We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.

Professors Glen Weyl, left, and Steven Levitsky caused a stir with their co-written Op-Ed in the Washington Post. (Twitter, Wikimedia Commons)

Levitsky (right) is a professor of government at Harvard University. Glen Weyl (left)
is an assistant professor of economics and law at the University of

we must face reality: The occupation has become permanent. Nearly half a
century after the Six-Day War, Israel is settling into the
apartheid-like regime against which many of its former leaders warned.
The settler population in the West Bank has grown 30-fold, from about
12,000 in 1980 to 389,000
today. The West Bank is increasingly treated as part of Israel, with
the green line demarcating the occupied territories erased from many
maps. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared recently that control over the West Bank is “not a matter of political debate. It is a basic fact of modern Zionism.”

Israeli soldier detains a Palestinian boy during a protest in the West
Bank village of Nabi Saleh in August. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

“basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we
continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to
another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective:
Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.
happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent
subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western
democracies. Not only is European support for Israel waning, but also
U.S. public opinion — once seemingly rock solid — has begun to shift as
well, especially among millennials. International pariah status is
hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival.
At home, the occupation is exacerbating demographic pressures that threaten to tear Israeli society apart. The growth of the settler
and ultra-orthodox populations has stoked Jewish chauvinism and further
alienated the growing Arab population. Divided into increasingly
irreconcilable communities, Israel risks losing the minimum of mutual
tolerance that is necessary for any democratic society. In such a
context, violence like the recent wave of attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank is virtually bound to become normal.
occupation threatens the security it was meant to ensure. Israel’s
security situation has changed dramatically since the 1967 and 1973
wars. Peace with Egypt and Jordan, the weakening of Iraq and Syria, and
Israel’s now-overwhelming military superiority — including its
(undeclared) nuclear deterrent — have ended any existential threat posed
by its Arab neighbors. Even a Hamas-led Palestinian state could not
destroy Israel. As six former directors of Israel’s internal security
service, Shin Bet, argued in the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers,”
it is the occupation itself that truly threatens Israel’s long-term
security: Occupation forces Israel into asymmetric warfare that erodes
its international standing, limits its ability to forge regional
alliances against sectarian extremists and, crucially, remains the
principal motive behind Palestinian violence.
making the occupation permanent, Israel’s leaders are undermining their
state’s viability. Unfortunately, domestic movements to avert that fate
have withered. Thanks to an economic boom and the temporary security
provided by the West Bank barrier and the Iron Dome missile defense system,
much of Israel’s secular Zionist majority feels no need to take the
difficult steps required for a durable peace, such as evicting their
countrymen from West Bank settlements and acknowledging the moral stain
of the suffering Israel has caused to so many Palestinians.
are at a critical juncture. Settlement growth and demographic trends
will soon overwhelm Israel’s ability to change course. For years, we
have supported Israeli governments — even those we strongly disagreed
with — in the belief that a secure Israel would act to defend its own
long-term interests. That strategy has failed. Israel’s supporters have,
tragically, become its enablers. Today, there is no realistic prospect
of Israel making the hard choices necessary to ensure its survival as a
democratic state in the absence of outside pressure.
supporters of Israel like us, all viable forms of pressure are painful.
The only tools that could plausibly shape Israeli strategic
calculations are a withdrawal of U.S. aid and diplomatic support, and
boycotts of and divestitures from the Israeli economy. Boycotting only
goods produced in settlements would not have sufficient impact to induce
Israelis to rethink the status quo.
It is
thus, reluctantly but resolutely, that we are refusing to travel to
Israel, boycotting products produced there and calling on our
universities to divest and our elected representatives to withdraw aid
to Israel. Until Israel seriously engages with a peace process that
either establishes a sovereign Palestinian state or grants full
democratic citizenship to Palestinians living in a single state, we
cannot continue to subsidize governments whose actions threaten Israel’s
long-term survival.
Israel, of course, is
hardly the world’s worst human rights violator. Doesn’t boycotting
Israel but not other rights-violating states constitute a double
standard? It does. We love Israel, and we are deeply concerned for its
survival. We do not feel equally invested in the fate of other states.
internationally isolated states such as North Korea and Syria, Israel
could be significantly affected by a boycott. The Israeli government
could not sustain its foolish course without massive U.S. aid,
investment, commerce, and moral and diplomatic support.
recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and
even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love
for Israel and a desire to save it.
Repulsed by the Afrikaners’ ethno-religious fanaticism in South Africa, Zionism founder Theodore Herzl
wrote, “We don’t want a Boer state, but a Venice.” American Zionists
must act to pressure Israel to preserve Herzl’s vision — and to save