Shabbat Shalom(ost)! Let’s talk about Israel. Or, rather, let’s meta-talk about Israel.
I haven’t finished my old boss Peter Beinart’s book, The Crisis of Zionism, but observing the vitriolic response from the right and the churlish retreat from first principles from his fellow liberals makes me think he’s hit a certain nerve. I’m going to go after Alana Newhouse first, in the spirit of intellectual honesty, because I’m about to pitch her on something. Alana writes:
[A]gainst what they see as the self-satisfied and delusional monolith of the American Jewish establishment, Beinart and his supporters are now erecting their own self-satisfied and delusional monolith, calculated to appeal to disillusioned Jewish summer camp alumni, NPR listeners and other beautiful souls who want the Holy Land to be a better place but do not have the time or ability to study the issues, learn the languages or talk to the people on both sides whose hearts have been broken over and over again by prophets making phony promises.
I mean, come on. Is Peter’s criticism of Israel — a criticism that is self-consciously redemptive of Zionism — trumped by some kind of precious lifestyle concern? However annoyed Alana gets about Andrew Sullivan’s “Ignore. Peter. Beinart” series of blog posts, she’s exhibiting the reason Andrew writes them.
Bret Stephens, and all Beinart-critics to his right, is worse. Stephens starts off mocking the idea that Peter could be emotionally affected by a scene of a young Palestinian boy crying over the mistreatment of his father. It should be no surprise that he follows up by declining to engage Peter’s argument and instead nitpicking it and waving his hands about the perfidy of the encircling Arab/Persian menace. It’s as if — as if — Peter’s critics on the right haven’t come to terms with Israel’s regional-power position, in which the threats Israel are real but manageable, not existential — and the existential threats Israel does face are the ones it inflicts on itself.
So as not to dodge the fundamental issue myself: I think Peter is wrong to argue for a boycott of products from the settlements, but on the grounds of unfeasibility; his heart is in the right place. I suggest it might be better to shift U.S. defense aid into platforms like the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. That’s the kind of weapons program that, in addition to being awesome, counters Israel’s legitimate security vulnerabilities and creates a strategic fact: it removes a security-based argument for Israel retaining its hold on the West Bank. Then the United States ought to pressure, cajole and coax Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank. Withdraw unilaterally; allow the creation of a fact called the State of Palestine; and then begin the agonizing process of negotiating with the Government of Palestine over final borders, dividing Jerusalem, water rights, spectrum rights, and so forth. The world should create a fund to assist the resettling of Palestinian refugees in land controlled by the State of Palestine — that is, not within the State of Israel. The position of the United States ought to be that Jewish settlers who wish to remain in places like Ariel after final-status discussions over borders between Israel and Palestine conclude are welcome to be citizens of the State of Palestine. (Although that’s probably unfeasible, because there would be Arab assaults on the settlements; Jewish reprisal attacks; and Israel would inevitably be sucked into a war that would look like kind of Balkan. But if Israel wants to avoid the difficulties of ordering the IDF to vacate the settlements during a withdrawal, I am sure NATO would jump at the chance to do it for them.)
This is the right thing to do for two main reasons: it ends the unjust occupation of Palestine and frees Israel to be a secure Jewish democracy in perpetuity. Those ought to be sufficient! But it would also isolate the intransigent actors who would still have a problem with Israel post-withdrawal. They would be exposed as implacable, and their base of support would accordingly shrivel. You would probably stand your best chance at breaking Hamas’ back under the plan outlined above, much in the same way the Arab Spring gave al-Qaida a relevance crisis. Just imagine the spiritual crisis that a just peace would cause in the Iranian regime. Peace has ripple effects. I’m sure there are problems with my proposal, but I think they are probably problems of implementation and feasibility, rather than basic strategic problems.
But let’s say that, like Peter’s critics, you don’t want to do anything I’ve outlined. This is where your reluctance leads: creeping Israeli authoritarianism and unjust permanent dominion over millions of non-citizens. If you’re an American Jew, you probably don’t like that. (I would hope evangelical Christian supports of Israel don’t, either.) You’ve probably criticized, say, Hosni Mubarak or Pervez Musharraf for exhibiting similar behavior. And you might not want to face up to a state run by people who share your heritage committing those violations. It’s much easier to engage in what J.J. Goldberg terms “knee-jerk apologetics” when encountering Peter’s book. That is a rather good prima facie indication of a guilty conscience.
Indeed, let’s say you have that basic discomfort with creeping Israeli authoritarianism and unjust permanent dominion over millions of non-citizens. Run with that! Don’t shy away from it. Don’t get sidetracked by your misgivings about Peter’s boycotts proposal or whether he’s used sufficiently harsh adjectives to describe Hamas. (In case it makes you feel better, I used to work for Peter at The New Republic. Every Thursday morning for three years, I heard what he had to say at editorial meetings. He is not a fan of radical Islam. I hope you now feel reassured enough to return to the issue at hand.) Stay focused on the source of that discomfort, because it has to do with your sense of justice. You’re on the right path. Liberal Zionism is there for you. Embrace it, and no one who has a tribal investment in the just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to have a guilty conscience again.