A Zion­ist case for boy­cotting Is­rael


We are life­long Zion­ists. Like other pro­gres­sive Jews, our sup­port for Is­rael has been founded on two con­vic­tions: first, that a state was nec­es­sary to pro­tect our peo­ple from fu­ture dis­as­ter; and sec­ond, that any Jewish state would be demo­cratic, em­brac­ing the val­ues of uni­ver­sal hu­man rights that many took as a les­son of the Holo­caust. Un­demo­cratic mea­sures un­der­taken in pur­suit of Is­rael’s sur­vival, such as the oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank and Gaza and the de­nial of ba­sic rights to Pales­tini­ans liv­ing there, were un­der­stood to be tem­po­rary.

But we must face re­al­ity: The oc­cu­pa­tion has be­come per­ma­nent. Nearly half a cen­tury af­ter the Six-Day War, Is­rael is set­tling into the apartheid-like regime against which many of its for­mer lead­ers warned. The set­tler pop­u­la­tion in the West Bank has grown 30-fold, from about 12,000 in 1980 to 389,000 today. The West Bank is in­creas­ingly treated as part of Is­rael, with the green line de­mar­cat­ing the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries erased from many maps. Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin de­clared re­cently that con­trol over the West Bank is “not a mat­ter of po­lit­i­cal de­bate. It is a ba­sic fact of mod­ern Zion­ism.”

This “ba­sic fact” poses an eth­i­cal dilemma for Amer­i­can Jews: Can we con­tinue to em­brace a state that per­ma­nently de­nies ba­sic rights to an­other peo­ple? Yet it also poses a prob­lem from a Zion­ist per­spec­tive: Is­rael has em­barked on a path that threat­ens its very ex­is­tence.

As hap­pened in the cases of Rhode­sia and South Africa, Is­rael’s per­ma­nent sub­ju­ga­tion of Pales­tini­ans will in­evitably iso­late it from West­ern democ­ra­cies. Not only is Euro­pean sup­port for Is­rael wan­ing, but also U.S. pub­lic opin­ion — once seem­ingly rock solid — has be­gun to shift as well, es­pe­cially among mil­len­ni­als. In­ter­na­tional pariah sta­tus is hardly a recipe for Is­rael’s sur­vival.

At home, the oc­cu­pa­tion is ex­ac­er­bat­ing de­mo­graphic pres­sures that threaten to tear Is­raeli so­ci­ety apart. The growth of the set­tler and ul­tra-or­tho­dox pop­u­la­tions has stoked Jewish chau­vin­ism and fur­ther alien­ated the grow­ing Arab pop­u­la­tion. Di­vided into in­creas­ingly ir­rec­on­cil­able com­mu­ni­ties, Is­rael risks los­ing the min­i­mum of mu­tual tol­er­ance that is nec­es­sary for any demo­cratic so­ci­ety. In such a con­text, vi­o­lence like the re­cent wave of at­tacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank is vir­tu­ally bound to be­come nor­mal.

Fi­nally, oc­cu­pa­tion threat­ens the se­cu­rity it was meant to en­sure. Is­rael’s se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion has changed dra­mat­i­cally since the 1967 and 1973 wars. Peace with Egypt and Jor­dan, the weak­en­ing of Iraq and Syria, and Is­rael’s now-over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity — in­clud­ing its (un­de­clared) nu­clear de­ter­rent — have ended any ex­is­ten­tial threat posed by its Arab neigh­bors. Even a Ha­mas-led Pales­tinian state could not de­stroy Is­rael. As six for­mer direc­tors of Is­rael’s in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ser­vice, Shin Bet, ar­gued in the 2012 doc­u­men­tary “The Gate­keep­ers,” it is the oc­cu­pa­tion it­self that truly threat­ens Is­rael’s long-term se­cu­rity: Oc­cu­pa­tion forces Is­rael into asym­met­ric war­fare that erodes its in­ter­na­tional stand­ing, lim­its its abil­ity to forge re­gional al­liances against sec­tar­ian ex­trem­ists and, cru­cially, re­mains the prin­ci­pal mo­tive be­hind Pales­tinian vi­o­lence.

In mak­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion per­ma­nent, Is­rael’s lead­ers are un­der­min­ing their state’s vi­a­bil­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, do­mes­tic move­ments to avert that fate have with­ered. Thanks to an eco­nomic boom and the tem­po­rary se­cu­rity pro­vided by the West Bank bar­rier and the Iron Dome mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, much of Is­rael’s sec­u­lar Zion­ist ma­jor­ity feels no need to take the dif­fi­cult steps re­quired for a durable peace, such as evict­ing their coun­try­men from West Bank set­tle­ments and ac­knowl­edg­ing the moral stain of the suf­fer­ing Is­rael has caused to so many Pales­tini­ans.

We are at a crit­i­cal junc­ture. Set­tle­ment growth and de­mo­graphic trends will soon over­whelm Is­rael’s abil­ity to change course. For years, we have sup­ported Is­raeli gov­ern­ments — even those we strongly dis­agreed with — in the be­lief that a se­cure Is­rael would act to de­fend its own long-term in­ter­ests. That strat­egy has failed. Is­rael’s sup­port­ers have, trag­i­cally, be­come its en­ablers. Today, there is no re­al­is­tic prospect of Is­rael mak­ing the hard choices nec­es­sary to en­sure its sur­vival as a demo­cratic state in the ab­sence of out­side pres­sure.

For sup­port­ers of Is­rael like us, all vi­able forms of pres­sure are painful. The only tools that could plau­si­bly shape Is­raeli strate­gic cal­cu­la­tions are a with­drawal of U.S. aid and diplo­matic sup­port, and boy­cotts of and di­vesti­tures from the Is­raeli econ­omy. Boy­cotting only goods pro­duced in set­tle­ments would not have suf­fi­cient im­pact to in­duce Is­raelis to re­think the sta­tus quo.

It is thus, re­luc­tantly but res­o­lutely, that we are re­fus­ing to travel to Is­rael, boy­cotting prod­ucts pro­duced there and call­ing on our uni­ver­si­ties to di­vest and our elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to with­draw aid to Is­rael. Un­til Is­rael se­ri­ously en­gages with a peace process that ei­ther es­tab­lishes a sovereign Pales­tinian state or grants full demo­cratic cit­i­zen­ship to Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in a sin­gle state, we can­not con­tinue to sub­si­dize gov­ern­ments whose ac­tions threaten Is­rael’s long-term sur­vival.

Is­rael, of course, is hardly the world’s worst hu­man rights vi­o­la­tor. Doesn’t boy­cotting Is­rael but not other rights-vi­o­lat­ing states con­sti­tute a dou­ble stan­dard? It does. We love Is­rael, and we are deeply con­cerned for its sur­vival. We do not feel equally in­vested in the fate of other states.

Un­like in­ter­na­tion­ally iso­lated states such as North Korea and Syria, Is­rael could be sig­nif­i­cantly af­fected by a boy­cott. The Is­raeli govern­ment could not sus­tain its fool­ish course without mas­sive U.S. aid, in­vest­ment, com­merce, and moral and diplo­matic sup­port.

We rec­og­nize that some boy­cott ad­vo­cates are driven by op­po­si­tion to (and even ha­tred of ) Is­rael. Our mo­ti­va­tion is pre­cisely the op­po­site: love for Is­rael and a de­sire to save it.

Repulsed by the Afrikan­ers’ ethno-re­li­gious fa­nati­cism in South Africa, Zion­ism founder Theodore Herzl wrote, “We don’t want a Boer state, but a Venice.” Amer­i­can Zion­ists must act to pres­sure Is­rael to pre­serve Herzl’s vi­sion — and to save it­self.

Steven Lev­it­sky is a pro­fes­sor of govern­ment at Har­vard Univer­sity. Glen Weyl is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics and law at the Univer­sity of Chicago.


A Pales­tinian wo­man walks next to a con­crete wall near the West Bank vil­lage of Abu Dis.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.