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Endorsing some sanctions against Israel, Beinart calls on progressive Jews to take on establishment Jews

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Peter Beinart is urging progressive American Jews to take on “establishment” Jewish groups and call for sanctions against Israel. In a piece in the Forward, Beinart says the $3.8 billion a year of US aid should keep flowing but it should be conditioned: No money for house demolitions, child detentions, illegal settlements, or Gaza siege.

The article is important because a liberal Zionist is echoing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s idea of conditioning US aid (which is consistent with the Sanctions portion of the BDS call) and endorsing Betty McCollum’s groundbreaking legislation to use US aid as a means to punish Israel for its detention of children. Beinart says it’s shameful” that only one presidential candidate, Rep. Seth Moulton, has endorsed the legislation.

So Beinart continues to show leadership. He is deeply embedded in the traditional Jewish community for which Israel support is the definition of Jewishness. He is breaking ranks with the people he loves most; and when few liberal Zionists have taken any such risks, his move puts pressure on other Israel supporters who claim to hate the occupation to put their money where their mouths are. J Street has not supported McCollum’s bill.

A few comments on Beinart’s theory of change.

The appeal is sectarian: to Jewish progressives, not Americans as such. Beinart doesn’t completely trust non-Jewish critics of Israel.

If other progressive Jews are like me, they feel an internal dissonance when it comes to pressuring Israel, a voice inside their head that says: Don’t turn on your own…. Once American Christians grow comfortable condemning and pressuring Israel, maybe we’ll find they enjoy it just a little too much.

Beinart obviously ascribes great power to the American Jewish community (as I do). He goes through a litany of events in which Benjamin Netanyahu nullified American policy and got away with it, routinely humiliating Barack Obama; and Obama never used American aid to Israel “as a lever to change the [Israeli] policies he decried.”

Even presidents like Obama, who disapprove of Israel’s actions, don’t penalize Israel for them. They fold… The American government’s capitulation — under both Democrats and Republicans — is the unspoken elephant in the room when Americans discuss Israel’s embrace of permanent occupation. It is impossible to understand the looming death of the two-state solution without understanding that, for more than a twenty-five years, no American president has made Israel pay a price for undermining it. During that time, the notion that an American president might refuse to subsidize policies that brutalize Palestinians, harm America’s image, and threaten Israeli democracy, has become almost inconceivable. It’s time for a new generation of American progressives — especially progressive Jews — to make it conceivable again.

One reason conditioning aid has become inconceivable is that any American president who proposed it would be labeled anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic.

The elephant in the room is the Israel lobby; on the Democratic side anyway, that’s why pols “fold.” Beinart implicitly recognizes that. He does not mention all the pro-Israel contributions to political campaigns, but his insistence that Israel is hurting America in the Middle East is a heresy in the Zionist community (he quotes Petraeus and Mattis on Arab mistrust of the U.S.).

While Beinart applauds the progressive shift in the Democratic Party, he assigns a central role to Jews:

If a Democratic presidential candidate endorses this shift — of the major candidates, only Bernie Sanders has so far come close — it will likely help them among Democratic voters. A University of Maryland poll this spring found that 57 percent of Democrats think the US should respond to settlement growth with “economic sanctions” or “more serious action.” But that candidate will come under ferocious assault from Republicans and establishment American Jewish groups. And it will be up to progressive American Jews to thrust themselves into that fight.

Again, Beinart says this fight is “up to” American Jews. We’re still gatekeepers in Democratic Party politics. And the main reason the occupation has lasted for over 50 years without a hitch.

What Beinart fails to address directly is, What is the role of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions? On the one hand, Beinart’s theory of change is that Israel will only change if it is rebuked/shamed:

Israel fears any delegitimization in international fora. That is what Netanyahu brags about that he wants to undercut: his complete impunity for his actions, guaranteed by Jewish establishment figures like Dennis Ross and Malcolm Hoenlein who have insisted that Israel only takes steps when you show how much you love it.

American politicians and pundits rarely acknowledge: Israelis re-elected Netanyahu because he showed them he could undermine the two-state solution with international impunity. Indeed, he made that accomplishment a central theme of his campaign.

Again and again in recent years, Netanyahu has mocked political rivals who warned that his policies toward the Palestinians were making Israel a global pariah

But if there’s one thing that freaks Israel out it’s the BDS campaign and its threat of delegitimization. BDS is a nonviolent lever, invented by members of the oppressed class. That ought to count for a lot in ending Jim Crow.

The ultimate question is, How effective is organizing inside the Jewish community as a means of changing US policy? Answer: It doesn’t work. Most of the Democratic progressives whom Beinart is counting on don’t hear a voice in their head saying that non-Jews will criticize Israel too much. They have depended on diverse coalitions for leadership and ideas. They support BDS because they know it is Palestinian-led and taken up by the grassroots, and so has the power to affect political leaders and finally threaten the lobby’s inside track. Beinart is a brave leader inside his community, and timid in the broader context.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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9 Responses

  1. gamal on May 22, 2019, 12:44 pm

    “The appeal is sectarian: to Jewish progressives, not Americans as such. Beinart doesn’t completely trust non-Jewish critics of Israel”

    He might want to read an interview with William Nassar and others like him, “Je suis juive et mon fils est fidayi”…

    ” This movement of “traitorism,” has been followed by well-known individuals like Ilan Halevi, Uri Davis, and Tali Fahima, Jewish Israeli citizens who supported or joined Fatah. Little work, however, has been done to identify and analyze communities of Palestinians with recent Jewish ancestry, if not by faith, then by familial ties. These people belonged to one constantly interacting and dynamic community in the former Ottoman Empire stretching at least from Syria to Egypt and did not form a part of the Israeli identity, by choice or by chance. Instead, as Palestinians and refugees, they opted to struggle directly against Zionism in the period directly after the Nakba. These individuals pose a direct counterpoint to the mainstream narrative, even within anti-Zionist frameworks, which erases the full histories of Palestinian Jewry…..

    Although not numerically large and very difficult to identify due to conversion and other factors, a surprisingly high proportion of Palestinian Jews actively joined and led the Palestinian national liberation struggle: Fatah members William Nassar, Nabil Nassar, and Samir Abu Ghazaleh, and PFLP leader Kamal Nammari among them. Odette Nassar, the mother of William and Nabil, identifies at least 550 families of Jewish women married to Palestinian refugees whose “sons are, or will be, fedayeen.”[2] The narratives and histories of these individuals contribute to a better understanding of the conception of identity in a pre-Zionist, multi-ethnic, and multireligious Ottoman Palestine, and help the anti-Zionist movement globally to reframe its struggle as one not between religious groups, but rather a direct confrontation between settler colonialism and an indigenous population of all religions.

    William Najib Nassar, noms de guerre Louie al-Jabi, George Habayeb, Nidal Mansour, Abu Mohammed, was born in Jerusalem in 1946 to a Palestinian Christian father, Najib, and a Palestinian-Egyptian Jewish mother, Odette. Two years later, during the Nakba, Nassar and his family were in Alexandria, Egypt where his father was pursuing a Master’s in archeology. The family had to relocate to Ramallah where much of their extended family had fled from Jerusalem. Beginning as a student at St. George’s School in East Jerusalem and inspired by the achievements of Gamal Nasser and other Arab nationalists, Nassar was active in the Jordanian section of the Ba’ath Party from the age of fourteen. He rose to be the head of the party branch within his school. In 1965, Nassar joined al-Asifa, the military wing of the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) in which he remains until today. As part of Fatah, and against the wishes of his parents, he travelled to Lebanon, Syria, Germany, China, Spain, Algeria, and other countries to train new fedayeen and receive military training himself. In 1968, during a commando operation near Jerusalem, Nassar was captured, imprisoned, and tortured. He remained in Israeli military prison for twelve years before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1980. After imprisonment, Nassar went to Tunisia to join the exiled leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization where he remained, before he was able to return to the West Bank after the end of the First Intifada. He is the author of the autobiography, Taghribat Bani Fath: arba’un ‘am fi matahah Fathawiyah, available in Arabic.

    Alexi Shalom (AS): I understand your mother was Jewish and she was from Lebanon. Can you tell me about her, how your parents met, and what she thought about your activity in the resistance movement?

    William Nassar (WN): Let me begin by saying that I never felt Jewish. My mother rarely spoke about her Jewish past, but she had good contacts with her family, and she used to go visit them and they all spoke Arabic, and they never sympathized with Israel. My older aunt lived in Lebanon; she got married to a Jew from Lebanon, and had two sons. Both of them were very close to us, and I never felt that they saw anything different between us. Her daughter got married later on to a Muslim, and she had one son and three daughters, so they are all Muslims. Her son got married to a Lebanese Jew and they had one son and one daughter, but her son died young and his wife took the children and went to Israel, so I do not know anything about them. My only uncle from my mother’s side after 1956 went to Paris and lived there. He had two sons. They lived there. I visited them once. We were always on good relations with them; we never spoke politics. They were never sympathizers with Zionist ideas. They lived in Paris. They refused to go to Israel”

  2. just on May 22, 2019, 12:48 pm

    Read Beinart’s piece last evening and sort of , kind of thought that perhaps it was an important moment. Germany’s Bundestag has gone off the deep end and too many in Congress and state legislatures are still stuck on the wrong side of the fence. The Republicans under and with Trump are totally lost along with their zio- evangelical base.

    wrt Germany:

    “Palestinians: Germany’s anti-BDS Motion ‘Punishes Non-violent Resistance’

    ‘Anti-Semitism represents one of the biggest evils of our era. But to fight it, you should not become part of another injustice,’ chief negotiator Saeb Erekat writes to German lawmakers

    Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat urged German lawmakers to reverse a motion adopted on Friday defining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as anti-Semitic, marking the first time a major European parliament recognizes the movement as such.

    In a letter to Bundestag members sent on Monday, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat called it “a clear move towards criminalizing boycott, a peaceful and legal tool in the struggle against the Israeli occupation,” adding “We find this resolution to be utterly biased, void of any context and an affront to the right to freedom of expression.”

    Erekat compared apartheid South Africa to the current situation in the Palestinian territories, arguing similarities between the two “are quite evident.”

    As Israel lacks accountability and doesn’t comply with international law, according to Erekat, Palestinians had to “resort to non-violent resistance in the form of BDS to lobby for their rights.”

    “Instead of punishing such efforts, the German Bundestag should uphold the right to boycott and defend against illegitimate attacks against members of this movement,” Erekat added, urging lawmakers not to turn the non-binding resolution into law.

    He contested the motion’s definition of the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, saying the “Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and return” is supported by people of all religions.

    “The Israeli government has a ministry mandated to fight civil society organizations, including BDS,” Erekat added, referring to the relatively recently established Strategic Affairs Ministry, currently headed by Gilad Erdan. “They have even gone to the extreme of attacking Israeli human rights organizations, such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. By advancing this bill, the German Bundestag will be supporting the work of this fascist ministry.”

    The motion on “resisting the BDS movement” urges the German government not to support projects calling for a boycott of Israel or that actively support the BDS movement, and was backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, as well as the social-democrat SPD and the FDP. Some members of the Green Party supported the motion, while others abstained at the last minute. …

    Friday’s vote has stirred public discourse in Germany, with some critics claiming the proposed motion is draconian, suppressing pro-Palestinian groups’ freedom of expression. A group of about 50 Jewish academics from Germany and Israel published a petition opposing it.

    Knesset member Michal Rozin, of left-wing Meretz party, told SPD lawmakers in a letter send last week that the proposed pieces of legislation are “disturbing and destructive for the possibility of peace here on the ground,” arguing they lack a distinction between criticism of Israel and criticism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

    “We need the international community to intervene in order to stop this trend of legitimizing a right-wing and problematic conflation,” Rozin added. “How can it be that a German group or NGO, which merely calls for a campaign against settlement products, could be labelled as anti-Semitic?”

    Former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, who currently heads the Policy Working Group, a left-wing think tank, has written to Germany’s former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, arguing “In Germany, permeated with guilt toward the Jews and Israel, equating BDS – however much we oppose it – and anti-Semitism is … has no moral basis.”

    “There are anti-Semites who are friends of the Netanyahu government,” Baruch wrote, citing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache as examples, “and there are Jewish supporters of BDS. The fact that there are anti-Semites who are present in the BDS movement doesn’t make it anti-Semitic. It is anti-Israel.””

  3. Citizen on May 22, 2019, 1:24 pm

    What is the percentage of non-Jewish citizens of the USA, 2% or 98%? Where is Alice in this Tea Party? Who is the Queen? I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am Alice–for sure, I am not the Queen and her card forces.

  4. brent on May 22, 2019, 3:25 pm

    This important article identifies the elephant in the room, American capitulation. It ends with, “The ultimate question is, How effective is organizing inside the Jewish community as a means of changing US policy? Answer: It doesn’t work. Most of the Democratic progressives whom Beinart is counting on don’t hear a voice in their head saying that non-Jews will criticize Israel too much.”

    Not having one authority or a one gun policy, with criticism for lone wolf violence, has allowed the Palestinian side to consistently get outmaneuvered, unable to seriously move public opinion or to establish the safe political ground for American politicians to be moved to. The lack of appreciation for the game of politics and building coalitions has proven counterproductive. The confusion over non-violence or violence underpins confusion over co-existence or replacement.

    Palestinian rejection of current diplomacy before its launched can set back the cause for a generation as it will reinforce the narratives they don’t seek peace and they bring bad things upon themselves. And demoralize their support system.

    While its true presidents and candidates won’t touch the flow of money, Trump has said if Israel rejects his diplomacy he’ll cut off their money, “all of it”. Instead of deriding the term “deal of the century”, it should be appreciated as a reflection on the depth of his ego involvement. Netanyahu will be so pleased to have Abbas spare him Trump’s wrath, the debts at bay and keep the gifts coming.

    Thoughtful and robust debate is in order on diplomacy and building a stronger bridge to American public opinion, therefore progressive Jews.

  5. wondering jew on May 22, 2019, 6:03 pm

    Currently the Democratic presidential race is shaping up as Biden versus Bernie. (kind of early to write the others off, but let’s accept the frame of mind.) there will be pressure from bernie for Biden to be more critical of Bibi, that will be interesting to watch.

    As far as Beinart not being as much of a leader as Phil Weiss wants him to be, all I can say is LOL.

    As far as what roles are going to be played by progressive Jews or progressive Zionists, I don’t know. But don’t confuse Beinart with Doerfler. They’re not on the same page. Beinart is closely identified with a specific trend in Jewish history and Doerfler is not, unless middle Europe refinement is a specific trend in Jewish history, and I think that it is not. Beinart is attached to this moment in Jewish history, as viewed through the glasses that have seen the last 140 years of european jewish history and not in the specific culture of the cafes of middle Europe.

    • annie on May 23, 2019, 12:13 am

      wj, the primary season doesn’t start for another 10 months. the dnc favorite is kamala harris and thus far there has not even been a full court press moment with her like they’ve done for beto, buttegig, and biden. iow, it’s too early to make predictions like yours. and biden could easily flub up between now and then. it’ll come down to bernie and somebody tho.

  6. JWalters on May 22, 2019, 6:55 pm

    “If other progressive Jews are like me, they feel an internal dissonance when it comes to pressuring Israel, a voice inside their head that says: Don’t turn on your own…”

    Regarding that dissonance, Israel-born, Jewish therapist Avigail Abarbanel has written
    “It’s time for American Jews to recognize they have been duped”

    Actually, it’s time for ALL Americans to recognize they have been duped. As Mondoweiss has repeatedly documented, the main participants in our political discussion, in both the press and politics, have been steered by Zionist money into covering up the immense, ongoing crimes of Israel.

    The Jewish American community has been subjected to an extra heavy dose of the one-sided Zionist story, using cult-like tactics.
    “Why I left the cult”
    “Rabbis want to criticize Israel but fear donors (and NYT buries the news)”

    Breaking free from a deep emotional attachment is never easy. But a deep emotional attachment to a fiction, a fantasy, a dream, derails our reason and distorts our perception of reality, which lead to awful decisions. Breaking free from the false requires repeated focus on the facts, focusing our brain on reality. And as we return to reality we will feel a great relief from the dissonance.

    My thanks and congratulations to Peter Beinart for his personal effort, courage, and leadership in this transition.

  7. just on May 23, 2019, 3:14 pm

    Gideon Levy:

    “Israelis Aren’t Storming the Real Bastille

    There it goes again, the cry for civil disobedience. To the barricades! Revolution! Immunity laws and laws for overriding Supreme Court rulings rouse the liberal camp from its slumber, and again it’s threatening to go on the attack. Activists, commentators and former scout troop leaders all threaten to take to the streets and topple the Bastille. Pathos flows like water.

    Someone suggested a mass resignation of judges; another suggested, heaven forfend, wearing a black armband. What else is in their arsenal? Not leaving a tip at a restaurant? No shopping at the duty-free stores at Ben-Gurion Airport? Not turning off your phone at a movie?

    Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, a confirmed democrat specializing in executions, talks about “the execution of democracy.” A former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Gabi Ashkenazi, is making the supreme sacrifice: “For this struggle, I am willing even to go on Twitter.” A few dozen elite lawyers met for a protest session. The revolution will begin at the Goldfarb Seligman law offices!

    On Saturday night, a rally will take place under the banner “a Defensive Shield for Democracy.” We can only hope that the choice of name, reminiscent of the IDF’s 2002 operation during the second intifada, was coincidental, because that was one of the most heinous operations in the IDF’s history.

    It’s good that civil society has woken up to the need to act. It’s always a good thing, especially in Israel, this sleeping beauty. The problem is that, as usual, this beauty picks her fights in her comfort zone, where no courage is needed, where there’s no need to pay an actual price.

    We can’t be silent in light of the right wing’s legislation, but there’s an element of exaggeration and dramatization, sometimes to the point of ludicrousy, with the people who are crying wolf. The immunity law is grave, and the law meant to override Supreme Court rulings is even graver, but they don’t herald mass arrests, executions and the end of democracy.

    The fate of the current protest will probably be similar to that of previous protests – it will die out without any impact, without leaving a mark, and for the same reasons. These protests never dare put their hands all the way in the fire. In the summer of 2011, masses of people protested the high cost of living. It was an impressive and sweeping phenomenon, hope- and joy-inspiring, but also cowardly.

    It didn’t touch on two basic issues without which there can be no economic revolution in Israel: the defense budget and the budgets allocated to the settlements. No one touches these and there is no social justice. It’s that simple. … That’s why the protest evaporated without leaving a mark, other than in the careers of Labor legislators Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir. The current protest will end the same way for the same reason.

    Half an hour away by car from the revolutionary offices of Goldfarb Seligman, 500 people have been incarcerated for years without trial. There can’t be a democracy where people are locked up without trial. On this matter the protesting lawyers from the esteemed law firm have never piped up. The Supreme Court, for whose independence these attorneys are fighting, approves these detentions, just as it has approved nearly all the occupation’s crimes.

    This is the beacon of justice they’re defending. A democrat can’t defend this kind of court. It’s hard to be impressed by people who remember to fight for democracy only when the danger laps at their feet, endangering their own standing.

    An hour away from the museum square where masses will convene Saturday night there’s a horrific cage where 2.5 million people have been imprisoned for 13 years. Children die of cancer there due to a lack of medicine, adults there are like the living dead.

    No democracy inflicts something like this on others. A regime that imprisons millions isn’t democratic. The enthusiastic masses that come to the museum square are fighting for an imaginary democracy, a propaganda-driven one, one of convenience suited to them and their tribe. Even if they pass laws letting Benjamin Netanyahu escape justice, the effect on these masses will be negligible.

    This is why their fury is minuscule, as will be their protest. The Bastille isn’t on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street outside the prime minister’s residence, and the defensive shield of democracy doesn’t lie at the Supreme Court. The Bastille is the violent domination over millions of people. This is a Bastille no one is screaming that we topple. All the rest is playing games with democracy.”

  8. just on May 26, 2019, 12:01 pm

    What would Peter Beinart do/say?

    “Israeli Police Extracted After Settlers Attack Them in West Bank …

    Dozens of extreme right-wing activists assaulted police on Saturday near the settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank. According to the police, dozens of masked men from nearby settlements threw stones and other objects at the policemen and their van, puncturing the tires of two manned police vehicles. No one was arrested.

    According to a police spokesman from the Judea and Samaria police district, the police were summoned to an outpost called “Kippah Sruga,” following clashes between settlers and Palestinians. The police separated the two sides without arresting anyone.

    According to the police, “while our force was leaving, dozens of masked men from the area arrived, throwing stones and objects at the policemen and their vehicles. Using knives, they slashed the tires of two vehicles, causing quite a lot of damage before fleeing the scene.”

    Army and additional police forces had to be brought in to extricate the police who were under attack. Security forces are searching for the suspected attackers.

    A spokesman for Yitzhar said that “during Shabbat, some settlers took a walk near the settlement. The walk was uneventful, and in contrast to police claims that clashes erupted between Arabs and Jews, everyone was on their way home. While they were resting near the settlement, a Border Police force arrived, asked them to leave and used force with no justification. After things heated up, there was a verbal confrontation. Instead of admitting their mistake, policemen used disproportionate force against the settlers.”

    People in Yitzhar said that one settler was wounded and was evacuated for medical treatment. “Because of the Sabbath, we have no documentation of how things unfolded,” they said.

    Over the past several weeks, settlers from Yizhar and surrounding settlements have been involved in several altercations, yet police have not arrested a single suspect. …”

    more @

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