The NY Times op-ed staff has offered Peter Beinart a gift on a silver platter, with his very own essay marking the launch of Zion Square project at the Daily Beast. As far as liberal Zionism is concerned, the pages of the New York Times are the gift that keeps on giving. Naturally, there are many flaws in Beinart’s op-ed along with a few useful passages. The deficiencies are of a piece with my critique of Zion Square published here a few days ago.
One of the impetuses that gave rise to the piece is Beinart’s and, by extension, liberal Zionism’s panic in the face of the BDS movement. In order to maintain their human rights credentials, Beinart must prove to the world that BDS is a violation of the human rights of Israeli Jews. So this is the way he formulates the BDS mission:
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.), which calls not only for boycotting all Israeli products and ending the occupation of the West Bank but also demands the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes — an agenda that, if fulfilled, could dismantle Israel as a Jewish state.
You will note that there isn’t a single reference to the moral problem of the Nakba. Any injustice it represents is drowned out by the “injustice” of taking away Israel as a Jewish state. Further, Beinart deliberately overstates what would happen if the Right of Return was implemented. While millions might be eligible to return. Millions would not return, especially if they were offered generous financial reparations encouraging them to remain where they are or settle in the new state of Palestine. The Geneva Initiative estimated that the number of actual returnees would be in the mid-hundreds of thousands. But even if the number was 1-million or more, it would not “dismantle” Israel as a state, Jewish or otherwise.
Recognizing the Right of Return would rectify a fundamental moral failing in Israel’s founding, one that forever destroys the State’s claim to embody its Declaration of Independence. As I’ve argued here before, the Nakba is Israel’s Original Sin, just as slavery is America’s. Allowing the return of those refugees who wish to will help turn Israel into a truly moral, democratic state. It can still be a Jewish state, but it will also have to be a state for its Arab citizens. In short, and in Azmi Bishara’s memorable phrase, a state for all its citizens, not just Jews.
Beinart also falsely imputes a motive of destroying Israel to BDS by saying:
Israel’s adversaries [BDS supporters] use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.
It is not BDSers who use the Occupation to delegitimize Israel. It is the Occupation itself that delegitimizes Israel. Those in BDS didn’t do this to Israel. Israel did it to itself. BDS’ stated mission does not include any reference to destroying or delegitimizing Israel.
Beinart calls for a “counteroffensive” against Bibi Netanyahu’s “one-state” vision. I’m down with that. But what does the campaign involve? He doesn’t like the Bibilical terms Judea and Samaria. Nor does he like the term, “West Bank.” Instead, he comes up with the hopelessly flawed, “nondemocratic Israel.” How do I hate this phrase? Let me count the ways. First, it associates the Territories with Israel, when they are not Israel, but Palestine. Second, the phrase clearly indicates a claim that Israel within the Green Line is democratic. For any reasonably well informed observer of Israeli society, this is false. At best, Israel is democratic for its Israeli Jewish citizens. For its Israeli Palestinians? Not so much.
I’d argue further that Israel isn’t a democracy not just because of its dispossession of its Palestinian citizens (and this includes the Nakba), but because it is a national security state that subsumes many rights reserved, in truly democratic countries, to citizens, under the guise of fighting terror. Israelis accept the notion that they should not have all the rights that others living in the west have, because their country faces an existential threat from outside enemies. Israel’s leaders (just as did Bush and Cheney after 9/11) use this threat as a cudgel every time they want to do anything unpalatable or unsavory. Such as reducing rights of free speech or free press.
I’m amused by Beinart’s call for what can only be called a reverse boycott. Instead of only boycotting goods from the settlements, we should deliberately buy goods from the “good” Israel. This will somehow encourage Israel to reject settlements and turn to the angels of its better democratic nature. Methinks, this is a deliberate attempt by the author to stick his finger in BDS’ eye: you guys want to hurt Israel. Well, I’ll go with you half way and support a settlement boycott. But I’m going to make my line in the sand and show you I’m as pro-Israel as they come because by God, I’ll “buy Israel.” He calls it by the horribly inapt term, “Zionist BDS.” Let’s call this BDS Lite, very lite.
Not to mention that Beinart’s plan is nothing new. In fact, over a year ago leading American and Israeli cultural figures supported a boycott of Ariel’s new theater and urged Israeli performers not to step foot in it. I don’t believe Beinart was among them at the time.
Beinart is smart enough to recognize that all of Israel essentially benefits from the settlements. So his Buy Israel campaign will actually benefit companies based within Israel proper which do business in the Territories. But he argues that we cannot boycott these companies because if we did, we wouldn’t know where to stop our boycotting activities within Israel. That essentially limits the companies and products you boycott to almost nil. Further, settlers could easily get around his boycott by associating themselves with Israeli companies based within the Green Line.
In the beginning of his piece, I wondered why Beinart excluded East Jerusalem from the settler population count. It becomes clear later on when he deliberately excludes East Jerusalem from his boycott. Why? Because East Jerusalem Palestinians can become Israeli citizens. First, these Palestinians do not want to be Israeli citizens. They want to be Palestinian citizens. They don’t want to live in a Jewish state. They want to live in a Palestinian state. Israel took that right away from them when it annexed their homes in violation of international law. Now Beinart offers East Jerusalem a free pass from his boycott because of a flimsy fig leaf of so-called democracy.
Further, East Jerusalem is an occupied as the West Bank. Saying it is less occupied is ludicrous. Not to mention it gives one the impression that Beinart does not believe in sharing Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. As far as I’m concerned that’s a fatal political flaw in his proposal.
Here’s another wincing-inducing passage:
As I write this, I cringe. Most settlers aren’t bad people…
This is beside the point. Whether a settler is a good or bad individual doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are participants in an immoral exercise. As a class, settlers cannot be “good people.” And Beinart’s over-solicitousness of their personal condition is embarrassing and irrelevant.
Here is more that is morally irrelevant:
I am a committed Jew. I belong to an Orthodox synagogue, send my children to Jewish school and yearn to instill in them the same devotion to the Jewish people that my parents instilled in me. Boycotting other Jews is a painful, unnatural act.
If you are truly a “committed Jew” it becomes MORE, not less important to boycott other Jews when their interpretation of “Judaism” is not only an abomination, but endangers the rest of Israel. There should not be any hesitation in doing so. Boycotting them is not a painful or unnatural act. On the contrary, it is an obligatory act as a Jew. Think of Prof. Yeshaiya Lebowitz, also an Orthodox Jew who brought his children up to be devoted to the Jewish people. Yet he didn’t hesitate to call radical settler leaders, “Judeo-Nazis.” Beinart would never do this. Because Beinart pulls his punches. Beinart holds back. That is what makes him and his analysis so disappointing and so ineffectual.
A pro-Palestinian twitter follower wrote that Beinart’s op-ed is hasbara writing its own requiem. I don’t think Beinart is a hasbarist. I’d say, rather, that it is liberal Zionism writing its own requiem.
You’ll never see an analysis like this in Zion Square or the New York Times. For that reason, they will continue to be largely irrelevant to a long term solution of this intractable conflict.