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.