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Two substantive critiques of Beinart’s boycott call

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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.

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13 Responses

  1. Dan Crowther
    Dan Crowther
    March 23, 2012, 9:01 am

    Robinson’s essay just about says it all. Thanks for putting this up Phil.

  2. Xpat
    March 23, 2012, 10:10 am

    Thanks, Phil. It’s good to see others picking up on this. Beinart’s followers will most likely respond with more “pincer” talk. It’s so hard to claim the middle ground. You get hammered by both sides of the argument.

    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.

    In the liberal Jewish American mind, the Palestinians are comparable to America’s minorities, particularly African American. They re-cast the Palestinians as a religious minority: isn’t it outrageous that Israel does not recognize its minorities as full citizens the way we do here in the States.

    But the better comparison would be to Native Americans. Although the Palestinian case is far worse, not just because it is so recent. First, the Israelis were the ones who decimated the population and continue to do so, whereas, the Americans can shift a chunk of the blame to the Spaniards a few centuries earlier, and, as many keep on pointing out, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians is in full swing.

    American children are educated about Native Americans. The government’s treatment of Native Americans is different to that of other minorities.

    We should see Palestinians as the indigenous people that they are, not as a religious minority.

    • seafoid
      March 23, 2012, 10:23 am


      Just one point on the US. Tucson AZ has been in the news following a decision to ban the works of 7 authors from TUSD.

      The seven books that were removed from the school’s curriculum are:

      -Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado
      -500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures edited by Elizabeth Martinez
      -Message to AZTLAN by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
      -Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales
      -Occupied America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuna
      -Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
      -Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow

      Things have been better than this in the US.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka
        March 23, 2012, 10:48 am

        “The seven books that were removed from the school’s curriculum are:”

        Well, we can’t have anything interfering with the narrative of the white man bringing civilization, happiness, joy and free markets to the world, can we?

      • pabelmont
        March 23, 2012, 3:31 pm

        free markets and the quasi-slavery of the 99% to the 1% and its national-security state (which can kill and jail indefinitely w/o old-fashioned and soon-to-be unconstitutional due-process)

      • Xpat
        March 24, 2012, 12:03 am

        I’m not saying the U.S. as a whole has got any of this figured out. I’m talking about the nice, middle class Americans that I know. They repudiate Arizona and are sympathetic the Occupy movement. These are the ones who often see Israel as a projection of America. And they don’t get that the problem in Israel/Palestine is not about religious tolerance.

  3. seafoid
    March 23, 2012, 10:18 am

    All of the Israeli banks loan money to the settlers and are enmeshed in the YESHA network .
    Targeting Israeli banks would be the most effective way of bringing the change required.

    • March 24, 2012, 3:41 am

      “Targeting Israeli banks would be the most effective way of bringing the change required.”

      Iran is Israel’s doppelganger. Because this is so, it is possible to know what Israel fears most by watching what Israel has done, or threatens to do to Iran. In 1992 Ephraim Sneh made his mark (and repaid his debt to the Netanyahus for failing to save the life of Yoni) by promoting had the genius idea of making Iran’s nuclear facilities a “Pearl Harbor” moment — Israel most fears the loss of its nuclear weapons.

      Stuart Levey sold to Condi Rice the scheme to destroy Iran’s economy by blackmailing other nations that do business with Iran; the project matured to direct sanctions on Iran’s financial access to (what Israel thinks is) the ROW. Immediately behind the loss of its nukes, Israel most fears interference with its banking dealings. Western nations and their Treasuries have been Israel’s piggy bank since before Israel was born.

      Doppelganger is from Norse/Germanic mythology.

      Israel’s doppelganger complex is captured in the Abraham/Isaac/innocent ram caught in a thicket tale.

      In the Catholic Mass, the “Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world.” Catholics (of my era, anyway) think about this concept differently from Protestants, who are more closely connected to scripture than is Catholicism. Catholics don’t think the death of Jesus is a ‘get out of jail free’ card; Jesus’ sacrifice did not remove the necessity of each person to ‘sacrifice’ — ie. make holy — his life; rather, Jesus’ sacrifice provides a model and example of how life is well lived.

      Gilad Atzmon explained his understanding of the zionist version of doppelganger or ‘sacrificial lamb’ in comments at a meeting last week. Atzmon had just explained his theory of Israel’s “pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome,” then just before concluding his speech, said, “I have to explain another concept:”

      The more brutal you are to the Other the more tormented you become by the possibility that the other is as brutal as yourself .
      If you are very vicious to your girlfriend you may imply that she may, as well, be as vicious as you. If your girlfriend is helpless and you’re really aggressive toward her, then you’re much more tormented because you realize that you are a beast.

      When you throw white phosphorus on Palestinian hospitals you must be tormented because they must be as, well, as crazy as me.

      And this is a devastating vicious circle. And this is exactly the state of israel. And they are more and more and more tormented.
      Why America is so so so so Americans are so afraid of Iran. It’s because you – not you, but YOU nuked Hiroshima, Nagasaki, flattened ¾ of German cities with firebombs; 3 million in Viet Nam, 1.5 million in Iraq, so you know this is – you must think in these categories. You project your genocidal tendencies on the Others. And this is where pre-traumatic stress matures into a vivid horrifying [inaudible].

      What is the way around it? It’s funny. Jesus. Turn the other cheek. This is the only way around it. And this is what we need. Now with aipac dominating your foreign policy you’re not going to turn the other cheek. You’re strong enough to turn the other cheek. You’re strong enough to tell the afghanis you know what, sorry, we start to bomb you with food now. With electronics. What you want? It’s yours. You are strong enough to do it. But this is not what aipac is all about.

      The “unblemished ram caught in a thicket” or “sacrificial lamb” corollary is that if Israel punishes Iran then Israel can expiate its own beastliness.

      That theory resonates with the West because they are Abrahamic; the informing mythos of the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and Israel are the myths of Abraham.

      At its very core, Iran is not Abrahamic, it is Zoroastrian. Iran never had a concept of “substitutionary atonement;” Zoroaster taught that one must control one’s own thoughts, words, and acts, and that the way one behaves in his life determines his treatment in the ‘afterlife.’ It’s a radically different notion.

  4. DICKERSON3870
    March 23, 2012, 10:29 am

    RE: “When the Zionist movement became the government of Israel, it emplaced a raft of laws and regulations…to prevent the return of the some 750,000 Palestinians who it had directly or indirectly driven into exile.” ~ Robinson

    MY COMMENT: And the Intel Corporation is complicit. That’s why I refuse to buy computers with Intel “blood processors”, and instead buy computers with AMD 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. . .


  5. annie
    March 23, 2012, 1:10 pm

    hopefully it’s these kinds of arguments entering the national discourse via the msm that will set a real spark propelling americans to wake up. this is the biggest plus factor of beinart’s call. not that he’s right but that it opens the door wider.

  6. pabelmont
    March 23, 2012, 3:35 pm

    As to criticism from the left, Beinart seems (to me) to be doing two things:
    [1] closing his eyes to facts which make his myth (which he wishes tio teach his kids — good luck!) incongruent with current and past realities
    [2] creating a a “safe” way for other similarly myth-seduced Jews to attack Israeli occupation without (as they would, wrongly, see it) attacking Israel itself.

    A sad consequences is that he (like J-Street) also close the eyes of all but independent thinkers to the various realities which ought to make moral and ethical people shudder to their foundations and then shake the rafters with their condemnation.

    Beinart is not into rafter-shaking.

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