As with previous pieces I’ve written on what BDS does to civil society, it’ll take a couple of paragraphs to get to a recognizable point. So bear with me if you can stand it…
For the fourth year in a row, I attended the variety show at my kid’s elementary school. Neither boy performed (although my older son did share the MC role with another fifth grader). While most numbers are what you would expect (a lot of piano, some Hanna Montana-inspired song and dance numbers, the Star Wars theme on cello), there were a few nice surprises (including a killer kindergartener Hula Hooper and two groups dancing to the closing theme of Slumdog Millionaire).
Best of all, the show was a mere 36 acts (as opposed to 52 last year, with a legendary 90-act show in the distant past that ended only when a group of parents gouged out their own eyes with a vaudeville hook).
Now while I sat at rapt attention for the entire 90-minute performance, I’m forced to confess that my mind started to wander at around the half-hour mark, mostly towards the subject of what I could do to mess with next year’s show. (Getting my seven year old to read Ginsberg’s Howl in its entirety was what I eventually settled on.)
Needless to say, this was a fantasy, a goofy way to focus a wandering mind, not a real plan for the future. After all, dozens of kids and even more parents put a lot of time and effort into this show (and all sorts of other school events) all year long, which exist for the entire community, not for my subversive amusement.
But what if I could somehow convince myself that subverting this event was not simply an act of self-centered manipulation, but was – in fact – an unquestionable act of valor and virtue? What if, instead of having my kid read Howl, I had them read a treatise about how we’re destroying the world with Global Warming? Or re-enact the controversial pro-life commercial that appeared at this year’s Superbowl? Or sang Hatikvah while passing out donation cups for the Children of Sderot? Or performed a Palestinian dance number that symbolized the anguish of Israeli occupation?
I thought about this over the weekend as members of a food co-op in Davis, California were busy fighting against one of the first boycotts of Israeli goods in the US. I’ll have more on this subject as news arrives from the West Coast, but for now I can relate that the one thing the boycotters have been successful in doing (the one thing they’re always successful doing) is creating conflict and misery in a civic institution that never asked to become a battlefield in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I remember the phenomena all too well from 5-6 years ago when divestment came to my then hometown of Somerville, MA (an event which led directly to – among other things – this Divest This blog).
Just as is happening now at Davis, in Somerville a group of local anti-Israel activists wanted to stuff their message (that Israel is an Apartheid state alone in the world at deserving economic punishment) into the mouth of a respected institution (in this case, a major municipality) in order to leverage that city’s reputation to allow the BDSers to punch above their own meager political weight. And – as with all BDS subversion attempts, whether in cities, churches, unions, schools or food co-ops – any tactics is permissible to the boycotters, regardless of what the long-term negative impact might be to the organization they are trying to exploit.
With that as backdrop, the notions posited earlier regarding turning a kid’s talent show on its head suddenly seem less ridiculous and more ominously (or at least potentially) real. After all, haven’t anti-Israel activists already tried to force their message into public schools (including elementary schools), just as they’ve tried to force themselves onto Somerville or Davis with nary a thought to what damage this could cause a community?
Most of us have internal controls that keep our fantasy life from escaping to the wider world. And even if we don’t, we are surrounded by others who – not sharing our fantasy – can talk us down from what might be inappropriate courses of action.
But what if such internal and external controls are non-existent? What happens if you get a self-contained group so assured of their own righteousness, so oblivious to the world outside of their own narrow cause that anything is permissible? Well then you get the BDS movement, soon to be defeated (again) at Davis, but by no means undeterred from exploiting a civic institution near you.