him.”
Beinart insisted that his roster of columnists is true to that statement, while acknowledging that they are “to the left of the Jewish organizational center of gravity” (“and certainly to the right of the Palestinian center of gravity—as evidenced by the fact that my Twitter feed is registering about equal flack from neocons and BDS types”).
It seems to me that Morris does not occupy a position on the right side of the spectrum equivalent to Munayyer’s on the left. Rather, judging from the range those two book-end, Zion Square is seeking to situate itself to the left of the mean. Observers who have watched Beinart move in that direction over the past several years should expect to find him, in more ways than one, squarely in the center of his new blog.
“To say I disagree with [Morris] on a great many issues would be an understatement,” said columnist Hussein Ibish in an email this morning. “If Mr. Munayyer now openly says he is an opponent of the two-state solution, that’s an interesting development.” (Munayyer insists he is not an opponent, though he thinks a “just and equitable” one is unlikely.) “But it’s not important because I don’t have to agree with other people writing for this blog and it wouldn’t be a very interesting website if everyone did agree.” He added, “The two-state solution needs to be defended against policies on all sides that are undermining it, particularly Israeli settlement activity, not against fantasies like a greater Israel, the ‘Jordanian option,’ a South Africa-like ‘one-state’ arrangement or anything else that has no chance of either been realized or working in practice.”
Morris declined to comment.