Strategy and Tactics: Language

Before the academic year comes to a close, I thought it might be useful to discuss topics regarding strategy and tactics in the fight against BDS. I’m kicking off a week-long series on the subject with some thoughts on language.

When talking about a political clash between two opposing sides, it’s inevitable that language gets drawn from a military vocabulary. Offense and defense are indispensible terms, as are words and phrases that indicate opposing sides such as the other side, opponents, or even the most challenging term of all enemy.

I acknowledge that this type of terminology makes many people feel uncomfortable, especially: (1) those whose ultimate goals are not militant; or (2) those whose ultimate goals are militant, but who seek to cover this up by using only neutral or positive terms (such as “human rights” or “international law”) to describe their motivations and actions.

While my motivations put me squarely in group (1), I also prefer to use the best words possible to describe things accurately, including terms deriving from argumentation to discuss what is essentially a political debate (albeit a heated one).

Now I could be coy and point out that a military vocabulary used to describe a legitimate debate between opposing parties to a conflict masks the fact that such argumentation can be (and often is) a cooperative enterprise. Parties to an argument, after all, have agreed to engage with each other over a matter of importance and the give-and-take between the parties (which might seem adversarial, especially if described in terms of “attack” and “defense”) can nevertheless lead to a full or partial resolution that would satisfy both parties (or at least provide insight to an audience to such a discussion).

In the case of the fight against BDS, however, claiming that both sides are engaged in an ultimately cooperative enterprise would be inaccurate. I can (and have) taken part in genuine (i.e., honest and mutually beneficial) arguments with people who support positions in the Middle East that I opposes, discussions that opened up new avenues for both of us to explore our own thinking. BDS, however, does not open dialog, but rather closes it.

BDS asks you to accept their premise of Israel’s guilt, and only seeks discussion over when and how it punishment should be administered. BDS advocates are not open to new ideas or new information. In fact, they become enraged when information is presented that challenges their truncated view of history or self-serving definitions of human rights or international law. Intimidation and even threats of violence (on display so vividly within the University of California system these last few years) are clearly in the BDS toolkit, which alone makes their claims to being participants in an honest debate suspect.

More importantly, there is a wider context into which the debate over BDS is being played out. To illustrate this by example: this weekend my son’s 5th grade Hebrew School class presented work they’ve been doing for the last several weeks to highlight various organizations in Israel trying to bring together Jews and Arabs via fields such as sports, children’s theater and medicine. Now there exists reasonable disagreement over how effective these grassroots mechanisms for building bridges can be, but I would never question the value of good faith efforts to exhaust all methods for bringing people together in the ultimate hope that this will eventually lead to peace.

BDS, however, takes an opposite view of such peace efforts, branding Israelis who participate in such activity as deceivers and Arabs who take part as collaborators or traitors. That is why they seek to shut down all cooperation between Arabs and Jews in the region. That is why they seek to end cooperation between Israelis and everyone else in the world by protesting not just Israel’s economic ties to other countries, but academic and cultural ties as well.

In other words, for the efforts of real peace activists to be successful, BDS must be exposed for what it is and, ideally, swept from the battlefield if efforts to create a real peace are ever to take root.

Thus the fight against BDS (even if is described in military-sounding language) turns out to be the true battle for peace, while BDS (which never hesitates to wrap itself in the mantle of peace-making and justice) is actually a form of unjust warfare that must lose in order for peace to win.

Funny thing language.

Onto Part II – Numbers

Series NavigationStrategy and Tactics: Numbers >>

2 thoughts on “Strategy and Tactics: Language”

  1. I’ve always felt that Parsha Vayislach presented an appropriate model in terms of tactics and strategies for the Jewish community in times of conflict.
    As Jacob prepares to meet his estranged brother Esau he does not know what to expect. He prays for guidance and strength. He prepares gifts for his brother. But he also prepares for war.
    I'm grateful to those who pray for our safety and security, all over the world, Christian and Jew alike. I'm grateful to Chabad, when they show up at our events and ask our participants to lay Tefillin. But I know its not enough.
    I'm grateful to those who write checks. I'm grateful to the organized Jewish community for channelling those gifts into programs for education and outreach. But I know that too is not sufficient.
    I'm also grateful to our warriors. I'm grateful to the bloggers and to those who write letters to the editors. I'm grateful to those who show up at our events and hold signs and flags , who confront hate when they see it and refuse to allow it to go unchallenged.
    All of us involved in grass roots Israel advocacy know that working with Jews is a lot like herding cats. But we need to utilize all segments of our community as we fight for our future. We need to find ways to work together to achieve our common goals.

  2. Interesting BDS discussion here:

    The BDS movement has two sorts of objectives. The first one, declared openly by the groups that initiated it and most of the groups that support it, is to wipe out the Zionist movement and to end the Jewish state by painting it as similar to apartheid South Africa. (See Let's talk about BDS and The Success of the American Jewish Establishment). Bay Area Campaign to End Israel Apartheid states that they are opposed to “colonialism, imperialism and Zionism.” The slogan of the “International Jewish anti-Zionist Network” is “Confront Zionism – Divest from Israel.” MSU students at UC San Diego who rioted in support of a BDS resolution screamed, “Palestine is Free, from the River to the Sea.” The ISM (International Solidarity Movement), the MSU (Muslim Students Union), the MSA (Muslim Students Association) the PACBI, Al-Awda (“the Return”) and similar groups are behind the BDS movement. They are all out to destroy Israel as the state of the Jewish people. They all support “right” of return of Palestinian refugees, or a “one state solution” or both. BADIL is a European-supported Palestinian refugee “rights” group that agitates for right of return of refugees and BDS. An activist at a BADIL conference gave an example of the sort of targets BDS should focus on. He said that boycotts should include the Intel Corporation, because Intel has a plant in “Iraq al Manshiyeh” in occupied Palestine. Iraq al Manshiyeh is Qiriat Gat, in the middle of Israel, well within the green line 1948 borders. These are the advocates of BDS.

    Don't say you did not know. Don't say nobody told you. A few BDS groups may try to evade the issue, but there is no group, among those supporting BDS. which also supports the right of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Their goal is to delegitimize the idea that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination.

    The second goal of BDS is to build a movement. Today they use the boycott device and the settlements issue. Tomorrow it will be a campaign to accept Hamas and try Israelis as war criminals. There are no Israeli settlements in Gaza and no occupation soldiers, and Hamas is a self-declared genocidal organization. And after tomorrow there will be another reason for a boycott, a petition or a rally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.