Jewish Journal

Five reasons Peter Beinart’s boycott is wrong

Peter Beinart call to boycott West Bank goods is bad

by Rob Eshman

Posted on Mar. 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart

In his New York Times op-ed of March 18, author Peter Beinart calls for a boycott of goods and services emanating from the West Bank. 

“We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel,” he writes. “We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities.”

If the goal is to encourage a peaceful solution to the Israel Palestinian crisis—who doesn’t want that?—the boycott he proposes will have the opposite effect.  Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. It would create a war among Jews just when what is most needed is cooperation.

By pitting the settlers and their supporters versus the rest of the Jewish world, Beinart’s idea would guarantee that any peace deal with the Palestinians would erupt in civil war among the Jews.  Settlers, feeling besieged (they always feel besieged, as Jeff Goldberg points out) will dig in their heels.  Boycotters, feeling righteous, will continue to demonize settlers, many of whom have already said they would be willing to move under the right circumstances.

There is a much better plan to bring about a peaceful rapproachment between Israelis on either side of the Green Line that true, tough Israeli leftists have put forth.  Read below.

2. Even if it were a good idea, it probably would have no economic effect.

It’s important to note that Beinart makes his argument without a single number, and numbers matter. How much settler money really comes from the sale of goods and services?  How much would a successful boycott deprive them of?  How easily could it be replaced?

The settlers’ well-heeled American supporters and friends will happily make up the funds they lack (If Sheldon Adelson can give $10 million to a failed presidential candidate, imagine what he’ll give to a thriving settlement). Israeli supporters who control government purse strings will make sure they suffer no pain. 

If Gershom Gorenberg has taught us anything, it’s that when it comes to the settlements, Israeli budgets are highly fungible.  If Peter Beinart doesn’t bother with the numbers, rest assured the people who disburse it do.

3. It sends the wrong message to the wrong Palestinians.

By focusing the moral and political actions of the American Jewish community solely against the settlers, it absolves the Palestinians of any responsibility for terror and deadlocks.  This is something even Palestinian peace activists don’t do.  In his latest missive, Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine,  blames Israelis and hardline orn otherwise dysfunctional Palestinians for blocking a peaceful compromise.

“Those Palestinians who harbor dreams of control over the historic land of Palestine, and the Israelis who have the same aspirations, believe that time is on their side,” writes Asali. “Yet they both will live to see their goals crushed by the harsh realities of demographics and the limits of political power. Their mutually reinforcing, protracted guerilla warfare against compromise will only prolong the fight and aggravate the victimization but it cannot alter the stubborn fact that both people would have to find a way to live on the same piece of land.”

Get it: Mutually reinforcing.  But Beinart’s proposal, by attacking one group, actually gives the other less incentive to compromise.

4. Boycotts reek of stinky history.

Many commentators have raised this point.  Even Beinart acknowledged it.  Boycotts have long been used as a weapon against Jewish communities. To employ them in the context of Jew versus Jew in some way legitimizes the behavior of those who used them against us all throughout time.

5. Focusing the debate on the boycott wastes better opportunities for progress.

An incendiary op-ed in The New York Times will draw attention and help sell books.  Mazel tov.  But if your goal is to nudge a century-long dispute toward a peaceful resolution, there are many more thoughtful immediate steps that the American Jewish community can support.

One of them comes from Ami Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet and former member of Knesset.  His initiative, the Blue White Future,  is focused on creating an orderly and peaceful re-absorption of settlers into Israel.  Ayalon, whom, I met with in LA two months ago, is a tough former Navy commando who travels into the West Bank to meet with settlers and explain why their cooperation with a future settlement is key to the security of the state. If you want to do something good for Israel, at least like Ayalon’s group on Facebook.

Moreover, as Ziad Asali writes, there are numerous steps you can encourage the Americans and Israelis to take to lessen friction and increase the chances of a settlement.  None of these involve pitting Jew against Jew.  Click here to read them.

So that’s it.  If you want to help bring peace to the Middle East, follow the advice of Israelis and Palestinians like Ayalon and Asali.

Or, help Peter Beinart sell books.

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