I don’t understand this. This weekend J Street, the supposed alternative to the rightwing Israel lobby, is having its annual conference in Washington and Peter Beinart is going to be the star attraction. Beinart the author of the forthcoming, Crisis of Zionism. And all this week, Beinart has been getting hammered by the Jewish right because he’s come out, bravely, for a boycott of settlements. The right hates Beinart. They are going wild smearing him. And Jeffrey Goldberg, the former corporal in the Israeli army, has led the charge. He has been trying to eviscerate Beinart in one post after another online, accusing him “of errors, omissions, bigotry and ignorance” (per Sullivan). And so what happens–
The head of J Street gives an interview to Goldberg and basically tosses Beinart under the bus!!
Beinart, the star attraction, the guy who liberal Zionist kids put his face on t-shirts saying Beinart’s Army, the one person who has actually tried to break with the rightwing Zionist movement — and J Street’s Ben-Ami sells him out to his greatest antagonist and kisses up to the right! Says that you can’t pressure Israel, and we’ll never ever cut aid to Israel.
JG: But you publicly disagreed with his op-ed in which he called for a boycott of products made in settlements. Why do you disagree with it?
JB: Because I don’t think that it makes any sense to put negative pressure on people whose behavior you hope to change. I think that the way that Israelis will feel comfortable making the compromises and the sacrifices–and Israel as a whole, not just the settlers –is when they really feel that not only American Jews, but the United States, is going to be there for them. I think if you begin to do things that say, “We’re not really with you, we’re against you, we’re putting pressure on you,” I think that causes people to pull more into a shell and pull back
JG: Under pressure they harden, they don’t soften.
…JG: Can I extrapolate from this and say that J Street will never argue for a cutting of American aid to Israel, commensurate with the amount of money the Israeli government spends on settlements and roads to settlements and the like? In other words, would you ever go down the path of saying, we think that the best way to influence Israeli decision-making is to have the American government directly pressure Israel economically, or diplomatically?
JB: In four years, in the entire existence of J Street, we’ve made exactly this case: that you can’t use boycotts, you can’t threaten aid, you can’t use these kinds of forms of negative pressure. I think you’re right to extrapolate. It is all of a piece that these negative approaches to trying to get people to do something you want them to do, we’ve lumped them all together for four years and said, this doesn’t work.
What you need to do, I often call it positive pressure instead of negative pressure. Positive pressure means actually giving people hope and something to believe in again….
JG: How do you dislodge the settlers?
JB: The way that you overcome the mindset, which I think is the first step, is you actually present an agreement that, lo and behold, the world supports, and Palestinians would support, and you realize that, hey, we actually can get it. And that positive pressure to make that decision by creating a path to hope, a path to the future, gives you then the national political will and the national political consensus to make that very difficult move: to say to the settlers, it’s time to come home.
JG: What, in your view, is keeping this process from continuing, or accelerating? I read Peter Beinart’s book. He puts most of the blame on Israel. Do you agree?
JB: Well, I think there’s more than enough blame to go around across the board.
I’d really like to know what J Street has to show for itself in the last four years? Has it done jack to stop the settlers? Beinart has actually done something to try and end the occupation.
But that was not enough for Goldberg. He returns to the Beinart book, a book that is supposed to “premiere” at J Street this weekend: The Crisis of Zionism: Premiere Book Event with Author Peter Beinart. Oh and this is on the schedule:
Book Signing: Peter Beinart, Gershom Gorenberg and Jeremy Ben-Ami
He comes back to the book and gets Ben-Ami to dis it:
JG: Come back to Peter a little bit, because the criticism that I have of the book, the criticism that other people have of the book, is that it seems to blame Israelis and the American Jewish establishment for the impasse. It doesn’t seem to me to be an effective way of convincing the mainstream of American Jewry to move toward a position closer to your position. It’s kind of in the same ballpark as negative pressure. But what is it that you like about the book?
JB: I didn’t say that I liked the book. I said that I liked his analysis in the op-ed of what the problem is.
JG: No, but he’s the troubadour of your movement, your description.
JB: Right, that was before. I’m just saying his article from two years ago in The New York Review of Books, which laid out the failure of the American Jewish establishment and this notion that in order to be part of the Zionist movement you have to check your liberal values at the door: now that framework, I think, speaks deeply not just to the youn… etc
In fairness to Ben-Ami, this exposes the power of the rightwing inside the Jewish community. You can’t call yourself a Jewish organization and not have to kiss Jeffrey Goldberg’s well-padded assieds-toi. Even the so-called liberal is afraid to take the right on. No wonder he’s invited Ehud Olmert to speak at the conference.
No wonder that the only way we will make progress here is with a mixed coalition, in which Palestinians are treated as equals.
Last point. This interview more than any other demonstrates the efficacy of BDS. Look at the last exchange on Beinart, and the two men say in essence: “The problem with a boycott of the settlements, or of Israel as a whole, aimed at stopping the occupation is that it might achieve its intended effect.”
JB: We established at the beginning of the interview some of the tactical things that are too far. We don’t support, obviously, BDS, but also Peter’s conception of “Zionist BDS,” that that is either advisable, doable, or workable.
JG: Do you think that this would put you on a slippery slope toward full BDS?
JB: I think it’s very hard to make a clear line between what is “settlement business” and what is not. So many businesses do business on both sides of the Green Line. Very few things are simply, purely done on the other side of the Green Line.
JG: And isn’t it, of course, the Israeli government that subsidizes factory-building in settlements that then create products that are sold?
JG: So then why are you blaming the factory? Shouldn’t you be blaming the guy who gave you the money to build the factory, which in this case is the Israeli government?
JB: The same issue comes up with divestment. Because if you divest from a company that produces a military product that is used in the occupation, that same company is probably producing a product that helps defend Israel from, let’s say, rockets. So if you’re saying you shouldn’t be supporting a truck company or a boot manufacturer, is that the boots of the soldiers who are going to defend Israel itself? It is a slippery slope and very hard to draw that line.