Unfortunately, this piece (which was published the week before the Hampshire BDS conference) triggered a pretty familiar right-left debate over attacks on Scouting as an institution over the last couple of decades. Not that this isn’t a debate worth having, it’s just that the Boy Scouts seems to transcend the issues of the day, which is why it seemed such an apt comparison to the fleetingness of BDS.
Anyway, those with patience are free to read on…
While I was hoping to do daily postings related to the upcoming Hampshire BDS conference, yesterday got tied up with my older kid’s first Boy Scout overnight (which included the tail end of a tropical storm).
Which got me thinking… (Note to new readers: This is point where my regulars start fleeing the room, but if you stick with me for a couple of paragraphs, relevance to divestment should start to emerge.)
In documenting the interaction between BDS and civic society over the last five years, most of the organizations I’ve written about (the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, British trade unions, etc.) are alien enough to my personal experience that they required some research and outreach to understand.
The Boy Scouts, however, is not a stranger. I grew up in the movement and, as last weekend’s overnight confirmed, it is just as dynamic as it was in the 1970s when I wore the khaki. More so, in fact, since I was at the tail end of a misguided attempt to reach inner-city kids by diluting the mix of outdoor skills and self reliance that formed the core of Scouting for most of the 20th century, a trend that was reversed once people realized that cutting wood, pitching tents, and building fires were exactly what urban boys (like all Scouts) wanted (and needed) to learn.
In an era when many of the planets problems are the result of (or fueled by) directionless, adolescent males, a movement designed to instill young men with a moral code, as well as a code of chivalry (in the form of the Scout Oath and Law) stands out as one of the most successful civic experiments of this or any other era. It’s been a hundred years since Lord Baden Powell wrote Scouting for Boys, but I can draw a straight line between his first recruits at the turn of the last century, and the highly skilled, generous souls who welcomed my ten-year-old into their fold during last weekend’s driving rainstorm.
Now I’ve written on the topic of civil society before, and I should stress that Scouting as an organization is fully inoculated from manipulation by political organizations like those pushing divestment. So in this case, I’m not talking about Boy Scouts as a civic institution at risk, but rather highlighting the difference between a movement dedicated to creation, and one committed to destruction.
This contrast became clear as I began to ask about what our side might want to do in order to tell our side of the story at Hampshire. This was generally met with shaking heads and grim laughter since the rule on the Hampshire campus seems to be: agree with SJP or suffer the consequences. And this bullying attitude seems to extend beyond just Hampshire to the entire Five College region where any speaker looking to share a pro-Israel point of view can expect to be harangued off the stage (all in the name of “disrupting the Zionist narrative,” of course). In fact, one of the reasons it was so easy for SJP to broadcast the Hampshire Divestment hoax earlier this year was because of their success in pushing discussion of any “narrative” that did not fit their own point of view beyond the pale.
Now having been a Boy Scout, I know full well the institutions weaknesses, flaws and limitations, just as I am well aware of all of the many things that make Israel a hugely imperfect society. And yet, compare an organization that has taught generations of boys from around the world to link arms rather than swing fists, or a country that has turned Jews from a hundred lands into a nation, with the sour emptiness that underlies the BDS “movement.”
Divestment does not welcome, it shuns anyone who refuses to tow the party line. It does not build, it seeks to destroy. It creates no civic space worthy of esteem, but rather attempts to piggyback on the reputation of organizations that actually stand for something.
One of Baden Powell’s more well-known maxims says “If a scout were to break his honour by telling a lie . . . he would cease to be a scout–he loses his life.” A bit dramatic, in a turn of the 20th century kind of way, but what a contrast with next week’s the Hampshire divestment conference which -at the end of the day – is built on the knowing perpetuation of a fraud.