Writing in the New York Times, author Peter Beinart writes in support of a boycott and divestment campaign against illegal settlements in the West Bank. His proposal is to boycott the products of settlements but to strongly support Israel proper and to oppose efforts to boycott Israel within the green line.
Beinart sees Israel’s expansion into the West Bank as creating “an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that millions of West Bank Palestinians are barred from citizenship and the right to vote in the state that controls their lives.” He proposes calling the occupied territories “non-democratic” Israel, in distinction to the “democratic” Israel inside the Green Line. Thus, he favors boycott and divestment against settlements, but not against what he terms “democratic” Israel. Beinart is right that it is time for pressure on the non-democratic elements of Israel. But Beinart doesn’t go far enough in recognizing what those non-democratic elements are.
Let’s take a step back. Israel proper is itself an entity of dubious democratic legitimacy, given that hundreds of thousands of peaceful Christian and Muslim men, women and children had to be expelled from their homes to create a majority Jewish state. Christian and Muslim families are not being allowed to return to their homes because it would “destroy Israel,” meaning it would end Jewish hegemony in a land where non-Jewish people had been the majority. Beinart makes clear what the criteria are for real democracy when he writes that Israel is a “flawed but genuine democracy within the green line and an ethnically-based nondemocracy beyond it.” Yet even within the green line, Israel was created by the ethnically-based expulsions of whole villages of non-Jewish families.
The idea of Israel is certainly a noble one. Who would deny the right of Jewish people to have a homeland? But is it right to have a homeland by expelling other people, peaceful non-Jewish families, from their homes? No, that is not democratic, that is not something that we Jewish people would want, and that is not consistent with the principles of our faith. Our principles are those to which Beinart referred when he said, “When Israel’s founders wrote the country’s declaration of independence, which calls for a Jewish state that ‘ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,’ they understood that Zionism and democracy were not only compatible; the two were inseparable.”
These are great words. We can all support a state that “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” But to do that, non-Jewish refugees must be treated as equals and be allowed (better still, encouraged) to return to their homes. Creating a state that ensures complete equality by repatriating refugees irrespective of their religion would finally realize the Zionist dream and create the real Israel, not destroy it.