Descend Tutu

My son started taking ballet lessons about a year ago. I suspect he might not continue it forever, but I can attest to the fact that all of his physical activities (most recently his skiing ability) have improved markedly since he first donned the leotard, and he’s really enjoyed the professional ballet performances he’s gone to in the last twelve months.

Which is why I’m glad we don’t live in Vermont.

A bit of a non-sequitor? Well consider this. Last weekend, the BDS “community” in Burliington, VT seems to have had a revelation. Yes, their attempts to get colleges and universities to divest over the last ten years have ended in nothing but failure. Yes, the Mainline Protestant churches that once flirted with divestment have since abandoned BDS, with democratic majorities of church members turning down divestment by margins of 10-20:1. Yes, every progressive community in North America where BDS has been proposed has rejected those proposals, reducing the boycotters to creating pretend victories in the absence of real ones. But the Divestniks still have one ace up their sleeves: They can still behave like assholes.

In the present case, this assholiness manifested itself in a series of protests in several American cities where the Israeli Ballet Company was performing. In Worcester, MA and Brooklyn, NY this took the form of protests and a little street theater outside the avenues where the group was visiting. But in Vermont, the anti-Israel partisans had the “courage” to stand up during the performance, wave their banners, shout their slogans and live to blog about their “brave and subversive” assault on The Man (or, in this case, several men wearing tights).

If one had to invent a form of political activism that promised zero risk and negative results, you’d be hard pressed to come up with anything better than badgering the attendees of a ballet performance.

As a physical, unspoken art form, dance demands a certain quiet appreciation from audience members, and the long, somewhat rarified history of ballet means those who attend are more likely than most to understand and value the virtues of respectful, appreciative silence. Which is why jumping up and shouting “Free Palestine” in a crowded ballet theater demonstrates nothing so much as the BDSers single most valuable asset: their utter lack of propriety.

Why is it that so many anti-Israel propaganda events involve shredding the fabric of civil behavior? Activist teachers dragging propaganda organizations into their classrooms; churches being morally blackmailed into lending their name to political stances completely out of touch with member’s desires; the trashing of artistic events; the booing of pro-Israel speakers off-stage; these are the hallmarks of BDS as we enter the first year of its second decade.

No doubt, those who choose to behave in this manner can construct a self-serving chain of logic that justifies their activity. The Israeli government subsidizes the country’s ballet. Israelis want their country to be known for something other than the Arab-Israeli conflict. So, QED, those who chose to shout down ballet dancers are simply ensuring that “The Conflict” stay front and center whenever Israel is involved in any conversation.

But if the personal (or, in this case, the cultural) must always be political, what limits does that place on anyone’s behavior? And can anyone follow this twisted line of reasoning? Should I be allowed to stand below a mosque minaret with a megaphone, shouting condemnations of Islam’s treatment of women and homosexuals whenever the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer? How about showing up at a Muslim circumcision ceremony, waving a banner and screaming at the top of my lungs the moment the knife is hitting flesh?

Needless to say, the type of disruptive activity that happened in Vermont (and the mental gymnastics needed to justify it) is pretty much a one -way street. For those that have dedicated their lives to delegitimizing the Jewish state, nothing matters more than their fantasy self perception as edgy and subversive warriors dedicated to “direct action” (even if – or especially if – such action is directed against people who are guaranteed to never return the favor).

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One Response to Descend Tutu

  1. Anonymous February 26, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Personally, I am tired of being a model minority. I long to misbehave. I long to point out the hypocrisy of the other side, but those damned social conventions hold me back.
    Is this a sign of weakness? Is it a sign of moral strength? I'm not sure.

    A while back, Normie Finkelstein was making an appearence at a local school. It was shortly after his endorsement of “pieing” as free speech.

    We thought about giving him an ample taste of free speech. Really we did. But ultimately we knew that we represented something larger than our impulses, and the debate of “Bavarian cream vs. Pecan pie” was refrigerated.

    But how can we win when the playing field isn't level? How can we win when they write their own rules? How long can we allow them to use our democracy to subvert our democracy?

    Anyway, this thought continually torments me, and I long to cultivate my inner asshole.
    Yet I manage to repress it because I stand for something more important.

    But its difficult, so difficult and the ridicule-ripe Sabeel conference is coming to town. And Anna Baltzer would look lovely in a pale key lime …..

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