Editorial: Boo Beinert’s Boycott

We have consistently opposed those who promote boycotts against Israel based on its relations with the Palestinian leaders and territories. In fact, last year we suggested the so-called BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) should more appropriately be named DLI (delegitimize Israel), as a substantial number of funders and voices of the movement comprise anti-Zionist factions.

Now another voice comes forth from within the Jewish community to propose the legitimacy of boycotts to the extent they are focused only on and against goods and services from the Jewish settlements within the Palestinian territories. This voice is that of Peter Beinert, associate professor at City University of New York and a well-known dissenter from conventional community wisdom (see related story on page 6).

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We don’t disagree with Beinert’s recent words because he’s unconventional. We disagree because his idea is terrible.

Beinert has been front and center on many issues surrounding Israel. Perhaps most notable is his essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” in the June 10, 2010 New York Review of Books. Beinert posited that a next generation of American Jews—many of whom have a strong bent toward social justice and protection of civil liberties—may over time dissociate from Israel due to the establishment’s support of Israeli government practices that veer away from those values, particularly with regard to the territories.

As one would expect, Beinert was met with quite a broad range of criticism at the time. His underlying premise, however, was not particularly controversial. Whether we like it or not, American Jews are over time likely to see the Palestinian issues presented to them through a prism of social justice, and such a prism could cause younger Jews to blame Israel, rather than Palestinian and Arab leadership, for the plight of those who have suffered in the territories.

We’ve not said the Israeli government is faultless, and we have taken to task the coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will likely do so down the road. Regardless, the hateful BDS/DLI movement is extremely adept at seeking to label Israel on the wrong side of the debate at every turn. In doing so, it sidesteps the question of why tens of thousands of rockets have been indiscriminately fired into Israel, or why Hamas and its allies foment hate against Israel at every opportunity, or why there’s been more progress in the West Bank, under the leadership of flawed, but economically focused, Fatah than there has been in militant Hamas’ Gaza.

Then this month, in the New York Times on March 18, Beinert lit another firestorm. He creates a distinction between “democratic Israel”—that is to say, the entity within the Green Line and outside the territories—and “nondemocratic Israel,” namely, the settlements. And he advocates for a boycott of the latter: “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.”

This approach has realized condemnation from a very wide range of Jewish voices across the political spectrum. Included are not only the non-surprises like Jeffrey Goldberg and Abe Foxman, but also the leftist J Street, whose leader Jeremy Ben-Ami thinks the tactic simply won’t work as it will entrench settlers who will even more fervently believe the world is against them.

We agree that economic boycotts against Jews are wrong on a variety of levels, but we find the rationale Beinert puts forth absurd almost beyond belief.

Does Beinert really think that because he dubs a limited boycott “legitimate” that Israel’s enemies will congratulate American Jewry for its fine and logical distinctions? That’s wishing on a world that doesn’t exist. No, once a boycott’s in place, anti-Zionists will immediately plot how to break down the walls between the so-called “democratic” and “nondemocratic” Israels. In fact, Ali Abunimah, founder of Electronic Intifada, already issued this missive: “Peter Beinart is trying to save a fictitious ‘democratic’ Israel.” ‘Nuff said.

To think as Beinert does that everyone will honor his distinction is foolish and naïve. To the majority who don’t focus on fine lines, a boycott is a boycott, and once it has a firmly entrenched toehold, the unintended consequences will take over, leaving Beinert’s intellectual razor about as sharp as a soggy washcloth.

Beinert’s proposal, no matter how well intentioned, is a powder keg in search of a vitriolic, anti-Israel match. There are far too many of those out there already.