By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
It’s not a monday unless some wealthy intellectuals are singing a petition to do something that they never intend to actually do. The charade this week? According to a report, the letter was published in the New York Review of Books, and “included Bernard Avishai, Michael Walzer, Peter Brooks, Bernard Avishai, Adam Hochschild, Kai Bird and Peter Beinart.”
According to the story, the “intellectuals” are opposed to “settlements and all their produce.” They write that; “We believe that this 1967 armistice line, the so-called Green Line, should be the starting point for negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian parties on future boundaries between two states.” Furthermore they oppose “any investments that promote the Occupation” and seek to focus on “objects of our call are all commercial and residential Israeli-sponsored entities located outside the 1967 Green Line.”
This seems simple and clean cut. But there is a bit of a problem. Some of the signatories, perhaps most, are Jewish Americans with an attachment to Israel. That attachment often extends across the holy Green Line that they seek to impose a boycott beyond. For instance, when Peter Beinart comes to Israel, doesn’t he stray across the line to go to the Western Wall, the Kotel, the holiest site of the Jewish people. Yet at the same time he seeks to boycott “goods and services” over the line? Walking to the Kotel one passes not only goods, but also takes part in services. The security guards, the pathways, the clean stones and streets, all of these are “services” and “investments” that aid the person going to the Western Wall, they are all part of the definition these intellectuals have for occupation.
How many of the signatories of this document have conducted Bar Mitzvahs or other Jewish religious activity at the Western Wall? Don’t they support Women of the Wall? All of that activity and support is related to services and investment over the Green Line. Just after the guns fell silent in the 1967 war, Israeli authorities demolished 135 houses adjacent to the Kotel on June 10, 1967. This was an Arab neighborhood called the “Mughrabi quarter”, whose 700 residents were evicted and given two hours notice to leave. The Kotel plaza was an “investment” beyond the Green Line. But those “intellectuals” who ostensibly support boycotting these “investments” have no qualms walking over this plaza. They have no problem with the support for the egalitarian prayer section by Robinson’s arch, which itself is also adjacent to Arab homes demolished after the war.
Let’s move beyond the Kotel, where most of those who support the “boycott” also take part in the goods, services and investments they supposedly oppose. At Hebrew University which overlooks the Old City of Jerusalem there are more contradictions. The University itself is mostly located inside an enclave that existed from 1948 to 1967 and was part of “Israel proper.” However all the roads to and from the university and many of the student dorms and rental housing are located on French Hill and areas nearby that are not inside the Green Line.
There is an epic amount of investment and goods and services extending over the Green Line to provide for the students and infrastructure related to the university. Bus lines, a light rail stop, housing, banks, supermarkets. It is all part and parcel of the “occupation” and the extension of Israeli rule beyond the June 4 borders. All of the ring neighborhoods, Jewish areas in East Jerusalem that house hundreds of thousands, are part of this.
Outside Jerusalem the signatories likely also partake in occupation without realizing it. If they come to Israel and drive to the Dead Sea, how do they get there? Do they drive through Jerusalem on route 1, or do they drive all the way via Beersheba? They likely drive via Jerusalem. That cuts right through the center of the West Bank, on a large highway that serves Israeli interests and leads to investment in Ma’ale Adumim and other communities over the Green Line. By using the highway, the tunnels and infrastructure, the visitor takes part in the goods and services and investments of Israel over the Green Line.
The fact is that everyone wants the occupation and wants to oppose it at the same time. “What, me, not drive to the Dead Sea?! Are you kidding me?! That’s not occupation.” Of course not. “What, me, boycott Hebrew University? But many who oppose the occupation are my friends there.” Of course not. “What, me, boycott the Kotel?!” Of course not.
They want to have the cake and eat it too. It’s easy to sign a letter boycotting Israel over the June 4th lines, but it’s harder to actually adhere to that letter. The reason for this is that no one wants to admit the obvious: Israel is never returning to the June 4th lines. After almost fifty years of investment over those lines, there is no return. Israel’s economy is heavily invested in the West Bank. There are around 750,000 Israelis living over the Green Line today. That’s almost ten percent of the country’s population.
Those who wax intellectually about the “green line” at cocktail parties and sign petitions and pat themselves on the back for their “heroic” stand against Israel’s policies, are often hypocrites who support the very occupation they oppose. If they don’t support it, they are at least not being realistic, logical, or fair in determining what it is they oppose. There are so many residents, in so many hundreds of Israeli communities in the West Bank, huge cities, massive tunnels, highways, roads, factories, the sheer level of investment is awesome. To oppose it by itself, as if one can just bifurcate it and “Israel proper,” is not realistic.
Everyday Israelis move beyond the Green Line, many of them for economic reasons. Israel has used the communities it built over the line as a release-valve for pressure on its own housing market, for an economic release. Without the housing for the 750,000 residents, the prices would be even more than they are inside the line. Those Jewish residents are never coming back inside the line. Fifty years of Israeli rule in the West Bank is not going to end. There were only 19 years of Jordanian rule and thirty years of British rule. In short: Israel has run the West Bank longer than the last two regimes combined. Think about it.
But the intellectuals and the weekday-warrior boycotters don’t want to think about it. They want to oppose something that is easy to oppose, while they secretly accept it. If they didn’t accept it, if they truly think that everything over the Green Line is unacceptable, then they have to eventually admit Israel is unacceptable. There is no such thing as an investment that has good and bad aspects. There is no bifurcating the investments over the line and within, in a connected, globalized, financial marketplace. Israeli businesses do business on both sides. Banks. Coffeeshops. Gas stations. Road workers. Police.
To boycott one and pretend one can really achieve that is as silly as to boycott air that is over the Green Line. As if the air is not the same air.
So do they mean a “targeted boycott” of only those actual products made over the Green Line? Here is the biggest surprise of all. Almost nothing is produced over the Green Line. Although Israel’s economy is heavily invested over the Green Line, in terms of people, infrastructure, budgets and property, the actual return on that investment is almost nil. There simply are not huge amounts of products rolling off the assembly line at Israeli settlements. Most Israelis over the Green Line work within the Green Line. Are the wanna-be boycotters boycotting “settlement wine”? There are ample buyers for that wine, so the 70 people in New York City who don’t want it won’t put a dent in it. Since BDS became fashionable, Israel’s wine industry has exploded abroadhas exploded abroad and with it, wine produced and bottled over the Green Line. Selective boycotting, or “targeted boycotting” is as nonsensical as a massive blanket boycott that is largely hypocritical.
What would be better is a rational discussion after fifty years of Israeli policies to determine what is the actual outcome of it all. Israel isn’t leaving East Jerusalem and it isn’t leaving 90% of the communities it built over the Green Line. In fact it probably isn’t leaving 100% of them and the number of people living over the Green Line will continue to grow (13,000 new units were built between 2008 and 2016, housing for almost 40,000 people, and a population growth of 4% a year on average). Now, if that means that you must boycott all of Israel, as BDS and others have concluded, then that’s the decision one can make. If it means one comes to a rational and logical assessment of Israel’s future and the likelihood it will remain slouching over the Green Line, then that’s a decision one can make. Those who pretend to boycott activity over the Green Line but then celebrate bar Mitzvahs there, and enjoy their time driving on Israeli highways to the Dead Sea, are hypocrites. Those who think boycotting a few Israeli wines made in the settlements has an economic impact are lying to themselves.
Mostly the boycott is just for public consumption, to feel righteous and good, and do nothing to impact anything. And if that’s what it is, then that’s fine. It’s an open lie.