Peter Beinart Calls for Direct Action by American Jews

Continuing his movement away from the party line, Peter Beinart, one of the leading public intellectuals in the Jewish community in the US, is now calling for liberal American Jews to put their bodies on the line in the Occupied Territories in order to pressure the Israeli government to move quickly to a just resolution. Peinart's most recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, created a stir in American Jewish circles for the way in which he not only took a public stand against the Israeli occupation but also for the way in which he called out the major Jewish organizations got their codependency in protecting Israel from criticism here in the U.S. In today's op-ed in Ha'aretz, however, Beinart goes even farther in his call to action.

It’s time for American Jews who support Israel but oppose the occupation to commit to large-scale, direct action of our own. And the most important place to do so is in the West Bank. Palestinians in villages like Bil’in and Nabi Saleh have been protesting, unarmed, for years against the theft of their land. But their efforts receive little attention in American Jewish circles or in the American press. Few American Jews have any idea that under the military law that governs Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel routinely criminalizes freedom of speech and assembly. Or that peaceful protesters can be held in detention for years without trial.

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As the Gaza War has shown yet again, Palestinians often remain invisible to American Jews except as killers and haters. And it is because their humanity remains invisible that we so easily justify their oppression. Perhaps if we placed ourselves among them, we might be able to see them as we see ourselves. And in the wake of a war that has brought only misery and destruction, those of us who still believe in a democratic Israel living alongside a democratic Palestine might create a beachhead of hope.  

This really is the missing piece in this process. The combination of Palestinian invisibility in the media, Christian Zionist cheerleading, defense industry lobbying for more arms sales (also invisible in the media), and, above all, American Jewish reluctance to criticize Israel has brought movement towards a just solution to a halt. The American Jewish community, which has community has the power to raise the consciousness of both the U.S. and Israel, the latter of which has always claimed that it exists for all Jews everywhere. Any American Jew can go there tomorrow and be granted citizenship, even if they leave immediately thereafter. Beinart's suggestion that they use that right to leverage the good is one for which we should all hope and pray. I'm all for the BDS strategy (boycott, divest, and sanction), and in his book Beinart himself even goes as far as endorsing a boycott. But a mass action would be far quicker and far gentler on the Israeli economy. If the goal is justice and not punishment or revenge, this kind of Direct Action is certainly the most effective means to achieve that end.