The Washington Post has published one of the most important pieces ever to appear in a mainstream American publication dealing with the bounds of Israel political discourse in America and within the American Jewish community.
The op-ed, written by Steven Levitsky (Harvard) and Glen Weyl (University of Chicago), is entitled “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Within it, Levitsky and Weyl painfully conclude that, with Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians now a permanent fixture―something which threatens Israel’s very existence―pressuring Israel to change via economic boycotts has become a last, necessary resort.
These two men will likely be called self-hating Jews as a way to discredit their position. They will be smeared as seeking Israel’s destruction by those who believe supporting Israel means shielding its geo-political policies from rebuke, no matter how destructive. The problem they will face is this: Levitsky and Weyl have presented their case in such a way that these attacks will immediately reveal themselves as hollow and reflexive. As having no substance other than the fear and zero-sum tendencies which produce them.
Writing on the permanence of Israel’s occupation, on its undemocratic denial of basic human rights which Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated has become a “fact of modern Zionism,” Levitsky and Weyl write:
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.
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.
These words, the ink used to produce them still fresh, still drying on the page, are already reverberating loudly in the American Jewish community. And for good reason: most major US Jewish organizations have cast those who support boycotting Israel as standing outside the Jewish community. As having crossed a red line. As enemies of the Jewish people.
I have felt such exiling. For while I do not boycott Israel, I have written in the past on how Palestinians have an absolute right to use nonviolent means of opposition, including boycotts, to fight Israel’s oppression, just as any country or entity has a right to such nonviolent means of protest. While I do not myself boycott Israel, I support Palestinians’ right to do so. And for that, I have had book events cancelled and have been cast as standing outside the US Jewish community by major Jewish leaders. This despite my still holding on to the two-state dream, despite the likelihood that dream has passed us by.
Jews who actively work with the BDS movement and/or support the concept of a single, bi-national state have been easy targets of such exiling. Despite the fact that many of Israel’s own leaders have embraced such a single-state reality, major Jewish organizations still officially articulate support for the two-state outcome, casting those who feel otherwise―like Jewish Voice for Peace―as self-hating.
However, it will be impossible to seriously consider Levitsky and Weyl as enemies of the Jewish people, as self-hating, as standing outside the Jewish community.
And this impossibility will result in one thing: a broadening of the dialogue in America on what it means to support Israel, on whether one’s political views on Israel define one’s Jewishness, and on who exactly gets to decide such things.
It’s a conversation which is desperately needed, a conversation which will deepen after this piece by Levitsky and Weyl.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.