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Beinart’s Slippery Slope of Delegitimization

Omri ably dismantles the justification for Peter Beinart’s latest back-of-the-classroom arm-waving attempt to get attention by writing in approval of a limited boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy against the Israelis who don’t share his liberal opinions. The most obvious issue is that it is a slippery slope that will never simply remain targeting only settlements. (There are also other very good reasons to oppose the policy, as Omri notes as well.)

But there is another aspect of Beinart’s suggestion that is, like his BDS suggestion, both morally reprehensible and a dangerous slippery slope. That would be Beinart’s suggestion that we divide Israelis between those who live within the 1949 armistice line (good) and those who live beyond it (bad). Here is Beinart:

Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.

Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it.

Such list making is an atrocious excuse for reasoned debate, even without the slippery slope that will follow.

The slippery slope, of course, is that the “legitimate” vs. “illegitimate” argument will immediately be applied to those, anywhere and anytime, who voice any support for the Jews Beinart says to stay away from. When reading Beinart’s proposed division, I immediately remembered hearing this before. It was, in fact, John Mearsheimer who proposed the formulation. (See Michael’s post for some more on Mearsheimer.) In a speech in April 2010, the noted conspiracy theorist offered two categories of Jews: “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners” (there was a third category of the fence-sitters as well). Both Beinart and Mearsheimer want to draw these lines to save Israel from itself. Beinart warns:

If Israel makes the occupation permanent and Zionism ceases to be a democratic project, Israel’s foes will eventually overthrow Zionism itself.

We are closer to that day than many American Jews want to admit. Sticking to the old comfortable ways endangers Israel’s democratic future. If we want to effectively oppose the forces that threaten Israel from without, we must also oppose the forces that threaten it from within.

And here is Mearsheimer:

What is truly remarkable about this situation is that the Israel lobby is effectively helping Israel commit national suicide. Israel, after all, is turning itself into an apartheid state, which, as Ehud Olmert has pointed out, is not sustainable in the modern era…. It is hard to understand why Israel and its American supporters are not working overtime to create a viable Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories and why instead they are moving full-speed ahead to build Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state. It makes no sense from either a moral or a strategic perspective.

At the time of Mearsheimer’s speech, those who occasionally defend Beinart excoriated Mearsheimer. Jeffrey Goldberg, for example, thought Mearsheimer’s speech sounded an awful lot like the leftwing anti-Semite of the Roosevelt era, Father Coughlin. He reproduced a quote that Meryl Yourish found from one of Coughlin’s speeches:

My purpose is to help eradicate from the world its mania for persecution, to help align all good men. Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, Christian and non-Christian, in a battle to stamp out the ferocity, the barbarism and the hate of this bloody era. I want the good Jews with me, and I’m called a Jew-baiter, an anti-Semite.

Goldberg added that what he finds most interesting about Mearsheimer “is how his understanding of Jews and their nefarious role in American (sic) and in the world has caused him to abandon the principles of foreign policy realism that he advocated in his previous career, the reputable career he had before the Jews conquered his brain.”

And apparently Mearsheimer’s cautionary tale couldn’t prevent them from conquering Beinart’s as well. No doubt Beinart’s vapid, vainglorious crusade to lead the good Jews against who he characterizes as consisting in part of “poor Sephardic, Russian and ultra-Orthodox Jews” will be treated with the same revulsion. Beinart may, as he says, care deeply about Jewish survival. But echoing Mearsheimer is a funny way to show it.


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