Commentary Magazine


Topic: BDS campaign

Boycott Fever at MESA

“It’s inevitable that MESA will adopt BDS,” announced Noura Erakat, Palestinian-American “activist,” to the members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) last week. They had assembled at an open forum to discuss a boycott-Israel resolution scheduled for a vote the next day. “The question is whether MESA will be a catalyst or latecomer….  The importance of MESA adopting this cannot be underestimated.” Her plea was greeted by a round of applause. For a moment, I was tempted to join in myself.
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“It’s inevitable that MESA will adopt BDS,” announced Noura Erakat, Palestinian-American “activist,” to the members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) last week. They had assembled at an open forum to discuss a boycott-Israel resolution scheduled for a vote the next day. “The question is whether MESA will be a catalyst or latecomer….  The importance of MESA adopting this cannot be underestimated.” Her plea was greeted by a round of applause. For a moment, I was tempted to join in myself.

As an Israeli educator, I’m strongly opposed to the academic boycott of Israel, especially by American academic associations. But there’s one exception: MESA, whose conference I attended last week. You see, I’m not a member or a well-wisher of MESA. I’d be perfectly content if it were finally exposed for what it’s mostly become: a pro-Palestine political society whose members just happen to be academics. If MESA were to decide in favor of an academic boycott, I’d have a field day, since I’ve been asserting for many years that MESA isn’t what it claims to be (a “non-political association” according to its bylaws). So I admit it: when MESA plunged into boycott politics before and during its annual conference in Washington, I figured it was a win-win. Boycott defeated? Win for Israel and scholarly freedom. Boycott adopted? Vindication of MESA’s critics, myself included.

You don’t have to take my word for it when it comes to MESA. More than twenty years ago, Edward Said (in Culture and Imperialism) declared MESA liberated territory: “During the 1980s, the formerly conservative Middle East Studies Association underwent an important ideological transformation…. What happened in the Middle East Studies Association therefore was a metropolitan story of cultural opposition to Western domination.” At almost exactly the same time, a MESA president informed the association that “our membership has changed over the years, and possibly half is of Middle Eastern heritage.” I’ll leave it to you to decide whether there might have been some link between the “ideological transformation” of MESA and the shift in the composition of its membership. For my purposes, what counts is that for a good part of MESA’s membership, boycotting Israel is just second nature. It’s practiced as state policy in their countries of origin, and practiced by them informally in their daily lives.

Given this reality, one might ask why MESA didn’t elect to boycott Israel years ago. Proposals were made. But the idea that an academic professional association should be situated outside politics isn’t dead yet, and it’s always had some supporters in MESA, even among some of Israel’s fiercest critics. The more farsighted members also suspect that if MESA were to boycott Israel, it wouldn’t be long before other boycott resolutions would pop up, against Egypt or Iran, Syria or Saudi Arabia. That’s because political grievances in the Middle East don’t end with Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians, and American “complicity” doesn’t end with U.S. support for Israel. Finally, Middle Eastern studies in the United States, at the higher-tier institutions, are addicted to subsidies authorized by Congress. These subsidies are already under heightened scrutiny and budgetary pressures. A boycott decision by MESA could turn into the rationale for Congress to do away with the funding altogether, and would represent a huge gamble with negligible upside.

So in the past, whenever the boycott demand percolated in the ranks, cooler heads prevailed. The problem is that the cooler heads are growing grey and losing authority. MESA’s more numerous militants are less likely to know that there’s any difference between scholarship and advocacy, and they have no clue what a “non-political” learned society does. Government funding has also been cut, so it’s less of a restraint, particularly among those who don’t share in it. And there’s no real need for MESA to be a place for the objective presentation of Israel, since Israel studies long ago moved out to a separate association. (Not surprisingly, nobody in MESA could be found to make the case for Israel in MESA’s open forum on the boycott; an Israel scholar who hadn’t been a MESA member had to be recruited to do the job. He was heckled and personally insulted for his trouble.) There are a few Israelis who study Arab countries and for whom MESA is a professional home, but their number is negligible.

All this has left MESA vulnerable to predatory BDSers, who are constantly on the lookout for openings. In the lead-up to this year’s conference, they targeted MESA with a stealth boycott resolution—stealth, because it doesn’t call openly for a boycott. Instead, it defends the right of members to advocate for a boycott, calls on MESA to sponsor forums to deliberate on a boycott decision, and “deplores” criticism of boycott resolutions by other academic associations as “intimidation.”

While the resolution may appear rather tame, it’s instructive to compare it to a 2005 letter that MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom issued in response to a British academic boycott of two Israeli universities (Haifa and Bar-Ilan): “We find thoroughly objectionable the call… to refrain from any and all scholarly interaction with the entire professional staff of two universities because of the policies of the state in which they are situated.” How far MESA has fallen! According to this new resolution, not only is such a boycott call no longer “thoroughly objectionable,” but even to criticize it is “deplorable” and an act of “intimidation.” Not only is the resolution intended to shut down criticism of boycotts (as Michael Rubin noted yesterday). It would actually reverse MESA’s past position.

People in the know, from among the cooler heads, have told me that the resolution would be still worse were it not for the heroic behind-the-scenes efforts of MESA’s current president, Nathan Brown, a George Washington University political scientist. He’s said to have steered a compromise: a resolution that the BDSers can cite as progress, but which falls short of endorsing a boycott. I saw him in operation in the “presidential forum” as a prelude to the formal vote. Brown scrupulously avoided taking a position on an academic boycott, but found subtle ways to hint at its possible consequences. MESA, he reminded the audience, is a small organization that relies largely on volunteers; defending a controversial boycott resolution could put huge demands on the secretariat. There might be litigation (read: legal costs). And of course, there’s that matter of funding (translation: Congress could punish us). I’ve heard that some of these same arguments were made by others in the next day’s business meeting where the vote took place. (I’m not a MESA member, so I couldn’t attend.)

It’s not hard to imagine Brown belonging to the cooler (greying) heads. It’s much harder to imagine his strategy (or any strategy) stopping MESA’s march toward some sort of endorsement of the academic boycott. At the business meeting, the resolution passed by a huge margin of 256 to 79—this, despite the fact that several former MESA presidents, known as severe critics of Israel, spoke against it. After the conference, Brown published an article meant to spin the “vote to vote to have discussions.” To read it, you would think that the resolution, now likely to be passed by a MESA-wide referendum, would merely “formalize” an endless BDS debate. “The list of questions such a discussion will entail is long,” he wrote, and “some of us will prefer to argue about these questions rather than answer them.” I actually think the majority of MESAns already have answers, before MESA’s “discussion” even begins. Tellingly, Brown omitted the vote tally for the resolution at the business meeting. If he was so effective behind the curtain, how is it that he found only 79 other cooler heads in all of MESA? The scene is now set for a denouement in a year or so, when the BDSers will propose a full-blown boycott resolution. Who’ll be in Brown’s seat then? MESA president-elect Beth Baron, a historian at CUNY, who over the summer signed a letter personally pledging to boycott Israeli academe.

Since MESA is beginning a discussion about boycotting Israel, it’s time to start a discussion about boycotting MESA. Back in 2007, the writer Hillel Halkin responded to British academic boycott resolutions with a call to shift gears. It is wrong, he said, “to turn the issue into one of the unacceptability of boycotts.… There is, in fact, nothing wrong with boycotts, academic or otherwise, if they’re aimed at the right targets.” Halkin called on supporters of Israel to “fight back” in “a massive and organized fashion—or, to call a spade a spade, by means of a counter-boycott.”

I’m doubtful whether a counter-boycott could be applied to individuals, as Halkin suggested, and not just because there are too many of them. But institutions? Why not? The BDS campaign claims that boycotting Israeli academic institutions is a perfectly legitimate response to their “complicity” in Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Well, what about MESA’s complicity in promoting rabid hatred of Israel that some believe spills over into Jew-hatred? What about MESA’s complicity in the whitewashing of Hamas? In the spring, BDSers Rashid Khalidi and Judith Butler mobilized signatories to a letter insisting that “boycotts are internationally affirmed and constitutionally protected forms of political expression.” By the simplest logic, that applies equally to counter-boycotts. And why shouldn’t the same bare-knuckle techniques used by the academic boycotters not be deployed against them in an academic counter-boycott?

How might a counter-boycott of MESA operate? Here are some preliminary ideas:

  • Individual members could be encouraged and persuaded to resign their membership in MESA. One of the most poignant moments in the MESA public forum on the boycott was provided by Norman Stillman, a historian at the University of Oklahoma and a renowned expert on the Jews of Arab lands. He said that he’d been a member of MESA from its inception, and he’d attended its annual conferences religiously since 1972. But if MESA passed a boycott resolution, he would leave it. Stillman, it might be added, is already on the board of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), a seven-year-old rival to MESA which is growing steadily. A campaign to encourage disgruntled MESAns to resign and join ASMEA, combined with an expansion of ASMEA’s own activities, would be the simplest measure of all.
  • MESA publishes two journals. Faculty members on promotion and tenure committees could be urged to challenge the academic standing of all articles touching on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict published in these journals, with the aim of categorizing them as non-academic.
  • MESA’s secretariat and its website are hosted by the University of Arizona in Tucson, and employees’ salaries go through the university. A political organization that boycotts Israel has no place on a university campus, and should be exiled to an office park. Pressure on the University of Arizona administration, from within and without, to terminate the university’s hosting of MESA would be an obvious measure in any counter-boycott.
  • MESA has institutional members, most of them American universities represented by their Middle East centers. No self-respecting university should allow its name to appear as an institutional member of a political organization, a point that could be driven home by students, faculty, donors, and board members. (I would look to the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis to claim the honor of being the first to quit.)
  • Many MESA institutional members are National Resource Centers, funded by U.S. taxpayers through Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Some center directors are already personally pledged to implement an academic boycott. If MESA now mandates the same, it’s time for Congress to investigate whether an academic boycott is already underway, formally or otherwise, in Middle East centers that receive federal funds and belong to MESA. Now that the Higher Education Act is up for reauthorization, BDS-committed center directors could be summoned to testify before the relevant subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. (A subcommittee took testimony on Title VI during a previous reauthorization in 2003.)

Notice that these possible counter-boycott measures aren’t directed against individuals. Just as the boycott is (supposedly) directed only at Israeli institutions, so the counter-boycott would be directed only against MESA, its institutional projects, and its institutional affiliates.

Of course, I don’t advocate any of these measures yet, because MESA hasn’t passed a boycott resolution yet. But now’s the appropriate time to discuss them, in parallel with the discussion in MESA. Personally, though, I’ve already made my choice. I won’t ever join MESA, for reasons I’ve already explained. I attended this year’s conference as a non-member after a hiatus of sixteen years, and I think that’s about the right frequency. Yes, there are interesting panels at MESA—in between the rallies for Israel-haters and boycott-Israel agitation. On balance, MESA does more harm than good to the stature of Middle Eastern studies in America. That’ll be obvious after the MESAns pass their boycott resolution—and that’s why, in my heart of hearts, I eagerly await it.

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ADL Agrees: BDS Equals Anti-Semitism

There has been considerable pushback from many in the chattering classes–and some public officials, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–to those who have stood up to the BDS campaign against Israel. As I wrote earlier in the week, the mayor thinks we should pipe down when it comes to complaints about Brooklyn College or other institutions of higher learning hosting conferences devoted to supporting the effort to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Others have denigrated the position we’ve taken, on the necessity for Jewish groups to refuse to work together or co-sponsor events with BDS campaigners, as both intolerant and extremist. But this issue is not about academic freedom or the Jewish establishment repressing idealistic dissent against unpopular policies of the Israeli government. It is about hate speech and anti-Semitism.

That is a hard sell for many American Jews who think anti-Semites only come in one package. They think anti-Semites are only neo-Nazi troglodytes or conservative Christians (a terrible slander since the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and other conservative Christians in this country are fervent supporters of Israel and friends of the Jewish people). They refuse to believe that academics and students that couch their rhetoric in the language of human rights and the cause of the downtrodden and oppressed Palestinian people are acting from prejudice and promoting hatred. But they are wrong. And it is nice to know that the American group that is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring anti-Semitism is willing to say so. That’s why we must applaud the Anti-Defamation League for its ad in today’s New York Times refuting Bloomberg and calling the BDS movement by its right name. The ad, an essay by ADL national director Abraham Foxman, framed the issue in the same manner as I have done here at Contentions:

The BDS movement is not merely advocating boycotts of Israel, which in our mind is hateful on its own, but in its support for the “right of return” of refugees, they are advocating something even more hateful, the destruction of the Jewish state through demography. Anyone who is serious about the survival of Israel knows what this is about.

So we are talking here about hate, not mere criticism. The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.

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There has been considerable pushback from many in the chattering classes–and some public officials, like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg–to those who have stood up to the BDS campaign against Israel. As I wrote earlier in the week, the mayor thinks we should pipe down when it comes to complaints about Brooklyn College or other institutions of higher learning hosting conferences devoted to supporting the effort to wage economic war on the State of Israel. Others have denigrated the position we’ve taken, on the necessity for Jewish groups to refuse to work together or co-sponsor events with BDS campaigners, as both intolerant and extremist. But this issue is not about academic freedom or the Jewish establishment repressing idealistic dissent against unpopular policies of the Israeli government. It is about hate speech and anti-Semitism.

That is a hard sell for many American Jews who think anti-Semites only come in one package. They think anti-Semites are only neo-Nazi troglodytes or conservative Christians (a terrible slander since the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and other conservative Christians in this country are fervent supporters of Israel and friends of the Jewish people). They refuse to believe that academics and students that couch their rhetoric in the language of human rights and the cause of the downtrodden and oppressed Palestinian people are acting from prejudice and promoting hatred. But they are wrong. And it is nice to know that the American group that is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring anti-Semitism is willing to say so. That’s why we must applaud the Anti-Defamation League for its ad in today’s New York Times refuting Bloomberg and calling the BDS movement by its right name. The ad, an essay by ADL national director Abraham Foxman, framed the issue in the same manner as I have done here at Contentions:

The BDS movement is not merely advocating boycotts of Israel, which in our mind is hateful on its own, but in its support for the “right of return” of refugees, they are advocating something even more hateful, the destruction of the Jewish state through demography. Anyone who is serious about the survival of Israel knows what this is about.

So we are talking here about hate, not mere criticism. The BDS movement at its very core is anti-Semitic.

Many American Jews purport to disagree with the policies of Israel’s government. But most of those who adopt this position have a rather shaky understanding of why it is most Israelis believe the Palestinians have no interest in making peace. But when the argument stops being about how Israel should be governed and becomes one centered on whether the Jews have a right to a state or to defend it, that goes beyond legitimate dissent and becomes part of an effort to deny Jews rights that are accorded every other people and nation.

In the case of Brooklyn College, Foxman is exactly right when he says that BDS supporters have a right to expound their hateful views just as members of the Ku Klux Klan (the same analogy I made here on Wednesday) cannot be prevented from articulating their views. But they do not have a right to expect public universities supported by the taxpayers, as is the case with Brooklyn College, to subsidize their efforts or to offer them a platform, let alone give them the stamp of legitimacy that such an event provides. Bloomberg would not use the police to stop the KKK from speaking at a forum they paid for in his city, but he would not tolerate a Klan conference at Brooklyn College for a minute. Nor would he tell African Americans who protested such an event to “go to North Korea,” as he did those Jews who spoke up about the BDS event.

The distinction made by some between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a distinction without a difference. Denying rights to Jews to have their own state and to defend it, and seeking to destroy it by the means of economic warfare proposed by the BDS crowd, is fundamentally prejudicial since it sets up a double standard applied to no other country or people in the world. Contrary to the narrative of the BDS advocates, justice is not on the side of those who wish to destroy Israel or to support Palestinian efforts led by the Fatah and Hamas terrorist groups to wage war on it.

This is a simple truth that must be understood by all those who wish to give a pass to the BDS campaign or to try to see it as merely a disagreement about settlements or where Israel’s borders should be placed. As with racism directed at African Americans, a line must be drawn in the sand between persons of conscience and those seeking to boycott, disinvest and sanction the one Jewish state in the world.

That is why there can be no compromise with BDS or its supporters. The litmus test here is not about Benjamin Netanyahu but the survival of the Jewish people and their state. Those who oppose the existence of the latter may not act the part of traditional anti-Semites, but their cause is just as much rooted in bias as those articulated by neo-Nazis.

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BDS: Hate Speech, Not Free Speech

Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the latest to weigh in on the issue of allowing college campuses to be used as venues for promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel. Bloomberg, who touts himself as one of the greatest supporters of Israel in New York, claimed that those who condemned the decision of the political science department at the city’s Brooklyn College were, in effect, enemies of free speech. According to the New York Observer, Bloomberg said the following:

“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

But contrary to the mayor’s typically highhanded formulation, this is not a free speech issue. Using a public university to promote hate speech in which the one Jewish state in the world is hypocritically singled out for isolation and destruction is not a matter of tolerating a diversity of views. What is so frustrating about the debate about BDS is the willingness of even those who do not support it to treat as a merely one among many defensible views about the Middle East or, as the New York Times referred to it in an editorial on the subject yesterday, a question of academic freedom whose advocates do not deserve to be spoken of harshly. As I wrote last week about a related controversy at Harvard, the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies or the issue of West Bank settlements. It is an economic war waged to destroy the Jewish state and is morally indistinguishable from more traditional forms of anti-Semitism that do not disguise themselves in the fancy dress of academic discourse.

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Today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the latest to weigh in on the issue of allowing college campuses to be used as venues for promotion of the BDS campaign against Israel. Bloomberg, who touts himself as one of the greatest supporters of Israel in New York, claimed that those who condemned the decision of the political science department at the city’s Brooklyn College were, in effect, enemies of free speech. According to the New York Observer, Bloomberg said the following:

“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

But contrary to the mayor’s typically highhanded formulation, this is not a free speech issue. Using a public university to promote hate speech in which the one Jewish state in the world is hypocritically singled out for isolation and destruction is not a matter of tolerating a diversity of views. What is so frustrating about the debate about BDS is the willingness of even those who do not support it to treat as a merely one among many defensible views about the Middle East or, as the New York Times referred to it in an editorial on the subject yesterday, a question of academic freedom whose advocates do not deserve to be spoken of harshly. As I wrote last week about a related controversy at Harvard, the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies or the issue of West Bank settlements. It is an economic war waged to destroy the Jewish state and is morally indistinguishable from more traditional forms of anti-Semitism that do not disguise themselves in the fancy dress of academic discourse.

As Yair Rosenberg noted today in Tablet, the BDS movement has as its declared goal Israel’s destruction via implementation of the Palestinian “right of return.” This is consistent with their overall rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a separate Jewish state and their opposition to any means of self-defense against Palestinian terrorism.

It needs to be understood that those who take such a position are, in effect, denying the Jewish people the same right of self-determination that they support for every other nation on the planet. That is a textbook definition of bias and such bias when used against Jews is called anti-Semitism. That is why the various members of the City Council and New York State legislature who have spoken out on this issue are right to try to exert pressure on Brooklyn College to cancel the event and the Times and Bloomberg are wrong to defend the decision to uphold it.

Were Brooklyn College or any other state institution to hold a conference whose purpose was to oppose integration or the rights of African-Americans with academics who support the agenda of the Ku Klux Klan, there would be no question that this would be considered beyond the pale rather than free speech that deserved defense. The same standard should apply to those who wish to destroy Israel by waging economic warfare on it and its citizens.

Mayor Bloomberg is also wrong that opponents of BDS do their cause a disservice when they attack those who wish to appropriate college campuses for this cause. Rather than treat the BDS movement as an unfortunate but tolerable eruption of anti-Israel agitation or mere dissent about the settlements, it must be labeled for what it is: a hateful movement based in prejudice whose agenda serves the cause of those who wage violent war against the Jewish people. BDS advocates crave the legitimacy that events such as the Brooklyn College event affords them since it allows them to emerge from the fever swamps of the far left where they normally reside.

One may debate Israel’s policies or those of any nation (though it is fair to note that BDS supporters are uninterested in human rights except as that phrase can be manipulated to bolster their war on Israel), but a movement based in denying Jewish rights is anti-Semitism no matter how high-minded its supporters and its useful idiot enablers pretend it to be. Those who cannot draw a line between BDS and legitimate debate are defending hate speech, not free speech.

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Two Revealing Quotes on Peter Beinart

Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

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Jason Zengerie has written a sweeping profile of Peter Beinart at New York Magazine today. Before you read it, here are the two quotes that sum up the shifting public perception of Beinart, post-BDS endorsement.

First, an on-the-record knuckle-wrapping from one of Beinart’s benefactors in the “liberal Zionist” camp:

“I came to the book as a friend of Peter’s and as someone wanting to see it succeed and see it have a major impact on people’s thinking,” says Peter Joseph, a prominent liberal Jewish philanthropist who gave Beinart money to help launch the Open Zion blog, “but unfortunately what I’ve seen is the book has led to greater polarization, and that doesn’t serve Israel’s best interests.”

Now a few words from the anti-Zionist sump pit:

[Mondoweiss editor Philip] Weiss holds out hope that one day they might not be. “The interesting question to me is, What is the crisis of Peter Beinart? Those of us in the anti-Zionist camp wonder if this rude reception, this bum’s rush he’s getting, is going to send him into our arms.”

Beinart’s book hasn’t influenced liberal Zionists. Instead he’s repelled them, while encouraging the fringiest of the fringe Israel-bashers, who think it’s only a matter of time before he’s in Mondoweiss territory. Again, it has to be asked: What is Beinart’s end game here? As his audience dwindles, will he pivot back to the center, or venture further into the lunatic asylum?

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The Bankruptcy of Beinart Inc.

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel. Read More

Peter Beinart, aspirant to the pedestal of liberal Zionism and prospective successor to Tony Judt, is witnessing the unravelling of his carefully choreographed arrangement. It was going so well: on the heels of his infamous article in the New York Review of Books came the commission to expand the thesis into a book, and, with the assistance of an army of interns and researchers, The Crisis of Zionism was released at the annual J Street conference and with an article in the New York Times, and, to accompany this momentous event, with the inauguration of a new blog, Zion Square, which would alter the discourse on Zionism in the American Jewish community. And he, with a righteous cause and the reward of royalties, would be at the forefront.

So far, so bold.

Unfortunately for Beinart, however, even the blueprint, much less the execution, was ill-conceived. To begin with, the book itself has received scathing reviews (see for instance, Sol Stern’s take in this month’s COMMENTARY, as well as here, here, here, and here). There is no need to rehearse their salient criticisms, except to note that between the article and the book, Beinart altered one of his key theses, namely, that it was not Israeli policies which were alienating American Jews, as he had earlier claimed, but rather intermarriage among the latter which was alienating them from the Jewish community, and consequently from Israel.

Next, the J Street conference itself was something of a sham, and the first Israeli diplomat to attend in two years – Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States – slammed the group, calling on it to change its ways and ‘‘stand with us.’’ A harsher critique of a self-described ‘‘pro-Israel’’ group would be hard to find; perhaps that’s why J Street removed the speech from the group’s official record. Beinart, though, still had his backers, including one Lara Friedman, an activist with Americans for Peace Now, who recently discovered (to no effect) the Arabs do not reciprocate her goodwill.

Beinart’s accompanying op-ed at the New York Times calling for a ‘‘Zionist BDS’’ to save Israel’s democracy from the ‘‘nondemocratic’’ Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria was also panned – immediately by the Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, and then by everyone else in the Jewish community, including J Street! Apparently, Beinart missed the BDS memo: even sympathizers now see its faults, and examples abound of the failure to do precisely what Beinart prescribes: differentiate boycotts of Judea and Samaria from those of the rest of Israel.

Finally, Zion Square, barely a month old, has (a bit embarrassingly) become Open Zion, in response to a similar blog of the same name launched somewhat pre-emptively. And now one of its few moderate, best credentialed, and less outspoken bloggers, Dr Yoel Finkelman, has, with a public letter at Jewish Ideas Daily, resigned his charge as a regular contributor, in protest of the blog’s content, style, and agenda.

And so, the crisis of Zionism emerges as comparatively chimerical, and the crisis of Beinart – and of Beinart Inc. – is unfolding before us. Like Zion’s many other critics, perhaps he’ll go on to blame the Israel Lobby. Alternatively – and hopefully – he’ll revise his viewpoint and finish this farce.

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Emma Thompson Illustrates Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

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Friends of Israel have been able to take some satisfaction in the fact that Peter Beinart’s intellectually vapid attempt to promote what he has the temerity to call “Zionist BDS” (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Jewish state has been panned by liberals as well as conservatives across the political spectrum. Few outside of the far left have been convinced by his call for a boycott of Jews who live in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem so as to save Israel from itself and bring about Middle East peace. Unlike the foolish Beinart, most Americans — like the overwhelming majority of Israelis — understand the obstacle to a resolution to the conflict comes from the Palestinians’ inability to make peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

All this eludes Beinart, but the writer, who has assumed the pose of the self-appointed conscience of American Jewry, also misses another key point. He fails to comprehend that his distinction between boycotts of the settlements and of the rest of the country inside the green line (which he tells us he loves passionately) is not one that the rest of the world is necessarily going to respect. As Oscar-winning actress and writer Emma Thompson proved this week, efforts to stigmatize West Bank Jews have a curious habit of morphing into boycotts of other Israelis, including those who, like Beinart, are not part of the settlement project.

As the Times of Israel reports today, the much-loved Thompson joined with 36 other prominent figures in the English theater (including Jews like playwright and director Mike Leigh and director Jonathan Miller) to demand the exclusion of Israel’s prestigious Habima Theater Company from a dramatic festival taking place at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London next month. The excuse for this crude act of anti-Semitic incitement: the fact that Habima has not joined in efforts to boycott theater productions in the settlements.

Let’s understand what’s at work in this vile letter. Habima, as even Thompson and her cohorts surely know, is not exactly a bulwark of the Israeli right. If anything, it is, like the rest of the Israeli arts community, very much part of the country’s left and no friend to the settlement movement. Indeed, its choice to perform Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic “Merchant of Venice” at the Globe is a decision that many Jews would question. But by not agreeing to join in a boycott of a theater constructed in Ariel (a large town located not far from the green line), Habima is, in the eyes of Israel-haters like Thompson, equally guilty.

That’s one of the problems with Beinart’s “Zionist BDS.” As much as he may think he can draw a bright line between “good Jews” inside the green line and “bad Jews” in the West Bank, it’s one that will never be respected by Israel’s foes. Boycotts of the West Bank and Jerusalem are merely a tactic by which those who believe Israel has no right to exist will gain traction for their larger goal of Israel’s total isolation.

Treating every Jew and every house built by a Jew outside of the 1949 armistice lines as a criminal who must be isolated has nothing to do with peace. As even President Obama conceded, the vast majority of the settlers living in communities that are suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem would be included inside Israel in the territorial “swaps” he envisions as part of a peace deal. Ariel is one such place. But by placing it, its large population and its theater in anathema, Beinart is lending his approval to efforts to the anti-Zionist BDS campaigns those European intellectuals back.

As most observers have noted of his screeds, democratic Israel does not need saving by American Jews, let alone an intellectual lightweight and opportunist like Beinart. But people like him do serve a purpose for those who wish to bring down the Jewish state. If Beinart can boycott the Jews of Ariel, then it is just as easy for others to boycott those Israelis who won’t do the same.

The slippery slope from Beinart’s version of Zionism to Thompson’s anti-Zionism couldn’t be clearer.

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