Something is stirring in the American, Jewish, liberal, Zionist heartland. Peter Beinart, former supporter of the Iraq war and tough Zionist, has become a very vocal and very public critic of occupying Israel. His “dream” is still to maintain so-called democratic Israel, an inherently undemocratic outcome for the countless Palestinians inside Israel, but this is an important step for such an establishment figure to make. His new book, The Crisis of Zionism, is nearly out.
To believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer.
On the one hand, the Israeli government is erasing the “green line” that separates Israel proper from the West Bank. In 1980, roughly 12,000 Jews lived in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem). Today, government subsidies have helped swell that number to more than 300,000. Indeed, many Israeli maps and textbooks no longer show the green line at all.
In 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel called the settlement of Ariel, which stretches deep into the West Bank, “the heart of our country.” Through its pro-settler policies, Israel is forging one political entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea — an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.
In response, many Palestinians and their supporters have initiated a global campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.), which calls not only for boycotting all Israeli products and ending the occupation of the West Bank but also demands the right of millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes — an agenda that, if fulfilled, could dismantle Israel as a Jewish state.
The Israeli government and the B.D.S. movement are promoting radically different one-state visions, but together, they are sweeping the two-state solution into history’s dustbin.
It’s time for a counteroffensive — a campaign to fortify the boundary that keeps alive the hope of a Jewish democratic state alongside a Palestinian one. And that counteroffensive must begin with language.
Jewish hawks often refer to the territory beyond the green line by the biblical names Judea and Samaria, thereby suggesting that it was, and always will be, Jewish land. Almost everyone else, including this paper, calls it the West Bank.
But both names mislead. “Judea and Samaria” implies that the most important thing about the land is its biblical lineage; “West Bank” implies that the most important thing about the land is its relationship to the Kingdom of Jordan next door. After all, it was only after Jordan conquered the territory in 1948 that it coined the term “West Bank” to distinguish it from the rest of the kingdom, which falls on the Jordan River’s east bank. Since Jordan no longer controls the land, “West Bank” is an anachronism. It says nothing meaningful about the territory today.
Instead, we should call the West Bank “nondemocratic Israel.” The phrase suggests that there are today two Israels: a flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it. It counters efforts by Israel’s leaders to use the legitimacy of democratic Israel to legitimize the occupation and by Israel’s adversaries to use the illegitimacy of the occupation to delegitimize democratic Israel.
Having made that rhetorical distinction, American Jews should seek every opportunity to reinforce it. We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel. We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities. Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.
But a settlement boycott is not enough. It must be paired with an equally vigorous embrace of democratic Israel. We should spend money we’re not spending on settler goods on those produced within the green line. We should oppose efforts to divest from all Israeli companies with the same intensity with which we support efforts to divest from companies in the settlements: call it Zionist B.D.S.