Kerry’s wingmen Friedman and Beinart praise boycott, to pressure Netanyahu

on February 6, 2014

Kerry mentions boycott of Israel in Munich

American liberal Zionists have fallen in love with boycott. They are saluting BDS as a way to pressure the rightwing Israeli government to support the two-state deal that John Kerry is preparing to announce.

The liberal Zionists seem to be working with the secretary of state. Last Saturday, Kerry warned that Israel faces international illegitimacy if it can’t agree to having a Palestinian state alongside it, and cited “talk of boycotts” as one eventuality. Israeli officials flipped out, saying that Kerry was wrong to dignify an “anti-Semitic” campaign with even a mention.

But liberal Zionists are on the same page with Kerry. Speaking to the New Haven Jewish Community Center Tuesday night, Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street said:

“It is precisely this oncoming isolation and potential for [Israel] becoming a pariah state in the international community that John Kerry has been warning so clearly and loudly about over the last few weeks and has been getting quite a blowback, for those of you who follow the Israeli press.”

Kerry has two other liberal Zionist wingmen: Tom Friedman and Peter Beinart have praised the boycott movement in forthright terms, in order to pressure the Israelis to stop the settlements and grab Kerry’s deal.

In Haaretz, Peter Beinart saluted BDS for its “brilliance” and said the US Jewish establishment is incapable of blunting the movement because it supports the Israeli government’s endless colonization process. His piece was directed at Americans, urging them to press Netanyahu:

the tactical brilliance of BDS becomes clearer with every passing month. At a time when their leaders are bitterly divided and their people are geographically fragmented, BDS has united Palestinians like nothing else in recent memory. ..

[B]y relying on international activists—not Palestinian politicians—it universalizes the Palestinian struggle, making it almost irresistible for a global left inclined to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in colonial terms. But there’s one more factor that makes BDS so tactically shrewd: It exploits the mendacity of the “pro-Israel” establishment….

Many BDS activists oppose the existence of a Jewish state within any borders. Some might reluctantly swallow one if a viable Palestinian state were born alongside it. But what unites virtually everyone in the movement is their disgust with an American-led “peace process” in which they believe Palestinians lack the power to achieve their minimal demands. …

To stem BDS, the Jewish establishment needs to prove this contention wrong….

Were the mainstream Jewish organizations that reject BDS in the name of a negotiated two-state solution actually promoting a negotiated two-state solution, their strategy might have merit. But they’re not. …

In truth, establishment American Jewish groups don’t really support the two-state solution. Or, at least, they don’t support it enough to risk a confrontation with the Israeli government. Which is why they are more an obstacle than an asset to the American-led “peace process.” And why they can’t stop BDS.

What unites BDS activists, despite their divisions, is their fervent belief that someone must challenge Israel’s denial of basic Palestinian rights. Were establishment Jewish organizations to pose that challenge—even just rhetorically—their opposition to BDS might carry some weight. But they’re not, and BDS activists know it.

Beinart is wise; he has talked to young people and recognizes that BDS has gained traction because it is a moral response to outrageous conditions that governments and the Jewish organizations have supported blindly. Anyone who wants to do something about apartheid in Palestine knows what to do– BDS.

Friedman is more timid; writing for Americans, he calls the boycott movement “the third intifada” in a column that has been reported widely in Israel. Though he never cites BDS, he contends that the boycott effort is furthering the two-state solution, and that it’s led by Europeans.

[T]his Third Intifada isn’t really led by Palestinians in Ramallah. It’s led by the European Union in Brussels and other opponents of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank across the globe. Regardless of origin, though, it’s becoming a real source of leverage for the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry was recently denounced by Israeli leaders for warning publicly that the boycott and campaign to delegitimize Israel will only get stronger if current peace talks fail. But Kerry is right.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Israel Army Radio on Monday that if no two-state solution is reached with the Palestinians, “it will hit the pocket of every Israeli.” Israel’s economy depends on technology and agricultural exports to Europe and on European investments in its high-tech industries. According to Lapid, even a limited boycott that curbed Israeli exports to Europe by 20 percent would cost Israel more than $5 billion a year and thousands of jobs. That’s why he added: “Israel won’t conduct its policy based on threats. But to pretend that the threats don’t exist, or that they’re not serious, or it’s not a process happening in front of us, is also not serious.”

Just recently, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that the Netherlands’ largest pension fund management company, PGGM, “has decided to withdraw all its investments from Israel’s five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank and/or are involved in financing construction in the settlements.” And The Jerusalem Post reported that Danske Bank, Denmark’s largest bank, has decided to boycott Israel’s Bank Hapoalim for “legal and ethical” reasons related to its operating in the settlements.

This Third Intifada, in my view, has much more potential to have a long-term impact because, unlike the first two, it is coinciding with the offer from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as part of a two-state deal, to let Israeli troops stay for five years as they make a phased withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines and to then let U.S.-led NATO forces fill in any strategic void to reassure Israel.

To put it differently, the Third Intifada is based on a strategy of making Israelis feel strategically secure but morally insecure.

Friedman completely overlooks Palestinians, who issued the boycott call in 2005. Isn’t that racist? As Friedman has lately acknowledged, Palestinians had the right to resist oppression in ’87, the right to resist it in 2000, and the right to resist it now, too. And that resistance today is nonviolent.

These testimonials from liberal Zionists all raise an obvious question: if BDS is such a powerful tactic that they can use to pressure Netanyahu for a two-state-solution (and save their dream of a religious state that for some reason they don’t choose to live in), why shouldn’t Palestinians use the tactic to their ends? Why accept a deal for a fragment of the country you once lived in, negotiated by a collaborationist government? I put myself in the camp of BDS supporters who would back a just partition; so why not just keep up the pressure and ultimately force Israel to come to the table as an equal partner?

Thanks to Adam Horowitz.

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