A crowd of 450 switched on to hear the American Jewish journalist who last month unleashed an international debate after advocating a one-state rather two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at Jewish Currents — dubbed “the pope of liberal Zionism” — had been a proponent of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a way to achieve peace.
But explaining his change of heart at a Limmud Summer Together event on Sunday, he said that a viable independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza was “no longer plausible” with 650,000 Jewish settlers already living beyond the Green Line.
Instead, he has come out in favour of an equal state for Israelis and Palestinians — or else a confederation between Israeli and Palestinian countries.
The current trajectory, he said, was moving “more and more towards one de facto political reality between the river and the sea”.
Asked about Israel’s role as a haven for Jews around the world, he said he could not guarantee that in the future set-up he envisaged, it would be free to mount the kind of rescue operations it had done for Ethiopian Jews some 30 years ago.
But he believed that Jews “would have enough power to have an asylum system by which a Jew who was in distress could get to the front of the line”.
Besides, he claimed: “I don’t think Israel as a Jewish state today is doing a particularly good job of safeguarding the welfare of Jews in the diaspora.”
The Israeli government had “made a set of alliances with a group of right-wing, hyper-nationalist authoritarians… who actually represent a kind of menace to the Jewish population” – citing American President Donald Trump and Hungary Prime Minister Victor Orban.
It was also probably true, he argued, that Israel’s “oppression of the Palestinians” had contributed to antisemitism, although “in no way” did it justify it.
His interviewer Jonathan Freedland pointed out that if “nobody could persuade these two peoples to work out an agreement to divorce, what possible chance is there to get them to work out a marriage?” Mr Beinart conceded it would take a “mass movement” to bring about change. But “history has shown that things that are in one moment unthinkable can be thinkable in another moment — and sometimes over fairly short periods of time”.