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.