A Powerful Retort to Peter Beinart

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Yehudah Mirsky, writing at The Daily Beast (for a channel Peter started), delivers the most eloquent rebuttal yet to Peter's call for a boycott of the settlers;

(The) absence of a sense of just how complicated things are is why I can't agree with Peter's argument for ending the conflict by cauterizing the settlements by boycott and isolation. It just won't work.

First, I don't understand how Peter can just not mention the Palestinian leadership, which certainly has done more than its share to bring us where we are today.  When they seemed ready for peace, as in 2006, Israelis voted in a government whose express platform was withdrawal. An attempted amputation of the sort Peter is suggesting relieves the Palestinians, once again, from having to negotiate seriously with Israel about things that Israel will genuinely and legitimately require.

Second, when engaging in boycotts we talk about penalizing governments and not people (indeed, I wish Obama had been clearer on that when talking at AIPAC about Iran). Yet the tack Peter is suggesting here precisely targets and embitters the people.  As Tal Becker has recently pointed out the only way ultimately to move forward (and yes, it can still happen) is by convincing people on both sides that they actually have something to gain, and the punitive nature of Peter's proposal cuts against that.  

Consumer boycotts are a legitimate form of protest. But if American Jews want to be effective, rather than declaring war on the people producing Dead Sea salts, organic honey and software, they should regularly ask the Israeli leaders who lean on their support, hard questions about where their resources are going.

Third, and crucially, Peter's blanket boycott proposal repeats one of the great, historic errors of the Israeli left: demonizing the settlers instead of talking to them.  As one of Israel's greatest journalists and men of the left once told me "Yitzhak (Rabin)'s great error was not talking to the settlers."  Sharon failed there too in the Gaza disengagement, relieving the settlers of real reckoning, and fueling their speculation that the whole disengagement was just a grand tactical diversion from his corruption scandals.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/a-powerful-retort-to-peter-beinart/254818/