Peter Beinart has tried to set off a new firestorm of debate in an NYT op-ed in which he calls for “Zionist BDS” (!), a boycott of anything eve with Israel’s settlement communities in the West Bank. While arguing in heartfelt fashion that this call derives from a deep commitment to the Jewish state, it is difficult to escape the oxymoronic essence of Beinart’s position. “Zionist BDS”? Although Beinart sees the BDS movement for what it is: “an agenda that, if fulfilled, could dismantle Israel as a Jewish state”, he borrows so deeply from the BDS conceptual universe and activist lexicon that he is left holding the bathwater having already thrown out the baby. The list of why the partial BDS platform is inherently flawed is long – the distinctions it seeks to make are unworkable in practice, it can’t achieve the goals it claims to pursue (including alleviating injustices suffered by Palestinians), it doesn’t address the real sources of the ongoing political impasse, it is a form of collective punishment, it may well reinforce many right-leaning Israelis’ sense of isolation and strengthen their political hand rather than weakening it, and so on. But what is really striking is Beinart’s glib willingness even to go down the boycott route in the first place, with all its historic echoes, its inherent divisiveness and zero-sum grandstanding. The BDS brand and strategy are already owned by Israel’s enemies, who won’t hesitate to portray Beinart’s position as a success for them, but we think it more of a moral and intellectual failure on Beinart’s part to imagine a political activism which meets the simple test of whether it actually does any good for those for whom it professes concern.
BDS, at its heart, is a tool designed to win a propaganda war, not help bring a real peace. It is a blunt weapon of ideological hostility, not human empathy and engagement. It is neither a genuine response to the suffering endured by both Israelis and Palestinians nor a program designed to address effectively the complex challenge of improving their lot. What is really needed is not more boycotts, but new creative and constructive thinking – on how to engage and empower moderate Palestinians within their own society and moderate Israelis within theirs; on how to promote meaningful dialogue and exchange between Israeli and Palestinian youth; on how to promote political compromise from both sides in order to make a permanent peace possible; on how to mobilize concerned people to find and build constructive platforms of engagement and give renewed expression to what they are for, not just what they are against.
Sorry Peter, but BDS – in any form – is not the answer.