By David Lachlan Shaw
Jerusalem – The new American Jewish leftist liberal figure, Peter Beinart, seems not to have properly considered Jewish fundamental objections to boycotting Jews, whether academics, artists, or Jews who make things to export from West Bank settlements.
We could treat this matter in the same way as Israeli academics dealt with the boycott of Israeli academics proposed by British academics. There was a profound silence as they waited for other academics in Britain to remind their fellows of the fundamental principles of open inquiry and serious debate.
Similarly, Jews have had to overcome prejudices and blockages in order to make a living for centuries. There is an intrinsic objection to the imposition of trade sanctions or other economic penalties in order to achieve a political end. Particularly this is true if the political end is a matter of dispute.
For example, few Jews today object to sanctions against a nation that is demanding to have nuclear weapons and threatening to use them to destroy the state of Israel. The political end seems clear.
In the case of our dispute with the Palestinians, Israel has done a lot to keep trade doors open and to encourage Palestinian progress towards the day when peace might be achieved. If such a boycott was introduced, would we consider some reaction, perhaps interfering with Palestinian business connections with the United States? We would hope not.
Another question is whether Mr Beinart’s proposals are un-American. “The business of the United States is business” goes the famous quote. Does he propose a boycott by the Jews of American or by the whole nation? Does he plan to seek government action to label West Bank products as “illegal” as has been done by some European governments.
Where might that end?
But in a subsequent newspaper interview (Harretz 23.3), one learns that Mr Beinart’s political views are narrow. “Netanyahu’s arrogance and his intellectual insularity remind me of the worst of American politics in the Bush era,” he says.
He thinks that Netanyahu distrusts Obama because he reminds him of leftist Jews; the kind of Jews that he says Netanyahu detests. So he doesn’t think that the two leaders fell out over what seems to most of us here the real issues – freezing construction in the West Bank and recognizing the 1967 borders (sorry ,armistice lines and,sorry again, later Obama threw in land swaps).
Beinart says he loves Israel and is bringing up his children to be good Jews. But he ignores the view of the Jews who live here. Netanyahu has his ups and downs politically but lately the polls show slightly more than 5o per cent are satisfied with his performance. He is in a strong position in Israel’s amorphous coalition system and much of this might be attributed to his handling of the Iran and Palestinian issues.
For what Beinart is not talking about is whether there is any prospect of peace with the Palestinians. The cupboard seems very bare these days. Many of us might not be supporters of Netanyahu but it’s a mistake to label right wingers too heavily. Begin,we remember, made peace with Egypt, Shamir went to the Madrid peace conference starting the process towards Oslo, Sharon closed down settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, and Olmert, right wing or centrist, says he made the best offer ever to the Palestinians.
When the time comes, the man in the Prime Minister’s boots has to act for the good of the nation. Against this, the Beinart proposal is a lot of hot air.
The writer is a veteran political reporter and foreign correspondent.