Clip Show 5: Et tu J-Street

With Hampshire’s BDS conference fading into insignificance, I wanted to wrap up the clip-show consolidation of information on that event with my last two entries on the subject. This one appeared the day before the Hampshire meeting when J-Street came out condemning BDS in general, and the Hampshire event in particular. Now there’s a lot to be said about J Street (which a friend of mine is saying), but I still consider it interesting how loathesome BDS has become that condemning it is a way for even contraversial groups to prove their alleged support for the Jewish state.

Oh, and I was wrong about the J Street statement being ignored by the Hamshire BDS-ites. So bereft of real victories are they that they talked incesssently about the statement, claiming it was proof positive that their ultimate triumph is assured. Dream on…

Well the Hampshire BDS conference begins tonight (be still my heart). Yet even as the divestment “juggernaut” keeps careening between defeat and hoax, the only thing that seems to be gaining momentum is the backlash against what will be discussed during the boycotter’s upcoming Sabbath celebration.

Academic boycott seems to particularly strike a nerve here in the US with organizations like the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers not only rejecting the notion in the US, but condemning fellow unions in other countries for even considering such an assault on academic freedom.

Think about San Francisco State College for a minute. Here is a school in which administration indifference has allowed Israel-hatred to reach such a fevered pitch that mobs hurling death threats against pro-Israel demonstrators are treated as free-speech practitioners. Yet even here, the President of SF State has seen fit to condemn BDS as “deeply wrong – and deeply dangerous.” On the academic boycott in particular, she says: “An academic boycott is a wrongheaded tactic that diminishes any institution that would pursue it,” Corrigan wrote. “It is antithetical to this University’s values of inclusion and mutual respect … An academic boycott is anathema to such civil discourse.”

Disgust with BDS has even reached the corridors of J Street, a lobbying organization that has drawn considerable controversy for the distance between its self-proclaimed identity as “pro-Israel” and its political stances that many claim are at odds with the security needs of the Jewish state. J Street has protested Israel’s actions in Gaza. It has lobbied against sanctions being placed on Iran. It has condemned the US Congress for its rejection of the Goldstone Report. Yet even J Street condemned BDS generally, and the upcoming Hampshire conference specifically.

Given the difficulty of characterizing SF State and J Street as “right-wing Zealots,” these latest setbacks are likely to be ignored as the Hampshire SJPians begin their “March to Victory” weekend celebrations and poetry readings. But it is intriguing to think about why BDS is receiving such widespread rejection on the furthest edges of both ends of the political spectrum.

One possible explanation is that people are starting to realize that actual (vs. fantasy) divestment and boycott comes at a cost. Particularly in the case of academic boycott, a boycotting school would have to formally place itself outside of the consensus regarding the free exchange of ideas. Now it’s one thing to stand back while a bunch of Jewish students get attacked by a mob on your campus, but to have your face plastered in the newspapers as supporting an end to academic dialog for political reasons is too much even for the leadership of San Francisco State.

There also seems to be a trend whereby controversial organizations (like J Street) use their condemnation of BDS to prove their pro-Israel bone fides. To a certain extent, this is meant to insulate them from criticism for their other activities, but it does say something that BDS is understood as being so loathsome that condemnation of boycott would be considered a safe choice for a political fig leaf.

The last possibility is reflected in a boldfaced line in the J Street condemnation against BDS: “we’re all going to get burned unless we speak out now.” Ever aware of the latest political barometric pressure readings, J Street understands that BDS is a big, fat loser, and rather than go down with the ship supporting a strategy that is not only loathsome but so bereft of victories that it has to invent some, they’ve taken the safe route of placing divestment beyond the pale.

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