A Role for Hysteria in the Fight Against BDS?

26 Jun

The motto “Don’t panic, don’t be complacent” continues to be my mantra when dealing with BDS and other variants of the propaganda war (masquerading as a “peace movement”) targeting the Jewish state.

After all, panic can lead to handing the BDSers mountains of free publicity, especially if we get worked into a media-covered frenzy over trivialities, or what turn out to be frauds and hoaxes.  Remembering that the propagandist’s job is to create the appearance of political momentum (in hopes that this appearance will eventually turn into reality), we need to make sure that our political choices don’t feed into the public narrative they are trying to create.

At the same time, serious political action sometimes requires a sense of crisis as a motivator.  And if you look at the biggest BDS story so far this year: the choice of US state governments, and now the federal government, to impose sanctions on those who participate in BDS, one could argue that this real (vs. fake) political movement (which may eventually expand to dozens of states) represents a backlash against perceived BDS momentum over the last 12-18 months.

William Jacobson makes a direct link between today’s “Sanctioning BDS” frenzy and the American Studies Association (ASA) academic boycott put into place at the start of 2014.  And while my first thought was that such a mono-causal explanation might be a bit reductionist, it did remind me that my own return to battle was motivated by outrage over ASA shenanigans.

If a more comprehensive narrative is written years from now (hopefully after BDS has return to its coffin), I suspect that the ASA boycott (ineffective as it eventually turned out to be) resembles the Hampshire divestment hoax of 2009 – a faux “success” which convinced an Israel-hating coalition that is always looking for new ways to push forward its war agenda that pressing down on the BDS pedal was the way to go.

The year before ASA’s boycott made headlines, the BDSers had to contend with fairly thin gruel (repeats of a few campus fights, Steven Hawking, continued boycott threats – but little action – in Europe).  But once ASA started generating the headlines all boycotters crave, it galvanized them to embrace the BDS tactic more closely.  And with last summer’s Gaza war (combined with the need to shout ever louder to drown out the cries of millions being killed or driven from their homes in the non-Israeli parts of the burning Middle East), anti-Israel frenzy paired to BDS campaigns grew in both number and visibility.

And even if any one of these stories could be contextualized or minimized (the Presbyterian’s embrace of BDS as a last act of a dying church, the cowardice of ASA leaders who refuse to actually implement the boycott they forced on the organization, the irrelevance of student council votes, etc.), taken together they created a real sense of fear that BDS might be going somewhere after all.

But if every political action has an opposite and much larger reaction, then the backlash against the perception of success the BDSers were cultivating was equally inevitable.

You see this backlash playing out when Israeli officials take off the gloves and condemn he boycotters for the bigots and warmongering propagandists that they are.  You see it in the choice of pro-Israel organizations and their funders to make the fight against BDS a priority.  And you see it when Israel’s natural allies – the American people, through their representatives in state and national government – decided that they would turn the tables and vote in sanctions against those who support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions “movement.”

Anyone who has ever had to deal with the law-making understands that it often takes a crisis to get legislators to prioritize certain issues.  Which is why a sense of urgency (sometimes triggered by panic and hysteria) can sometimes serve a useful role.  And since many political bodies only tend to act when others have gone first, anti-boycott law in a couple of states motivated by a sense of crisis might eventually turn into a majority of US states putting the world (especially Europe) on notice that playing footsie with Barghouti is no longer cost free.

Speaking of Europe, even if hysteria played some motivating role with regard to the current frenzy for anti-boycott legislation, as Jacobson points out in the piece linked above, that legislation is extraordinarily strategic and pragmatic.

For the only place where sanctions with genuine teeth posed any sort of economic threat to the Israeli economy was within the EU where triangulating government officials and business people continue to search for ways to suck up to Israel’s enemies in ways that don’t put their overall economic interests at risk.  And while Startup Nation (and natural gas) might eventually put Israel on economic par with its foes (which is likely to generate new “moral” calculations on the Continent), recent US legislation puts Europe on notice now that they can either have their cake or eat it, but not both.

So should I revise my slogan to start with “Don’t panic, unless it leads to useful results…”?  Not necessarily.  For even if a few wise (and calm) souls managed to channel energies generated by hysteria towards useful purpose, we should not lose sight of the fact that fear of their success creates the Oxygen the boycotters need to survive.

Which means that even as the BDSers try to use the reaction against them to prove their effectiveness, we need to continue to point out that all they have ever managed to succeed in doing is create wall-to-wall revulsion against them and everything they stand for.

Going on the Attack

23 Jun

A couple of items on this year’s “War on BDS” news list overlap with a theme I’ve mentioned previously: the efficacy of the “offense vs. defense” paradigm when talking about what to do about the propaganda assault on Israel.

At the fundraising event I mentioned last time, one hint of how donors were hoping to see their money spent was to turn the battle against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions into one where the other side was no longer in full control of the initiative.

Like most high-level political desires, such a hope cannot be judged until implemented as a set of concrete strategies and tactics. But a different initiative, one that’s been making news since it launched about a month ago, does provide something to grasp onto and analyze.

The project is called Canary Mission (not sure if this name is a reference to the “Canary in the Coal Mine” metaphor or if it’s just an inside joke – or the last obtainable URL), a web site (and associated social media assets) designed by folks eager to “take the fight to the enemy.” And controversy surrounding the project centers around how “taking the fight to the enemy” has been defined.

Canary Mission approach falls under the category of “naming and shaming” with the focus of the site being a long list of individuals (and a shorter list of organizations) with BDS ties, each of which is called out with extensive descriptions, bios and links that highlight each person or group’s atrocious behavior (mostly on college campuses).

I suspect that had Canary Mission focused just on groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) or the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they would have received less pushback from the Jewish media and parts of the organized Jewish community.  But a naming-and-shaming approach that targets individuals has elicited less-than-fulsome praise by many people and organizations that are themselves staunch critics of BDS and similar anti-Israel propaganda campaigns.  And, needless to say, the BDSers are crying “McCarthyism!” and desperately trying to link any and all opponents to the now-controversial Canary site.

Years ago, another “take-the-fight-to-the-enemy” type launched a different site called “SH*T List” (or something to that effect) which included hostile bios of Jews associated with anti-Israel projects (I believe the SH stood for “Self-Hating,” although I can’t remember what the IT abbreviated).  And while the Canary Mission site is less vulgar and more well-put-together than I remember that SH*Tlist site to have been, it’s worth recalling the reaction to this previous instance of “naming-and-shaming” targeting individuals when critiquing this new effort.

Before getting to that critique, I should note up front that profiling individuals (and hinting that getting profiled persons in trouble with potential employers is a campaign goal) doesn’t sit all that well with me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a wuss too huddled into a defensive crouch to do what needs to be done.  Or perhaps my distaste for the personalization of politics (by foes and friends) rubs me the wrong way.  And while I understand enough real history to dismiss the BDSers charges of McCarthyism, a program that can be perceived as attacking real people in hope of causing them harm (at least when it’s time for them to get a job) seems like a bad choice.

These personal feelings aside, most of the issues I have with this “going on the attack” strategy are pragmatic.  For – as just mentioned – in the months since Canary launched it has been condemned by a number of people across the political spectrum who share the organization’s goal of seeing the BDS “movement” sent back into the hole it crawled out of, causing cracks in an otherwise remarkably united anti-BDS front across Jewish and pro-Israel communities.

Meanwhile, after launching into their usual mode of outrage, the BDSers seem to have settled into wearing inclusion in the Canary Site list as a badge of honor (similar to what happened with SH*T List).

Also, as someone with a penchant for military analysis, I’m not exactly sure what the goal of this political tactic might be.  Is it to get BDS partisans so worried about their future that they withdraw from the field?  This might provide some advantage to our side, although only if a shamed person is not immediately replaced by some other as-yet-unnamed (and unshame-able) individual of equal energy and talent.

Perhaps such public outing is designed to educate the public about the vast, interlinked network of organizations behind BDS propaganda campaigns.  If that’s the case, the site certainly does the job by making these networks part of storylines associated with specific individuals.  But organizations like NGO Monitor are able to accomplish this same goal far more effectively (by exposing sponsors of BDS activity who would prefer to remain in the shadows) without turning to tactics that divide allies.

Another possibility is that these types of aggressive tactics are ends in themselves, a way to show that Israel’s supporters can throw a punch, rather than just be on the receiving end of the boycotters endless propaganda blows. This psychological factor certainly seems to be in play among many friends and allies who are more comfortable with Canary’s name-and-shame tactics then am I, and it’s one I can sympathize with.

But only to a point.  For looking out at our side’s most recent successes (notably passage of anti-BDS sanctions legislation by many states), it’s not clear that campaigns which risk casting us in a bad light are as effective as is working with people whose sympathies partly grow out of respect that we have not stooped to the opposition’s level.

As I’ve stated again and again on this site, if you’ve got militant goals (like seeing Israel destroyed), that leads you to accept certain strategies, such as waging a propaganda war designed to make that destruction seem moral and appealing. And if allies share those goals, then it is easy to create a united front around ugly and manipulative tactics like BDS.

But if you are not united behind destroying someone else (which we are not), then a strategy built around ginning up hostility, while easy to kick off, becomes impossible to sustain long enough to bite.  Which means our side is required to select different strategies and tactics, ones which may lack the kind of offensive explosiveness we have come to expect from Israel’s enemies.

But remember that the explosive choices made by Israel’s foes – including their choice to engage in a war against the Jews where no rules apply – has led to a war of all against all across the Middle East where “no holds barred” now applies to what those enemies are doing to each other.  Which points out that aggressive tactics carry risks when they become both ends and means.

While all wars must combine offensive and defensive strategies, it is vital that choices of when to attack and defend be smart and made at the right time. For every example of when the choice to engage in a pitched battle has led to victory, there’s another when an overeager desire to take the fight to the enemy has led to self destruction.

Once again, the IDF (which has successfully defended Israel’s borders while rarely initiating needless offensive military action) should serve as our role model.  For no one can doubt the aggressiveness of their defensive strategy, just as no one can doubt how the “Attack! Attack! Attack! “ strategies of Israel’s opponents have led them over a cliff.

The Role of Money in the Fight Against BDS

14 Jun

The second anti-BDS story I mentioned last time involves a major fundraising effort designed to battle BDS efforts domestically.

Despite breathless reports describing a recent meeting in Las Vegas between Jewish organizations and high-level funders as “secret” (vs. merely private or unpublicized), it’s been known for a while that some major philanthropists were interested in prioritizing the fight against anti-Israel agitation on campus and elsewhere.  The only surprising thing (for this thing writer, anyway) was the level of seriousness of deep-pocketed machers like Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban (reflected in the sums being discussed) and the desire these funders have for pro-Israel groups to work more closely together, rather than at cross purposes.

Before discussing my own hopes and concerns over the effort, I should begin by stating what we should not waste our time fretting about.

To begin with, worrying that BDS activists will use investments made in the fight against them as proof of their potency is just another example of everything (including opposition and defeat) being seen as examples of victory in the fantasy world inhabited by the boycotters.  And given that their own mythology already casts them as small, still voices in the wilderness fighting for peace (rather war partisans fighting on behalf of some of the most wealthy, powerful – and brutal – nations on the face of the earth) it’s not clear why Jewish activists should push away financial support just to avoid a storyline the BDSers will promulgate regardless of who donates what to whom.

Secondly, the fear that our efforts will be branded as “right wing” due to the involvement of casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson (a major backer of Republican candidates and causes) in the new effort ignores the fact that major Democratic funders (notably Haim Saban) are also part of the project, demonstrating once again how the fight for Israel and against BDS can unite rather than divide Left and Right in this country.

More to the point, given that a key goal of the BDS “movement” is to colonize and occupy the left end of the political spectrum (and drive out all those who do not bow to their hegemony), it’s axiomatic that anyone standing against them will be condemned as fanatical rightists.  So given that our side is going to be hit with this label with or without money from those who convened the Vegas meeting, learning to live with such self-serving accusations and funding seems infinitely preferable to living with that accusation with nothing in the bank to show for it.

Behind such issues of “optics,” however, there are a few things about the Vegas initiative that urge caution (or at least careful thought) that relate not to the donors (whose generosity should be celebrated) but to the very nature of philanthropy.

By their nature philanthropic enterprises drive specific kinds of change.  For example, the expansion of high-stakes testing in public education (and the use of that data to evaluate not just students but teachers and schools) was an agenda item that originated not within academia or government, but from major philanthropic donors pushing their vision of what constituted “accountability.”

The good news is that word from Vegas indicated that donors were more interested in hearing about how they could help existing organizations with their work and get these organizations to coordinate more effectively, rather than pushing an agenda onto them.

But at least one source (albeit the none-too-friendly-sounding one linked above) seemed to indicate a clear desire by those with their hands on the purse strings to pursue a strategy of attack vs. defense.  And while I’m all for attacking the forces of BDS whenever and wherever they rear their ugly noggins (having done so from the perch of this blog for over five years), the way “attack” and “defend” get defined, and how those ideas translate into specific political action, means the difference between effective and ineffective (or even counter-production) strategies and tactics.

One other money-related issue has to do with understanding the effectiveness of cash in the kinds of BDS battles which occur domestically.

Last time, I talked about how the bulk of de-legitimization efforts take place at the level of nation states pushing boycotts and other anti-Israel propaganda campaigns at the government-to-government level or through NGO’s like the United Nations.  And given the involvement of wealthy and powerful states driving that agenda, Israel’s treating de-legitimization as a national priority makes perfect sense.

But even if huge investments in anti-Israel propaganda provide local BDSers their talking points regarding “illegal” Israel policies or “global condemnation” (without mentioning how these represent a perversion, rather than a representation of global law and opinion) – as well as a megaphone which drowns out talk of every other human rights issue on the planet – when BDS arrives on a college campus or grocery store it tends to be driven more by individual initiative than by money.

Having worked a number of BDS battles over the years (and covered many more), I can only think of a few instances where money played any role in what amounted to a grassroots campaign (and, even then, it ended up less important to the final results than the nature of the individuals leading and fighting on both sides).

Now the nature of those two sides will be different from the get-go.  The BDSers are driven by their fanaticism, their inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge any world view other than their own, and their readiness to subvert or otherwise harm a community in order to drag it under the BDS tent “by any means necessary.”  And all of these characteristics pack a political punch, even if they also tend to create organizational instability within the BDS “movement.”

Since our side is not trying to smear Israel’s enemies in order to make harming them seem morally sanctioned (if not virtuous), we go into these battles armed not with a fanatical agenda, but with other important assets including: (1) the need (and preference) to tell the truth, which frees us from the cognitive burden that weighs down liars (like the boycotters); (2) support from the wider community, outside the pockets targeted by the BDSers; and (3) allies within those pockets that do not want to see the Arab-Israeli conflict imported into their communities, just because the boycotters declare it their only option.

You’ll notice that the word “money” is not in this list, and even at ground level I’ve discovered that who wins and who loses in any BDS battle is much more about the talent, energy level, and ability to organize than it is about the kind of campaign assets that money tends to get spent on (such as professional organization and advertising).

This is a long way of saying that if new money being invested in the fight against BDS is going to be effective, it should target those programs that are trying to find and train strong leaders at ground level before crises break out, programs run by people experienced in the ups-and-downs of real-world grassroots politicking.

At a distance, and without such context and experience, problems like the pro-BDS votes at UC campuses this spring can seem like disasters and the students who fought against them failures.  But if the fight against BDS proceeds with leadership and perspective, then investments can find a place where they are likely to do the most good in a war that must be seen as a series of battles.  And like every war that has preceded this one, the ultimate winner need not win every fight (just the important ones – and the last one).

Gilad Erdan and the Fight Against BDS   

10 Jun

As mentioned previously, there have been a couple of high-profile steps taken recently regarding the fight against BDS which have generated news and a fair amount of editorial: Israel’s appointment of a minister to focus on de-legitimization issues and a new effort to fund anti-BDS efforts domestically.

The boycotters are predictably claiming that any move against them demonstrates their strength.  But given that anything our side does (up to and including organizing successfully to defeat them) is interpreted on Planet BDS as victory, their self-serving shouts can be filed away in the overstuffed folder I keep in my BDS file cabinet labeled “Heads-I-Win-Tails-You-Lose.”

Here on earth, a more sober look at Gilad Erdan’s appointment as Israel’s new Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy demonstrates that his portfolio is fairly broad, with his oversight of the pressing Iran nuclear threat promising to take up a great deal of his time.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) actually has a point person for dealing with BDS and other hostile anti-Israel campaigns that take place outside of Israel.  And while that post has been filled by high-energy talented individuals, as holders of sub-cabinet positions they had to contend with all the usual fights over political and budget priorities in an era when Israel has an endless number of security problems with which to contend.

So pushing the task of fighting a global de-legitimization campaign to cabinet level (even if it is not Mr. Erdan’s only job) represents a step-up of priorities which many consider long overdue, especially since the problems he has to deal with are less about the kinds of boycott and divestment efforts you’ve read about at Divest This! over the years and more about the types of anti-Israel activities that take place at the state level.

For example, the hundreds of anti-Israel resolutions that pour out of the United Nations and similar bodies are not the result of “grassroots activism” or a signal of global revulsion against this or that Israeli action or policy.  Rather, they are part of an orchestrated campaign pushed by powerful state actors (notably leaders of un-democratic nation states making up the Arab League, the Islamic bloc and assorted allies) to further their own national interests (which includes smearing their political enemy while keeping the human rights spotlight off of their own atrocious records).

Global de-legitimization campaigns also have military significance, given that they are designed to limit Israel’s military options while expanding the maneuvering room of her enemies (by triggering “spontaneous” global protests and condemnation only when Israel returns fire).  And with sub-state actors (notably the Palestinian authority) getting into this odious act (with their recent failed effort to get Israel kicked out of global football just the latest example), the only question we should be asking is why it took Israel so long to name a national government leader to deal with attacks orchestrated by other national governments.

Unfortunately, we lack a term for these types of state-sponsored propaganda efforts (other than “de-legitimization” – a made-up word loved by no one), which has left “BDS” (an acronym once reserved for more local efforts to get civic society groups to participate in boycott and divestment campaigns) as the last label standing.  This actually creates a problem since it leaves the impression that the new Israeli cabinet position was created to fight the kind of smaller, local BDS groups readers of this blog have to deal with, rather than his actual mission to battle against powerful state (and quasi-state) actors.

The strategies and tactics one chooses to do battle at the UN or FIFA are very different than the ones used to deal with an SJP-sponsored student government resolution or to drive the BDSholes out of places like the Greenstar Food Coop.  And it is this distinction that I’d like to turn to next time when I look at the other major anti-BDS story of the day involving “Big Casino” and “Big Power Rangers” money being put on the table in Las Vegas.

Is Orange Really the New Blackshirt?

7 Jun

Wow!  A lot going on in both the BDS and anti-BDS universes this last week.

I’m going to focus on the BDS-related story that’s created the most news and havoc all year, statements (albeit conflicting ones) regarding the European telecom provider Orange and their Israeli customers/partners.  And, in a subsequent piece, I’ll take a look at a pair of high-profile anti-BDS efforts also announced recently.

At the heart of the Orange story, there seems to rest a relatively mundane (i.e., non-political) decision by the global TelCo giant to try to get out of a business relationship with an Israeli company which has been acting as licensee for the Orange product line and brand.

The fact that Orange does not operate under similar licensing arrangement in other countries signals that the Israeli partnership might have been an anomaly (although not atypical for companies interested in pushing the overhead of working in small complex markets onto local partners).  And if (as Orange announced) their general business direction is to bring all international operations “in-house,” then a decision to work directly in Israel vs. through a partner can hardly be seen as a boycott move (political or otherwise).

The situation was made more complex, however, when the company’s CEO – Stephane Richard – made statements on Egyptian TV which implied he could not wait to get out of the Israeli market, and that this strong desire was based on political wishes near and dear to the hearts of Egyptians (not to mention Orange’s other clients in the Arab world) to see the Jewish state punished economically for political reasons.

Now it’s kind of a toss-up whether one should suspect a European CEO vs. the Egyptian media as being more duplicitous.  But once the latter broadcast the former’s words in a way that made them seem like support for a boycott (leading, unsurprisingly, to global outrage), Richards and his company released a torrent of official statements implying that no one had ever heard of BDS, and that Orange would never boycott a Jewish market they loved with all their individual and collective corporate hearts.

With benefit of a few days of perspective, there are a few things to be learned from this still-unfolding story.

First, as much as I loathe the media boost the BDSers get when one of their manufactured controversies goes viral, politically and economically the Orange controversy seems to indicate that safeguards against corporations participating in anti-Israel boycott and divestment activity that began with US anti-boycott legislation in the 1970s seem to be working.

After all, unlike genuine boycott and divestment programs (such as the one against Apartheid South Africa which the BDSers like to pretend they are heir to), a company saying something that can be interpreted as giving the thumbs up to an anti-Israel boycott move is not showered with praise but buried in opprobrium, leading not to momentum-building support but embarrassing apologies.

While fast condemnation by Israel and its friends certainly hastened the aforementioned clarifications and apologies, so did the fact that major corporations (unlike food coops and obscure academic associations) have lawyers (who understand the ins and outs of anti-boycott law) and mechanisms for accountability, including a CEO who must report to a board of directors who are in turn accountable to shareholders.  And I would guess that a lot of people up and down that chain were asking why an executive hired to increase the value of their global brand was instead generating a week of controversial (and mostly condemnatory) headlines.

And if a global brand can be damaged by even the perception of support for BDS, that’s a strong indication that other corporations will learn from Richard’s experience that taking Omar Barghoutti’s phone calls comes at a price.

Another reason this might be considered good news is that recent events (notably the bandwagon of anti-BDS legislation passing in US state houses) could have paved the way for more corporate CEO-types to profess their support for boycott and divestment (in order to appease local constituents and non-Israeli Middle East customers), using American legislation as an excuse to refuse to act on those supportive words.  But if the Orange story teaches anything to executives running companies operating in global markets, it says that publically sucking up Egyptian political sensibilities (or the equivalent) at the expense of Israel is not cost free.

And “publicly” is all that really matters when it comes to BDS success or failure.  For many companies over the years have chosen to not participate in the small Israeli market for fear of pissing off the much larger Arab one.  But those choices are treated (internally and externally) as what they are: business decisions that carry no political or moral weight (except, perhaps, as demonstrating kinship between greed and cowardice).

This doesn’t mean that the boycotters won’t read into those decisions anything they want to include in their latest press releases and Tweets.  But unless we should also be treating the massive investment other companies are making in the Jewish state (and not in neighboring states or territories) as political statements condemning Arab nations, the PA or Hamas, we return to a formula that should be applied to any situation where the BDSers are demanding we hail their latest triumph: Prove It!

Justice Prevails in Olympia

4 Jun

The most welcome bit of good news all year comes from Olympia Washington where the Washington Supreme Court not only threw out a punitive (and absurd) six-figure fine imposed on Olympia Food Coop members who brought suit against the Coop, but chucked out the state statute that allowed such a travesty of justice to be imposed in the first place.

For those who were not around when the Olympia Food Coop BDS tale unfolded five years ago, the sequence of events leading up to last week’s decision goes something like this:

In 2010, leaders of the Olympia Food Coop voted to boycott Israeli products at a meeting where no one but those leaders and local BDS activists knew a boycott vote would be taking place.  And when the membership became aware of what had happened (through public announcements that the Coop was now onboard the Israel = Apartheid bandwagon) they protested and highlighted that the decision was made in violation of Coop bylaws.

After several years of failed attempts to work within the organization to get the decision reviewed and possibly rescinded, several members chose to sue the Coop for violating its own rules.  Boycott advocates counter-sued, claiming that the original suit fell under so-called “SLAPP” rules meant to exact a high price on anyone bringing frivolous lawsuits in order to stifle genuine political speech or advocacy.  And, as described in this piece, the original judge in the case decided in favor of boycott proponents, “slapping” anti-boycott advocates with a huge six-figure fine.

An appeal was launched, and just last week a judge determined that not only was the original case not a SLAPP suit, but that the whole SLAPP statute in Washington had become the means to stifle legitimate free speech and advocacy, leading to the law’s revocation.

So now the original case will continue.  And regardless of how you feel about the use of the courts to settle BDS-related disputes (a topic I’ve spent too much time dwelling on over the last few months), it’s fair to say that the only unambiguous (and colossal) injustice in this whole sordid affair has now been buried, and that an unjust law has been buried with it.

I hesitate to hail this as a victory for our side (or the latest #BDSFail) since the now-resumed original case could still go either way, and even ultimate win in the case might come with a cost (albeit not a six-figure one).  But I do think there are important things to learn from this whole sequence of events, above and beyond the fact that our legal system still contains enough safeguards to ensure that good people don’t have to suffer for turning to the law to correct a perceived wrong.

To begin with, if you needed any further illustration of the monstrous selfishness of the BDS “movement,” think for a moment how the Olympian boycotters reacted to the fact that their behind-the-scenes coup at the Coop led to member outrage, resignations, protest and – finally – a lawsuit.  Any normal political organization might have stepped back for just a moment to reflect on the suffering their single-issue partisanship had visited on a community.  But if you read the original gloating responses to the original SLAPP verdict, it’s clear that the BDSers were overjoyed that their neighbors might not have to only eat the boycotter’s shit but pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

The Olympia story might also demonstrate what happens when those fighting against a perceived injustice feel as though they do not have enough options at their disposal.

Having been involved with the Olympia story since it began (an involvement which included a visit to the city – and the Coop, as well as contribution of expert testimony in the original court case), I’ve met members of the Olympia community and come to understand their unique predicament.  For while the anti-Israel community is organized and united around a common cause (holding onto their precious boycott at all cost), those fighting BDS never found their footing when it came time to devise a common political strategy.

Understandably, they tried to work within the system – a system many of them had built as members, leaders and even founders of the Olympia Food Coop.  But when those attempts at rectification and reconciliation were thwarted at every turn, they decided there was no alternative but to turn to the courts.

But, if history is any guide, some of the most successful political action takes place outside “the system” (just ask Martin Luther King – or Saul Alinsky).  Even at Olympia, one of the most successful moments for anti-boycott members came when one of them spent a week camped out at the store in protest, arguing  the injustice of the boycott decision while simultaneously performing hundreds of hours of community service for an organization he loved (despite being hurt by its current leaders).

Such a move represents the kind of direct political action that threw the boycotters off balance without harming anyone in the process (quite the opposite).  And while it’s hard to tell what might have happened if the campaign against the boycott focused on further “controlled conflict” (or even mischief making), I think it’s safe to say that the Jewish community in Olympia (like most Jewish communities, I’m afraid) has never developed a taste for creating conflict that work towards political ends.

Such an attitude is perfectly understandable, given that (like Israel) most Jews (and non-Jews) fighting against propaganda campaigns like BDS would like nothing more than to live in peace and tranquility.  And most of us are understandably appalled at the type of antics routinely practiced by pro-BDS advocates (who are perfectly comfortable sewing conflict to further their ends), which gives us pause when it comes time to decide what our political strategies should be.

I wish I could point to dozens of examples where Israel’s supporters have discovered clever (and unanticipated) tactics that got under the skin of their opponents without causing hurt to those uninvolved with any given BDS conflict, but in many ways the Olympia community resembles the rest of us in that we all try to work within the system when we can, and turn to higher authority (the wider “official” Jewish community, college administrations, or – in the case of Olympia – the courts) when that fails.

But looking back at the great impresarios of political theatre (think Abbie Hoffman), you’ll find that Red Sea Pedestrians make up a large percentage of their ranks.  So I suspect our side has more than enough creativity needed to fight battles using these kinds of tactics.  So what can be done to develop a taste for it in our ongoing fight against a ruthless enemy (one who think he knows everything we’re going to do next)?