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Boycott Or Opportunity?
You can't have both.
pictured, in his
here is a smug sense of "I told you so"
New York Times
about much of the recent commentary
concerning the challenge that Israel faces
the boycott Israel
from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
movement as a
Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street
— a left-wing Israel advocacy group that believes
that the boycott is
the best way to advocate for Israel is by opposing
a Middle Eastern
sanctions on Iran and castigating Israel's demo-
equivalent of the
cratically elected government — is one example.
U.S. civil rights
Speaking to a Jewish audience in New Haven
movement, led by bold young activists seeking
recently, Ben-Ami talked, and not for the first
justice for all, rather than what it is: an outgrowth
time, of Israel becoming a "pariah state punished of the older League of Arab States' boycott against
for its West Bank policies by an international
Israel, companies doing business with Israel, and
community increasingly persuaded that the way
companies doing business with companies doing
to create a Palestinian state is through willfully
business with Israel. (Incidentally, when I say
damaging the Israeli economy.
"older; I really mean "older"—the
Ben-Ami's media echo, the colum-
Arab League boycott was instituted in
nist Peter Beinart, took a similar tack
1945, when the smoke was still rising
in a piece for the Israeli newspaper
from the crematoria at Auschwitz, but
Haaretz. After praising the boycott
Israel's creation was still three years
movement for its "tactical brilliance"
and for being "tactically shrewd" (OK,
If the idea that the boycott move-
Peter, we understood you the first
ment is a human rights project is one
time), Beinart argued that the threat
myth, then the contention that its goal
of international quarantine should, in
is merely to end Israel's presence in
a rational world, persuade U.S. Jewish
the West Bank is another. Again, read
organizations to actively oppose the
Friedman and Beinart, and you'd think
growth of Jewish communities in the
that the presence of anti-Semites and
supporters of Israel's elimination within the boy-
And then, in the New York Times, there was
cott movement were a minor irritant.
Thomas Friedman. A writer perpetually on
But destroying Israel as a sovereign state is
the lookout for a new catchphrase, Friedman
the primary goal the boycotters themselves have
described the boycott movement as a "Third
never hidden, as much as some naive American
Intifada." Observing that the Europeans are run-
Jewish liberals wish they would adapt and sanitize
ning out of patience, that idealistic activists are
their tactics by concentrating on the West Bank
searching for a new political romance in the wake
of Nelson Mandela's passing, and that Secretary
If you don't believe me, pay heed to Phil Weiss,
of State John Kerry is continually warning that
editor of the anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss: "If
Israel's actions are grist to the boycotters' mill,
BDS is such a powerful tactic that they can use
Friedman concluded that everything is stacking
to pressure Netanyahu for a two-state-solution ...
up in the Israel-haters' favor.
why shouldn't Palestinians use the tactic to their
ends? Why accept a deal for a fragment of the
There was an air of glee in Friedman's citation
of Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid's comment
country you once lived in, negotiated by a col-
that the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace
deal would eventually "hit the pocket of every
What, then, should those genuinely committed
Israeli:' (Some readers will recall that quotes from to securing a peaceful resolution between Israelis
Israeli leaders like Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert
and Palestinians do, if they reject boycotting? I
using the word "apartheid" were subjected to
would suggest, at the outset, talking to the right
similar exploitation by liberal critics of Israel.)
people with the most creative ideas — people like
But Lapid wasn't endorsing the boycott move-
Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of Sodastream, who
ment, and Friedman missed the most significant
aced an interview with the BBC's toughest interro-
segment of his remark — "Israel won't conduct
gator, Jeremy Paxman, by pointing out that peace
its policy based on threats"— in order to hail
needs to be fueled with economic opportunities
Lapid's recognition that the boycott needs to be
for both peoples, even if that means breaking with
taken seriously. But even if we all accept that to
dogmatic slogans about the illegitimacy of Jewish
be true, it does not logically follow that we have
to resign ourselves to the inevitability of a boycott
As Birnbaum argued, some of those opportuni-
or concede in any way that boycotting is a morally ties might eventually sustain a Palestinian state.
sound response to an immoral government.
But if we unthinkingly buy into the propaganda of
All this breathless admiration for the audacity
the boycotters, there won't be any opportunities to
of the boycott movement has, in fact, generated
its own mythology. Read the likes of Beinart and
Friedman and you could be forgiven for thinking
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org.
he 2014 General Assembly of
the largest Presbyterian
coalition in America is
shaping up to be an anti-Zionist
When the Presbyterian Church
(USA) holds its biennial conven-
tion in Detroit June 14-21, among
what it will consider, once more,
are recommendations to divest from
companies that deal with Israel's mili-
tary. Similar strident resolutions have narrowly lost in the past.
Convention goers also will officially unveil a new congregation-
al study guide on Zionism – seemingly more the work of a hate
group than a church group. The American Jewish Committee
brands the guide "a devastating distortion of Jewish and Israeli
history, aimed at nothing less than eradicating the State of
Israel." The guide, in sum, presents Israel as the arch-adversary
in its conflict with the Palestinians.
What is a Presbyterian umbrella organization, which claims
more than 10,000 congregations and nearly 2 million members,
thinking when such Zionist-hatred is top of mind?
So much for hoping the Presbyterian Church (USA) stands
ready to moderate a hard-line position toward Israeli government
policy. The divestment vote may fail (again), but barely (again).
All this matters because the Presbyterian Church (USA) is no
fringe sect within Christianity. Its an influential, frontline group.
Politically, it opposes Jewish settlements in the West Bank as a
clarion call. But its new study guide, Zionism Unsettled, breaches
demonization by propounding a "pathology inherent in Zionism"
that fuels the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Further, the guide
rebuffs any theology that upholds Zionism – such as Christianity
The Presbyterian Church (USA) leadership as well as con-
vention goers should follow the lead of those Presbyterians
who engage in dialogue with Jewish groups by renouncing the
guide, even if critical of certain Israel policies. That would prove
Presbyterian advocates of the guide are in the minority. Thus far,
the church has only affirmed Israel's right to exist and supported
a two-state solution to the conflict. It has not censured the guide.
JTA analysis reveals the guide calls for an "expanded, inclu-
sive" understanding of the Nazi Germany genocide of the Jews.
That new "understanding" relates today to the plight of the
Palestinians, among others. The guide urges a "renunciation of
the morally hazardous claims of a hierarchy of victimhood."
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a convenient cover given
the guide is the work of the church's Israel/Palestine Mission
Network. The network may not necessarily speak for the church,
but its beholden to the parent organization: The church charters
the network and processes contributions to it.
Constructive dialogue between Presbyterians and Jews seems
no closer amid the latest vitriol from the church as it prepares
for the national spotlight in Detroit. The Presbyterian Church
(USA) is highly unlikely to repudiate the guidebook. But were
that to come, the church would be making a statement about
fundamentally giving Jerusalem and Ramallah equal burden in
resolving their standoff.
For its part, the Palestinian Authority can start by acknowledg-
ing Israel as the Jewish state. Israel then would be more apt to
consider the P.A. a real negotiating partner.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) should be working toward
pushing that breakthrough scenario, not touting tiresome anti-
Zionist canards. ❑
February 27 • 2014