Sunday, March 25, 2012

Slowing Down On J Street

From the interview of Jeremy Ben-Ami by Jeffrey Goldberg:

JG: But you publicly disagreed with his op-ed in which he called for a boycott of products made in settlements. Why do you disagree with it?

JB: Because I don't think that it makes any sense to put negative pressure on people whose behavior you hope to change. I think that the way that Israelis will feel comfortable making the compromises and the sacrifices--and Israel as a whole, not just the settlers --is when they really feel that not only American Jews, but the United States, is going to be there for them...

...The biggest obstacle I see in the Israeli psyche at the moment is this sense that two states is never going to happen, that there's just no way peace is ever going to come. While 70% of Israelis want a two-state solution, 80% of them think it's never going to happen in their lifetime.

JG: How do you dislodge the settlers?

JB: The way that you overcome the mindset, which I think is the first step, is you actually present an agreement that, lo and behold, the world supports, and Palestinians would support, and you realize that, hey, we actually can get it. And that positive pressure to make that decision by creating a path to hope, a path to the future, gives you then the national political will and the national political consensus to make that very difficult move: to say to the settlers, it's time to come home.

...The problem with Oslo was it laid out a process without ever telling you what the end result is going to be. What does that Palestinian state look like? What does the border look like? What are the security arrangements? Let's actually skip over the three to five years of process and talks, because we don't need them--because we already know what the end result looks like. Let's put that deal on the table and force the political decision on both sides--both the Palestinians and the Israeli political world--to decide if they are really ready to say yes to a realistic resolution to this conflict.

...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, BDS but 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?

JB: Right.

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...


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