Peter Beinart, Zionist Pioneer

For ultra-leftist Jewish intellectuals, economic warfare against Israel is the only way to save the country from itself.

At least Peter Beinart is original. In his recent New York Times op-ed and his new book The Crisis of Zionism, the American Jewish pundit and author calls for a new form of Zionist activity. As he says in the op-ed, “call it Zionist B.D.S.” Since BDS stands for “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” directed at Israel, for short we can call Beinart’s new type of Zionism “boycott Zionism.”

Historically, the three main streams of Zionism were Labor (socialist), Revisionist (nationalist), and Mizrachi (religious) Zionism. Zionists belonging to these streams (and others, or no particular stream at all) engaged in activities like: coming to live in Israel, settling it including particularly dangerous areas, serving in its security forces, smuggling arms, smuggling refugees, and so on. Israelis today, of course, continue to live in Israel, settle it including particularly dangerous areas, and serve in its security forces; fortunately, because it’s now an established state, they need no longer smuggle in arms or refugees.

But boycott Zionists don’t have to do any of those things. Indeed, boycott Zionism need not be an activity at all; all one need do to be a boycott Zionist in, say, New York City (where Peter Beinart lives) is see an Israeli product on a shelf and not buy it. Thus, so long as the nonbuying is intentional and not just accidental, just about anyone can be a Zionist now—that is, anyone who lives anywhere that Israeli products are sold, which is a lot of places.

By now, readers familiar with Beinart’s position will be objecting that he doesn’t advocate boycotting all Israeli products, only those produced over the Green Line, in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), or what he calls “nondemocratic Israel.” But what if, say, an Israeli company within the Green Line, in pre-1967 Israel, incorporates in its products parts that were produced in Judea and Samaria? Beinart is aware of the issue and says you shouldn’t boycott such companies, because “boycotting anything inside the green line invites ambiguity about the boycott’s ultimate goal—whether it seeks to end Israel’s occupation [of Judea and Samaria] or Israel’s existence.”

But as Jonathan Tobin points out, that exquisite distinction might be lost on others. Such as British actress and writer Emma Thompson, who recently along with thirty-six other leading lights of the English theater demanded that Israel’s Habima Theater Company be excluded from a dramatic festival in London next month. The reason? Habima—Tel Aviv-based and, like most of Israel’s artistic community, not exactly right-wing—has refused to boycott the Samarian town of Ariel (pop. 18,000). As Tobin puts it, “The slippery slope from Beinart’s version of Zionism to Thompson’s anti-Zionism couldn’t be clearer.”

Indeed, once boycott Zionism is in the air, who knows where it might lead? It turns out that “Israel’s embassy in Cairo has been operating out of a temporary residence for the past seven months because …every time the Israeli embassy finds a new embassy building, the owners then refuse to sell or rent the property after finding out who the buyer is.” When such, let’s say, nonfriends of Israel find out that even Zionists (sorry, but there are people out there who call all Jews Zionists) are now boycotting Israel—oh yes, only part of it, not all of it—it doesn’t exactly dampen their ardor.

And there are other ironies here. Egypt is a country toward which Israel acted as the sage Beinart would approve: it signed a peace treaty with it and tore down all the settlements it had built in the Sinai, the territory that Israel captured from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War. Three decades later, with the Muslim Brotherhood a few inches from taking power, Egypt is not exactly a friendly country toward Israel. And then there’s Gaza, another place where Israel acted according to the precepts of boycott Zionism, tearing down all its settlements and leaving it in 2005—since which time it has become a virulent jihadist enclave firing over eight thousand rockets at Israel, already necessitating one full-scale war of a kind that never had to be fought in Gaza while Israel was “occupying” it.

But Beinart is impressed by none of this, and prescribes the same medicine for Judea and Samaria. And if the large majority of Israelis now regard such medicine as a suicide pill, Beinart—in the name, of course, of democracy—wants to force them to take it; he wants to boycott Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria out of existence. It would, at least, make Peter Beinart’s life even easier—no more “settlement” products on shelves to even expend the mental effort to boycott, no more embarrassment about his distant brethren who, squeezed inside indefensible borders and likely in a crossfire of rockets, would at least have a Beinart-approved democracy.

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