Liberal writer Peter Beinart erupted at fellow CNN panelist Rich Lowry on Monday while attempting to excuse Palestinian violence toward Israelis, saying he didn't agree but they also didn't have to be "saints" to have rights.
The debate began following a news conference by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), the two Muslim congresswomen recently denied entry into Israel over their support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement. Condemned by the Anti-Defamation League, BDS has links to terrorism and has been called anti-Semitic by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.).
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Miftah, the Palestinian nonprofit that organized Tlaib and Omar's delegation to Israel, promoted the anti-Semitic "blood libel" conspiracy theory that accused Jews of putting Christian blood in matzah on Passover. It also has terrorist sympathizers among its membership.
Beinart, a writer for The Atlantic, bristled when The Lead fill-in host John Berman noted Miftah's ugly background and Omar only making a passive reference to it in her comments.
"Palestinians don't have to be saints in order to have the basic rights that all of us take for granted," Beinart said. "Miftah has said things that I disagree with. They made an anti-Semitic statement they apologized for … The first time I went to spend time with Palestinians in the the West Bank, it was a shattering experience."
He compared their situation to the Jim Crow South in the United States. Beinart, while noting he had a friend killed in a suicide bombing, said what was most important was Omar's remarks about the state of Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Lowry responded, however, by saying the media wouldn't give a white nationalist organization the "leeway" Beinart was giving Miftah.
"This is an anti-Semitic group that's supported terrorism, supports blowing up innocent civilians and children and no matter what you think of the dispute between Palestinians and Israel, that is an illegitimate tactic that no one should associate with," Lowry said.
"There are many Palestinians who believe the Palestinians have the right to use violence because of the daily violent oppression they feel," Beinart said. "I disagree with them. I believe in only nonviolent protest but the point is every time any Palestinian leader or any Palestinian organization tries to expose what happens, this is exactly what happens. People try to discredit them because they don't want to talk about the real issue. The real issue is an absolutely indefensible denial of basic human rights."
Lowry said no one had an issue with criticizing Israel, but "you don't support blowing up innocent people." Beinart, growing heated, snapped back that it was a distraction from U.S. funding for settlement expansion.
Lowry again asked if this would be Beinart's standard for white nationalists.
"Why does the organization publish things supporting terrorism?" Lowry asked.
"Rich, I disagree with violent resistance!" Beinart said, changing the word "terrorism." "Because a lot of Palestinians believe because they are subject to daily violence of a system which denies them basic rights, they have the right to respond violently. I disagree with them."
Lowry said no one was forcing the organization to publish material backing or excusing terrorism. Hanan Ashrawi, the founder and chair of the MIFTAH board of directors, excused Palestinian terrorist attacks in 2017 by saying they are "seen by the people as resistance. And you cannot somehow adopt the language of either the international community or the occupier by describing anybody who resists as terrorists."
Beinart defended Ashrawi and shouted at Lowry that his conservative magazine National Review had a "tradition" of supporting segregation and now defending Israeli oppression of Palestinian basic rights.
"When they protest nonviolently you discredit them as well!" Beinart said.
"You're saying in some sense that justifies terrorism?" Lowry asked.
"Of course it doesn't justify terrorism," Beinart said. "I've said again and again I disagree with terrorism. What I'm saying is you're trying to distract from the real issue. The real issue is American complicity in the denial of basic Palestinian rights."