I don’t have much good to say about Beinart’s call for a boycott, because I find economic warfare targeting Jews so distasteful, for obvious historical reasons. (As readers of Goldblog know, I would like to see the settlers out of the West Bank as well, but this is a very bad way to go about achieving the goal.)
Goldberg gets personal later (I didn’t want to quote it), which is unfortunate. What he forgets/doesn’t understand/ignores, is that while Beinart’s suggestion of boycotts is, yes, aimed at changing settlers’ behaviour (which may have a degree of naivety, if we think it’s going to instantly deconstruct everything overnight), but it’s also about making a moral stand: I do not support the settlement enterprise, and I don’t want my money going to support it. That’s an entirely legitimate point of view.
No one’s saying a boycott is easy. I regularly choose to buy, or not buy products based on where they’re made, how they’re made, or the impact on the environment their manufacturing has. You see a product and you make the best choice you can weighing up all of that.
Of course a boycott isn’t going to end the occupation, but it will help to undermine the economy that many have going there. And Beinart’s suggestion, that the money you would otherwise spend on settlement products is instead spent on democratic Israel’s products (or, another suggestion, split between that and Palestinian businesses?), is a good one. Your purchasing behaviour may help change realities, in some small way.
Also, if Beinart was asserting that Americans are the only people who need to act (I’m not sure he was), then he’s wrong. Israel is a project of the entire Jewish people, and we in the Diaspora have every right to stand up and fight for what we believe in. If that means boycotting, because our pleas over 45 years to end the settlements have fallen on deaf ears, then so be it.
Let’s not pretend the Diaspora doesn’t have a huge say in what’s going on in Israel — from the early days of the Yishuv, we’ve played a huge role. Overwhelmingly Jews in the Diaspora believe that the settlement project is wrong and needs to be stopped. Overwhelmingly. (According to the last Zionist Congress.) We’ve always been part of the conversation when it comes to giving money, but when it comes to giving advice? Not so much.
But I don’t think that’s what he was saying. He was writing in the NYTimes, remember, not Ha’aretz. Israelis need to hear it from Israelis, not from an upstart from Manhattan. This is one part of the puzzle, not the whole thing.
Finally, it’s also a sign to the government to stop the insanity of subsidies and support for the settlements. That’s by far a bigger fish.
Peter opens his article with the mournful statement, “To believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer.” The jaws, he says, are these: While some (few) in Israel demand all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, (many) others in the Palestinian and pro-Palestinian world wish to “dismantle Israel as a Jewish state.”
The solution Peter offers to this dilemma: punish Israelis in order to change the Palestinians. It’s not a very good plan.
That’s absolutely not what Beinart is saying — or at least, that’s not my read of it. What he is advocating is that can help change Israeli attitudes to the occupation, which is one part of the process of peace. Simultaneously Palestinians need to stop incitement, come back to the table, etc. This is purely aimed at telling the settlers, “we don’t support what you’re doing, and so we won’t buy your produce.” It’s one part of the puzzle. No one can deny it’s not an important one.
Much is also being made of the fact that J Street has come out and said they don’t support a settlement boycott, thereby “taking a serious shot” at Beinart:
It immediately raises pressure on J Street and other organizations over giving a platform to Peter after he has explicitly called for boycotts and other civil protests against Israeli settlements and settlers.
So let me say up front and with resounding clarity: J Street is thrilled to host a passionate Zionist like Peter Beinart at any time and any place – even as we disagree with some of the actions that Peter is calling for. [...]
I share Peter’s sense of acute urgency over the need to end the occupation, establish borders for Israel and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution. If we don’t, both left and right will push Israel into a “one-state nightmare” – forced to choose between its Jewish and its democratic character.
I also agree with the distinction Peter draws between the legitimacy of Israel within the Green Line and the illegitimacy of what’s happening over the Green Line.
I don’t, however, agree with Peter that pressure on settlers and settlements through targeted boycotts and other measures will lead them to change course.
J Street’s reaction is fair, and to say it’s a “serious shot” at Beinart is only hyping it up for their own reasons, not a reflection of reality. There are many ways to skin the cat — or, if you prefer, ‘ten Jews, twenty opinions’ — so there is no one-size-fits-all arrangement. Settlement boycotts is one way to go about it. If Jeremy Ben-Ami thinks there are other ways to achieve the same thing, then fine. Same as Jeffrey Goldberg. What J Street is doing here is saying exactly that — ‘let’s have the discussion, and Peter’s answer is one of the options we, as a community, have.’
What Ben-Ami did that Goldberg didn’t, though, is be willing to still be nice and accepting to Beinart. We’re all the one same team here, guys. We all know the settlement enterprise is a toxic one that undermines Israel’s democratic nature and hurts Palestinians. You might want to engage with the Israeli government (you think Bibi will listen?), he wants to boycott the settlements, she won’t perform a play in Ariel. We’re all on the same team.
- Which, by the by, I’m frustrated isn’t available on Kindle for pre-order! [↩]