This piece grew out of my curiousity as to how the Hampshire BDS kids planned to create a feeling of momentum around a program (divestment) that has all but ground to a halt in terms of actual institutions making actual divestment decisions (as opposed to the trivial and/or fake “victories” the divestment crowd has been crowing about all year). This grew into some speculation that the point of BDS may have more to do with social bonding than actual politics [fade to flashback]…
The agenda for this weekend’s Hampshire BDS conference is up, and it’s fair to say that they’ve put together a pretty comprehensive program. Given that this event (and similar ones on other campuses) is likely a spin off from the 8th annual national divestment meeting that took place in Chicago earlier this year, you can’t say that the Israel-dislikers out there have not been putting time, money and resources into this tactic over the last decade.
Which begs the question as to why, after nearly ten years of effort, they have far less to show for themselves than they did even four years ago?
One explanation (the one BDS champions have used in the past) is that it takes time to build a movement, and that everything that’s taken place over the last 8+ years are small steps that will culminate in their overall victory getting Israel branded as the successor to Apartheid South Africa. But if we are to measure progress by success, rather than noise level, at best BDS is a project that has had its ups and downs, but is generally trending southward in terms of actual institutional victories.
Another explanation is that the early victories of BDS (Presbyterians, British unions) and divestment hoaxes (Hampshire, TIAA-CREF ) created countervailing forces in the form of activists such as myself, and awareness by those who would be involved with divestment decisions of the nastiness that underlies boycott, divestment and sanctions. In this way, the Presbyterian Church took one for Mainline Christianity by getting infected, healing and then spreading its antibodies around its fellow churches.
There is a third option (one that, admittedly, remains speculative) that BDS conferences like the one at Hampshire this weekend are ends in themselves. Under this interpretation, the purpose of these events is to make the participants feel like they are all part of a virtuous, all-seeing vanguard that understands the world in ways the masses who overwhelmingly support Israel and reject BDS do not.
Given the number of Israel=Apartheid events featuring posters with the world “Apartheid” misspelled, it’s safe to say that current campus Boycott Israel participants are not propelled by experience or understanding of what the injustice of Apartheid was really like (beyond being a dirty word with emotional resonance). And given the speed at which BDSers turn their head and spin on their heels whenever they’re confronted with their indifference to genuine human rights abuses committed by their political allies, it’s safe to say that the distance between their virtuous self-image and reality remains as vast as ever.
Which gets us back to the notion that hate-fests like Israel-Apartheid Week and divestment hoax celebrations like this weekend’s event at Hampshire may actually serve as a form of social bonding for the participants, rather than as a genuine form of political activity. After all, a truly political movement would have to put at least a few minutes into thinking through the consequences of their actions. And given how much worse the plight of the very Palestinians BDSers claim to care so much about has gotten with every year the divestment bandwagon marches on, serious political reflection is the one thing that won’t be on the agenda at Hampshire this weekend.