In a column last week, Peter Beinart criticizes Mitchell Plitnick and me for attacking J Street and Americans For Peace Now’s strong opposition to a motion voted on by the Presbyterian church. The motion called for divestment from three companies which help sustain the occupation of the West Bank: Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar.
First, let me separate Americans From Peace Now from my argument here.
It did issue a horrible statement against divestment but, in general, it does not cleave to the center the way J Street does. J Street takes tremendous care, far more than APN ever has, not to offend the so-called mainstream pro-Israel community. Of course, because the mainstream community will accept nothing less than 100% support for 100% of the Israeli government’s policies. it still despises J Street. It is considered anti-Israel in the same ugly spirit that it considers life-long Zionist Peter Beinart anti-Israel (he opposes the occupation).
Beinart’s piece is called “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do.”
It is the perfect title. What he means that in order to remain credible within the Jewish community you cannot stray farther from the “pro-Israel” line than such progressives (on everything but Israel) as the Reform movement, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and a host of other timid progressives allow you to.
“Doing what you gotta do” means not supporting divestment from the occupation even if your raison d’etre is opposing the occupation. It means not ever calling for aid cuts to Israel no matter what the provocation. It means keeping your mouth shut about the slaughter of civilians in Gaza and pretending that an Israeli onslaught is a “war.” It means supporting sanctions on Iran and not ruling out bombing Iran as an option. It means never doing anything that suggests that, in your heart of hearts, you do not ultimately stand with the mainstream although you believe that the views of that mainstream could well lead to the destruction of Israel and endless suffering for Palestinians.
I understand “doing what you gotta do.” It even included for several major Jewish leaders walking behind terrorist Meir Kahane’s coffin as it was carried to the grave. (I was told that by a former head of Israel Policy Forum who proudly marched and wanted me to understand that ultimately we are “One People.”)
But here’s my question to Beinart and J Street. Are Palestinians and Muslim Americans allowed to do what they gotta do? It seems we are always calling on them to denounce acts perpetrated by their “chevra” (tribe) no matter how hard it might be for them to do it. We won’t deal with them unless they condemn terrorism but we won’t condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza or Lebanon or — if it happens, I’ll bet — the bombing of Iran.
The J Street strategy will not work. One does not oppose colossal evil (like the occupation, or segregation, or the war in Vietnam) by only using tactics the other side finds acceptable. Nor can one ever succeed until he realizes that the other side is the other side, not just people you have some temporary differences with.
I didn’t expect J Street (or APN, for that matter) to join Jewish Voice For Peace in supporting divestment. However, I also did not expect them to undermine the work JVP did in promoting divestment (from three multinational companies, for heaven’s sake!) by openly opposing and ultimately sinking a resolution that, from all accounts, had terrified the lobby and the Netanyahu government.
Bottom line, the two organizations could just have stayed silent. Instead, their pressure led to the resolution’s defeat by two votes.
Ethnic solidarity over morality. In other words, doing what you gotta do.