Beinart’s ‘Zionist BDS’ will only help entrench the occupation

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 24 Comments

Peter’s Beinart argument for why boycott only settlements’ goods never made any sense. According to Beinart,

boycotting anything inside the green line invites ambiguity about the boycott’s ultimate goal — whether it seeks to end Israel’s occupation or Israel’s existence. (New York Times, March 18, 2012 )

But that is simply not true. The Boycott is a strategy for pressure, not a strategy of representation. If I don’t buy Avocados from Israel, this is not because Israelis use avocados to oppress Palestinians. It is because I send a message that I am willing to take punitive action against Israel. The actual pressure is not a representation of the offense, just as the prison term that I would like Tzipi Livni to serve is not a representation of the crime of bombing civilians.

Beinart is taking advantage of the fact that the BDS movement does not offer a blueprint for a resolution in order to read into a purely strategic question, what pressure is effective, a symbolism that simply isn’t there. There is no logical reason why, for example, a “Zionist BDS” of the kind Beinart envisages would not boycott high tech products made in Tel Aviv on the basis of an explicit demand that Israel return to the 67 borders.

Most of the left critique of Beinart focuses on his misguided attachment to a state that is Jewish for Palestinians and democratic for Jews. I completely concurs with that critique but I think it is equally important to understand Beinart’s strategy.

For a few years now, the Reut Institute has emerged as the strategic brain of a coordinated approach to defending Israel from the international grassroots struggle against it, and most importantly from BDS, which the Reut institute dubbed a “strategic threat” to Israel. The Reut institute proposes a strategic defense based on a number of principles, of which I want to highlight three that are most important (see for e.g.: http://www.reut-institute.org/en/Publication.aspx?PublicationId=3822)

  • Countering the growing grassroots solidarity with Palestinians by aping its key methods, including relying on networks, community work and division of labor between local work and global coordination.
  • A big tent approaches that accepts the legitimacy of criticism of Israel, even harsh, provided that the “red line” of “denying Israel’s right of self-determination” is not crossed.
  • Driving a wedge between those who support BDS but are not committed to supporting full Palestinian rights and those who do. According to Reut, the latter, called “catalysts,” are relatively few but have an enormous impact. They can therefore be isolated and neutralized.

There is a lot to be said about this reactionary agenda, but it serves no purpose to deny that the Reut institute makes a reasonably good effort to provide intelligence and strategy services for a “counter-insurgency” campaign against BDS based on the familiar “winning hearts and minds” model.

In responding to his right-wing critics, Beinart effectively defended his own effort by highlighting its compliance with the Reut institute’s template:

Let’s imagine you’re some left-leaning Christian denomination. You’ve recently sent some of your ministers to the West Bank and they’ve come back appalled because, well, most people who see the occupation up close come back appalled. They want to do something. Their local BDS activists tell them to boycott Israel. Their local Jewish organizational officials tell them that doing so would be anti-Semitic.

Right now, they have no way to oppose Israel’s occupation without opposing Israel’s existence. Zionist BDS offers them that alternative. Without it, the Jewish organizations may pressure them into not boycotting Israel this year, but every time they go back and see the settlements expanding further, they’ll be more inclined to do so. And the more they see the one state reality that settlements are creating, the more they’ll embrace for practical reasons what BDS activists embrace for ideological ones: a future that dismantles Israel as a Jewish state. (Beinart, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2012 )

Thus, the virtue of a Boycott of the settlements that Beinart highlights is that it would drain support for BDS by separating soft supporters from the BDS leadership, offering an alternative that allows criticism of Israel but doesn’t threaten it too much, and working with wavering organizations, individuals and communities in a manner that copies the BDS model. The limitation of the boycott to the settlements is a convenient branding, since it isn’t material to any of Beinart’s professed goals.

I’ll be charitable and accept that Beinart honestly believes that his proposed strategy can also end the occupation. It is worth noting that this is not the opinion of the Reut Institute which has no interest in ending anything.

Surely, a credible and persistent commitment by Israel for a peace that establishes a Palestinian state and brings about an “end of conflict” would weaken the grounds of Israel’s delegitimization. However, the viability of the peace process is undermined by several structural obstacles, such as the effective actions of the resistance network to sabotage it and the constitutional and political crisis within Palestinian politics. This reality necessitates an Israeli strategy to fight delegitimization within the context of political stalemate. (Eran Shayshon, The Jewish Journal, 4/27/2010)

In other words, ending the occupation would be nice, but it can’t be done because the Palestinians aren’t ready, so let’s focus on what’s important, defending Israel.

Beinart’s proposal, if it were to put to work, would be a joint effort by deluded but honest folks and cynical strategists like Shayson. There is little chance that it would achieve even the limited goals of ending the occupation. Why? Because the strength of BDS is tied to its Palestinian leadership and the way it puts Palestinian concerns at the center of the struggle. It is this commitment that both captures the imagination of solidarity activists and creates dynamics that sidestep distractions, build unity and focus energies on effective action. The movement that Beinart proposes would be, in contrast, led by Jews and put Jewish concern at its center. Jews, however, are not those who are oppressed by Israeli apartheid. Thus, a large part of the energy and commitment that Beinart movement will have to mobilize in order to succeed will always be derivative. Beinart himself describes his key motivation as fear over the destruction of Zionism. Beinart’s movement will have to mobilize primarily on the basis of that fear which is generated by BDS rather than on the basis of principles of justice that demand the end of the occupation (that is not to deny that Beinart truly finds the occupation abhorrent). Fear is a reactive driver. As long as BDS advances, such an anti-BDS movement built on fear could theoretically piggy back on it and grow as well. But if the Shayson strategy succeeded in weakening BDS, a critical mass of Beinart’s activists would go home, and the occupation would continue. It’s like mistaking a thermostat for a water heater.

Taking into consideration the willingness of the New York Times to publish such calls as well as the deep similarities between Beinart’s proposal and Reut’s model of counter-insurgency, this development should be taken seriously. Beinart wants to offer an alternative big tent to BDS. Criticizing the ideological premises of this effort is important. But it is also important to say to those who are still dreaming of ending the occupation and keeping a Jewish state that what they are being offered is snake oil and more occupation. While I support and prefer a single, democratic state, I have no crystal ball to predict what kind of resolution will follow if we succeed in putting on Israel unbearable pressure. But I can predict with confidence that Beinart’s effort can only help entrench the occupation. That is not a step in the right direction, even if the intention is halfway decent.

This post originally appeared at Jews sans frontieres.

24 Responses

  1. Newclench
    March 20, 2012, 4:16 pm

    Great analysis (though I disagree) but you left out something. Beinart is doing something quite routine: unifying the largest possible camp while trying to split the opposition. What I’ve witnessed (here and in radical circles) is an effort to adopt positions so extreme that they unify the opposition while leading to splits internally.

    So that’s why folks are courageously pro-Palestinian as Chomsky and Finklestein are denounced as Zionist stooges, Gilad Atzmon is championed as a truth teller, and folks whose non- or anti-Zionism is insufficiently rabid are insulted without regard to their arguments.

    And now, enter Beinart, who tells folks eager to support the Palestinians but frankly weirded out by a lot of their (often non-Palestinian) supporters that they can do it, for reals, with way better languaging, more support from the mainstream, and the backing of large numbers of moderates.

    Excellent. That’s called progress. It leads to political and social change.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 20, 2012, 7:10 pm

      folks whose non- or anti-Zionism is insufficiently rabid are insulted without regard to their arguments.

      dig dig, the presumption being bds’ers are, for the most part, rabid/ not.

      And now, enter Beinart, who tells folks eager to support the Palestinians but frankly weirded out by a lot of their (often non-Palestinian) supporters that they can do it, for reals, with way better languaging, more support from the mainstream, and the backing of large numbers of moderates

      And now, enter Beinart, a nice jewish boy, who tells folks who previously have never ever heard of bds, to boycott the settlements. folks who never really thought about supporting the Palestinians per se but frankly weirded out by a lot of israel (often non-jewish) supporters that they can do it, for reals, with way better languaging, more support from the mainstream, and the backing of large numbers of moderates who would never even thought of boycotting israel products before..now think about it and learn about it.

      Excellent. That’s called progress. It leads to political and social change and it’s likely a lot of those people will become full on bds’ers if they don’t see any results from the limited settlement boycott..which they probably won’t..they will probably see more settlement growth.

      so let’s see a big public fight about it because more than anything that will spread the news.

      • Newclench
        March 20, 2012, 7:48 pm

        Annie, believe it or not, I think we are aligned here. As Phil would say, this is an opening.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 20, 2012, 11:04 pm

        i agree it is an opening. in an email forwarded to me this is what Dalit Baum had to say:

        I have not read the article, and I am sure it is infuriating, but I like it that he calls for settlements’ boycott… the distinction between his “Zionist BDS” and “true BDS” is truly nothing but a rhetorical distinction. BDS is a form of action, and we can use his support of boycotts of settlements to encourage more people todivest from Veolia (which provides infrastructure to settlements) and join in asking TIAA Cref in demanding an Occupation-free portfolio. I do not care what his vision of “solutions” might be, Israel is terrified of all boycotts, and the new anti-BDS law targets anyone who calls for settlement-boycotts. I do not even care what he thinks of the BNC or the Palestinian leadership of our movement, we do not require a loyalty oath. Furthermore, boycotting settlements does not recognize 48-Israel as a perfect democracy any more then boycotting grapes recognizes bananas as socially responsible. Settlements are an excellent target for BDS, as the successful campaigns in Europe show.

        I would welcome Beinart to our movement and thus remind people that BDS all around the world is made up of very diverse tactics and ideologies, and this is our strength.
        D

      • Mooser
        March 21, 2012, 12:02 am

        “Annie, believe it or not, I think we are aligned here.”

        You just want to boycott the settlements because you know they are better, more sincere, more religious and more committed than you to Israel’s future, in a real Jewish way, and you’re just jealous of them.

      • Annie Robbins
        March 21, 2012, 12:08 am

        omg i adore you
        ;)

      • Mooser
        March 21, 2012, 12:51 am

        Annie, now is not the time, but I will have more to say on this subject at an earlier date. Seems like some people are just a little too, well, Jewish for Israel’s liberal Zionists.

      • Evildoer
        March 21, 2012, 5:32 am

        Annie, Eva and Newclench make an important point that I overlooked, that Beinart is popularizing and legitimizing the boycott and that is welcome. Annie also used Dalit Baum to make another good point, that in itself, a targeted boycott of settlements is welcome and falls within the BDS principles of local adaptability and tactical diversity.

        My point, however, is that Beinart’s proposal is for a campaign that, in addition to targeting the settlement, targets BDS as well. If that part of his campaign were to catch, it would not only undermine those who disagree with him on “solutions”, it would also undermine the struggle against the occupation that is supposed to be the goal of his campaign.

  2. Evildoer
    March 20, 2012, 5:00 pm

    No, that is not called progress, that is how progress is contained and stopped. The key difference is not the strategy but the energy. Fear drives social change towards reaction.

    As for the band of (often non-Palestinian) brothers you refer to, let’s just say that Reut most likely wrote another set of counter-insurgency recommendations, that was not made public. We shall overcome!

    • Thomson Rutherford
      March 20, 2012, 7:05 pm

      There is little chance that it [Beinart’s proposal] would achieve even the limited goals of ending the occupation. Why? Because the strength of BDS is tied to its Palestinian leadership and the way it puts Palestinian concerns at the center of the struggle. … The movement that Beinart proposes would be, in contrast, led by Jews and put Jewish concern at its center.

      You make some great and largely persuasive points, Gabriel. It seems to me that your argument would be valid, not only wrt the objective of ending the occupation, but equally so in the context of the more realistic need to obtain equal rights for non-Jewish citizens in the evolving 1SS – which is avowedly your ‘preferred’ outcome.

      • pabelmont
        March 21, 2012, 6:19 am

        Let those (Jewish liberal Zionists who desire an end to occupation) follow Beinart’s lead; and let all others who desire an end to occupation join full-Israel-BDS. something for everyone.

        The real problem is turning around the VOCAL and $$$ Jewish community, and if Beinart can do that, well, I will thank him.

        And if all of us — J. liberal Z. or not — could ask the IRS to make non-deductible all contributions which may be used IN WHOLE OR IN PART for the OPTs, then a more than merely symbolic result will have been accomplished.

  3. Eva Smagacz
    March 20, 2012, 6:13 pm

    Guys,

    I am just happy that the concept of using BDS against Anti-“non-democratic Israel” is in Washington Post. This is progress by any and each standard.
    It is becoming less and less internal conversation between Jews about what is best for people under Israel’s control. It is opening up.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 20, 2012, 7:01 pm

      i’m in agreement eva. this model of bds has no chance of working but this action will make many many more people aware of bds and give them an option to think about it. i know lots of people who have not even heard of bds. so let more and more people hear about it and i think the more they hear the more they learn and i am all in favor of the trith being revealed. that happens thru exposure, let the chips fall where they may.

  4. Annie Robbins
    March 20, 2012, 6:58 pm

    thanks for the look at reut. i have been thinking about them lately and thinking of writing about them and their stated goals specifically wrt zionsiy square or whatever the name of beinart’s new blog is. nobody ever comes out and says ‘we’re working off the reut model’ but i think we can assume it’s in full swing now and it’s our responsibility to identify the pattern whenever we see it so we recognize what’s going on.

  5. DICKERSON3870
    March 20, 2012, 10:09 pm

    RE: “boycotting anything inside the green line invites ambiguity about the boycott’s ultimate goal — whether it seeks to end Israel’s occupation or Israel’s existence.” ~ Beinart

    MY COMMENT: Nonetheless, I will continue to buy computers with AMD processors rather than Intel processors. AS far as I’m concerned, Intel processors are “blood processors”!

    SEE: Intel chip plant located on disputed Israeli land, by Henry Norr, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/08/02

    (excerpts) Just how diligent was Intel’s due diligence when it chose to build a multibillion-dollar chip plant in Qiryat Gat, Israel? . . .
    …Intel calls the plant Fab 18 (“fab” being chip-industry jargon for a facility where the silicon wafers that are eventually turned into working chips are fabricated). The fab, which went into production in 1999, was the fruit of a $1 billion investment by the Santa Clara company, supplemented by a $600 million grant from the Israeli government. . .
    …But from a legal and historical point of view, Qiryat Gat happens to be an unusual location: It was not taken over by the Israeli military in 1948. Instead, it was part of a small enclave, known as the Faluja pocket, that the Egyptian army and local Palestinian forces had managed to hold through the end of the war.
    The area was surrounded by Israeli forces, however. When Israel and Egypt signed an armistice agreement in February 1949, the latter agreed to withdraw its soldiers, but it insisted that the agreement explicitly guarantee the safety and property of the 3,100 or so Arab civilians in the area.
    Israel accepted that demand.
    In an exchange of letters that were filed with the United Nations and became an annex to the main armistice agreement, the two countries agreed that “those of the civilian population who may wish to remain in Al-Faluja and Iraq al Manshiya (the two villages within the enclave covered by the letters) are to be permitted to do so. . . . All of these civilians shall be fully secure in their persons, abodes, property and personal effects.” …
    . . . Within days, the security the agreement had promised residents of the Al- Faluja pocket proved an illusion.
    Within weeks, the entire local population had fled to refugee camps outside of Israel.

    Morris presents ample evidence that the people of the Al-Faluja area left in response to a campaign of intimidation conducted by the Israeli military. He quotes, among other sources, reports filed by Ralph Bunche, the distinguished black American educator and diplomat who was serving as chief U. N. mediator in the region.
    Bunche’s reports include complaints from U.N. observers on the scene that “Arab civilians . . . at Al-Faluja have been beaten and robbed by Israeli soldiers,” that there were attempted rapes and that the Israelis were “firing promiscuously” on the Arab population. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to sfgate.com

  6. pabelmont
    March 20, 2012, 10:10 pm

    The big lie: “Right now, they have no way to oppose Israel’s occupation without opposing Israel’s existence. Zionist BDS offers them that alternative.”

    Full anti-Israel BDS does not oppose Israel’s existence. It demands [whatever it demands] and attacks all Israel’s trade + culture + academia + sport as a tactic to bring about a change in Israelis’ appreciation of Israel’s place in the world. When Israel complies with [whatever was demanded], the BDS stops. NOTHING TO DO WITH OPPOSING ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE.

    Even if the particular Full BDS demands (and secures) a RoR for ’48-exiles, and even if a lot of them did return (or even if all of them did return), Israel would continue as a state: it would still exist. True, it might not still be majority Jewish, and it might not still be “democratic”. But it would still exist.

    Liberal Zionists (like the rest of us, I guess) sometimes exaggerate. Some use the “big lie” knowingly. This one looks more like a big lie than an accident.

    • edwin
      March 21, 2012, 6:23 am

      Countries come and countries go, and in between times everyone thinks of these countries as being eternal and their existence ordained by god.

      No – Israel is not threatened by full ror- whatever the hell the borders of Israel are.

    • eljay
      March 21, 2012, 8:17 am

      >> … Israel would continue as a state: it would still exist.

      But Israelis and Zionists don’t care about the existence of Israel, they care about the existence of religion-supremacist “Jewish state”. And that *will* cease to exist unless:
      – it is maintained, by force, as a religion-supremacist state; or
      – Jews have “the conversation” and reach the conclusion that “Jewish” is actually a citizenship/nationality that can be acquired bureaucratically, in which case all citizens of Israel become Jewish and a secular Jewish state – comprised of a wonderful mosaic of both secular and multi-denominational (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, etc.) religious Jews – survives.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    March 20, 2012, 10:34 pm

    RE: “Let’s imagine you’re some left-leaning Christian denomination. You’ve recently sent some of your ministers to the West Bank and they’ve come back appalled because, well, most people who see the occupation up close come back appalled.” ~ Beinart

    FILM: Divine Intervention (Yadon Ilaheyya), 2002, NR, 89 minutes
    In this comedy tinged with pathos, love blossoms amid the confusion and despair of Nazareth, a city caught in the crossfire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Elia Suleiman (who directed the film) stars as E.S., a man who observes the ravages of war alongside his girlfriend (Manal Khader). Surreal vignettes underscore the war’s ability to erode this city’s sense of community and its residents’ ability to coexist.
    Language: Arabic (English subtitles)
    Netflix Availability: Streaming and DVD
    NETFLIX LISTING – link to movies.netflix.com
    Divine Intervention Theatrical Trailer (01:39) – link to youtube.com

    • Mooser
      March 20, 2012, 11:58 pm

      “In this comedy tinged with pathos, love blossoms amid the confusion and despair of Nazareth,”

      A very nice movie. If I’m not mistaken “The Weight” was the movie’s theme-song, wasn’t it?

      • DICKERSON3870
        March 21, 2012, 12:24 pm

        RE: “If I’m not mistaken “The Weight” was the movie’s theme-song, wasn’t it?” ~ Mooser

        NICE TRY, MOOSER. . .
        I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ about half past dead;
        I just need some place where I can lay my head.
        “Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?”
        He just grinned and shook my hand, and “No!”, was all he said.

        (Chorus:)
        Take a load off Annie, take a load for free;
        Take a load off Annie, And (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.

        • The Band, The Weight (VIDEO, 04:28) – link to youtube.com

        …BUT, NO CIGAR!
        I Put a Spell on You, Natacha Atlas (VIDEO, 03:41) – link to youtube.com
        • LIVE: I Put a Spell On You ♫ Natacha Atlas (VIDEO, 5:00) – link to youtube.com

        P.S. I had no idea “those people” could ‘get down’ like that. There is no telling what kind of ugly names Rush Limbaugh would call them!

  8. Mayhem
    March 20, 2012, 11:50 pm

    The schism exists between those who believe in Israel’s right to continue existing as a Jewish state and those who want things to be different.
    As long as there is endorsement of a position which smells of delegitimization of Israel there will never be a mass movement towards BDS and it will continue to be labelled the strategy of extremists. Beinart has nothing really to offer. Beinart plays up an unlikely pro-Zionist hero, Stephen Wise.
    Whatever liberal Zionist Jews do for the Palestinian cause it will never be enough unless they are prepared to capitulate and dismantle Israel.
    Refer http://electronicintifada.net/content/sham-solidarity-israel-s-zionist-left/10213 . The author Hassan decries the supposedly sham solidarity shown by Israel’s Zionist Left. His position reminds me of the attitude of a child that receives a present and spurns it because it didn’t get exactly what it wants. It throws a tantrum and stubbornly resists any reconciliation. At the end of the day Hassan speaks from the same anti-normalization, 
    intransigent position that is hallmark of the BDS movement.
    Hassan’s article reinforces my conviction that the dialogue that I once experienced with Palestinian advocates was the real sham. It got nowhere because there was no willingness to seek any kind of a genuine compromise that did not ultimately compromise Israel’s position. We would talk and then the Palestinian contingent would insincerely go back to their BDS demonstrations while the dialogue was continuing. Hassan’s talk alienates any support other than the hard-core. And the hard-core will never be able on its own to bring about effective change.
    The last paragraph of the article from Commentary link to commentarymagazine.com about Beinart’s recent book sums him up:
    “What is wrong with Beinart’s book is contained within its title, The Crisis of Zionism. Zionism itself is not in crisis. The liberal Zionism Beinart espouses is, because Beinart and others like him have decided to condition their belief in a Jewish national homeland on its pursuit of policies that make them feel good. They prefer an Israel of social-democratic fantasy — an Israel that need not take account of the behavior of its Palestinian interlocutors, that need not take account of the safety and security of its own population, and an Israel that need not take account of the views and wishes of its own electorate — to the real thing. In locating the ideal form of Zionism in the perspective of Stephen Wise, who died less than a year after the founding of the Jewish state, Beinart wishes to return Israel to its uncomplicated days of glory, circa 1949.”

  9. Djinn
    March 21, 2012, 2:25 am

    “It got nowhere because there was no willingness to seek any kind of a genuine compromise that did not ultimately compromise Israel’s position”

    Would that be the position that institutionalises discrimination? How does seeking an end to state discrimination & occupation (which is all BDS seeks) delegitimise that state? If Israel can only exist by the use of apartheid laws why is that something anyone remotely progressive should accept? If South Africa had insisted on remaining an “Anglo & democratic” state would that have been OK? Did the end of a system of institutionalised discrimination in South Africa see South Africa vanish off the face of the earth?

  10. seafoid
    March 21, 2012, 6:14 am

    Beinart isn’t going to change the dynamics. The Greater YESHA state will eventually collapse because it is unsustainable. Either it loses tax paying Jews or it loses the support of the financial goys or it loses a war . there will be a catalyst and then a breakdown.
    Today as for every other day probably one million Jews go to work who work in part for the occupation. You can’t throw these people out of work. So the occupation continues. Onwards to the cliff.

    The occupation is like a weed that first bloomed in small ponds in Hebron and East jerusalem in 1967 whose roots now threaten Israel from kiryat shmona to Eilat. Uprooting the weed is no longer possible.

    link to dpi.qld.gov.au

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