Here is an important item about the degree to which the Israeli government is alienating important friends in the west. Michael Walzer has been nothing less than an intellectual bulwark of loyalty to Israel among liberals who are not sure what to make of the country. The political theorist at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study has long mixed ardent support of Zionism with reservations about Israeli governance of Palestinians.
Well, Israel’s legislature just passed a travel ban against entry into the country by those who support boycotts of Israel or of the settlements; and Haaretz’s Taly Krupkin reports that 100 Jewish studies scholars “have signed a letter in which they threaten to refrain from visiting Israel in protest.” The letter, which urges the Israeli courts to overturn the law, has not yet been published. One of the organizers of the letter, David Biale of the University of California, a regular visitor to Israel, said, “They want to push us into boycotting Israel.”
Walzer is evidently one of those scholars. A longtime opponent of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) aimed at Israel, Walzer told Krupkin the new law strengthens the BDS movement in two ways, by eliminating the distinction between those who support boycotts aimed at the settlements and supporters of boycotts aimed at Israel, and by showing that the BDS movement is working:
“I can assure you that it will greatly help the BDS movement, people who are critical of the government and also critical of BDS may think that the government is scared, that BDS is working. There will be people moving towards BDS, and I have already received emails from people who have been critical of the Israeli government but also of BDS, writing that at this point, we might as well join BDS”.
Walzer said that he doesn’t think BDS in the U.S. is a threat to Israel, though it has gained the support of “the left intelligentsia in Europe,” which “is hostile not just to the occupation, but to the existence of the Jewish State, which is very dangerous.”
Then Walzer told Krupkin that though he has visited Israel every year, and taught at the Hebrew University, he doesn’t know if he will get in this time, because he has supported boycotting settlement goods.
“I wonder if they will let me in. I signed a letter calling for a boycott of goods from the occupied settlements but I have also been active in opposing BDS on campuses. I have been going to Israel every year starting from the 70s. I’m coming in June, and I would be very surprised and angry if they turn me away,” he said.
Walzer also told Krupkin that Israel’s need to shut down external critics is a very dangerous sign. Even France during the violent Algerian independence era didn’t go that far.
“I’m old enough to remember France during Algerian war, there was fierce opposition, and the opponents traveled to France. The French did not try to shut them out.”
For a discussion of why boycotting only the settlements fails to target the government that authorizes these settlements, see Yousef Munayyer’s argument at the New America:
I support full BDS, not partial BDS; because if you want to get Israeli state behavior to change, you must target the state not parts of the state or little hilltop settlements, but the state itself, until the decision makers come to a different conclusion than the conclusion that they have today, which is that the status quo is sustainable.
For a description of Walzer’s importance to the American Jewish understanding, see Jerome Slater’s critique of Walzer’s halfway-criticisms of the last Gaza onslaught:
For many years, Michael Walzer has been a significant obstacle to the possibility that the liberal American Jewish community—increasingly uneasy about Israel, but unsure what to believe—will realize that Israel is sliding into a moral, political, and perhaps, sooner or later, an existential catastrophe, which can only be arrested if it is forced to change its course as a result of the loss of its political, economic, and military support from the United States.
The fact that this scholar is now so alienated by the Israeli government is huge. We said here recently that the discourse of the conflict is polarized; and liberal Zionists are getting crunched between support for Greater Israel and the international campaign to delegitimize apartheid, with the need to choose one or the other. Walzer affirms that understanding when he says that some of his friends say, We might as well support BDS.
Thanks to James North.