Well the water main for Boston and half its suburbs blew this weekend, which means my family has been subsisting on chocolate milk and scotch since Saturday. Fortunately, I had gotten word from the Boy Scout troop my son recently joined about the crisis and passed the message onto someone at my synagogue, who told another few hundred people and so on and so on until now (as the breached pipe is being fixed), the biggest problem we’re facing is the sheer number of warnings and updates pouring into our inboxes from well meaning civic organizations across the state.
After picking up four gallons of spring water provided by the town (and packed into the trunk of my car by – you guessed it – the Boy Scouts), my mind again wandered to a subject I revisit here every couple of months (or, as they used to say at work, “Jon, stop beating a dead horse with another dead horse”): the virtues of civic society, and the assault of BDS thereon.
Neither the Scouts, nor my synagogue, nor the hundreds of volunteers who poured out across the state to help people with this weekend’s water crisis had to do what they did. It’s not in their mission statements and no one would have been the wiser or thought less of them if they decided to let someone else handle life’s surprise problems. But doing the right thing was second nature to them, and so civil society stepped in when civil engineering failed.
It is this very goodness that BDS sees not as a virtue to be treasured, but a weakness to be exploited. It’s not in this mission statement of the local famous university, or the well-known church or the venerable union to take a stand on Middle East conflict. And, as much as I care about Israel and its people, I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would take the natural instinct of a local Scout troop or house of worship to do good and ask questions later as an opening to stuff my political viewpoints into their mouth to score points against my political enemies.
But BDS feels no such limitations. In fact, it considers the better natures of these organizations as an open invitation to charge in. “You must not only accept my political position,” says the BDSer to the Berkeley Senator, Presbyterian General Assembly delegate or Somerville Alderman, “but you must do so because your own sense of goodness, virtue and fair play demands it.”
I would have issues with these civic groups being recruited to take a stand on a matter as wrenching as the Arab-Israeli conflict even if they were provided an honest presentation of the facts. But there’s no chance of that when BDS is in the driver’s seat with regard to “educating” a community organization about the Middle East. For the picture they present to their would-be victims (whoops! I mean allies) couldn’t be more deceptively black and white: on one side, the pitiful, pristine Palestinian mother cradling a blood-covered infant, on the other the inhuman, moustache-twirling Israeli soldier/settler treating that mother’s village to an unending rain of atom bombs for six decades.
The truncated history, emotion-laden accusations and distorted presentation of Middle East realities used to recruit the school, church or other institution to the cause of divestment is not simply one more example of galling propaganda. Rather, it is a way to exploit the very goodness I saw on display here in Boston over the last few days. “You say you’re good?” says the BDSnik to the civic leader. “You say you care about others? You say your organization stands up for the helpless and can’t sit idly by while the innocent suffer? Well then you have no other choice but to stand by me and support my political cause based solely on the information I provide you.” Which is why anyone presenting an alternative viewpoint or telling the civic group that they have a choice in the matter must be jeered at or shouted off the stage.
While I may have been drawn to the fight against BDS because of my devotion to the Jewish state and the Jewish people, there’s always been another reason why I’ve chosen this particular battle rather than letting my Zionist impulses take me in any number of other directions. For BDS is not just an assault on Israel, it’s an assault on the church in my neighborhood, the college I attended, the city I lived in, the very fabric of civic society that surrounds all of us.
I’ve seen communities torn apart because divestment champions have shown up demanding that virtue requires said community to insert itself into the Middle East conflict (and vice versa). The BDSers have seen the same thing, and couldn’t care less, so long as there’s a chance they’ll score a victory in their endless propaganda war.
Well I don’t want my neighbors clawing at each other’s throats over whether or not my people (or even the enemies of my people) should be declared war criminals. And so I will never yield to the temptation to turn the tables on my adversaries by asking these same civic groups to condemn those with whom I politically disagree. And if that means the other side will always have the advantage of picking whom to exploit next, leaving the rest of us in the defensive position of having to undo their damage, then so be it. It’s a small enough price to pay for maintaining civic peace (not to mention my soul).