Tribalism and the Zionist BDS debate

Shared religion shouldn't inhibit Jews from protesting other Jews' actions if they disagree.

Peter Beinart meets students at J Street conference 370 (photo credit: J Street)
Peter Beinart meets students at J Street conference 370
(photo credit: J Street)
In January, Andrew Adler, the owner and publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times, wrote that Israel should “give the go-ahead for US-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel.” He saw the tactic as a way to resolve divergent opinions between the two countries on how to deal with Iran.
Adler’s column not only caught the attention of the US Secret Service, but elicited near-universal outrage within the American Jewish community. In the city of Atlanta, that outrage translated into the threat of a de facto boycott of the paper. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta decided to “suspend its relationship” with the publication until Adler removed himself from operations, and many patrons threatened to cancel their subscriptions unless immediate action was taken.
Under pressure, Adler agreed to sell the paper.
That American Jews pressured a Jewish institution with their wallets is notable. Also noteworthy was the absence of cacophonous critiques of Michael Horowitz, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, for threatening to suspend the organization’s relationship with the city’s main Jewish newspaper.
Nor were there angry letters targeting the offended subscribers, telling them that Jews shouldn’t be in the business of boycotting other Jews.
Contrast this with the backlash towards Peter Beinart’s op-ed in The New York TimesTo Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements.” Criticism has come from nearly all quarters of the American Jewish community, with tribalism as a justification for outrage emerging as the dominant theme. The argument essentially has gone like this: it’s wrong and destructive for American Jews to boycott Israeli Jews.
The Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg, in a Twitter conversation with Hussein Ibish, went so far as to articulate that boycotts of Jewish settlements are fine, so long as they are not done by Jews:
I've always considered a Palestinian settlement boycott fine, but I tend to think lately that Jewish boycott is a terrible idea.
I appreciate Goldberg’s position as an emotional and, in many cases, inevitable one. (While I am intrigued by Beinart’s idea to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, it’s still one that makes me queasy.) Goldberg’s position, however, while admirably honest, doesn’t stand up to intellectual scrutiny.
 One could argue that an individual has a greater moral responsibility to protect one’s own people, and that a Jew’s refusal to boycott settlements is merely an expression of that responsibility. But in truth, there is an equally imperative, perhaps greater, moral responsibility to help build a society that is just and humane.
There have been several articulate and thoughtful arguments offered in recent days on whether boycotting settlement is an effective means towards this goal. Still, one cannot argue that the occupation and settlement enterprise in “non-democratic” Israel is an expression of a just and humane social order.
Beinart’s idea of countering such a social order with a targeted boycott campaign is either a good idea, or it’s not. It cannot be untenable solely because American Jews shouldn’t pit themselves against Israeli Jews.
Tribalism cannot be used as a justification. It wouldn’t have been acceptable in Adler’s case, and it shouldn’t be acceptable in this case. 
The writer is a blogger for Tikkun magazine and a freelance writer whose work has recently appeared in AlterNet, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Jewish Telegraphic Agency.