Denormalization vs. Normality

14 Dec

A brief mention of “denormalization” in a recent piece got me thinking about the whole notion of “normalcy” in more detail.

For those unaware of what “denormalization” is all about, this is the name for that element of the anti-Israel propaganda toolkit designed to make everything about being an Israeli (or an Israeli supporter) seem strange, even risky.

At its grossest, denormalization involves jumping up and shouting during orchestra concerts or blowing air-horns during ballet performances where Israeli performers are on the stage.  The idea here, I suppose, is to inform those performers, the audience and the world at large that while any other nationals can entertain the public uninterrupted, Israelis engaging in such “normal” activities will never know what awaits them.

While we’ve seen increasing use of disruptive tactics at colleges and universities (primarily targeting political vs. artistic events), for the most part campus “denormalization” consists of a refusal by anti-Israel activists to do anything with Jewish or Israel-related counterparts (including engaging in dialog with them) lest such interaction create the appearance that the Arab-Israeli conflict is just another issue to be discussed and solved normally.

I’ve talked before about how those embracing this tactic have only succeeded in denormalizing themselves.  But a better word for this phenomenon might be “ab-normalizing” (as in abnormal psychology).  For what else are we to make of individuals who have decided to shut their eyes and ears to evidence that contradicts their beliefs (and shut their mind to critical thought) joining together with the like-minded to prevent anyone else from seeing, hearing or thinking in ways different than the boycotters?

But given that you can read about the sociopathologic nature of the BDS “movement” in previous diagnosis, today I’d like to focus on a different but related question, namely: might denormalization campaigns conducted by the abnormal be doomed by the fact that Israel remains today the only normal country left on earth?

Perhaps some explanation is in order.

A few years ago, I was on a panel at my temple presenting with fellow parents on how to talk to your kids about Israel.  And during that talk, a fellow panelist who had recently visited Israel with her family described how unusual it seemed to be in a country where armed soldiers (not to mention armed civilians) were so omnipresent.

Some further reflection on how strange it felt to visit a nation where everyone seemed to be not just a soldier but a veteran of combat got us thinking about how the difference between Israeli society and our own might reflect our unusualness, rather than theirs.

After all, mine was the first generation of Americans that took it for granted that our civic duty did not require a stint in the military.  And my parents are just old enough to remember a time when those slightly older than they (who had fought in World War II) were universally familiar with making sacrifices for victory, up to and including seeing friends die or killing others in combat.

Now presuming there was nothing unique about the gene pool when this Greatest Generation was born, it was historical circumstance that forged them into a force that would save the world and then rebuild it before passing onto their children a peace they hoped would ensure that such a level of sacrifice need never be required again.

But, again echoing my favorite political thinker, it is a very small step from being relieved of the burden to defend yourself to taking as a given that the law of the jungle can be kept at bay by people (i.e., a professional soldiery) that you rarely, if ever, need to interact with.  And, given one more generation, it becomes easy to forget that the law of the jungle ever existed.

It’s a cliché to say that Europe chose to spend its resources on a cradle-to-grave welfare state while the US covered the costs of defending the continent.  Like most great simplifications, this one is far from fair or accurate.  But I think it is fair to say that a continent devastated by two world wars (and in the cross-hairs of nuclear annihilation for 50 years after that) would welcome the chance to believe that mankind was evolving beyond the need to fight for survival (a fight that would necessitate both dying and killing).

Yet even as we retreat ever further into our comforts and security, one nation continues to live as if history had not reached its end.  To be a citizen of Israel means fighting and sacrificing for that privilege, and raising children to understand that they too need to do more than be born in order to ensure the survival of their nation.  It means living with the understanding that everything you have (including the lives of you and your family) can be taken away in an instant by ruthless men who also understand that the law of the jungle has not been chucked into history’s dust bin.  In short, it means living in a way that was considered “normal” throughout most of human history. And, far from generating pessimism, living in the real world seems to have made Israelis some of the happiest, most successful people on earth.

Perhaps an unconscious understanding that only Israelis manifest the strength and civic values that once formed and sustained other nations fuels resentment of the Jewish state (alongside more traditional reasons to resent its inhabitants).  Or perhaps societies where one segment of the population outsources its defense to another no longer understands that an Israeli citizen under arms is neither frightening nor heroic but normal, reflecting a now-forgotten way of life that was once taken for granted.

Which means that “denormalization” can only highlight the abnormal nature of the denormalizers and the un-normal situation of those they are trying to turn against normal Israelis.  Got that?

I suppose such a tactic might work, at least with those most stubborn in their determination to forget what the world is really like.  But on a less-meta level, I’m not sure a nation where every citizen understands what is required for survival, where even violinists and ballet dancers have heard the sound of artillery, is going to be cowed because some BDShole blows an airhorn at a concert or one group of 18-year-olds on a college campus refuses to talk to anyone who has their number.

Infiltration

11 Dec

Since returning to the anti-BDS fold earlier this year, I find myself doing more analysis of recent BDS-related stories, rather than covering breaking news as it happens (although I can’t resist pointing readers to the latest BDS hoax story, something we’ve not seen in a while).

But moving right along, today, I’d like to talk about the brouhaha over the recent defection of Holly Bicerano, the former Campus Out-Reach Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel, an organization you have met on this site previously.

It will come as no surprise that many on this side of the aisle understood Open Hillel to be just another attempt by BDS activists to infiltrate the mainstream Jewish community under the guise of “openness” and other words with positive connotations.  And I don’t think I’m the only person to have noticed that the groups that form the backbone of Open Hillel (notably Jewish Voice for Peace) or the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization which Open Hillel warmly welcomed to their recent national conference have always erected high barriers around their own institutions and events to limit those of differing opinions from participating.

But Ms. Bicerano’s decision to publically break with the group and expose how much BDS and anti-normalization advocates are driving Open Hillel’s agenda is obviously newsworthy, given the former Open Hillel leader’s position in the organization she left, and her general attitudes towards BDS (which she supports, at least with regard to the Presbyterians) and Israel (which she blames for last summer’s Gaza war and for thwarting Palestinian democracy).

It is always interesting to see if this kind of “defection” represents the start of a journey by someone like Bicerano, or simply represents a red line over which even someone active in anti-Israel political activities and programming will not cross.  If it’s the former, I wish her well.  But even if it’s the latter, the activities that turned her off from Open Hillel provide an interesting window into why anti-Israel organizations tend towards instability.

Unlike Jewish organizations like Hillel (and the alphabet soup of community institutions – some of which have been in business for a century), anti-Israel organizations tend to form, rise, fall, break apart and either disappear or reform into new organizations with a cycle that seems to repeat every 5-7 years.

For example, when I first moved back to the Boston area, a group called the Middle East Justice Network (MEJN) got up my nose, but I was too busy to do anything about it.  Yet when I finally did get around to putting time into pro-Israel activism and tried to find out what the group was up to, no trace of it could be found.  But within a few years a new group (the Somerville Divestment Project, or SDP) was in the driver’s seat, pushing the first municipal divestment program in my then home city of Somerville MA.  And lo and behold, this group seemed to include the very same people I remember from MEJN days.

Today, SDP consists of a cobweb and new groups with names like The New England Committee to Defend Palestine and Ads Against Apartheid have come and gone (or formed for the soul purpose of engaging in a single activity – like running anti-Israel bus ads).  Similarly, while pro-Israel organizations are rightly concerned over the aggressive behavior of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) on campuses, almost no one remembers the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSM) that drove divestment back in the early 2000s.

The rise and fall of PSM provides an interesting window into why anti-Israel groups tend to be so unstable.  For once that group gained momentum (especially on college campuses where their petition-driven divestment activity was centered), everyone from every side of the anti-Israel continuum (Left to Right, Secular-Marxist to Islamist) vied to seize control of the organization – to the point where its leaders had to spend more time fending off infiltrators than tending to their own mission, leading to the group’s demise.

If this tactic of infiltration sounds familiar, it is exactly what BDS activists do all the time to third parties (student government, academic associations, Mainline churches, etc.) in order to drag those groups under the boycott or divestment umbrella (regardless of how much damage such moves cause to the organizations they have infiltrated).  So it should come as no surprise that the infiltration skills they use on outsiders also come in handy when it comes time to drag the latest ascendant anti-Israel organization under this or that partisan umbrella.

Reading Bicerano’s piece over with this history in mind, it is clear that what she calls anti-normalization activity within Open Hillel (“anti-normalization” refers to a policy which says all pro-Palestinian organizations should reject dialog with any Jewish group that does not accept their pro-BDS stance and opinions on the Middle East in advance) is really just another example of the infiltration of a group formed with one agenda (Open Hillel – which allegedly wants to up dialog on campus) by another group (anti-normalization activists who want to shut such dialog down).  And as the former Campus Co-Coordinator for Open Hillel discovered, when such infiltrators want in, they are ready to do whatever is necessary to get their way.

As I mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see if her experience with Open Hillel opens Bicerano’s mind to what others suffer when BDS infects this or that civic society group.  But for the rest of us, the lesson to learn is that, left on their own, anti-Israel groups (including Students for Justice in Palestine) contain the seeds of their own destruction in the form of their allies rather than their adversaries.

In a way, this situation is analogous to what we see in the Middle East where an Israel which focuses on staying strong and tending to the needs of its own people (including the need to protect them from harm) can grow and prosper, even as more numerous, wealthy and politically powerful adversaries fall to pieces as they contend with the contradictions built into their own societies and historical choices.

As much as BDS has been in the news this year (and as important as it is to continue to fight it), Israel’s supporters abroad also need to be ready to play a long game which will never involve total victory but will hopefully involve more wins than losses stretched over enough time to let Open Hillel and SJP join their predecessors in the cemetery of anti-Israel organizations whose names have long been forgotten.

What to Do About Academic Boycotts

9 Dec

As I described last time, academic boycotts can be treated with outrage, with contempt, with fear or with defiance.  But if any of these reactions are going to lead to specific actions, it’s best to understand the true nature of such boycotts and those that are trying to push them onto an organization.

Long time readers can skip the next two paragraphs where I’ll be spinning my favorite broken record.  But for everyone else, the goal of the academic boycotters (like the goal of all BDS activists) is to get their propaganda message – that Israel is the next South Africa, alone in the world at deserving global punishment – to come out of the mouth of an someone more well-known and respected than the BDSers (which pretty much includes everyone).

And in order to score such “wins” in their campaign, virtually any tactic is allowable.  Students from every nation on earth (including nations at one another’s throats) attend University of California schools.  But only the Israel question is dragged before student government year after year after year.  Academics across the planet are suppressed, imprisoned and killed, or provide the intellectual justifications for the monstrous dictatorships under which they live.  But only Israel is considered for banishment from the community of scholars.

So charging the leaders of ASA or some other academic group of hypocrisy for their boycotts or attempted boycotts misses the point that they are being true to their core (and only) mission: the BDS propaganda campaign.  What they are in fact guilty of is of leading an organization in order to subvert it, turning academic associations (and the members these leaders are supposed to represent) into mere means to the boycotters ends.

But also keep in mind that the boycotters are fundamentally cowards, which is why they rarely, if ever, work to enact their boycott and divestment programs in any way.  Partly, this is because their primary goals (spreading propaganda and speaking in someone else’s name) can be achieved just by getting their motions debated and/or passed. But they also understand that actually implementing a boycott (by publically refusing to contribute to Israeli journals or accept submissions from scholars working in “boycotted” Israeli universities, for instance) could mean putting themselves at personal risk.

Now tenure acts as a prophylactic providing a certain amount of protection for many of the most active boycotters.  But as Mona Baker learned in the UK, actually implementing (rather than just talking about) academic boycotts can lead to serious and long-term damage to the boycotter’s reputation and career.  Which is why folks like Curtis “One Has to Start Somewhere” Marez have chosen to begin and end with words and not deeds.

With these psychological factors in mind, here are some thoughts regarding what to do to slow, halt or reverse the trend of academic associations flirting with boycotts.

Obviously the best option would be to ensure that academic associations are led by people who put scholarship and the profession before politics.  And given that there exist hundreds (if not thousands) of academic associations in the US and overseas, the fact that boycotts are being considered by just a handful of smaller ones (most of them in the humanities and social sciences) means that the bulk of academia (so far, anyway) seems to be in responsible hands.

But like the terrorist who only has to be lucky once (while those protecting against them have to be lucky all the time), the BDSers are constantly on the hunt for those organizations that are particularly susceptible to takeover or manipulation.  So while it would be great if every academic organization was led by those who are academics (vs. BDSers) first, it’s unrealistic to assume there will always be enough thoughtful scholars ready to step into leadership roles in an organization that others are busy turning into a political vipers’ nest.

So for organizations that have already had their leadership subverted, the next best option is to organize opposition within the group.  In the early days of BDS, this was actually the dynamic that ended up checking the excesses of radicalized leaders in groups like the UCU/AUT teachers union and NUJ journalists union in the UK, both of which passed boycott motions which were immediately overturned by protests from an outraged membership.  Internal opposition was also responsible for keeping BDS at bay within the Presbyterian Church for most of the last decade, despite PCUSA’s leadership doing everything in its power to force the organization to vote in a divestment policy.

But the BDSers (as well as being ruthless) are also relentless which means if they are ever told “No,” they will simply keep asking the same question over and over until they get the “Yes” they demand (as happened with the Presbyterians last summer).  And while we’ve seen a well-organized minority opposition overcome corrupt processes at places like MLA, this option still requires people who may have otherwise opted out of association politics to instead not just participate but participate at a level that can counter highly aggressive political opponents.

So do we have to give up in places where the opposition’s majority of a minority is bigger than our majority of a minority?  Not necessarily, for there are still a number of things that individuals or small groups of boycott opponents can do that leverage the huge gap between the boycotters’ claimed courage and their actual cowardice.

At last month’s ASA convention, for example, Lisa Duggan and the rest of the organization’s leadership were forced to swallow hard as Israelis defied their boycott calls and journalists used the occasion to expose that while ASA was ready to destroy the reputation of the organization in order to pass a boycott motion, no one in that organization actually had the guts to implement it.

In similar ways, Israelis allied with boycott opponents can flood an organization that is allegedly participating in or flirting with an academic boycott with paper submissions, refereeing requests, conference opportunities and other everyday academic interactions and publically document what happens next.  Similarly, boycott opponents can build new partnership with their Israeli counterparts (possibly under the umbrella of those who refuse to take part in a boycott – like the New England and California chapters of ASA) and defy the boycotters to do something about it (with the whole drama playing out in public, of course).

Then you’ve got the old Alinsky standby of making your opponents play by their own rules.  So if that grad school union out in California passes a motion urging members to start politicking in the classroom, for instance, find a grad student that is actually doing this, publicize this breach of academic protocol (and U of C rules) widely and lay blame for the entire sordid affair at the feet of the union leadership.  Similarly, before a single Israeli is boycotted, opponents should find out all the venues where anti-discrimination rules/laws are enforced, prepare their briefs, make sure everyone knows what will happen if a single act of discrimination occurs,  then dare union leaders to live by the discriminatory rules they forced onto the organization they purport to lead.

Sticking with that student union for another minute, a pro-boycott vote will immediately be met with condemnation by college administrators and fellow union members (including their umbrella union, the UAW).  Like the ASA leaders who have ignored the condemnations that have rained down on them from much larger academic associations (all the time insisting that their own association condemnation of Israel be treated with the utmost seriousness), the student union boycotters cannot be personally shamed.  But they can be publically shamed before their peers as having destroyed the credibility of the entire union for their own political gain (with this condemnation expressed more in sorrow than in anger, of course).

Some have suggested even harsher approaches to any academic boycott.  For example, Martin Kramer (a long-time opponent of Middle East Studies Association) has drawn up a list of consequences if MESA ever does pass the BDS motion many members are dying to push through.  And a Jerusalem Post columnist suggests scrutinizing the work of pro-boycott scholars for plagiarism or other academic misdeeds.

As you might guess, I’m more pre-disposed to Kramer’s suggestions (since they simply force a boycotting organization to play by its own rules), rather than open up a footnote battle among warring factions within academia.   That said, it would be worth researching (and publically demonstrating) whether (as I suspect) the academic work of the boycotters is thinner and weaker than that of those they want to shun (opening up a discussion of whether boycotts are being proposed by third-rate academics jealous of far better scholars).

Finally (and most easily), those who are fighting against academic boycotts need to ceaselessly express their views in every forum they can (especially those professional forums over which groups like ASA exercise no control).  And in every one of those exchanges, they should stick to the simple message: that boycott leaders have screwed over the membership in order to facilitate their own political vendetta.  And, like the boycotters (who stick to their own Israel = Apartheid message and never reply to critics), our side should take the fact that groups like ASA et al have been discredited within academia as bigots and rogues as a given, and simply repeat this characterization over and over again, regardless of how opponents respond.

Like Duggan and Marez who run/ran the now-discredited ASA (see how easy that was to type?), any BDSer will remain defiant – even as they are forced into humiliating retreats.  But like the crab that bears its claws as it digs its way backwards into the sand, such bombast will eventually end once those shouting it have disappeared beneath the earth.

So go for it!

Majority of a Minority and Academic Boycotts

7 Dec

There are a number of ways to approach the latest campaigns against Israel within academic associations like the American Studies Association (ASA), the UAW graduate student union in California and, most recently, the American Anthropology Association (AAA) and Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

One option would be to simply express outrage at the sheer ludicrousness of targeting the only nation in the entire Middle East where the academy has the same freedom enjoyed by those who are condemning it (and the ever-lamer excuses these groups use to justify their highly selective outrage).

Another option would be to panic that perhaps, this time, BDS really is “on the march” and that if we don’t do something immediately then we’re All DOOMED!!!!! (I’m waiting for my favorite overwrought ally in the anti-BDS fight to publish something along these lines any minute – which will then get retweeted a million times by the BDSers to prove their success.)

Then there’s the option of treating the whole academic boycott movement as a subject of academic study, something that’s been done remarkably well by the people behind the recent book The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel.

But today, I’d like to focus on a more practical aspect of this latest form the BDS “movement” has taken on, one which may provide answers to that all-important question of “What do we do next?” (other than freak out or simply wash our hands of the academy altogether).

For this analysis, keep in mind that BDS is an ever-morphing virus, ever on the lookout for new targets of opportunity to infect.

When I first learned about “the movement,” their target was college administrations whom they thought could be convinced by student/faculty/alumni petition campaigns (which would lead to sit-down meetings) to embrace the agenda of having colleges and universities divest from companies doing business with the Jewish state (and thus “prove” that Israel was the new South Africa – the last nation schools divested from for political reasons).

When that ended up not panning out, the target list widened to include municipalities (notably Somerville, MA) and Mainline Protestant churches.  And while municipalities went nowhere after divestment was defeated three times in Somerville, a 2004 vote by the Presbyterian Church to begin a process of “phased, selective divestment” from Israel gave BDS (just called “divestment” back then) an anchor client which they used to their advantage until divestment was overturned by the Presbyterians two years later.

After a brief period of remission, BDS was reborn in 2009 after Operation Cast Lead galvanized activists and a BDS hoax at Hampshire College (still being fraudulently presented as true on college campuses today) put a newly formed and energized Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization in the driver’s seat with regard to campus-based divestment activity.  Meanwhile, other Israel-hating individuals and organizations took advantage of their simplicity and low barrier to entry to start new boycott and divestment campaigns at food coops, student government and, most recently, academic associations.

The food coop boycott fad was kicked off when single such store (in Olympia Washington) passed a boycott motion behind the backs of the membership which allowed BDSers to fan out across the nation urging other coops to follow suit.  And even though the loose rules of governance at most coops gave the boycotters an opening to drag their squalid little project into any such store they liked, it turned out that the coop community was pretty resistant to the BDS virus, self-immunizing against it within a few short years.

But just as that coop experience taught the boycotters how to maneuver within an organization with minimal governing rules regarding boycotts, their involvement with Mainline Protestantism showed them how much could be done within an institution where leaders have little involvement with (and feel little responsibility for) those they lead (and where few members paid attention to what those leaders did or said).

Student government falls into this category, given how few students actually vote in elections or pay attention to what those elected to office do after they’re voted in.  Under normal circumstances, people who run for these leadership positions (even those who do so primarily to pad their resumes) have the interests of the student body in mind for the most part, which means the system can work even if civic engagement is not what it should be.  But as I’ve said before, BDS is not in the normal business.  Which means limited student engagement in the election process is an open invitation to vote in leaders who see student government as having but one role: to pass anti-Israel divestment resolutions (student opinion on the matter be damned).

But with academic associations, the BDSers seems to have discovered a way to parlay their ability to put boycott activists into leadership positions (by taking advantage of low voter turnout at most leadership votes) to give their odious program a veneer of democratic respectability.

ASA provided the template for this approach, which basically involves:

(1) Organizing a vote on a highly contentious issue (an academic boycott targeting one nation and one nation only) that is sure to cause controversy (and likely harm) to the organization;

(2) Taking advantage of the aforementioned loose governing rules within most civic organizations to ensure that vote only requires a majority of voters vs. members (ensuring that the win goes to whoever can organize the biggest minority – the ASA boycott was passed by a “landslide” of just 18% of the membership, for example);

(3) Shrinking the time for members to consider the motion as much as possible (to both drive-down turnout and limit the chances for their opponents to organize); and

(4) controlling communication so that the boycotters are free to fill the airwaves with their own propaganda (culled from members and non-members) while freezing members opposing boycott measures out of official communication channels (forcing them to find their own way to get the word out to fellow members about what is about to be done in their name).

These steps have played out pretty much intact at UAW grad student union vote I mentioned earlier.  And if AAA and MESA are hedging their bets before proceeding with an actual boycott, that’s only because leaders within that organization have yet to figure out a way to implement a boycott in a way that won’t harm them personally.

So if you put aside the emotionally charged nature of a bunch of academic hacks dragging colleagues who don’t put politics before scholarship into messes like the one ASA finds itself in, what we’re dealing with is basically a new target of opportunity (academic associations) and a new tactic (manipulating a majority of a minority vote) that can give the BDSers what they want (the ability to speak in the name of an organization) without having to pay a price for the damage they cause.

And ways of dealing with this particular challenge will be the subject of my next entry.

What’s Left? – Arguing with Mike

3 Dec

Continuing my conversation with Mike Lumish regarding the Left’s relationship to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, those who were hoping to see sparks fly have probably been disappointed so far since that debate began in agreement that “The Left” is not the enemy, but the battleground over which much of the current anti-Israel battles are being fought.

But now that we’ve established the basis for our argument (with “argument” defined as a constructive engagement where people differ over important matters vs. a fight where people just yell at one another while never giving an inch), I’d like to take issue with a couple of points in Mike’s most recent response.

First, pointing out President Obama’s 2011 statement equating the Arab Spring with the struggle for civil rights in the US is a perfectly reasonable way to criticize the President’s lack of perception (as well as history, given how revolutions have historically gone when the ruthless are around to seize them). But I’m not sure it can be used to clinch an argument over the Left’s conflicted relationship with the Jewish state.

After all, this was just one of many daft things said during the heyday of Arab Spring fantasies.  And while I admit that the invocation of a sacred civil rights icon to describe what was happening in the Middle East seemed inappropriate even then, I’m hesitant to use such a statement as the basis of a critique of even the Obama administration, much less “The Left” that the Obama administration is supposed to be representing in Mike’s argument.

For there are all kinds of indictments one can bring to the current President’s foreign policy, from alienating friends (including Israel) while engaging in futile attempts to cultivate foes.  And any number of attributes of the current President can be cited to build that indictment (discomfort with the use of power, isolation enabling group-think that leads to poor decision-making, lack of experience in world affairs, etc.).

If this critique (which I will admit has not been a big part of my own writing) seems a bit subdued, keep in mind that I turn to (as always) Lee Harris to understand how to best criticize the person who holds the most difficult job in the world.  And for purposes of this discussion, while the President’s world view (which has been shaped by his emergence from the academic Left) certainly has a place in that critique, it would be a fallacy to lay all of President Obama’s failings at the feet of all holders of that world view (especially since the biggest brake on the President’s excesses – especially during his first two years – was the strong support for Israel among important left-leaning constituencies, notably organized Labor and Democrats in Congress).

The other point Mike made that I take issue with is the notion that we must decide between criticizing the Left for the fact that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism dwells within its ranks (which it obviously does) or staying mum out of fear of offending potential allies within that end of the spectrum.

The reason I see this as a false choice is that there is no shortage of criticism of Left anti-Zionism/Semitism within the Left itself (which I have seen first-hand in every BDS battle I’ve been directly involved with where direct combatants on both sides considered themselves left-leaning).

Now I’d be the first to say I wish Israel’s leftist allies were as fired up and organized as her enemies.  But the inability to act as ruthlessly as the BDSers (and the rest of the odious project BDS represents) is something all of Israel’s friends lack (for reasons I’ve talked about many times).

More importantly, we must consider criticism of something as broad and diverse as what we call “The Left” in the same way we think about criticism of Israel.

As many people have articulated better than I, there are all kinds of things one can criticize Israel and its leaders for, and many people (including many Israelis) exercise their democratic privilege to make these criticisms all the time.  But as others have also pointed out, another group often travels under the banner of “critics of Israel”: those who are at war with the Jewish state who want to use its failings (which are shared by all democratic states) as a weapon to de-legitimize and weaken the nation in hope that this will lead to its eventual destruction.

Along the same lines, there are many people (Left and Right) who sincerely want to see those ugly elements of the Left jettisoned from respectable company (as the Right did when they drummed Pat Buchannan out of “the movement”).  But there are also people whose primary political goal is to defeat the Left politically.

Now there is nothing wrong at all with such partisan politics (or making this form of partisanship one’s political priority).  In fact, most people use general political alignment to define many, if not all, of their political choices.  But I would be hesitant to say that since anti-Zionism/Semitism has been fighting for control of more and more of the Left agenda that the Left as a whole cannot be trusted (which leaves as the only option abandoning it and embracing the Right).

The reason this is a poor political choice is that anti-Semitism (as we have seen over the last two Millennia) is a highly opportunistic virus.  Today, for whatever reason, being associated with left-leaning principles and causes is considered a sign of virtue (which is why even the most ruthless dictators use a progressive vocabulary when they lie about their true nature or – more innocently – why profit-minded corporations constantly tout their Green and communitarian values).  But that could change in an instant and as history has shown us, no end of the political spectrum (or any political ideology save Zionism) has been able to keep the forces of anti-Semitism at bay long term.

Perhaps this is why when I look for critics of the Left, I tend to find the works of historians (like Robert Wistrich) and philosophers (like Ruth Wisse) more satisfying than the latest broadside against Obama and the Left over this or that outrage on Fox News (or even my beloved daily Commentary).  For their view is a long one, and I suspect that our survival depends on thinking past the next election (American or Israeli) as well as thinking about how our present situation is anchored in both the past and the human condition.

BDS Destroys Everything it Touches – The Case of UAW 2865

1 Dec

As long-time trackers of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions phenomenon know, BDS is an opportunistic virus ready to use whatever it learned the last time it infected (or was rejected) by a host organism when moving to a new target of opportunity.

Most recently, success in getting academic associations like the ASA on board their squalid little program involved:

  • Moving into leadership positions activists ready to put the BDS agenda ahead of the people and field they are supposed to be representing
  • Either passing a boycott resolution within executive committee (before members know what’s going on) or setting up a vote with no quorum that will allow a tiny percentage of members to vote in a policy that impacts the entire organization
  • Control debate by setting up stacked committees and “discussion” sessions that freeze our or harass critics, and coming up with endless excuses why those critics are not allowed to use the same communications channels the BDSers use to flood the membership with propaganda generated by people with no affiliation with the association

Most recently, these new tactics are being followed to the letter by the BDSers who purport to represent the membership of United Automobile Workers (UAW) 2865 which, despite its name, is actually a union of 12,000 graduate student employees within the California education system.

Like many unions, UAW 2865 has been getting the short end of the stick in negotiations with the state and college administrations over the last couple of years.  Partly, this reflects the weakening of unions generally (especially those that include very few active members – like a union of grad students).  But another reason why they’ve been force to accept crappy contracts recently is that the union’s leadership seems to have priorities that have nothing to do with bettering the lot of the membership.

Most notably, they have been pushing, participating in and spending union money on BDS activities, even before they receive the answer they’re hoping for from the rigged vote they’ve scheduled for December 4th.  And, not satisfied with the damage they have caused to date, they have done everything in their power to ensure a “Yes” vote will permanently wreck the organization by:

  • Weakening the group’s leverage with administrators by putting the union at odds with university governance (by calling for discrimination against a class of fellow academics and legitimizing the politicization of the classroom)
  • Putting the group at legal risk by potentially placing UAW 2865 in violation of state discrimination law
  • Alienating fellow union members, including the local Teamsters who have noted that “Whatever your motives, we cannot conceive of an action more hostile to the interests of our members and more antithetical to the most basic principles of the union movement than for a union to call for actions which are intended to do harm to the economic security of other union members.”

The good news is that an able group of graduate students has organized to overcome the enormous barriers the BDSers in the union’s leadership have erected and are valiantly attempting get word out to those graduates students/union members who might have no other way of knowing what is about to be enacted in their name.

And even as my hopes are with this group, it should be noted (yet again) the kind of price BDS asks of those it is trying to recruit to the cause.

I thought of this when William Jacobson, the Cornell professor who has been covering the ASA beat at Legal Insurrection, subtitled his piece on the union vote “BDS destroys everything it touches.”  For what better way to describe a program that is ready to destroy the credibility, bargaining power and solidarity with fellow members of the labor movement, all so a tiny minority can spread their Israel=Apartheid hate propaganda at the expense of thousands of working students?

As noted in my review of Nelson and Braham’s recent book on academic boycotts, the BDSers at ASA are working hard to redefine academic freedom out of existence (while all the time insisting that their own freedom to boycott fellow academics be protected at all costs), just so the hacks that lead the organization can punch above their trivial weight as either scholars or activists.

Meanwhile, those that forced the Presbyterian Church to vote divestment over and over again for more than a decade until PCUSA members did what they were told have demanded the organization place its most sacred possession – the claim to speak on behalf of “Christian Witness” – on the sacrificial alter for the benefit of an insatiable BDS Moloch.

But why stop there?  For given that BDS is just a tactic of a wider anti-Israel movement ready to corrupt any organization (the UN anyone?) and turn any virtue (including the quest to build a world based on human rights and international understanding vs. national power and tribal alliance) into weapons directed at their hated target (regardless of the damage this weaponization does to anyone else on the planet), couldn’t Jacobson’s “BDS destroys everything it touches” apply to all the hopes and dreams of those who profess to fight for a better future?

I know I’ve quoted him before, but Robin Sheperd in his book State Beyond the Pale sums up this whole sordid phenomenon so depressingly well that I shall again give him the last word on the subject:

Whatever it touches, the anti-Israel agenda always brings out the worst.  It brings out the worst in journalists who cast aside their principles of balance and objectivity.  It brings out the worst in seasoned commentators who substitute hysteria and foot stomping for calm analysis and enlightened discussion.

It brings out the worst in trade unions which put a hateful agenda above the interest of their members.  It brings out the worst in diplomats who debase themselves by pandering to tyrannies against a democracy.  It brings out the worst in artists and writers who submerge their commitment to beauty and truth in ugliness and lies.  It brings out the worst of the great traditions of Left and Right which default back to their shabbiest instincts and their darkest prejudices.