We’ve long predicted that liberal Zionists will start coming out for boycott because there’s no other peaceful way to end the conflict; and they will even abandon Zionism in the name of a peaceful transition to democracy. This has now happened in the Washington Post: the week after Lawrence Summers tried to hold the line in the Jewish community with an ill-informed speech against boycott in New York, and after J.K. Rowling sought to hold off boycott in England, two young Jewish academics of some standing, Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, say they are for boycott because they want to save Israel from itself. And that new Israel could be a “single state” with full democratic citizenship for Palestinians.
The piece is titled, “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Note that Weyl and Levitsky endorse boycott because they “love” Israel and they do not mention the vanguard Palestinian-led movement, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, nor the Right of Return, a critical component of the BDS movement. I don’t believe that Palestinian solidarity activists will embrace this move, because it largely ignores their struggle; but for anyone who wants to transform the U.S. discourse and liberate the Jewish community from blindness, it’s welcome.
Open the floodgates. These men have prestige. Levitsky is a 47-year-old Harvard professor and Weyl is a 30-year-old Senior Researcher at Microsoft, though he does not give that i.d. for the piece, just that he is an assistant professor of economics at University of Chicago. Puts Microsoft in a tender position!
The two intellectuals do not deny the rightward trend in Israeli society or the unending occupation. They address it forthrightly. The occupation is now permanent. Boycotting settlements is not enough. Excerpts:
As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies….
We are at a critical juncture. Settlement growth and demographic trends will soon overwhelm Israel’s ability to change course. For years, we have supported Israeli governments — even those we strongly disagreed with — in the belief that a secure Israel would act to defend its own long-term interests. That strategy has failed. Israel’s supporters have, tragically, become its enablers. Today, there is no realistic prospect of Israel making the hard choices necessary to ensure its survival as a democratic state in the absence of outside pressure.
For supporters of Israel like us, all viable forms of pressure are painful. The only tools that could plausibly shape Israeli strategic calculations are a withdrawal of U.S. aid and diplomatic support, and boycotts of and divestitures from the Israeli economy. Boycotting only goods produced in settlements would not have sufficient impact to induce Israelis to rethink the status quo.
It is thus, reluctantly but resolutely, that we are refusing to travel to Israel, boycotting products produced there and calling on our universities to divest and our elected representatives to withdraw aid to Israel. Until Israel seriously engages with a peace process that either establishes a sovereign Palestinian state or grants full democratic citizenship to Palestinians living in a single state, we cannot continue to subsidize governments whose actions threaten Israel’s long-term survival.
Israel, of course, is hardly the world’s worst human rights violator. Doesn’t boycotting Israel but not other rights-violating states constitute a double standard? It does. We love Israel, and we are deeply concerned for its survival. We do not feel equally invested in the fate of other states.
Unlike internationally isolated states such as North Korea and Syria, Israel could be significantly affected by a boycott. The Israeli government could not sustain its foolish course without massive U.S. aid, investment, commerce, and moral and diplomatic support.
We recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it.
Repulsed by the Afrikaners’ ethno-religious fanaticism in South Africa, Zionism founder Theodore Herzl wrote, “We don’t want a Boer state, but a Venice.” American Zionists must act to pressure Israel to preserve Herzl’s vision — and to save itself.
I assume the authors’ professions of love for Zionism/Israel are purely tactical, I can’t imagine it ever crossed these guys’ minds that they needed a Jewish state when things got too hot in the U.S. Weyl is the opposite of tribal.
Of course, this piece once again demonstrates the supremacy of Jews in the American discourse of Israel/Palestine. Just as Chuck Schumer and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ron Wyden were granted super-voter status by the press during the Iran deal discussions (presumably because of the west’s overriding concern with Jewish safety after the Holocaust, a concern that Israel has manipulated to a fare-thee-well), these two Jewish intellectuals will have far more clout in the U.S. press than the Palestinian-led solidarity movement. That’s unfortunate, and racist. Would we have taken white people’s actions against Jim Crow more seriously than the blacks who had so much more at risk in that struggle? No. But Jews count. We are the big liberals in American discourse, and an outsize presence in the establishment. Yousef Munayyer made the argument against settlement-only boycotts years ago and far more eloquently than these guys, but he’s just a Palestinian who can’t live in Israel, the place he was born, because his wife is a West Bank Palestinian.
But I don’t make the rules, and those are the rules. It’s vital that the Jewish community be liberated so that the American establishment can shift. So this is a very important piece. It will give a lot of elite non-Jews permission to support boycott. And other thoughtful establishment Jews who know the story should follow– Peace Now, Peter Beinart and David Remnick. Terry Gross needs to interview these guys on NPR.
Update: Weyl notes that the authors seek a two-state solution (which would preserve a Jewish state), not a single state.
— E. Glen Weyl (@glenweyl) October 24, 2015