Beinart’s Call for Settlement Boycott: Important but Imperfect (Creeping Apartheid + E. J’lem)

Today, Peter Beinart published a carefully worded- and thus more-hearable by mainstream Jews- Op-Ed in the New York Times. In it, he writes that American Jews should begin to “call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.””

In other, less-NYT-publishable/US-Jewry-acceptable words, the Apartheid Part of Israel (see Rothman, Slam, Fall 2011, seconds 2:15-2:30).

Beinart goes on to argue: “Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it… Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.””

Now for my thoughts. I am happy the piece was written, but I think it has a number of serious problems, starting with its potential to feed a feeling of “all’s well within the green line” (and all is not well within the green line). However, I can forgive this flaw, as I do have a lot of sympathy for incrementalism, ie. the desire to convince American Jews firstly that the Occupation is bad, and then from there hope/assume that they, like myself, will begin to see the ways that Occupation manifests within the green line as well, whether through the full-blown settlement in the Ajami neighborhood of Yafo, through dispossession and the possibility of forced transfer of the Negev’s Bedoiuns, or through the “citizenship law” which will not allow Palestinians married to Palestinian citizens of Israel to gain citizenship (Then-editor of Haaretz Amos Schoken wrote in 2008 that this law, which was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court earlier this year, makes Israel into an Apartheid State. I want to disagree with him, but this law does make it hard. Next month, I plan on writing a piece about Taiseer Khatib, an amazing activist I met who is from from Akka, who is married to a woman from Jenin, Lana, and is leading, with Lana, community and public efforts against the “citizenship law.” See Taiseer and Lana’s story in this video (entitled, again, Love Under Apartheid):



Another weakness of Beinart’s piece, and of “green-linism,” as it were, is the ease with which he argues that the boycott should not include East Jerusalem “since Palestinians there at least have the ability to gain citizenship, even if they are not granted it by birth.” I’m going to give Beinart the benefit of the doubt on this one, and assume his vision of things on the ground has become so zoomed-out and theoretical that when he thinks of East Jerusalem settlements, Gilo and co. are what come to mind. Even if all of the settlements in East Jerusalem were like Gilo (which they are not, as in Har Homa, which is strategically placed to impossibilize the creation of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem):

Map by Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem

Even if they were all pleasant, neighborhoody, no-one-really-knows-they’re-settlements-except-leftists-and-um-Palestinians settlements like Gilo, Beinart’s decision to let East Jerusalem settlements off the hook is really disappointing for me, on a personal level, as well as on a political one. My disappointment can be summed up nicely in four letters, and in one harp-ful tourist site:

ELAD (an ackronym in Hebrew for El Ir David, “towards the City of David”) is one of the most nefarious organizations active in the conflict today. Their explicit goal is to “Judaize” Jerusalem, and they have played a major role (along, of course, with our friends at the JNF and the Nature and Parks Authority) in making Silwan’s residents lives miserable, at least as much as most settlements in the West Bank. To argue that East Jerusalem Palestinians “can get citizenship” and thus are not suffering from the same/a similar sort of apartheid/”undemocraticness” as their West Bank co-nationlists is so problematic, on so many levels. The Palestinians in East Jerusalem have chosen not to get citizenship as an act of collective protest against Israeli Occupation (East Jerusalem is recognized as occupied by every [other] country in the world, included the US). As someone who opposes the occupation himself, does Beinart not see that as a legitimate act? More than that, since Israel did decide to unilaterally annex East Jerusalem in 1967, Palestinians living there should not have to apply for citizenship to be granted the basic rights of people living under Israeli rule. They pay taxes just like any other citizen of Israel, and yet, somehow, they are not quite treated equally (for example, in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood of Silwan, where the City of David hosts over 300,000 tourists a year, many of them American Jews, fewer than 20 building permits have been granted to Palestinians living there. In the past year? Nope. In the past 45 years).

In short, would Beinart not be supportive of a call for boycotting ELAD’s City of David, Birthright, synogauges, youth groups and all? I tend to think that he would, and thus I’d encourage him (in another piece, in a different forum) to reexamine the ease with which he ruled out a boycott of East Jerusalem.

All of those criticims being voiced, I am happy that Beinart’s piece was published in the New York Times, and I am aware that it has the potential to reach a kajillion times more liberal-except-on-Israel-US-Jews than me + all of my radical leftist friends + our blogs combined. I commend the piece and its boldness, and I identify with a lot of the sentiments: I think there are many problematic elements to the BDS movement, I think drawing a distinction between pre- and post-67 Israel (E. J’lem included in post!!!) is an important political distinction, I think that US Jews who believe in the values of democracy and liberalism should certainly boycott settlements and the occupation (and should instead support Israeli and Palestinian organizations and groups working for justice). And I think that a two-state solution is the most likely way to bring about a quick being-of-a-resolution to the conflict. Only I am not as confident as Beinart that the two-state solution is still a real option, and that Israel’s apartheid is only flourishing on the other side of the green line. Honestly, I don’t know.

Bil’in’s Encounter with the “Green Line”

I do think it’s time that the discourse shift. Not away from the two-state solution entirely, as some of my farther-left colleagues and friends argue (compellingly), but to a place in which there is room to discuss other solutions/resolutions, and to look at the ways in which on both a physical and a conceptual level, the green line, thanks to the current government and  its supporters, as well as past governments and theirs, rapidly fading, if not entirely gone.