Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, October 24, 2015
We’ve long predicted that liberal Zionists will start coming out for boycott because there’s no other peaceful way to end the conflict; and they will even abandon Zionism in the name of a peaceful transition to democracy. This has now happened in the Washington Post: the week after Lawrence Summers tried to hold the line in the Jewish community with an ill-informed speech against boycott in New York, and after J.K. Rowling sought to hold off boycott in England, two young Jewish academics of some standing, Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, say they are for boycott because they want to save Israel from itself. And that new Israel could be a “single state” with full democratic citizenship for Palestinians.
The piece is titled, “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.” Note that Weyl and Levitsky endorse boycott because they “love” Israel and they do not mention the vanguard Palestinian-led movement, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, nor the Right of Return, a critical component of the BDS movement. I don’t believe that Palestinian solidarity activists will embrace this move, because it largely ignores their struggle; but for anyone who wants to transform the U.S. discourse and liberate the Jewish community from blindness, it’s welcome.
Open the floodgates. These men have prestige. Levitsky is a 47-year-old Harvard professor and Weyl is a 30-year-old Senior Researcher at Microsoft, though he does not give that i.d. for the piece, just that he is an assistant professor of economics at University of Chicago. Puts Microsoft in a tender position!
The two intellectuals do not deny the rightward trend in Israeli society or the unending occupation. They address it forthrightly. The occupation is now permanent. Boycotting settlements is not enough. Excerpts:
As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies….
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.