These posts, about J Street conference speakers who advocate anti-Israel boycotts and sanctions, are becoming an annual tradition. Last year the ostensibly pro-Israel group hosted BDS advocates from fringe left-wing Jewish groups, raising questions as to why J Street’s commitment to “expanding the debate” over Israel only seems to involve stretching the spectrum to include the anti-Israel side.
This year J Street is hosting the book launch of Peter Beinart who — will wonders never cease — just published an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a “Zionist BDS” campaign that would seek to economically suffocate all Israeli Jews who live beyond the 1948 armistice lines.
(1) In practice — which is to say, outside of Beinart’s singular too-clever-by-half advocacy — there’s no such thing as a limited anti-Israel boycott. There isn’t this critical mass of Western activists waiting to learn from Peter Beinart which Israelis they’re supposed to like and who they need to ostracize, and takes either shallow narcissism or revelatory cocooning to believe otherwise. Meanwhile the Palestinians talk about Israeli chains that “spread like cancer,” a nice rhetorical reminder that boycott movements get their strength not just from revulsion but from the cheap superiority to be found in feeling revulsed. Israel doesn’t actually make all that much in the West Bank, and the typical attraction of BDS has far more to do with chasing the never-quite-adequate pleasure of hating those people — of indulging in an ugly sneer at the thought of rotting Israeli goods and suffering Israeli families — than with utilizing objective economic leverage.
That’s why calls for so-called “targeted” BDS routinely metastasize into calls for total boycotts of the Jewish State. In Britain efforts to label products from settlements spurred greater efforts for full boycotts. Partisans inclined to hate Israel hijack not just the campaigns but also even the physical forums where partial vs. full BDS gets debated. The consistency with which that dynamic has played out raises questions about whether limited BDS advocates are merely naive.
(2) BDS is such a vulgar advocacy that even Norman Finkelstein, who once made John Mearsheimer’s list of good Jews, can’t stomach it. He recently lashed out against the “cult” in general, and he was specifically bothered by the nudge-wink pretense that BDS advocates can somehow untangle their campaigns from wholesale calls to wipe out Israel:
Finkelstein got into trouble when he said that some people in BDS “don’t want Israel.” He lectured his BDS colleagues: “Stop trying to be so clever, because you’re only clever in your cult. The moment you step out, you have to deal with Israeli propaganda … They say, ‘No, they’re not really talking about rights; they’re talking about they want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact I think they’re right, I think that’s true.”
In fact, Finkelstein said, it is “not an accident, an unwitting omission, that BDS does not mention Israel”: They “know it will split the movement, because there’s a large segment—component—of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.” You can see why anti-Israel people were offended to hear this from Finkelstein, of all people. Yet Finkelstein was not revealing some deep secret about the motives of those BDS-ers. Anyone who has listened to their leaders, read their papers, seen them at play, or checked out their circle of acquaintances, supporters, and collaborators can hardly be surprised.
It would be great if someone could push Beinart on Finkelstein’s points, especially on the issue of left-wing BDS disingenuousness. The odds of that particular conversation happening at the J Street conference are, for obvious reasons, not particularly great.