JG: We expect J Street to condemn settler violence, or provocative settlement building, or the power of the religious right parties in Israel. But another thing that we don't seem to hear from J Street enough is where the left side of the framework is. I understand where you go on the right, but it's always this concern--look, some of it is manufactured by people who don't like your general outlook, but some of it is real. What is "too left" for J Street? What sort of expression of criticism is too far to the left, from your perspective?
JB: We established at the beginning of the interview some of the tactical things that are too far. We don't support, obviously, BDSbut also Peter's conception of "Zionist BDS," that that is either advisable, doable, or workable.
JG: Do you think that this would put you on a slippery slope toward full BDS?
JB: I think it's very hard to make a clear line between what is "settlement business" and what is not. So many businesses do business on both sides of the Green Line. Very few things are simply, purely done on the other side of the Green Line.
JG: And isn't it, of course, the Israeli government that subsidizes factory-building in settlements that then create products that are sold?
JG: So then why are you blaming the factory? Shouldn't you be blaming the guy who gave you the money to build the factory, which in this case is the Israeli government?
JB: The same issue comes up with divestment. Because if you divest from a company that produces a military product that is used in the occupation, that same company is probably producing a product that helps defend Israel from, let's say, rockets. So if you're saying you shouldn't be supporting a truck company or a boot manufacturer, is that the boots of the soldiers who are going to defend Israel itself? It is a slippery slope and very hard to draw that line.
JG: Do you think Beinart's idea is going to catch on?
JB: I think there are a lot of people in the progressive part of the pro-Israel community who are personally, deeply bothered by the notion that we would doing anything that helps to perpetuate this occupation. So I think on a personal level, people do, when they find out that a product or a wine or whatever it is comes from the West Bank, then personally I think people will consider this.
JG: I don't think this is going to gain traction in the American Jewish community. Tell me I'm wrong.
JB: No, I don't think so either. I think people are flailing about right now because there is nothing serious happening in the realm where it really matters -- the realm that really matters is the political side of things. There is no movement, whether it's from here out of fright or out of stasis on both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides, there's just no movement. And people are deeply frustrated. They sense that this is slipping away, that we're headed toward a one-state nightmare, and people are frustrated. They say, "What can I do?" And it isn't enough to just come to Washington and lobby--although it's very, very important that people come. We're having our conference this weekend and we'll have 2,500 people, and we'll be larger, louder, and bigger than we were last year. And next year we'll be bigger than this year. You know, we'll keep on growing and we'll make this movement heard. But people are frustrated that time is of the essence and it's slipping away. And I can understand the frustration. It's very, very urgent that political leadership step forward and fill the vacuum, and that's what J Street is trying to push.
JG: Do you sense any movement on this whatsoever?
JB: Not for seven months. Not until election day. But my hope is -- I would say you can't really afford to take this election cycle off. But the reality is that we're in a very, very difficult political environment and I think in a second term or in a new president's first term, they have got to take another crack at this.
(Thanks to Sarah Yager for transcribing the interview)