Robert L. Kern

Beinart, boycotts and Israel’s brand

Peter Beinart’s op-ed in The New York Times of March 19, 2012, “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements” and his book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” are disturbingly naïve and present a threat to American philanthropies supporting Israel.

Boycotting anything “Israel” damages the “Israel brand.” The fact that the call for doing so, even though the suggestion is for a targeted boycott, comes from a self-identified Zionist, who sends his children to a Jewish school and is a regular davener, suggests that boycotts are “kosher” in general.

Organizations that provide funds to support education or health and social-service-providers in Israel usually offer their donors opportunities to designate their gifts. The lifeblood of American Israel support organizations (and the only option usually available to low-end contributors) is undesignated, general donations. If supporters who make undesignated gifts begin questioning where or how their money is being put to use, or suggest that Israel may not deserve their philanthropy, it endangers every dollar being raised and sent there from the US.

In all likelihood, a two-state solution will not see borders drawn on the pre-1967 lines, but will rather employ a formula of land swaps that will probably see Jewish communities like Ariel, Ma’ale Emunim and Efrat incorporated in Israel. If Beinart’s goal is to create economic pressure on Israel and the body politic to move to that solution, how does a boycott help? Will those boycotted be more likely to support a two-state solution? Will those living in communities falling outside the redrawn lines be more willing to relocate? I think not. And if there is already a general consensus of which areas will ultimately be in Israel, which settlements does Mr. Beinart suggest be boycotted?

Personally, I believe that using the word “boycott” in relation to Israel is especially distasteful because it brings to mind the BDS movement, begun by the Palestinian BDS National Committee in July 2005. The BDS movement has developed into a worldwide campaign that calls for an arms embargo against Israel and targets Israeli culture, academia, products, produce and companies, as well as investors in Israeli stocks and funds. Beinart’s call for boycotting the settlements supports and legitimizes those who are intent on destroying Israel.

And from a practical point of view, if someone chooses to “boycott the settlements,” they are forced to consider which Israeli products come from which side of the Green Line. One of my favorite wines uses grapes sourced primarily from a kibbutz on the Lebanon border and from a field near Metula. However, I cannot attest that they did not use any Golan-grown grapes. I also cannot guarantee that the Israeli olives I buy do not include any that the company bought from Jews, or Palestinians for that matter, in the West Bank.

Are the Dead Sea cosmetics and Naot shoes my family likes all produced within the Green Line? And if I boycott Israeli goods from the West Bank, shouldn’t I also stop using tehina from Nablus?

Boycotts are very messy business. Do we stop listening to Elvis Costello because he won’t perform in Israel, and listen to his wife, Diana Krall, instead, because she did come?

Thanks to Peter Beinart, I now realize I was wrong to decline invitations to visit my friend in Efrat on “ideological grounds,” and though I disagree with him politically, I hope to see him there soon.

About the Author
Robert L. Kern has served as Director of Marketing & Communications for several "American Friends," Zionist and Jewish organizations. He is a former President of the American Jewish Public Relations Society and a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Press Association. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.