Two American Jews out of 6.5 million support boycotting Israel

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

That's my alternative title for an opinion piece published by The Post on Friday, which the sidebar told me was the "most read" opinion piece of the day.

The authors, Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard, and Glen Weyl, an economist working at Microsoft, identify themselves as "progressive Jews" and "lifelong Zionists" who "for years … have supported Israeli governments—even those we strongly disagreed with—in the belief that a secure Israel would act to defend its own long-term interests." I wrote to them and asked them whether either of them had ever publicly written in support of Israel. Both acknowledged they had not. Nor is Israel an area of academic interest for either of them.

The article itself is trite—silly accusations of apartheid, false accusations of increased Jewish chauvinism in Israel, and literally not a single word about Palestinian terrorism or rejectionism, including the rejection of several peace offers Israel has made since 2000 that fall within the parameters of the expectations for a settlement by the international community. I refuted the general thrust of their allegations, coming down to the idea it was once but no longer is acceptable to be on the liberal left and support Israel because Israel has moved so drastically in a "right-wing" direction, in a series of posts you can find here. [UPDATE: Professor Jacobson does an admirable job of rebutting the Levitsky-Weyl article here.]

So the authors have no public profile as past supporters of Israel, don't study Israel as part of their academic work and have nothing the least bit original to say. Support for boycotting Israel remains on the outer fringe of the Jewish community, and even more so among Jews who consider themselves, as Levitsky and Weyl do, to be Zionists and supporters of the two-state solution. The last poll I recall seeing on the issue reported that more than 90 percent of American Jews are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians, and the reverse was true for somewhere in the low single digits. Weyl, at least, is clearly at best on the far, far left of "Zionist" sentiment, as he writes things elsewhere such as, "Now is the time to stand with the struggle of the Palestinian people in their international struggle for justice. Only clear solidarity of humanitarian Jews around the world with the cause of those who are enslaved by our elected representatives can begin to absolve us of their continuing crimes."

Yet The Post (which hosts this blog) and even more so the New York Times feel the need every so often to publish an "I'm a left-wing Jewish academic and I'm disgusted and fed up with Israel" article, even by people who have no particular expertise in the subject beyond what you might find from any interested American Jew you picked at random. I'm not sure what finding a Jew or two here or there out of 6.5 million to articulate an anti-Israel position is supposed to prove, but apparently the opinion editors think there's a substantial market for such pieces.

UPDATE: As I've noted before, while left-wing American Jews often claim that Israel has increasingly drifted to the far right, in fact the "Greater Israel" far right is much smaller than it used to be, while the far left has utterly collapsed, leaving Israel a much more centrist nation politically. But for some left-wingers, if there is no hope for the Israeli left, there is no hope for Israel.

In that regard, one should read a recent article that created a great stir in Israel, written by long-time left-leaning Israel peace activist Shlomo Avineri. Avineri for decades has argued that Israel can reach a settlement with the Palestinians based on a recognition that the conflict is one between two legitimate national movements. He now implicitly admits he was naive:

The point is that those Israelis who see the conflict in the framework of a struggle between two national movements assume that this is also the position of the other side; hence when negotiations fail, the recipe advocated is to tinker with some of the details, hoping that further concessions, on one or the other side, will bring about an agreement.

Unfortunately, this is an illusion.

The basic Palestinian position, which usually isn't always explicitly stated, is totally different and can be easily detected in numerous Palestinian statements. According to the Palestinians' view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena—it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative.

Lots of people in Israel still oppose settlements, think Israel has missed opportunities to promote peace, and so on. But post-Oslo and after Camp David/Taba was met with horrific violence, after an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza met with Hamas rockets, and given the current round of violence motivated by (obviously!) false rumors that Israel is planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque, encouraged by the Palestinian government itself, few Israelis are naive enough to believe, a la Levitsky and Weyl, that Israel bears sole responsibility for the conflict, or has the unilateral power to solve it, short of committing suicide.