Over the last week, I’ve tried to lay out some observations about the size, scope and nature of the two sides of the BDS debate. A previous discussion of tactics focused on the other side’s traditional framework for advancing its cause. In this final installment, I’d like to switch to a discussion of our choices. Since specifics will vary depending on where the next battle will take place, ideas are presented as general guidelines that can be applied to a BDS fight, or some other de-legitimization campaign.
1. Understand the Nature of the Enemy and the Situation
Pro-Israel forces tend to waste a lot of cycles wrestling with the ideology of our opponents, or speculating into the origins, funding sources and alliances of those waging a BDS fight (or other anti-Israel campaign) at a particular institution. But this search for a bigger picture can often lead to missing practical matters that can be of more immediate use.
At Berkeley (to site one example), the Students for Justice in Palestine organization was co-opting members of one of the major student political parties (CALSERV) and trying to gain enough support among the other political parties to win a student government divestment vote. Thus the battle line was drawn specifically at swinging a few key non-CALSERV Senators to not override the Senate President’s veto of the bill. Other activity (lobbying the administration, attending public hearings, leafleting the student body, etc.) had its place, but all choices needed to be made in light of the one overriding goal that would lead to a win.
When two armies meet on the battlefield, the ideologies of each force are less relevant than their size, organization, morale, leadership, relevant alliances (i.e., people who will really come to their aid, rather than just pat them on the back after a win or loss), logistics (such as access to supplies/resources) and the terrain of the battlefield. For the sake of winning a BDS battle (or any similar engagement), we need to make sure our own political passions do not get in the way of understanding all of these concrete matters as we make our own battle plans.
2. We’re in it for the long haul, so let’s enjoy ourselves
It’s been said that there is nothing Israel can do to end the Middle East conflict. While it may be psychologically comforting to think that peace is something that can be brought about by Israel or its supporters, fundamentally peace will only arrive when those who have declared war on Israel for decades decide that the war is over.
The corollary for we supporters of Israel is that we have no control over when the battle over de-legitimize of the Jewish state will end. It’s the BDSers who can say when BDS is over, not us, so we have to plan to be in this fight for the foreseeable future (possibly for the rest of our lives).
This can be a depressing prospect, unless we change our own mindset to welcome battle (especially battles that we are likely to win). I’ve gotten involved with the fight against BDS for a lot of reasons, and as distasteful as I find any individual fight, I must admit that I’ve gotten a bit hooked on seeing BDS get its ass kicked again and again across the country (and even around the world).
As I’ve been documenting on this site for over a year, fundamentally BDS is a loser so if you going to find yourself a reluctant soldier in the fight against it, best to become a “happy warrior” who relishes battle, especially against a foe who can’t seem to recognize the weakness of their own tactical choices (just as they can’t recognize the moral bankruptcy of their political positions).
3. Focus only on tactics that work
There are a number of political activities that make us feel good, but may not actually have any impact. While I rail against the fantasy politics of the other side (i.e., their substitution of self-inflating grandstanding for actual practical politics), it needs to be pointed out that our side also makes choices that are more about getting something off our chest than winning a particular fight. Given how emotionally charged BDS battles can be, this is an understandable reaction, but one which should be fought since fantasy politics is fantasy politics, whichever side is engaged in it and should not be seen as a substitute for genuine action.
4. Focus only on people who work
There’s an ongoing debate over whether we’re better off trying to convince 100 people that they should take up our cause, vs. finding just ten people who are already engaged and cultivating them. My preference is the latter. As much as I’d love it if an argument or presentation I make could inspire an unengaged person to become engaged, it’s been my experience that people come to activism on their own, usually after encountering the ugly face of Israel’s haters through exposure to a BDS campaign or something similar. Better to find these newly self-energized activists and build them into your team, rather than try to convince people who haven’t caught “the bug” that it’s in their interest to become happy warriors.
5. Stop keeping our victories to ourselves
When the Davis Food Co-op unanimously rejected a boycott based on sound principles that would resonate with any similar institution in the country, news of that decision made it to a dozen Web sites and less than 100 blogs (half of which simply reposted the same story on another news site or blog). In contrast, when the Berkeley Student Senate took its meaningless, symbolic vote on divestment, the story was in a thousand different places within 24 hours.
Communicating our story (especially online) is one area where we are far, far behind our adversaries which is why Berkeley became an international story, while news of Davis (and the hundred other victories we’ve achieved in the BDS wars) rarely make it past this web site.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people comment on how a true boycott of Israel would require the boycotters to throw out their computers and cell phones. Fair enough, but it would be far preferable if our side started using those devices to spread our stories half as effectively as the other side spreads theirs.
6. It’s not just about us
The overwhelming defeats of BDS have not come about just because rank and file Presbyterians (or whoever rejects divestment next) are closet Zionists. Rather, they are people of good sense who understand that while solving the Middle East crisis may be important, it’s not required that they trash their own organization or community in order to take a stand on this issue.
What this means is that when we cast our arguments against BDS (or some other form of de-legitimization) to a third party (such as a university or church), we need to think beyond Jews, Arabs, and the Middle East conflict itself. The aforementioned Davis Co-op decision was based on the organization understanding that a boycott was bad for the Co-op, not the Jewish community. Never lose site of the fact that these battles often involve other people and organizations with their own needs and agendas. As you formulate your battle plans, taking these needs into account can determine whether these groups become your allies or your adversaries.
As the academic year winds to a close with BDS continuing its uninterrupted record of zero victories and Avogadro’s Number losses, my attention will be swinging towards the next big battle (the Presbyterian Church) over the next few weeks.
But the summer will be a time when both sides will plan for next fall’s campus wars, and as painful as it might be to have to fight the same battles all over again, never lose site of the fact that peace will come about only when those who have made war against the Jewish state the prime focus of their lives realize that no matter what they do, we will be there, sword in hand with joy in our hearts, making sure they lose once again.