The smear campaign against Peter Beinart from the right is in full-on mode, and the mainstream is covering it. A lot of ad hominem talk, I’ll get to in a minute. But below are two substantive critiques of Peter Beinart’s call, “To save Israel, boycott the settlements.” Each critique focuses on one of the phrases in his title.
Nathan Guttman at the Forward says that a settlement boycott is economically pointless because a, few products come directly from the settlements, b, the boycott would not target products made in Israel that have parts from the settlements — including stuff the Pentagon buys — and c, the boycott does not do what Europeans do, boycott companies that have operations inside the occupation. So Beinart’s boycott call is chiefly symbolic.
Guttman also does a great service by mentioning Who Profits? Dalit Baum’s study of the occupation.
First, there are companies in the West Bank that make components for products sold in the United States by other companies. Ha’argaz, a metal company, located in the Barkan industrial zone, near the Jewish settlement town Ariel, makes technological products used by leading Israeli defense industries. The Israeli defense firms, in turn, sell some of their products to the U.S. military. There is no easy way of knowing which defense systems exported to the United States contain parts made in a settlement factory.
Then, there is the issue of companies whose goods come from several places. The Mehadrin Group, Israel’s single largest fruit exporter (whose brands include Jaffa oranges), is headquartered in Israel proper, and most of the goods it sells are not from settlements; but it does own a few facilities in the territories.
…In 2010, the United States bought $21 billion worth of goods from Israel. Diamonds, pharmaceuticals, electronics, machinery and medical products made up three-quarters of these imports. None of these industries has a significant manufacturing presence in the West Bank. For the most part, Jewish settlements in the West Bank are either bedroom communities for Israelis working within the 1967 borders or homes for service workers employed by the government and local authorities in the West Bank. Small industrial zones in East Jerusalem — which Beinart specifically exempts from his boycott call, though it lies beyond the Green Line — and around the major settlement blocs manufacture mostly for the local market and are not significant exporters. / Therefore, a settlements boycott, even if carried out in full, would hardly make a dent in the Israeli economy— or even in the settlements’ own economic condition.
These moves go far beyond a consumer boycott as proposed by Beinart. Actions against European firms that own or control West Bank companies have the potential to affect the bottom lines of larger foreign companies operating within settlements, whereas the call for American Jews to read the label before filling their shopping cart for Passover would be no more than a symbolic move.
And Shira Robinson at MERIP gets at the faultline in Beinart’s argument that others have landed on at our site: the claim that Israel can be saved as a Jewish democracy. This contradiction, too, has been ignored in the mainstream debate over Beinart.
Today the pincer is not, as Beinart would have it, the incongruity of the “democratic Israel” inside the Green Line and the “undemocratic Israel” outside it. It is the discrepancy between the notions that Israel — whether a Greater Israel encompassing West Bank settlements or the pre-1967 Israel for which Beinart pines — is both “democratic” and a “Jewish state.”…
When the Zionist movement became the government of Israel, it emplaced a raft of laws and regulations upholding the Mandate-era principle that the “nation” within its armistice lines was Jewish. Among them was its decision to prevent the return of the some 750,000 Palestinians who it had directly or indirectly driven into exile. The remnants of the “non-Jewish communities” who managed to remain — known today as the Palestinian citizens of Israel — are in many ways still treated as “civil and religious” minorities whose rights the state is not supposed to prejudice. They may have rights in the state, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Knesset in 2004, but not to it. For the past 64 years Israel has managed to weather Palestinian challenges to this distinction, but a series of recent statutory assaults on the rights of these citizens suggests that the liberal fantasy of a Jewish democracy may finally be starting to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
To recall this history is inevitably to unveil the fact that the system in both of Beinart’s “two Israels” has always been predicated on Jewish racial privilege. It may also explain why Western intellectuals sympathetic to Israel have been warning about the “crisis of Zionism” for almost as long as the Zionist idea itself has been around.