The Only Israel Boycott That's Actually Working

After all, when the war with Iran is over, and the only things left here are cockroaches and Migron, this government will still have the only thing it's ever really needed: Someone else to blame.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

History, to take license with John Lennon, is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

Somewhere inside, beneath the air of cheesy royalty, behind the wall of yes men and the armored SUVs of his motorcades, when Benjamin Netanyahu mulls his place in history, he knows what he has to show for it.

A walkway in Migron. The sign reads 'Migron - a defensive wall for settlement.'Credit: Michal Fattal

It's not a pretty sight.

Netanyahu and his history-minded grand vizier, Ehud Barak, do not want to be remembered as the two prime ministers who failed to forge peace deals with Syria, the Palestinians, Lebanon and the Saudis in the 1990s. They do not want to be remembered for the indecision, inaction, weakness and bad judgment which paved the way for the bloodshed and wars of the last decade, and the international isolation that remains.

Nor do they want to go down as the mini-tycoon flunkeys of mega-tycoons, denying the basic hopes of a mass middle class social justice movement. Nor as rulers whose only real interest is the throne, rulers who will say anything, legalize anything, outlaw anything, if it means another month or year in office.

Nor do they want to be remembered for the scorched-earth legislative legacy of the last three years, as the hotheaded and headline-starved took turns dismantling foundations of Israeli democracy.

Which leaves Iran.

If we're lucky, the threat (no more than the threat) of an Iran attack (Bibi and Barak's Glory Days Redux fantasy) will be just one more dodge to keep settlers and their opponents at bay: long enough to make it to elections, long enough to get another fix of power, long enough to decide not to decide about the Palestinians, the settlements, the refugees, the haredim.

If they're truly interested in their place in history, though, or even just in themselves, Netanyahu and Barak would do well to take a lesson from Lennon. They should study a succession of overlooked recent incidents that may, in the end, imperil their rule and this country more profoundly than Iran and Hamas and Hezbollah put together.

This month, for example, Army Radio reported that in the course of a debate in the Knesset, Public Security Ministry Director-General Yaakov Ganot made a slitting-throat gesture toward one of his ministry's female employees.

"The employee had made a comment which was not to Ganot's liking, and, in response, he passed his finger across his throat, as if to say 'I will slaughter you,'" it said.

"In the Ministry," the report concluded, in an observation itself worthy of close attention, "they are saying that this was done only in humor."

A week before, in New York, the deputy consul for Israel pointedly got up and walked out of the annual Human Rights Award Dinner of the Jewish Labor Committee, an event that featured the president of America's largest federation of unions, the AFL-CIO, who has spoken out against boycotting Israel.

Why the walkout? Because Stuart Appelbaum, the strongly pro-Israel JLC's president - himself an influential union leader, an outspoken supporter of Israel and a strong opponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign - said in a speech that the Netanyahu government's support for “the construction of illegal settlements on the West Bank . severely impedes negotiations” with the Palestinians.

When Appelbaum urged participants at the event to send Israel's government a message in favor of "good-faith negotiations," Deputy Consul Shlomi Kofman headed for the door. Israeli Consulate sources explained that the diplomat left because of “inappropriate statements vis-à-vis the Israeli government.”

Here, in two gestures, is where we stand. The slit-throat and the walkout, the twin tools of dictating the new meaning of "pro-Israel."

Either you support everything the government says, does, and hides, or we will intimidate you or humiliate you, or blacklist you and, failing that, publicly brand you as Post-Zionist or Anti-Israel, or, failing that, Anti-Semitic.

This, in the end, may be the legacy of the Netanyahu government – an ugly rift in Israel, the Jewish world, and within Judaism, an alienation which may prove permanent.
Ostensibly for the sake of unity, the government has worked tirelessly to stifle and delegitimize dissent, and to curb the consideration of another side, whether for Jerusalem high school students visiting Hebron or for pro-Israel labor leaders in New York.

Taking their cue from the snotty inquisitors of Im Tirtzu, every inch the spiritual heirs of Roy Cohn, the government and its hard-line adherents abroad have done everything they could to demonize and boycott NGOs, the New Israel Fund, J Street, Peace Now and other groups and individuals who strongly support Israel but take issue with its policies and its current direction.

The irony is that in a period in which the BDS campaign against Israel is faltering, leading to internal debates over its usefulness as a tactic, the official Israeli campaign to boycott and delegitimize progressive and liberal Zionists rolls on.

The irony is also that many progressive Zionists have played key roles in defeating BDS efforts. No matter. As it turns off and repels moderate Jews from Boston to Berkeley, the "pro-Israel" Inquisition has become the only Israel boycott that is actually having an effect.
For Netanyahu and Barak, it may not come naturally to respect the dissenting views of people who care about Israel and the Jewish people not an ounce less than they do. But it could ultimately have a telling and positive effect on their place in history.

Alternatively, they could do the bidding of the hard right. Shun the left, exploit the center, build like mad in the settlements and bomb Iran for good measure.

After all, when the war with Iran is over, and the only things left here are cockroaches and Migron, this government will still have the only thing it's ever really needed: Someone else to blame.



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