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Op-Ed: The Charade of Liberalism: Beinart's "Targeted Boycott"

Peter Beinart's "targeted boycott," is a covert attempt at stripping Israel of legitimacy, while eroding the core of Jewish identity.
Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 12:36 PM


In his article in Sunday’s New York Times, Peter Beinart, the self-proclaimed savior of Zionism and liberal Jewry, who has emerged as one of the most controversial commentators on foreign policy, advocates for a “targeted boycott,” aimed only at Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

Beinart claims that the only way of “oppos[ing] the forces that threaten Israel from without,” is to “oppose the forces that threaten it from within” and recommends completely ostracizing the Jewish communities over the green line as the best way to achieve this goal.

He asserts that a distinction must be made between the flawed, but legitimate democracy in “Israel proper,” and the encroaching “nondemocratic Israel” that threatens to condemn the country to a fate of “dubious democratic legitimacy.”

He, therefore contends, “Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it. 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.”

While his audacious political inclinations have been far from surreptitious, his recent article in the Times pushed the envelop, and seemed to be more in line with the “call to BDS” than those of a man who claims to be “devot[ed] to the Jewish people.” It therefore comes as no surprise that he has elicited rebuke from both sides of the political spectrum.

Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren issued a statement on his Facebook page saying that, Beinart’s call “places him well beyond the Israeli mainstream, the moderate left, and the vast majority of Israelis who care about peace.”

“The call for boycotting all products made by Israeli communities outside of Jerusalem and beyond the 1949 Armistice Lines is supported only by a marginal and highly radical fringe. Beinart's position, moreover, absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility for the current situation, including their rejection of previous peace offers, their support for terror, and their refusal to negotiate with Israel for the past three years,” Oren asserts. “By reducing the Palestinians to two-dimensional props in an Israeli drama, Beinart deprives them of agency and indeed undermines his own thesis. Without an active Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution--irrespective of boycotts--the peace Beinart seeks cannot be achieved.”

Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti- Defamation League, wrote a letter to the New York Times in which he states, “Peter Beinart’s depiction of his call for a boycott will not accomplish its goal of finding a solution to the conflict and will only worsen the anti-Israel and delegitimization campaigns around the world that he says he opposes.”

Even the President of J Street, the organization that champions his cause, explains that while he “share[s] Peter’s sense of acute urgency over the need to end the occupation,” he, nonetheless notes that he does not agree “that pressure on settlers and settlements through targeted boycotts and other measures will lead them to change course.”

David Frum, contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast says that, “Peter draws a distinction between a boycott of ‘Israel’ and ‘the occupied territories,’ but as his new associates in the anti-Israel boycott movement understand better than he does, such a distinction is unworkable in fact and unsustainable psychologically.”

As Commentary’s Omri Cern notes, “calls for so-called ‘targeted’ BDS routinely metastasize into calls for total boycotts of the Jewish State. In Britina efforts to label products from settlements spurred greater efforts for full boycotts. Partisans inclined to hate Israel hijack not just the campaigns but also the physical forums where partial vs. full BDS gets debated. The consistency with which that dynamic has played out raises questions about whether limited BDS advocates are merely naïve.”

Beinart’s most recent book entitled “The Crisis of Zionism,” which is being promoted by J Street, espouses the idea that Zionism and liberalism are at odds and that the refusal of major Jewish organizations to defend democracy in the Jewish state is alienating many young liberal Jews, who believe that the ideals of Zionist stand diametrically opposed to those of liberalism.

Furthermore, his new blog, Zion Square at the Daily Beast, which claims to “generate discussion on topics connected to Israel and the Middle East,” does no such thing and only provides a forum to those who advance the radical beliefs he seeks to advance. One must ask how a blog that prides itself on generating genuine discussion can do so when, as of now, outside comments are proscribed.

The widening political divide between those who believe that the Jewish people have legitimate and unwavering rights to the Land of Israel and those who do not, appears to have become an endless debate of “I’m right, you’re wrong.” However, whatever one’s political inclinations may be, at least in this case, there seems to be a consensus: the idea of a “target boycott” is not only fundamentally flawed, but another, covert attempt at stripping the state of Israel of all legitimacy and credibility, while slowly eroding the core of Jewish character and identity.