Peter Beinart’s latest publicity stunt
There has been a lot of hand-wringing in official Israel over the brief questioning of anti-Israel author Peter Beinart at Ben-Gurion Airport this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on the episode calling it “an administrative mistake.”
Netanyahu added, “Israel is an open society which welcomes all – critics and supporters alike.”
Deputy Minister for Public Diplomacy Michael Oren said Beinart’s questioning is grounds “for an immediate examination of all policy towards the entry of political activists.”
Speaking to Israel National News, Oren said, “Detaining American Jewish reporter Peter Beinart is an example of how acting unwisely causes both strategic and PR damage.
“Beinart is a top-rate American media person. Most of his opinions about Israel disgust me, but he does not support BDS, and in fact defines himself as a Zionist.”
Oren’s position is problematic first and foremost because it is factually wrong.
Beinart is a major supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Indeed, he is a central figure in the movement. This mere fact renders Beinart’s protestations of Zionism disingenuous, to put it mildly.
In 2012, Beinart published an oped in The New York Times calling for the boycott, divestment and sanction of all Israeli goods produced by Israeli Jews in Judea and Samaria.
His crass insensitivity towards Israeli Jews in Judea and Samaria was striking: “If moderate settlers resent being lumped in with their more ideologically driven counterparts deep in occupied territory, they should agitate for a two-state solution that would make possible their incorporation into democratic Israel. Or they should move.”
Beinart described the boycott as part of an overall political warfare strategy that American Jews should undertake against Israel and its American supporters.
“We should lobby to exclude settler-produced goods from America’s free-trade deal with Israel,” Beinart said. “We should push to end Internal Revenue Service policies that allow Americans to make tax-deductible gifts to settler charities. Every time an American newspaper calls Israel a democracy, we should urge it to include the caveat: only within the green line.”
Even Beinart’s most fervent admirers viewed his call for BDS against Jewish products in Judea and Samaria as a transparent means to facilitate BDS against Israel as a whole.
Jane Eisner, editor of the far-left The Forward newspaper wrote, the “optics of Beinart’s proposal” are “dangerous,” because they provide “implicit support for the broader BDS movement.”
But as has since become clear, that was his goal.
Beinart devotes great energy to mainstreaming anti-Israel activists who reject Israel’s right to exist.
For instance, in July 2016, Beinart joined a group of radical Jewish anti-Israel activists in staging a confrontation with the IDF in Hebron. The group entered a closed military zone and trampled the land of a Palestinian farmer to film themselves looking brave. The farmer called the army to have them removed. A group of soldiers answered his call and removed Beinart and his comrades. They filmed themselves looking brave as they were being ejected from the land they trespassed on.
Speaking to the JTA reporter who joined them in their stunt, Beinart gushed, “I feel like I’m seeing the emergence of a new leadership. People will try to write these guys off as lefties that don’t have a connection to the Jewish community. But… these kids actually come from the bosom of the Jewish community.”
But as JTA noted, Beinart’s characterization of his comrades was false. They did not come from the “bosom of the Jewish community,” they came from its radical fringes. Members of four groups took part in Beinart’s stunt: J Street, the New Israel Fund, Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow.
All of the four groups support BDS to one degree or another. The New Israel Fund funds BDS groups. J Street provides BDS groups with platforms to spew their views and so serves as a gateway to membership in them.
IfNowNow is one of the most radical groups in the American Jewish community. An offshoot of J Street, not only does it support BDS, it works to subvert pro-Israel groups and institutions to indoctrinate American Jews to hate Israel and view its existence as illegitimate.
Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the most virulent antisemitic groups in the US. It serves as a fig leaf for BDS groups like Students for Justice for Palestine which have proven links to Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
And Beinart is working to facilitate these anti-Israel and anti-Jewish radicals in their efforts to take over leadership positions in the American Jewish community.
To understand just how hostile Beinart’s actions are, it is necessary to take a step back and understand the nature of the BDS movement.
This week AMCHA Initiative, a group that monitors antisemitic and anti-Israel activities on US college campuses published a groundbreaking report. Unlike AMCHA’s previous reports, and reports by other American Jewish groups that monitor campus antisemitism, AMCHA’s latest report discusses campus antisemitism from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. That is, the report doesn’t merely count the number of antisemitic incidents. AMCHA developed and applied a methodology to measure the actual harm the incidents caused to their victims.
The results are alarming.
AMCHA analyzed antisemitic incidents on US campuses between 2015 and the first half of 2018. It divided anti-Jewish attacks into classic antisemitic attacks and Israel-themed antisemitic attacks. The former category includes incidents such as Nazi graffiti and vandalism. The latter category includes anti-Israel related harassment and other attacks.
The report shows that anti-Israel incidents are less directed against Israeli academics and Israel than in previous years and increasingly directed against Jewish students and student groups.
AMCHA’s report showed that while classic antisemitic attacks were nearly three times more frequent than Israel-related antisemitic incidents, (205 to 71), 94 percent of Israel-related antisemitic incidents demonstrated an intent to harm Jewish students and groups on campus. Twenty-five percent of the classic antisemitic incidents demonstrated such an intent.
Consequently, the report concludes that “Israel-related antisemitic incidents are considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile campus atmosphere for Jewish students than are incidents which involve ‘classic types of antisemitic expression.’”
As Professor Miriam Elman from Syracuse University wrote in a summary analysis of the AMCHA report published at Legal Insurrection website, the report found as well that “Israel-related incidents are becoming ‘significant and flagrant,’ and are increasingly characterized by a shift from a focus on anti-Israel boycotts and divestment campaigns to actual boycotts of Jewish students and student groups.”
One such incident occurred last April at New York University. Spurred by Students for Justice in Palestine and Beinart’s comrades from Jewish Voice for Peace, 51 student groups signed a pledge that endorsed BDS and committed them to “boycotting NYU’s pro-Israel clubs, Realize Israel and TorchPAC, by not co-sponsoring events with them, as well as boycotting off-campus pro-Israel groups such as Birthright-Taglit, the Maccabee Task Force, Mosaic United, Zionist Organization of America, American-Israeli [sic] Political Action Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.”
Along the lines of the antisemitic ostracism of student groups and national Jewish organizations that represent the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community at NYU, AMCHA found that the most common form of Israel-related antisemitism on campus are activities designed to suppress pro-Israel expressions and ostracize and marginalize Zionist students.
“44 percent of Israel-related incidents involved behavior intended to silence expression, including shutting down, disrupting, defacing or other attempts to interfere with Israel-related events, displays or trips,” the report said. “76% involved behavior that directly and personally targeted students or groups for denigration or discrimination in order to ostracize and exclude them from campus life.”
Not only are bids to ostracize, silence and marginalize Jews and Jewish groups on campus now the most common form of Israel-related antisemitic attacks. They are the fastest growing type of antisemitic attacks. Whereas in 2015 there were three incidents that included “calls to boycott any and all interaction with Zionist students or groups, and… open calls to expel these students or groups (like Hillel) from campus,” in 2017 the number jumped to 14 and there were 18 such incidents in the first half of 2018 alone.
Unlike classic antisemitic incidents, which are generally quickly addressed by campus administrators, AMCHA found that “administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic antisemitism.”
AMCHA partially attributes this failure to protect Jewish students to the fact that “university administrators rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones.”
Elman notes that the upshot of the AMCHA data is that “Jews are being told that they must disavow a huge chunk of their identity before they can participate in campus life.”
Which brings us back to Beinart.
As the AMCHA report shows, Beinart’s anti-Israel activism, including his support for BDS, empowers the most dangerous and rapidly growing antisemitic campaign in the US. This campaign which seeks to trample the basic freedoms of Jews who support Israel, is the gravest threat to the future of American Jewry. It is antisemitic in both character and effect. And Beinart and his comrades are right at the center of it.
Whereas campus administrators view this behavior as part of a legitimate political debate, last year the Knesset recognized it for what it is: a virulent type of antisemitism that needs to be fought. The Knesset understood that while the BDS movement pretends to engage in political discourse, its actual goal is to disenfranchise of American Jews by denying them their constitutional rights of freedom of speech, religion and assembly.
Acting on this insight, in March 2017 the Knesset passed a law barring BDS activists from entering Israel. The prohibition on entry includes BDS advocates who support the boycott of “all areas under[Israeli] control.” As an activist who spearheads a drive to boycott Israeli Jews and Jewish businesses operating in Israeli controlled Judea and Samaria, Beinart is legally barred from entering Israel.
And as he wrote in an article in the Forward this week, Beinart knew he was barred from entering Israel. He came anyway. And just as his stunt in Hebron two years ago was a provocation geared towards harming Israel’s image, so his trip to Israel – made with full knowledge that at a minimum he would be questioned upon landing – was a stunt geared toward harming Israel’s image and empowering his admirers to escalate their anti-Israel activities.
Israel’s apologies and hand-wringing were out of place. Like his comrades on campuses, Beinart’s behavior shouldn’t be characterized as political speech. He is no mere “critic” of Israel. He is an activist who devotes himself to supporting an anti-Jewish campaign whose purpose is to constrain the freedom of American Jewry and cause lasting harm to the Jewish state.