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Two cheers for Beinart

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A number of writers here have criticized Peter Beinart’s call in the New York Times Monday for a boycott of the settlements “to save Israel.” Adam, Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel and Gabriel Ash have largely focused on Beinart’s dream of redeeming the Jewish state as a democracy inside the green line. I want to give Beinart two cheers. His op-ed is a milestone in mainstream discourse. He has taken considerable risk, and provided an opening for others to change in the US establishment and American Jewish community. Here is a man who was giving private audiences to AIPAC donors just a few years ago, now he is calling for boycott. What a shift.

Do I agree with Beinart’s Zionist program? No. I don’t believe in the need for a Jewish state. I want Israel to move to a full democracy, and Palestine too, I want to see all human rights honored. The Palestinian nonviolent movement offers the best hope for transformation, and the tool of boycott is the international community’s strongest weapon. Well, now Beinart has opened the mainstream door on boycott. I don’t care if he has taken a halfway measure, boycotting only settlement products in “non-democratic Israel,” his name for the West Bank. He has shown courage to break with his former path.

In the last year both Sarah Schulman and Cecilie Surasky have spoken of the importance of not setting up ideological litmus tests and tests of purity. To reject Beinart’s call is to impose such a test on speakers–because he’s a liberal Zionist. The key is to build a broad political coalition to transform Israel and Palestine. When Omar Barghouti said a couple of years ago, If you want to boycott an egg, we want you to boycott that egg, I saw that as a welcoming, encouraging statement, one that could help people join up. Lately, Schulman described us as a “vanguard movement.” A vanguard has to grow a broad movement, or it’s a failure. 

Do all in such a coalition agree on program? Of course not. As Lincoln said in 1858 when he was building the insurgent Republican party, “Of strange discordant and even hostile elements we gathered from the four winds and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.” That coalition included radicals and people who wanted to work within the system. And you can say, Well Lincoln was for preserving slavery in the south in 1858. True– and he changed over the next five years.

I believe Beinart– or other people like him who are caught in the middle– will change when they see that his boycott call is ignored and that the settlements only grow. I believe he will ultimately endorse equal rights throughout Israel and Palestine when he recognizes that he cannot save the two-state solution, and stronger tools are needed to break the rightwing Israeli-and-Israel-lobby consensus.

My hope is that our movement will have impact on mainstream American thinking. Imagine if right now Jon Stewart, who is at the left of the mainstream discourse, had one of our friends on TV and said, Wow this Peter Beinart really has stepped out now with a call to boycott the settlements. What do you think? And imagine criticizing Beinart in such a setting. I never would. I want the mainstream to shift. I would say: I approve of his courage and boldness, his stance demonstrates that boycott has been a great tool from the needle trades to the grape pickers. Though I don’t think a settlement boycott is going to do the trick.

This is about changing the American discourse. Even J Street, which represents the left side of mainstream American Jewish organizations, is appalled by Beinart’s stand.

And yes, part of my response is a desire to see Jews wake up. My original religious community is reactionary on Palestine. I don’t care about saving Israel; I do care about saving that wounded community from its unending endorsement of militarism and war.  As Ilene Cohen says, “For many Jews who want some legitimacy for the discomfort (for some, I hope, the horror) they feel about what Israel does, Beinart is doing today what J Street did three years ago: he’s giving those people an address and a community. Alas, Jeremy Ben-Ami [of J Street] dropped the ball early on and hewed to the dictates of the right-wing consensus on Goldstone and on Palestinian recognition at the UN and now on Beinart.”

My support for Beinart springs from great despair about the conflict. Anyone who’s been to the West Bank and Gaza knows that we Americans have helped create a disastrous injustice. Again I put it up there with slavery. Certainly it recalls Algeria, South Africa, Ireland—the very worst of colonial, oppressive arrangements. This is not Syria or Egypt: most of an entire society is committed to this project. As an American I hold out the naïve hope that it might be transformed peacefully. That will only happen if the power communities in the United States and the Jewish community come to their senses. Beinart has struck a blow for that awakening. Two cheers for Beinart.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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33 Responses

  1. seanmcbride on March 21, 2012, 1:53 pm


    Shimon Peres, Dennis Ross, Aaron David Miller and Martin Indyk have soured me forever concerning all “well-intentioned” projects originating from “left-wing” Zionist circles. Either they are all grossly incompetent or they have been playing a double game all along — I lean towards the latter speculation.

  2. LeaNder on March 21, 2012, 2:08 pm

    Absolutely, nothing else to add, even if you cite the master neocon in your headline. ;)

  3. Shmuel on March 21, 2012, 2:13 pm

    I’m all for boycotting that egg, even if you compensate by buying another egg, laid by the same chicken, on the other side of the coop.

    I think Jerry Haber made a very good case for supporting “TBDS”, even if you can’t bring yourself to support BDS:

    Haber also took MJ Rosenberg to task however, for his less-than-logical criticism of BDS:

    I figure Beinart deserves no less.

    Simple son’s corner:
    Why is boycotting settlements controversial?

  4. Bill in Maryland on March 21, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Beautifully written, convincing and persuasive. Thanks so much Phil.

  5. clenchner on March 21, 2012, 3:04 pm

    Of course you are right Phil, and I’ve tried to support this position down here in the trenches below the tag. But surely you notice what happens? The hostility and rage directed against this sensible approach?
    The zealots on any side represent ‘the zealots camp.’ Phil and Beinart are on the other, together.

  6. annie on March 21, 2012, 3:15 pm

    i love this phil, it made me cry. this most precisely demonstrates how i feel. the possibilities just got expanded tenfold, i believe that.

  7. Dan Crowther on March 21, 2012, 3:48 pm

    I’ll say this — for those who want to write essays and sign documents “disavowing” Gilad Atzmon for his supposed views; I officially “disavow” Aggressive War Cheerleader Peter Beinart. How about that?

    It’s amazing that people on this blog will continue to look for bogeymen behind every corner; dark and insidious forces that lord over America, its foreign policy etc. but wont for a second think about their own complicity – in this case, Phil’s “cheering” for Beinart. Yeah, MW readers, its really really easy to explain the Fucked-up-edness of American Foreign Policy, when a guy like Beinart (war monger) can be lauded as a humanitarian by his fellow Americans – what an indictment on us all.

    But, Ive never been to Gaza, so I definitely have no appreciation for the injustices taking place there, in large part because of my government. If Phil likens the west bank and Gaza to slavery, what’s Petey Beinart if not “an overseer”? Or maybe a plantation owner? Is he not complicit in “the slave trade”?

    Three Cheers for the Slave Owners!!

  8. Bumblebye on March 21, 2012, 4:02 pm

    Isolated squeaks have grown into rustling whispers, ever louder, now with the occasional voice breaking through the Wall of Silence imposed. One day, the efforts of Phil and others, blowing their trumpets, will bring that Wall down, and all the differing voices will be heard before cohering into the one that will bring down the Other Wall.
    Flight of fancy over.

  9. Xpat on March 21, 2012, 4:09 pm

    Phil – You make a convincing argument about Beinart’s likely future path.
    As to how we conduct ourselves outside our bubble, it’s a fine line between encouraging the participation of egg boyocotters and condescension. I expect Omar Barghouti’s comment was made to the faithful, not the novices.
    My experience with liberal Jews is that they think Beinart and J Street are radical left. They cannot relate to the world of Mondoweiss and JVP, not to mention Ali Abunimah.

    It is important for us to critique Beinart. I know my thinking moved forward as a result of the critical posts and debate around Beinart’s piece.

    Yesterday, I was invited to comment on Beinart’s piece on a Jewish (mostly liberal) listserv. I started with praise for moving the conversation forward and then went to a critique.

    One more comment:
    I don’t care about saving Israel
    When you say Israel, I assume you mean the Ben Gurion sense of “the State of Israel” rather than “the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel”.

    • kalithea on March 22, 2012, 2:49 pm

      “When you say Israel, I assume you mean the Ben Gurion sense of “the State of Israel” rather than “the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel”.”

      Quit assuming! Whichever state you choose; it was founded on terrorism against Palestinians, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, land theft, and GRAVE INJUSTICES that have never been forcefully condemned.

      Jewish citizens??? Pfffft! The only reason they’re there is because of a monumental guilt trip laid on the backs of Palestinians and crimes against humanity committed by Jews against Palestinians.

      • Xpat on March 22, 2012, 6:19 pm

        Kalithea – Thank you for the history and political lesson. Fascinating! Who knew?
        Anyway….I actually do care about the “Jewish citizens of the State of Israel” and hope that my activism on behalf of the Palestinians will help them too. Hey, if Phil can care about Jews, then why not care about Israelis, too?
        I hope that you’re cool with that. But if not, that’s ok too.

  10. Pixel on March 21, 2012, 5:06 pm

    Great piece, important piece, Phil.

    …and I’m glad to see this genie finally come out of the bottle:

    “I don’t believe in the need for a Jewish state.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • on March 21, 2012, 7:40 pm

      International Herald Tribune readers

      Look at Beinart’s article from the angle of the worldwide readership of the IHT. That’s an influential crowd. You open the paper, see the headline, read the article and think: that’s a small revolution. The IHT is an international opinion leader even more than the NYT itself. So, I basically agree with Phil on the importance of Beinart’s article.

  11. Kathleen on March 21, 2012, 7:45 pm

    Most of us celebrate evolution when it comes to being hones about the I/P conflict. But Jon Stewart completely avoided this issue for a decade and a half. Yes he has recently very recently (last two years at best) been covering this issue. The piece by Jon Oliver and writers was brilliant and so honest. But please please do not try to spin this is the way it has always been.

    Some people have never needed to go to the West Bank Gaza to witness the decades long Israeli government sanctioned and Israeli military implemented brutality as well as the cruely of illegal settlers. Some have heard eye witness stories and written accounts of this brutality for decades. Some do not need to see to believe. But for those who do visits make sense. But for all who have been willing to be honest and come to terms with this decades long brutality after having ignored, been in denial or for other reasons there are positive changes going on. Although on the ground the situation has in many ways become worse

  12. Kathleen on March 21, 2012, 7:47 pm

    And so appreciate how Finkelstein has stated over and over again for a wider audience becoming involved. Staying focused on international law

  13. wondering jew on March 21, 2012, 7:58 pm

    Zionist Jews who oppose the occupation are in a tough spot. It is not “how can we end the occupation without ending Israel”. It is “how can I defend Israel without defending the occupation”. Beinart’s solution- a boycott of the territories (“undemocratic Israel”) answers this problem. Jeffrey Goldberg and other Zionists who oppose the occupation are forced to answer, “we will continue the hard slog of political persuasion” and knock on doors and hand out leaflets and argue convincingly to change the policy. But in fact I doubt whether Beinart believes that his stance will suffice to change the policy, but it gives him a basis for defending Israel, by making explicit his distinction between support for Israel and boycott of the territories.

    Although apparently this boycott of the territories has been Gush Shalom’s position for a while, Beinart, as a famous Jewish American political journalist, has taken a bold step in this declaration. He is worth watching as a type of new American Jewish leader.

  14. basimz on March 21, 2012, 8:41 pm

    No analysis of the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be meaningful without going back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when Great Britain, the predominant imperial power of its time, declared its support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine without any regard for the wishes of the vast majority of the native Palestinian population.

    What has always been tragic about the conflict is that there is no history of violent anti-Semitism in the Middle East, in contradiction to Europe. Historically, Jews have always been welcome in Palestine, where they bought land and prospered after the defeat of the Christian Crusaders and the re-establishment of Muslim rule in 1187.

    For example, the most revered Jewish theologian of his time, Musa bin Maymoon (Rambam or Maimonides) fled from a hostile Christian Europe in 1267, took refuge in Arab- Muslim Jerusalem, settled there, and built a Synagogue which still stands to this day.

    All this without a passport, visa or TSA check.

    Yet Lord Balfour, in the disastrous arrogance of an imperial overlord, decreed that Palestine be a Jewish homeland.

    The consequences of this policy have been enormous and unintended, and have only worsened since the 1967 war. Following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights, every U.S. president has committed to the supremacy of the Israeli armed forces, thereby forging a complex symbiotic relationship between the two countries’ militaries.

    Israel has served as the testing ground of America’s most advanced weaponry. With the passage of time, new weapons systems have been employed against one or more Arab armies, which happened to be equipped with inferior weapons. This dynamic is in evidence today; according to Reuters, last week’s Gaza flare-up was a useful indicator of a potential conflict with Iran: “In a sense, this was a mini-drill,” an Israeli official said.

    To complete the circle, the ruling Arab regimes have paid dearly for these inferior weapons (whose only real possible use is to slaughter their own restive populations) with their only natural resource, oil.

    How could one not be fascinated with this trade off? Indeed, why should America and Israel abandon it in exchange for “peace”?

    There are no drachmas in peace !

    It would be childish to even think of disrupting such an immensely profitable arrangement. In fact the opposite is true.

    It is in the interest of both the US and Israel to perpetuate this problem and avoid an enduring peaceful settlement.

    P.S. The greatest fear of the Founding Fathers was having a standing army. What insight ! !

    • bindup on March 22, 2012, 1:30 am

      (That’s why the boycott should not apply to East Jerusalem, which Israel also occupied in 1967, since Palestinians there at least have the ability to gain citizenship, even if they are not granted it by birth.)

      Does Beinart really believe that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, and its policy of systematic displacement of Palestinians there, is somehow more legitimate than similar behavior in the rest of the West Bank? (I have to say, the phrase I find particularly galling is… “even if they are not granted it by birth”… in their native land!)

    • wondering jew on March 22, 2012, 5:53 pm

      basimz- There is little history of anti Jewish violence in the Arab Muslim world, which is different from saying that such acts never took place. As for Maimonides, Moshe ben Maimon, he fled the Almohads, a Berber dynasty which was Muslim in their faith and they threatened the Jewish community with a choice of conversion, death or exile. His family along with most other Jews chose exile from Cordoba and went to southern Spain which was ruled by tolerant Muslims.

  15. DaraO on March 22, 2012, 7:06 am

    How am I supposed to go about boycotting only goods or products produced in the settlements, though? Given that the goods, products and services produced in illegal settlements are labelled, by the Israeli government, as “Made in Israel,” there’s no clear and straightforward way to boycott those products while not boycotting products from Israel proper.

    Am I really supposed to conduct extensive research, or at the very least go online and get a list, in order to operate a partial boycott? That strikes me as too much hard work. And for what? So as not to inconvenience a government that facilitates and corporations that are likely complicit in the colonisation process that creates this ambiguity?

    Blow that for a game of soldiers.

    • Woody Tanaka on March 22, 2012, 7:44 am

      That’s exactly why this amounts to an abandonment of BDS, except, perhaps as a symbolic thing. Furthermore, the active support of pre-1967 Israel is a necessary condition for the settlement to exist at all. If that support were removed, the settlements could not exist. So pre-1967 Israel is as responsible for the terrorism inflcited on the Palestinians in the West Bank as are the settlers. For that reason, BDS should encompass all of Israel and its supporters wherever they are found. Anything less is not an attempt to force change, but to make an ultimately ineffectual rhetorical point. (And that’s what the internet is for.)

      • Mooser on March 22, 2012, 6:35 pm

        Oh Woody, you talk like Israel could take Occupation or Settlement manufactured goods, take them back into Green Line Israel, stamp them “Made in Israel” (not the Occupied Territories) and sell them.
        They can’t do that, it wouldn’t be honest. And you know what people who accuse Jews of dishonesty are.

        To me, it’s all the same drek. All of this Liberal Zionist crap is based on the assumption that Jews are morally superior to others. And if you argue that Jews are just like other people, and the Israelis should be judged and acted toward on the basis of their actions, not some ridiculous blintz-in-the-sky nonsense about appealing to their better selves.

      • Woody Tanaka on March 23, 2012, 9:15 am

        You’re a national treasure, Moose

  16. eGuard on March 22, 2012, 8:01 am

    Phil Weiss: I believe Beinart [and others] will change when they see that his boycott call is ignored and that the settlements only grow.

    Why not wait for that change to happen, before applauding? You could have pointed to his writings adding “interesting” or “let’s follow this”. Beinart will change … when they see …? You rally think he does not see that already? It is written all over his pages! With a blog name and a book title like that, it is just another Squaring the liberal Zionist Circle. I predict a long and profitable peace-process for Beinart.

    And beware, in the end of the day it is a “We Jews” discussion. Did you note the word switches between “Zionist” and “Jew”? That is the red flag waving in front of our eyes.

  17. iResistDe4iAm on March 22, 2012, 8:05 am

    “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead” ~ Peter Beinart, 2010

    Peter Beinart is still young enough to confirm his own perceptive observations, but there’s probably an even chance that he’ll be relentlessly pressured to do a ‘Richard Goldstone’, recant and check his liberalism (along with his reputation) at Zionism’s door.

  18. Evildoer on March 22, 2012, 8:19 am

    Adam, Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel and Gabriel Ash have largely focused on Beinart’s dream of redeeming the Jewish state as a democracy inside the green line.

    Just to point out that I have, in fact, NOT focused on that point. It’s sad to respond to an article that engages in a debate without reading what it is debating.

    I support campaigns that take any step, even a baby step, in the right direction.

    I oppose being lax about campaigns that set out quite explicitly to undermine the Palestine solidarity movement in the US. Anybody is welcome to come and pitch. just don’t take aim at my foot. How hard is that?

  19. Carllarc on March 22, 2012, 8:36 am

    a BDS tailored for the so-called settlements? this doesn’t make sense since the so-called settlements are a continual creation of Israel and are pretty much wholly subsidized by Israel; so arresting a whore doesn’t mean much as long as the pimp smugly stands at the corner and directs the business.

  20. kalithea on March 22, 2012, 5:54 pm

    How does it feel to be on the outside full of painful awareness looking in and begging for whatever attention Jews can spare this cause? How does it feel to have to settle for so little, practically nothing from fellow Jews after making an effort day after day to bring people to their senses? THIS IS NOTHING. You have freedom and comfort. Your children aren’t being born into oppression or dying because of a foreigner’s lust for land. So obviously you don’t feel that kind of anguish and desperation.

    If the children in the following videos which we discussed on this site were Beinart’s or YOURS; if this kind of suffering were hitting close to home, he wouldn’t be calling for half measures that we all know will amount to nothing and you wouldn’t be cheering him on. You would be moving heaven and earth for YOUR children! And both of you would end up being ridiculed, demonized and labeled radicals, but you would be focused only on putting an end to the crime ZIONISM is. If these were your kids and no one understood, no one cared and the only hope you witnessed around you were Beinart types, trying to save themselves and their tribe by making a paltry effort, you would become Atzmon and people would shun you wherever you went carrying the grief of YOUR children in your soul. But all this would be worth it! We need 2 Atzmons to multiply into 10, we need thousands and hundreds of thousands to DEFEAT THIS THING!


    The truth is that these children are OUR children too – that’s what you don’t get!

    What is it that prevents YOU and Beinart from fighting for these children as if THEY WERE YOUR OWN? Something stops you and Beinart from fighting for them as if they were yours, and this flaw is what you should be addressing. Would you offer only a half-measure for your own child??? This is where Atzmon as a Jew has the moral hi-ground on you both. He has assumed his responsibility in this crime and understands the concept of humanity. Coddling the Jewish community will not achieve awareness and the urgent transformative action required here. Shock treatment is what’s required here. Would you have YOUR children wait for half-measures to work or NOT???

  21. kalithea on March 22, 2012, 6:24 pm

    I want to add: look at how the black community and others who believe in justice have mobilized on behalf of the shooting of ONE CHILD, Trayvon Martin. These people are moving heaven and earth to get a conviction against Zimmerman.

    How can Israel kill and traumatize so many children throughout the years based on an oppressive, supremacist ideology with total impunity??? The decisive, forceful, urgent action and conviction occurring in the black community right now is what needs to occur against ISRAEL and its crimes against humanity, not wimpy half-measures. No community or society can allow crimes against humanity to continue with total impunity for this long.

  22. Mooser on March 22, 2012, 6:39 pm

    “become Atzmon and people would shun you wherever you went carrying the grief of YOUR children in your soul.”

    As far as I know Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli, not a Palestinian. If he is married to a Palestinian woman and has children in Palestine, that would be news to me, but I don’t keep up with everything Atzmon, not even his music, as good as it is.

    But apart from that, I feel your point is very powerful. All these people are way, way more concerned about Israeli comfort (and out of Israel, Jewish comfort) than they are about Palestinian lives, or their attitude, as you say, might be very different.

  23. Mooser on March 22, 2012, 7:24 pm

    You know, it just hit me.
    I was out of touch with Israel and Zionism for many years. I started reading Greenwald, than JSF. So I now have a better idea of how my ideas and attitudes might be classified. I couldn’t say I was ever a Zionist, of course, but the funny part is, for many years you could have called me a “liberal anti-Zionist”. That is, I was by principle anti-Zionist, but thought that if Israel corrected certain things, made certain compromises, there was nothing wrong with Israel existing and a Zionist regime could find a place in the ME, between the power that it had and the compromises and corrections it could make.

    Than I started reading Mondoweiss. Goodbye liberal anti-Zionism, hello hard inflexible anti-Zionism, and the knowledge of how much Zionism and Israel endangers Jews.

    Thanks, Phil, for helping to clarify my ideas.

    • Mooser on March 22, 2012, 7:30 pm

      As usual, my manners fail and I don’t thank everybody I should. How can I leave out all the wondeful hasbaratchniks especially Hophmi, who helped turn my flacid, wishy-washy dislike of Zionism into a real, burning, and quite personal dislike of the people involved with it. You guys did a hell of a job! You were on it 24/7, and every time I thought you couldn’t do more, you exceeded yourself.
      And I have every confidence (backed by testing, I might add) that you will affect more and more American Jews the same way.

  24. kalithea on March 22, 2012, 9:51 pm

    The black community and others who believe in justice have mobilized on behalf of ONE CHILD, Trayvon Martin. These people are moving heaven and earth to get a conviction against Zimmerman.

    How can Israel kill and traumatize so many children throughout the years based on an oppressive, supremacist ideology with total impunity??? The decisive, forceful, urgent action and conviction occurring in the black community right now is what needs to occur against ISRAEL and its crimes against humanity, not wimpy half-measures like Beinart suggests. No community or society can allow crimes against humanity to continue with total impunity for this long.


    We are all ONE; and that’s why anybody’s child who is murdered and subjected to injustice anywhere is everyone’s child. Seems to me that Beinart doesn’t get this; all he cares about is rescuing Zionism for HIS children and passing on to another generation a crime that keeps generations of Palestinian children under oppression without rights.

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