Commentary Magazine


Topic: West Bank settlements

Beinart’s Argument Was Already Debunked

As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

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As a further thought to Michael Rubin’s response to Joe Klein’s defense of Peter Beinart, it is not true that nobody has yet replied to Peter Beinart’s demographic argument. First of all, the argument is not Peter Beinart’s. He’d deserve a response if he had raised a new, original insight to the debate – but the argument about how Israel’s Jewish character is incompatible with its democratic nature if Israel indefinitely rules over millions of Palestinians is not something Peter Beinart discovered – he merely parroted a widely held view. And as for the need to respond to him, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley did so already last year, writing in the New York Review of Books, a publication that is hardly sympathetic to Israel and which hosted Beinart’s opening shot against Israel:

Demographic developments undoubtedly are a source of long-term Israeli anxiety. But they are not the type of immediate threat that spurs risky political decisions. Moreover, the binary choice Palestinians, Americans, and even some Israelis posit—either a negotiated two-state outcome or the impossibility of a Jewish, democratic state—assumes dramatic and irreversible changes that Israel would not be able to counter. Yet Israel possesses a variety of potential responses. Already, by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, former prime minister Ariel Sharon transformed the numbers game, effectively removing 1.5 million Palestinians from the Israeli equation. The current or a future government could unilaterally conduct further territorial withdrawals from the West Bank, allowing, as in the case of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s West Bank government, or compelling, as happened in Gaza, large numbers of Palestinians to rule themselves and mitigating the demographic peril. The options, in other words, are not necessarily limited to a two-state solution, an apartheid regime, or the end of the Jewish state.

Since he relied on NYRB, Beinart should at least have done his homework and taken into account what others had already opined in the Review on the same subject. It is a testament to how sloppy Jewish anti-Israel sanctimony is that the best argument on how the demographic argument is largely overblown should come from a Palestinian intellectual and an American former negotiator known for his pro-Palestinian sympathies.

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Return Abbas Letter to Sender

Asked about the Palestinian letter reportedly coming next week, in which Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 88th month of his 48-month term as Palestinian president, having failed to hold the elections he promised a year ago (when he entered into still another reconciliation agreement with the terrorist group he previously promised to dismantle) — will demand that Israel stop construction in the disputed territories, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that “Not a single new settlement has been built in the last three years since this [Netanyahu] government is in power.”

The only authorized Israeli construction is in existing settlements that will be part of Israel in any conceivable peace agreement, pursuant to the understanding reached a decade ago with the U.S. that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones – what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the “Google Earth Test” – not construction within established settlements. In her recent memoir, Rice confirmed both the informal understanding and Israeli compliance with it throughout the Bush administration.

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Asked about the Palestinian letter reportedly coming next week, in which Mahmoud Abbas — currently in the 88th month of his 48-month term as Palestinian president, having failed to hold the elections he promised a year ago (when he entered into still another reconciliation agreement with the terrorist group he previously promised to dismantle) — will demand that Israel stop construction in the disputed territories, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted that “Not a single new settlement has been built in the last three years since this [Netanyahu] government is in power.”

The only authorized Israeli construction is in existing settlements that will be part of Israel in any conceivable peace agreement, pursuant to the understanding reached a decade ago with the U.S. that a “settlement freeze” meant no new settlements and no expansion of the boundaries of existing ones – what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the “Google Earth Test” – not construction within established settlements. In her recent memoir, Rice confirmed both the informal understanding and Israeli compliance with it throughout the Bush administration.

Not only has the Netanyahu government adhered to that understanding; it implemented an unprecedented ten-month construction freeze, which predictably produced no Palestinian response other than a demand in the tenth month that it be continued.

Back when he was he was actually in office, Abbas rejected the offer by Israeli Prime Minister Olmert of a Palestinian state on land equivalent to 100 percent of the West Bank with a capital in Jerusalem. He is a Potemkin president, making “demands” for Israeli steps he knows are neither required nor realistic, still refusing to recognize a Jewish state, or defensible borders, or an end-of-claims agreement, still unwilling to tell his people, in Arabic, what is required for a Palestinian state.

Instead of delivering a letter, he should make his Bir Zeit speech.

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Re: Beinart’s Slippery Slope on Boycotts

This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

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This weekend Jonathan weighed in on the letter signed by a number of UK artists calling for a boycott of Israel’s Habima theatre company.

Had the letter not contained the names of celebrities Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh, I doubt it would have made the splash it did – and, to further Jonathan’s point about Peter Beinart and the role he plays in delegitimating Israel, the letter’s signatories include the usual suspects among the Jews-for-Justice-for-anyone-but-the-Jews, whose fame, in the world of the performing arts, is more closely linked to their anti-Zionist crusades than their artistic talents.

Still, one point deserves to be added to Jonathan’s excellent take-down.

The “artists” explain their call to target Habima on the grounds that Habima performed in the Territories and that “By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.” The inference here is that giving a stage to Habima will undermine those in Israel who refused to go along and perform in Ariel and other settlements.

But it also suggests that performing in the Territories is a breach of international law.

Now that’s something else. There is no clause in the Fourth Geneva Convention forbidding theatre companies from performing a play in Territories under military occupation as a result of a conflict still waiting to be settled.

As an international law scholar whom I turned to in order to confirm the absence of such a rule from the annals of international law said with reference to the boycotters – “for them it is not international law, it is ‘my’ law.”

Same with Beinart and others afflicted by the same selective moral indignation – they make up facts and rules as they go along, which they then invoke to prove their hatred for Israel right.

 

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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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End the Human Rights Parody at Geneva

The United Nations obsession with demonizing Israel was once again on display this week in Geneva where the world body’s Human Rights Council voted to investigate the impact of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Palestinians. This so-called fact-finding mission is yet another UN kangaroo court that is set up to demonize the Jewish state and to allow the Palestinians to vent their intolerance for Jews in the guise of displaying their victim status. Since the Council has already made it clear that it considers that Jews have no right to live anywhere in the territories and that Israeli policies that make Jewish communities there possible are illegal (an assertion that is palpably false even if it has become a mantra of international diplomacy), the mission is really an indictment rather than an investigation.

The Obama administration deserves credit for the fact that the United States was the only one of the 47 members of the Council to vote against the resolution, which was one of five anti-Israel measures passed in Geneva this week. But this latest proof of the institution’s moral bankruptcy requires a stronger response than the rhetorical shrug of the shoulders that it generated that from Washington. The Council, which prior to this latest session had already devoted 39 out of the 91 actions it has taken since it was reconstituted in 2006 to denunciations of democratic Israel, is a parody of a human rights organization. At a time when the group is either paying mere lip service or flat out ignoring real human rights tragedies, the decision to devote the UN’s resources to another platform for hatred against Israel makes it imperative that the United States withdraw immediately from the Council.

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The United Nations obsession with demonizing Israel was once again on display this week in Geneva where the world body’s Human Rights Council voted to investigate the impact of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Palestinians. This so-called fact-finding mission is yet another UN kangaroo court that is set up to demonize the Jewish state and to allow the Palestinians to vent their intolerance for Jews in the guise of displaying their victim status. Since the Council has already made it clear that it considers that Jews have no right to live anywhere in the territories and that Israeli policies that make Jewish communities there possible are illegal (an assertion that is palpably false even if it has become a mantra of international diplomacy), the mission is really an indictment rather than an investigation.

The Obama administration deserves credit for the fact that the United States was the only one of the 47 members of the Council to vote against the resolution, which was one of five anti-Israel measures passed in Geneva this week. But this latest proof of the institution’s moral bankruptcy requires a stronger response than the rhetorical shrug of the shoulders that it generated that from Washington. The Council, which prior to this latest session had already devoted 39 out of the 91 actions it has taken since it was reconstituted in 2006 to denunciations of democratic Israel, is a parody of a human rights organization. At a time when the group is either paying mere lip service or flat out ignoring real human rights tragedies, the decision to devote the UN’s resources to another platform for hatred against Israel makes it imperative that the United States withdraw immediately from the Council.

Of course, given the Obama administration’s blind faith in the value of the UN, that isn’t going to happen. But as this week’s spectacle in Geneva — which included the reception at the Council of a representative of the Hamas terrorist organization — the argument that the United States can moderate the vicious anti-Zionism that runs throughout the world body’s institutions is not credible.

Israel has rightly said that it will not cooperate with the Council inquisition. Some that will say that such a policy only exacerbates the UN’s bias. But the reason the Council, which is stacked with member states where human rights barely exist, gets away with its prejudicial policies is because the West tolerates such behavior.

When the Council, which replaced a previous UN entity that the United States helped pulls the plug on, was brought into being in 2006, advocates for participation said that the new group would not be a platform for anti-Israel incitement as was its predecessor. But those hopes were quickly dashed.

There are those who welcome this double standard by which Israel is scrutinized more harshly than tyrannical regimes because it somehow demonstrates respect for the state’s values. This is nonsensical on two counts.

First, the refusal of the UN to play the same judgmental role in countries like Syria, which is awash in the blood of protesters slain by the Assad regime; or China, where the New York Times drew attention today to the ongoing human rights tragedy in Tibet, where the occupying Chinese have not only repressed dissent but are now engaging in a form of cultural genocide in which the country’s language is being expunged from schools; is itself evidence of racist condescension.

Second, it should be understood clearly that any system of thought by which one people or one nation is treated differently than others is a form of prejudice. In the case of Israel, the singling out for condemnation of the one Jewish state in the world on trumped up charges is evidence of anti-Semitism, not high regard.

The longer the United States continues to play along with this charade of concern for human rights, the less chance there will be of ever cleansing the UN of its anti-Semitic character.

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