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Peter Beinart calls on U.S. Jews, government to boycott settlements

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Jewish author and journalist Peter Beinart calls on American Jews to boycott the settlements, while at the same time, rejects the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. According to Beinart, this is the only way to save the two-state solution. By expanding settlements, he says, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pursuing a non-democratic version of a one-state solution – while  BDS is pursuing a non-Jewish one. Beinart rejects both:

The Israeli government and the BDS movement are promoting radically different one-state visions, but together, they are sweeping the two-state solution into history’s dustbin.

It’s time for a counteroffensive — a campaign to fortify the boundary that keeps alive the hope of a Jewish democratic state alongside a Palestinian one. And that counteroffensive must begin with language.

Peter Beinart is a former editor of the New Republic and an associate professor of journalism at CUNY. He writes today for the Daily Beast-Newsweek. A couple of years ago, Beinart published an article in the New York Review of Books that criticized the American Jewish establishment for supporting the occupation and subsequent anti-democratic trends in Israel. By betraying the liberal tradition of their community, Beinart claimed, Jewish institutions and Jewish leaders are alienating the younger generation of American Jews.

One of the important points Beinart makes in his Times op-ed addresses the financial support the U.S. government is giving the settlements through various tax breaks:

We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel. We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities. Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.

Beinart’s book “The Crisis of Zionism,” a sort of follow-up to the NYRB piece, is scheduled to come out at the end of the month. I will post a review of the book here, and some of the interesting details it reveals, in the coming weeks.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that had Beinart published his piece in Israel, he – and the paper that run it – would have risked being sued by anyone who saw himself financially hurt by this call. Under Israel’s new Boycott Law, they could be forced to pay up to 30,000 NIS (8,000 USD) without the plaintiff having to prove damages. The boycott law is an attack on freedom of speech and an effort to forbid opposition to the occupation, part of a growing trend in Israel, which is likely to get worse in the coming years.

More on this issue:
Everything you (never) wanted to know about Israel’s anti-boycott law
Jewish Week op-ed makes (bad) case for Israel’s boycott law
Don’t fight Apartheid Week: Responding to Haaretz’s Burston
In flinching move, Finkelstein slams boycott movement

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  • COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      Beinart seems to think he can recreate the heady days of 2008-9 when a new President came in who was believed by the Jewish Left in the US to take be able to make overt moves against Israel, such as being prepared to vote against Israel in the UN and perhaps even force Israel to permanently freeze the settlements or even impose an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and J-Street had come into being with the intention of being able to achieve a permanent split in the American Jewish community which would give Obama the political backing to make such moves. The assumption was that most Jews (78% of them who had voted for Obama) didn’t like the Likud government of Israel, didn’t like the settlements because of the perception that the Orthodox/religious were in the forefront of the settlement and would welcome a distancing of the US from Israel on this basis.
      Of course, none of this came to fruition. Obama was forced to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning the settlements, and the peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel collapsed in spite of an Israeli freeze of the settlements. The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben-Ali in Tunisia and the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood or its allies in various Arab countries has removed any possible backing Abbas and the Palestinians in making concessions to Israel in order to come to a compromise peace agreement, making such an agreement impossible for the foreseeable future.
      Thus, the whole political environment that existed when those who thought like Beinard does now no longers exists. J-Street never became relevant as a power in the American Jewish community and they have been reduced to begging political pariahs such as Ehud Olmert to come speak at their conferences, all other Israeli political figures keeping their distance. Most Israelis now realize that the “2-state” solution is dead, the only option is maintaining the status quo and that Beinart’s quixotic suggestions have no relevance. Does he really think having the US gov’t remove tax deductions for charitable institutions in the settlements would get the over half-million Jews who live over the pre-67 lines to leave their homes?

      Reply to Comment
    2. David

      test

      Reply to Comment
    3. RT

      Not sure if Israel itself is a real democracy. There are around 30 laws in Israel which discriminate against non-Jews. Dosen’t seem to add up to a democracy to me.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Henry Weinstein

      Zion Square on The Daily Beast, edited by Peter Beinart and other columnists, is a great blog. Peter Beinart is not a lonely writer, I think it’s important to say Zion Square is an exciting project (see About, and the list of columnists).

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sinjim

      Of course, Peter Beinart’s ideas are worlds better than anything the usual Israel lackeys in the US have to offer, but at the end of the day, he falls short.
      .
      Firstly, the very idea of “Zion Square” and the op-ed in the Times is all about Jews. What’s good for the Jews and what’s good for Jewish Israel? That’s the central question. Beinart even rationalizes support for Palestinian human rights not because that’s the moral thing to do but rather because that’s what will ensure the survival of the state as Jewish. This is the kind of dehumanizing language that liberal Zionists have engaged in for last few decades, and it’s achieved nothing of note.
      .
      Putting that aside, since Palestinian humanity is generally of no concern to most people, I think it’s great that he calls for a boycott of the settlements. But what does a settlement boycott mean? The example he brings up in the op-ed is of people not visiting them. Is that the extent of the boycott? Or is it also boycotting businesses based in the settlements? What about businesses that simply operate there? What about individuals and organizations that provide funding to the settlements? And what abou the Israeli government without which the settlement enterprise could not survive?
      .
      Beinart makes the claim that Israeli oppression of Palestinians is “systematic.” Well if it’s systematic, it makes no sense that he argues against addressing the problems of the system itself. Instead he wants to take action only against one of the symptoms, namely the settlements.
      .
      A settlement boycott that pretends the settlements aren’t an integral part of Israel and its state institutions is doomed to inevitably fail. My only hope is that when this little shtick reaches that point, people like Beinart will realize what really needs to be done.

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    6. Moriel Rothman

      I think the piece is important but has a lot of weaknesses, among is the ease with which Beinart argues that the boycott should not include East Jerusalem “since Palestinians there at least have the ability to gain citizenship, even if they are not granted it by birth.”

      If interested, I posted more extenstive thoughts on the subject on my blog (morielrothman.com).

      Reply to Comment
    7. AIG

      A tempest in a teapot or flatulence in a hurricane, take your pick.
      .
      What counts is political power in Israel, not what some professor in the US says. If Beinart really wants to change anything he needs to come to Israel and run for elections.
      .
      Also the notion that a boycott of the settlements can be effective in anyway is ridiculous. It will just be symbolic.

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    8. Bill PearlmaN

      You have to understand that to Beinart the Jews in Israel are a bunch of idiots who really don’t understand the middle east. What really counts are a bunch of spoiled college children from the JVP or j-street who have never had a tough day in their lives.

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    9. Cortez

      “I think the piece is important but has a lot of weaknesses, among is the ease with which Beinart argues that the boycott should not include East Jerusalem “since Palestinians there at least have the ability to gain citizenship, even if they are not granted it by birth.”
      .
      Yeah I thought that point was weak too. I’m not sure why special protection should be afford to East Jerusalem.
      .
      “You have to understand that to Beinart the Jews in Israel are a bunch of idiots who really don’t understand the middle east. What really counts are a bunch of spoiled college children from the JVP or j-street who have never had a tough day in their lives.”
      .
      But they clearly don’t understand the Middle East. Its been evident since the nation’s establishment. Israel’s relationship with its neighboring countries at most amounts to realpolitik relations of security, money or faux diplomacy, which are largely related to U.S. involvement.
      .
      People don’t seem to understand that ongoing colonial actions, to detriment of human rights for Palestinians and others, without any effort to allow Palestinians to have a state or conversely include them in Israel prosper, or the dreams of Zionism or a historical Jewish framework, is damaging to Israel’s moral standing, image and future as a legitimate state.
      .
      If they did understand…the Middle East would still be a mess, to some extent, but the political problems would be vastly differently and maybe less in some regards.
      .
      …saying they haven’t had a tough day in their lives means nothing. These J-streets and JVP aren’t advancing ideologically movements to detriment of human rights and to the detriment a nation’s future. They are trying to protect their cultural and religious heritage’s future and legitimacy.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Piotr Berman

      “Most Israelis now realize that the “2-state” solution is dead, the only option is maintaining the status quo and that Beinart’s quixotic suggestions have no relevance.”

      Maintaining status quo is less easy than it sounds. It requires a steady stream of oppression and various little atrocities like the latest attack of Gaza. In the same time a new game fascinates masses and elites: humanitarian intervention. Moreover, there is a vast slot machine in the Middle East with three wheels rotating: Egypt, Turkey and Iran. If they stop at the same position, a triple alliance will join the fascinating game.

      The formula of humanitarian intervention was developed by NATO: bomb for the sake of humanity after a humanitarian ultimatum. Technology already exists to deliver bombs without the bother of having an airforce: missiles. Humanitarian diplomacy can disarm opposition in Europe and neutralize USA — which cannot attack all three countries, especially without allies.

      This is what may happen in two years or in ten. Or never, but the trend is not good. There was a time when Iranian and Turkish wheels were firmly in place, displaying favorable disposition to Israel. Then Iranian wheel started to spin, but Egypt and Iran were firmly opposed to each other. Then the Turkish wheel started to spin. And now the Egyptian wheel joined the game of slots. Clearly, opposition of Iran and Egypt is no more the thing you can rely upon, it became a thin reed.

      Reply to Comment
    11. XYZ

      What is this supposed “Egypt-Iran-Turkey” alliance supposed to do? There currently is a Iran-Syria-Lebanon alliance, although it is in trouble at the moment. Israel has some difficulties with it, but we are managing.
      Turkey and Iran are not Arab countries…will Egypt, who views themselves as leaders of the Arab world want to play second fiddle to them? Iran is Shi’ite, Turkey is Sunni–will they get along? Turkey a year ago was trumpeting its new alliance with Alawite Syria-now that alliance is in tatters.
      Neither Turkey or Iran have borders with Israel…are they going to send troops to the Sinai or Lebanon to confront Israel?
      For the last 60+ years the anti-Israel front has been saying that some magic reformulation will turn things around….replace the old monarchs with charismatic secular Pan-Arab military officers like in the 1950′s? That failed. Then, instead of massed armies which failed in 1967 and 1973 we will try, localized mass Palestinian terrorism. That failed. Then they tried mass rocket attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. That failed. Now the dream is Piot’r dream Egypt-Iran-Turkey alliance, or alternatively, a new alliance of the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled states, assuming that Syria goest that way. Dream on.

      Reply to Comment
    12. zayzafuna

      I am disappointed that Beinart did not call for a boycott of all israeli products. He is as Richard Sillverstein would say, progressive except for Palestine

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    13. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Has Beinart ever come up with a good idea in his life? His plan for a Zionist BDS movement is logically coherent, I”ll give it that, but it’s politically naive. Protest movements don’t always follow the path laid out by their founders. All the internal political forces will drive Beinart’s proposed protest movement towards a one-state movement, exactly the position that he’s against.
      *
      Beinart says that the “counteroffensive must begin with language,” but as others have noted, he suggests calling the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” That’s a stupid argument when it’s made by the one-staters (as cited at +972 recently, for instance), but for a two-stater to suggest that terminology is beyond stupid and bordering on the insane.
      *
      Regarding comments: Sinjim, as usual I agree with a lot of what you say, especially about the systemic nature of the post-1967 settlements. I think you’re missing something about Beinart’s “good for the Jews” approach, though. That’s just Rhetoric 101, to appeal to your audience’s existing beliefs and interests. Similarly when Palestinians argue against the armed struggle on the grounds that it’s bad for the Palestinians, not on the grounds that targeting non-combatants is wrong. That’s good rhetoric. Also, regarding Beinart’s proposal, read the column again. He does give some specific examples in the paragraph beginning, “Having made that rhetorical distinction….”

      Reply to Comment
    14. Bill Pearlman

      Richard Silverstein was a champion of Samir Kuntar, loves the guy. Kuntar bashed a 4 year old Jewish girl in the head with a rock and killed her. Is that progressive on Israel. I guess it is.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Tal

      @SINJIM, Lets assume that Beinart and other liberal jews change their minds and decide to call for BDS against the entire state of Israel. Lets assume that it works and Israel evacuates/freezes all its settlements and starts talking seriously with Hamas / Fatah / Whoever the Palestinians elect. As usual, the Palestinians refuse to sign an agreement witch does not fully recognize the ROR to ISrael proper, The Israelis will never consent to that. BDS looses support.

      The Palestinians should change their slogan to “Its the ROR, Stupid”.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Arieh Zimmerman

      It is not clear, to me at least, whether the BDS campaign can yield the results desired by its adherents. Neither is it clear whether the resulting back-lash stirring a large portion of American and European Jewry exacts to heavy a price as against any possible positive results.
      However, given the present Israeli government, can anyone think of useful alternatives?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Cortez

      “It is not clear, to me at least, whether the BDS campaign can yield the results desired by its adherents. Neither is it clear whether the resulting back-lash stirring a large portion of American and European Jewry exacts to heavy a price as against any possible positive results.
      However, given the present Israeli government, can anyone think of useful alternatives?”
      .
      None really exist. The U.S. government generally does not intervene in impactful ways (Condoleeza Rice and E1 are an exception). No one listens to UN reports, despite facts they presented from both Israeli and Palestinian sources. European governments are also in a similar bind to the U.S. government. Non-jews are generally powerless unless they are at the highest level of government and even then the power they exercise to intervenue is rather limited. American and European Jewry either don’t care or care but feel powerless or are generally ignorant about what is going on and what they can do. Arab nations are….well…in a state of flux that makes their utility rather small.
      .
      Its unfortunate because this will probably end badly for Israelis and Palestinians and it didn’t have to be that way. There could have been a two-state, there could’ve have been a one-state with a Jewish majority(with Palestinians included in that majority), there could have been so many other possibilities but another direction was chosen. I’m not sure what will work.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Piotr Berman

      XYZ: “What is this supposed “Egypt-Iran-Turkey” alliance supposed to do?”

      I will not play strategist, but one can easily see what can be done to decrease the level of comfort and confidence on the side of Israel. Number one, stop of cooperation between intelligence services of Jordan, Israel and Egypt. Number two, open border of Gaza and allow them to import EVERYTHING they want. Number three, “wall of missiles” can make a full circle around Israel, in numbers meant to overwhelm Iron Dome. Or prepare some other tactic, like clouds of mini-drones. Number four, the most prestigious pasttime of states, humanitarian intervention.

      Reply to Comment

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