Peter Beinart made waves in the NYT the other day in calling for a boycott of Israeli settlements -- paired with, Beinart says, a sharp opposition to boycotting Israel-proper. The goal, Beinart argues, is to effectuate a sharp separation between Green Line Israel -- an imperfect democracy that nonetheless is among the freest places on earth, and a beacon for what the liberal Zionist dream should be -- and the occupied territories, which is ... not. I'm a sharp critic of boycotts, and a sharp critic of the settlements, which puts in me a bit of bind. While I might agree that conceptually there is a distinction between boycotts of Israel writ large and the settlements I instinctively recoil at boycotts targeting Israel, because the BDS movement pervasively shot through with anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that appears intractable. I think Beinart underestimates just how much a visceral reaction Jews have against this particular tactic -- it has such a dark history, and it's current manifestation has been surrounded by such a vicious resurgence of anti-Semitic rhetoric, that it really can't be viewed abstracted from the context. It's like Glenn Greenwald writing in Pat Buchanan's outfit. Sometimes past and present prejudice circumscribes what would otherwise be acceptable, and this could be one of those cases.
In any event, the reaction to Beinart's call has mostly been negative on the Jewish left -- J Street, for instance, said it thought a boycott would cause the settlers to hunker down and become more radical. Beinart's own site posted a powerful rebuttal to his argument (which is testament, one should say, to Beinart's desire for honest dialogue on this question), saying that the boycott absolves both the left and right of having to deal with the tough questions that -- despite ever-present efforts to simplify the conflict to dueling caricatures -- have to be answered for any lasting peace to be created. This is the crux of Jeffrey Goldberg's objection as well -- Beinart simplifies the conflict so greatly that he doesn't seem to recognize that even if Israel starts acting like a perfect mensch, it won't solve things.
The retort Beinart and his supporters (like Andrew Sullivan) have been throwing out is "well, how do you propose to arrest the settlements?" This debate, after all, is being held amongst people who all agree the settlements are a bad thing and should be opposed -- but Beinart's allegation is that for many, this is purely a rhetorical trope, and they reflexively oppose any calls for actual action aimed at restricting settlement expansion. Which is not an unreasonable retort, and I'd like to see a more comprehensive response. But that cuts both ways -- it's a fair critique that Beinart is wildly oversimplifying too, and he needs to tack onto his proposal concrete agenda items to demonstrate, for example, how to ensure that a final status agreement is actually "final", how to delegitimize anti-Israel and anti-Semitic zealots who seem to view the existence of Jews in any state but one of abject supplication as an affront, or how to take non-starters like a Palestinian right of return off the table.
Still, seeing as I do think that arresting settlement growth is critical both to the peace process as well as Israel's long-term longevity, it is important to think of tactics for making that happen. So I tentatively forward a few proposals -- not meant as a firm commitment to any of them as either necessary or sufficient, but an effort to get ideas flowing.
(1) Increased support for efforts aimed at revitalizing the Israeli left (e.g., OneVoice and TULIP). Israelis are always going to be in the best position to stop the settlements from destroying their state -- but the pro-peace left in Israel has been largely moribund since the second intifada, and has largely been ignored by its international peers.
(2) Better policing of the pro-Israel tent in the US. I am absolutely in agreement that not any and every group which claims to be "pro-Israel" should be allowed to get away with it -- if they advocate "solutions" to the conflict that are manifestly anti-Israel and outside the consensus of the broader Jewish community, they should be expelled. But in recent years this has been a one-sided standard -- left-wing groups have been closely scrutinized (sometimes rightly so), while their conservative counterparts have gotten a free hand, even when the advocate policies (like one-statism) that are clearly considered beyond the pale. No more: the onus is on mainstream Jewish groups like the AJC and ADL to come down hard on politicians and organizations -- putatively "Zionist" or not -- which endorse one-statism and encourage settlement growth. What Americans consider to be "pro-Israel" has influence in Israel-proper -- to the extent that the consensus Jewish-American position is clearly and unabashedly anti-settlement and anti-one state, that will strengthen forces inside Israel pushing for those same results.