Beinart’s Tiny World

I’m still planning to get something out on the subject of the bullying behavior that has become the signature feature of the BDS “movement” over the last year or so.  But before getting to that, there are two BDS-related articles that have been published lately, one I want to point out and the other I want to tackle.

First off, I made the press!  And while this is mostly spillover publicity from the media circus that has descended on the Park Slope Food Coop in light of their upcoming boycott referendum vote next week (more on that later), this Jewish Week piece brought up a far more prominent story that was published earlier in the week in the New York Times: Peter Beinart’s call to create a Jewish version of BDS directed not at those who want to boycott Israel but at fellow Jews who choose to live on the other side of the Green Line (i.e., the dreaded “settlers”).

Needless to say, Beinart’s call has been harshly criticized (and just as needless to say, Beinart has claimed that the very existence of such criticism simply proves he is correct).  But even this criticism misses a key point which becomes clear if you look at Beinart’s call for Jews to boycott fellow Jews after reading his previous provocative article on what he claims to be the failure of the Jewish establishmentpublished a couple of years ago in the New York Jewish Review of Books.

Beinart, a CUNY Professor and Fellow at the New America Foundation, is best known for his role as Managing Editor of The New Republic, which tends to mean he is taken seriously as a progressive thinker, especially in New York media circles.

But in his article on the Jewish establishment (which I recently re-read as part of a class I’m taking at my synagogue), the author makes a move that helps explain much of his political thinking, including his recent call for his own brand of BDS.

For Beinart does not simply believe that current Israeli policy (including the choice to continue to let Jews live on the other side of the so-called “Green Line”) is simply wrong.  Rather, he takes his opinion on the matter and defines it as not just an unquestionable truth but as the point around which all progressive opinion must pivot.

With his own opinions of what constitutes “genuine” progressive thought placed squarely at the center of his world, all other facts are selected and arranged neatly around this obsession masquerading as gospel truth, much like the epicycles that kept the earth-centered theory of the universe afloat for centuries.

In some cases, facts and quotes (from various Israeli politicians or Benjamin Netanyahu’s biography) are carefully selected to “prove” the illiberal nature of anyone who disagrees with the Beinart thesis.  Other cases (including his self-serving analysis of why students seem alienated from Israel, or the role of mainstream Jewish organizations in shaping public opinion) also serve to prove a foregone conclusion: that Beinart is right and thus anyone who disagrees with him (and acts accordingly) are betraying their principles, alienating the young (by preventing them from following their “true” calling and embracing Beinart’s political point of view) and thus putting Israel at risk (making the author and anyone who agrees with him the only “true” friends of Israel).

I could dwell on the level of dishonest discourse that can be found from the beginning to the end of Beinart’s Jewish establishment piece (the cherry picking of quotes, selective choice of evidence, self-serving analysis of statistics, etc.), but for now I want to highlight how the opinions presented in this previous piece made his recent attempt to create his own brand of BDS inevitable.

For the Beinart world is not only Beinart centered.  It is also exceedingly small, containing only himself, his supporters and the Jewish “settlers” and their alleged supporters in the Jewish establishment that stand in his way and thus stand in the way of others learning “the truth.”  Under such circumstances, it makes perfect sense for the author to propose his “too-clever-by-half” idea of creating a form of BDS that he feels has the added benefit of undercutting the original BDS project (by embracing their vocabulary, but using it as a call for the good Jews to attack the bad ones).

Such a strategy implies near perfect obliviousness to the true nature of the mainstream BDS project which simply looks at Beinart’s behavior and draws up the appropriate short-hand headline: “prominent Jewish progressive supports BDS.”

It also misses the point that the world contains more than the good Jews who agree with Beinart and the bad Jews who do not.  It contains Palestinians and their allies in the Arab world and beyond who are not simply props in an inter-Jewish drama, but actors and contributors to their own situation and fate.  And it also contains the often-overlooked civic organizations whose victimization is at the heart of any BDS debate.

As I’ve noted over and over on this blog, the whole point of BDS is to get the propaganda message of “Israel = Apartheid” to come out of the mouth of a prominent, respected (and usually progressive) organization, be it a college, church, city or food coop.  And to get that to happen, all options are open, such as passing a boycott behind the backs of coop members on one side of the country (Olympia Washington) while demanding a “democratic” vote on the same subject on the other side of the country (Park Slope).

These organizations have already been offered the choice of so-called “Targeted BDS” which allegedly zeroes in on just the bad Jews vs. all Jews.  But only as a bait-and-switch option used to lure an institution into the clutches of the boycotters who will use any “Yes” vote they manage to achieve on any form of BDS (no matter how limited) to propagate the propaganda message that “this school, this city, this co-op agrees with us that Israel is an Apartheid state and is ready to boycott it– and so should you!”

Like other prominent thinkers who have rearranged the world to fit their opinions (Mearsheimer and Walt come to mind), Beinart has created an immoral universe and defined his own morality around it while simultaneously providing considerable ammunition to a BDS movement he claims to loath.

Others take issue with the author’s posing as the only true friend of Israel (one of many such “friends” who attack the Jewish state only to save it).  But my bigger problem is that Beinart’s complete political self-centeredness inevitably means he will be hurting people he doesn’t even know exist.

Targeted BDS

NOTE: I was getting set to respond to some questions/comments from earlier this week and it looks like some comments have disappeared from the last few posts. They’re not showing up in the Blogger spam filter, so I’m suspecting they may be related to a Blogger technical outage yesterday morning. If you think something was lost here and you want a response from me, please re-post it on this or one of the newer blog entries since I’m not that good at keeping current with discussions going on at previous postings. Now back to our regular broadcast…

As mentioned previously, there is a growing trend to replace general boycott and divestment calls with ones that specifically target “the Occupation,” an approach that seems to have found some traction, at least in Europe, a continent serving as a kind of incubator for new BDS tactics.

While researching this issue, I discovered a pretty exhaustive list of reasons why this so-called “targeted BDS” is a bad idea. And though there is not much to add to this well thought-out run down, there is an overarching framework for understanding (and hopefully rejecting) this new tactic, namely, that “targeted BDS” is a scam.

First, we must never lose site of the ultimate goal of the BDS “movement:” to get well-known and respected organizations to attach their names and reputations to the BDS message that Israel is an “Apartheid state,” worthy of the same economic punishment visited upon Apartheid South Africa. But as the last decade of BDS failure at major institutions has demonstrated, these institutions are not interested in having their names attached to someone else’s propaganda campaign.

Which is why you see the behind-closed-doors and dead-of-night deals being struck in places like Somerville, the Presbyterian Church and Olympia Food Co-op where BDS advocates have met with leaders behind the scenes in order to get a boycott or divestment resolution passed quickly and quietly before members of the organization have any knowledge of what is being discussed.

Now when the boycotters approach such institutions, it is important for them to maintain a façade of reasonableness and decorum in order to present their case for BDS being obvious and fully fitting into a human-rights or other appealing or acceptable framework. This is what I call the “all smiles” phase, during which divestment activists try to mask their true intentions which only get revealed after an organization “signs up,” to some simple “human rights measure,” only to discover 24 hours later that their name is being broadcast around the planet as being 100% onboard the Israel=Apartheid bandwagon.

But as we’ve seen over the last ten years, this strategy has either led to immediate rejection (by institutions now wise to the BDS game) or, at worst, temporary victory after which someone (usually the membership of an organization) reverses a boycott or divestment “win,” insisting that no one (and certainly not the Israel-haters) speak in their name.

Given this background, the BDS message needs to be constantly retailored. And targeting “the Occupation” gives its proponents a way to say that they are not attacking Jews or Israel (heavens no), but some amorphous entity known simply as “the Occupation.”

Putting aside the fact that use of phrases such as “the Occupation,” or (more frequently) “Israel’s illegal Occupation” is a matter of opinion and subject of negotiations, rather than an unquestioned fact, it’s clear that BDS proponents themselves have a near-infinitely elastic definition of what falls into this category.

After all, I have yet to see champions for this new improved “targeted BDS” turn around and reject or condemn their fellow BDSers who have not yet gotten the message and are working to boycott companies as far away from the “Green Line” as Taunton, MA (where Tribe hummus – target for a boycott – is located).

For one of the great skills of the BDS project is its ability to make a connection between any company or product they decide to put on their blacklist and their ultimate target (be it Israel proper or simply “the Occupation”).

Why target Tribe hummus? Well the company was acquired by an Israeli food manufacturer that supplies snacks to Israeli soldiers and they contribute to the Jewish National Fund, an organization with is traif to the boycotters because it plans trees in “the Occupation” (whatever that means), blah, blah, blah.

This ability to concoct a connection between any company and their ultimate target found its ultimate expression last summer when BDS activists were pushing their short-lived “Harvard has divested from Israel” hoax. In that case, Israeli companies whose stock was held in certain emerging market funds owned by Harvard were removed from those funds for the simple economic reason that Israel was no longer considered a developing but a developed company. And once that happened, BDSers tried to spin this purely economic decision as a politically motivated divestment activity.

During the 48 hours that this fraud was making headlines we were exposed to a list of Israeli companies that had never once been mentioned in the context of any previous BDS campaign. In this case, the divestment champions simply made on-the-fly connections between the companies leaving Harvard’s emerging market fund and “the Occupation” in order to flesh out their fictional tale of Harvard selling off these stocks for political reasons.

In other words, “targeted BDS” is simply a new opening line, a new marketing campaign that boycotters hope will get them into the door of organizations that are wary of the widely rejected, broad-based divestment calls that have been part-and-parcel of the BDS project since its inception in 2001.

To date, civic organizations seem have been able to see through the various facades the Israel-dislikers use to mask their true goals. So there is hope that people of good sense and good will shall be able to see through this latest variation on their long-standing bait-and-switch tactics.