There is a difference between speech and war. Both are forms of expression, to be sure. But the essence of the former is engagement, and the essence of the latter is destruction.
This distinction is apparently too subtle for many of Israel’s Supreme Court justices. On Sunday, the Court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the 2011 Anti-Boycotts law. The law allows targets of boycotts to sue boycotters for damages in civil courts, and empowers the finance minister to revoke the non-profit status of NGOs that engage in boycotts. It is being challenged by a consortium of foreign-funded, radical, anti-Zionist NGOs.
The essence of boycotts is destruction, not engagement.
True, boycotters express an opinion when they boycott their targets. But just so, armies express an opinion when they bomb enemy targets.
The question is not whether in levying boycotts, the boycotters are expressing a position. It is whether the primary purpose of a boycott is to express an opinion or to annihilate its target.
As a form of economic warfare, boycotts aim to harm the profitability of targeted entities and either force them to toe the boycotters’ line, or force them out of business. That is, the aim is either coercive or eliminationist.
As a form of cultural warfare, the goal of boycotts of cultural or academic institutions is to place their targets outside of polite society, and so annihilate them culturally, professionally and socially.
In other words, unlike other forms of expression, the principle aim of boycotts is not engagement, or even incitement. It is destruction. Therefore, the question of whether or not boycotts are also a form of speech is entirely irrelevant.
But not for Israel’s Supreme Court justices. In their hearing on Sunday, the justices insisted that boycotts are primarily a force of engagement and as such, protected speech.
Or at least some boycotts are.
As they argued it, there is a distinction between boycotts of Israeli entities within and beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
In maintaining faith with the absurd claim that boycotts are indistinguishable from newspaper columns, and then making a distinction between boycotts within the armistice lines and boycotts of Israeli entities operating beyond them, the Court did more than show its hand. It exposed a leftist establishment’s incapacity to deal with the anti-Zionist Left.
For the past 25 years, the leftist establishment has coalesced around the view that there is a distinction between Israel within the 1949 armistice lines and Israel beyond those lines. The former is entirely legitimate.
The latter is the bane of Israel’s existence.
The justices tried to convince the attorneys for the petitioners to accept their view. But the anti-Zionist petitioners would have none of it. As they see it, since Israel is a democracy, and the vast majority of Israelis do not agree with their views, the entire country is illegitimate.
As Dan Yakir from Association for Civil Rights in Israel explained, all of Israel is tied up to the so-called occupation. So if the justices think it is okay to boycott the areas of the country that they would like to part with, they have to accept a boycott of areas of the country they wish to keep.
Building on this view, Adalah’s Hassan Jabareen insisted that all of Israel is politically disputed. And as a consequence, all of it is the legitimate target of boycott.
The petitioners’ rejection of all of Israel, rather than just parts of it, puts the justices and the leftist establishment as a whole in a difficult position.
They have to make a choice between the public, which sees no distinction between Ariel and Tel Aviv, and the anti-Zionists who also see no distinction between Ariel and Tel Aviv. That is, they have to decide what is more important to them – being Zionists, when that mantle is worn by the type of Jews they have spent their lives trying to distinguish themselves from, and being anti-Zionists, and so denying their right to exist.
The Israeli leftist establishment’s dilemma is not unique. The American Jewish establishment faces the same brutal choice. The American Jewish establishment followed along after the Israeli leftist establishment when it embraced the PLO in 1993. Ever since, the American Jewish establishment has drawn a distinction between consensus Israel, within the 1949 armistice lines, which they supported, and controversial Israel, outside those lines, which they marginalized, or debased.
And just as the activist Israeli Left has joined the campaign to destroy the Jewish state and so is now forcing the leftist establishment to either side with the public it holds in contempt or with the anti-Zionist Left that rejects Israel completely, so the activist American Jewish Left has become a leading voice in the campaign to criminalize Israel. Today it is forcing the Jewish establishment to make a choice between siding with all Israelis, including the Israeli Right, or siding with the likes of J Street whose aim is to delegitimize the organized American Jewish community’s right to defend Israel.
On Monday, a new documentary about J Street called “The J Street Challenge,” debuted in Miami. The film, produced by the social action group Americans for Peace and Tolerance, shows how J Street, which claims to be pro-peace and pro-Israel, seeks to eliminate American Jewish groups on the Right and weaken overall American Jewish support for Israel by delegitimizing the American Jewish organizational structure.
In July 2010, as the IRS was engaged in delaying and denying the applications for the non-profit status of groups that campaigned for limited government, J Street asked the IRS to cancel the non-profit status of American charities that support Israeli entities located in or operating beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
Since then, a dozen completely legitimate, law-abiding charitable organizations have been embroiled in lawsuits or audits and have been forced to fight for their institutional lives.
“The J Street Challenge” provides footage of speeches by J Street leaders and founders who question Israel’s right to exist and defame the American Jewish community for supporting Israel. In one such speech, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami used the classical anti-Semitic imagery of a Jewish hydra suffocating the world in his description of the American Jewish establishment.
As he put it, “I think we’re taking on much more than AIPA C. I think it is the Conference of Presidents. It’s the American Jewish Committee. It’s the lobbying structures of the Federations. It’s the network of JCRCs, the community relations councils. It’s a multi-layered, multi-headed hydra.”
The most outspoken critics of Israeli anti-Zionist NGOs and J Street are on the Right. And that makes sense. It isn’t hard for rightists to make the distinction between speeches and extortion.
But the primary target of these groups is not the Right. It is the leftist Jewish establishment, in Israel and in the US.
And as J Street’s nearly unchallenged rise in the US, and the Court’s self-defeating incoherence on the boycott campaign indicate, over the decades, the establishment Left has become so dependent on rejecting the Right for its own sense of identity, that it is no longer clear whether its members are capable of siding with the hated Right against their common foes.
The author’s new book, The Israeli Solution: A One- State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, will be released on March 4.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.