Opinion: Beinart’s 1% crisis

A response by Lara Friedman, Americans for Peace Now Director of Policy and Government Relations, can be found here.

One of the more brazen initiatives in the Jewish world today is Peter Beinart’s call, in his book “The Crisis of Zionism,” to boycott anything produced in the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria (commonly known as the West Bank). In his view, the settlements must be stopped because they are encroaching on a future Palestinian state that is necessary for the survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel.

I knew that Beinart was very focused on the settlements when I debated him last week at Temple Israel of Hollywood, so I wanted to know beforehand: How bad a “crisis” is it?

Here’s what I found out. After 45 years of settlement growth, according to the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, “built up” areas where Jewish settlers live represent less than 1 percent of the West Bank. That’s right, less than 1 percent (0.99 percent, in fact). You can look it up.

Of course, as critics often point out, Israel still controls 42 percent of the West Bank through municipal infrastructure, roads, security bases, sewers, etc. But what critics rarely tell us is that, under a peace agreement, this kind of “non-settler occupation” can be ended with the stroke of a pen. As Israel knows all too well, it’s a lot easier to evacuate sewers than it is to evacuate families.

And Jewish families occupy less than 1 percent of the West Bank.

You can rail against the Israeli government’s “support” for settlements, but it’s worth remembering that over the last 14 years (according to the Foundation for Middle East Peace), not one new settlement was started.

But even if we grant the worst about Israeli actions in the West Bank — illegal outposts, road blocks, unauthorized construction, heavy-handed actions, etc. — it’s extraordinary to think that after 45 years of settlements, 99 percent of the West Bank — or even 95 percent — is still available for a peaceful Palestinian state.

If you crave a Palestinian state, that’s not a crisis, that’s an opportunity.

When many of us hear the word “crisis,” what comes to mind is not Jews building kindergartens but a madman in Iran threatening a nuclear Holocaust; or 100,000 terrorist rockets ready to launch at Tel Aviv from Hamas and Hezbollah; or our “peace partners” in Ramallah continuing to sponsor Jew-hatred and refusing to recognize a Jewish connection to the Holy Land and to Jerusalem; or a terror state next door calling for Israel’s destruction as a religious commandment.

In that context, calling Jewish settlements in 1 percent of the West Bank the “major obstacle to peace” borders on the absurd.

It is also utterly boring and unoriginal.

Seriously, how often have we seen a hypocritical world treat the “Israeli occupation” as if it were the world’s greatest evil? Google “international pressure on Israel to end the occupation” and you’ll get 21,400,000 mentions.

You’ll have to excuse me, then, if I don’t get overly impressed when I see critics like Beinart jump on the international bandwagon to demonize Jewish settlers.

What would impress me, on the other hand, would be some original reporting of the conflict from the ground.

I got a glimpse of such reporting last week from Felice and Michael Friedson, who run The Media Line, an American news agency that specializes in in-depth coverage of the Middle East.

“With all the bad news, there is still a lot of cooperation going on between Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank that the media rarely covers,” Felice told me when she and her husband visited the Jewish Journal offices.

“The media generally love to report from the top, from the Quartet and the White House and Ramallah and Jerusalem. But while that high-profile peace process is indeed dying, there are many little ‘peace processes’ on the ground that are living,” she added.

You won’t hear much about these little “peace processes” from Beinart, because they distract from his big idea: calling on American Jews to join the global campaign to criticize and penalize Jewish settlers.

Yes, I know, self-criticism is a great Jewish value. But it’s not the only Jewish value. Defending a nation under siege that is unfairly maligned is also a Jewish value. And so is making the case for Israel when so few others are making it.

If Beinart feels that calling for the collective punishment of Jewish families is a deep expression of his Jewish values, maybe he ought to expand his view of Judaism.

Or at least try to say something new.

Because these days, the safe, dull choice is to follow the global herd and blame Israel first. The true rebels are those who aren’t afraid to push back and put things in perspective.

To sell us on his version of “crisis” that puts most of the blame on Israel, Beinart has focused on the 1 percent and blocked out the 99 percent where the real crises, complications — and even opportunities for peace — exist.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.