A group of liberal Zionists has called on the United States and the European Union to respond to the “genuine emergency” that settlements pose to the two-state solution and issue “personal sanctions” denying the freedom of travel to four Israeli leaders including finance minister Naftali Bennett because they support the occupation of the West Bank.
The group of 20–which includes historian Steven Zipperstein, moral philosopher Michael Walzer, former SDS activist Todd Gitlin, and Alan Wolfe, author of the new book At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews— says that the U.S. and the EU should adopt “personal sanctions—visa restrictions and foreign asset freezes” against Finance Minister Naftali Bennett, members of Knesset Uri Ariel and Moshe Feiglin, and settlement activist Zeev Hever. All serve the occupation– “unjust, unlawful, and destructive policies in their most extreme and dangerous form.”
The posse calls itself Scholars for Israel and Palestine (SIP) and says that permanent occupation, “large-scale” settlements, and creeping annexation of the West Bank all violate international law and lead “toward catastrophe.” But SIP is part of The Third Narrative, an outfit that arose a year ago to try and drain the impact on campus of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), and it opposes generalized boycotts and sanctions “that indiscriminately target Israeli society and Israeli institutions.”
Haaretz has the news — “Anti-BDS academics urge ‘personal’ sanctions against ‘annexationist’ Israelis”– and is quoting Michael Walzer on the “dramatic” use of such a call to seek to marginalize the BDS call.
“All of us are very engaged in opposing the academic boycott and other boycotts,” said Walzer in an interview…. “But at the same time we always insist we are against the occupation. This seemed to be a usefully dramatic way of focusing attention on where it should be focused and not where some of the BDS people are trying to put it,” Walzer said.
But Haaretz also quotes Eric Alterman– a liberal who is positioned more and more to the right — opposing the measure for the same reason he has opposed BDS: because “I don’t believe in politics that are purely symbolic… Some people do, and that’s fine. But I only believe in politics when I can see how what I’m supporting might actually happen.”
Max Blumenthal has dismissed the new initiative as a non-alternative to an effective movement:
Pathetic liberal Zionist professors call for “personal sanctions” on 4 Israeli fanatics in place of actual
Myself I tend to welcome any efforts to hold Israelis accountable for their actions; and there is no question that stopping Naftali Bennett from traveling to the U.S. and Europe or freezing his considerable assets (he brags on how much he made with his tech startup) would be a blow to rightwing Zionism. But this feels a day late and a dollar short. Todd Gitlin tells Haaretz: “We are holding Israeli figures whose declarations are inimical to a just and peaceful settlement to account.” There are many, many such figures; countless Israeli governments have served the occupation; Avigdor Lieberman the foreign minister now lives in occupied territory and has an openly-racist plan to pay Palestinians to leave Israel. So why are these four the only bad guys? Peter Beinart and Peace Now’s settlement boycott ideas have greater consistency/force and have been around for a while. Maya Wahrman of Princeton sees a larger emergency than these folks do, the country has reached “such a level of injustice” that she has all but endorsed BDS as a means of transforming the place.
Also, if the occupation is so unjust and destructive, what about occupied Gaza? Is there to be any personal accountability for the killings of more than 300 children six years ago and 500 children last summer, sporadic onslaughts that would seem to represent the Israeli government’s solution for the fact that it has denied 1.7 million people rights? Gitlin has said that ExxonMobil and apartheid South Africa deserved wholesale boycott because they have/had no “right to exist,” but he has not a word to say about the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians. Even Marcel Ophuls is talking about collective punishment, and he’s 87. It would seem that the thrust of this measure is aimed at BDS– emulating BDS in a very limited way because SIP recognizes the effectiveness of BDS and is trying to come up with an alternative.
Signatory Alan Wolfe’s book on diaspora suggests strongly that BDS is an example of “Jew hatred” and avers that the movement promoting BDS expresses itself “in the language of support for supposedly oppressed people such as the Palestinians.” Supposedly oppressed? I do not believe this Scholar for Israel and Palestine has any real sense of Palestinian conditions.