I recently had the unsettling experience of accidentally falling into the shoes of a practitioner of BDS.
Allow me to explain.
I joined a synagogue for the first time when I moved into my new hometown and, after a few years of getting to know the place, I took part in and now co-chair the temple’s Israel Action Committee (IAC). And despite my own strong views on the Middle East conflict, the committee’s work continues to be centered on opening up dialog within the temple community that takes into account the many differing opinions one would expect to find at a large synagogue of nearly 800 families.
Earlier this summer, our rabbi was contacted by a local pro-Israel organization about sponsorship for a major event they were having in the area and he, in turn, contacted me as head of the IAC to discuss whether or not we should participate. I informed him that it would be a good event to support, providing input as someone on the advisory board of the organization putting on the event who would also be speaking at the conference under discussion.
After agreeing that the temple should support the event, I informed the group that our synagogue was onboard, after which both I and our rabbi went on our own much-needed summer holidays. It was only after I got back that I discovered I had made a major blunder: failing to take a step I now know is required for such a sponsorship: getting approval for such a move by the temple’s board of directors.
While this was an innocent and rectifiable mistake (the board accepted my mea culpa and agreed to continue to support the event), it occurred to me that I had accidentally done what BDSers routinely do purposefully: maneuver an institution to take a stand without adequate communication and buy in.
At the end of the day, the temple board did have their say (in my presentation I informed them that if they wished we be taken off the sponsorship list, I would personally take responsibility to make this happen immediately). But their deliberations were highly compressed and decision made with the added pressure that our temple was already listed as an event sponsor. While I appreciate that they decided to move forward, I continue to feel awful for putting the organization into such a predicament.
Why the guilt (other than the usual genetic disposition of my people towards this emotion)? Well if you think about it, the thing I’ve railed most against here at Divest This is the manipulation of civic organizations by those trying to leverage them for their own narrow political purposes. There are an infinite number of ways that activists such can show our support for the Jewish state, but my particular interest in fighting BDS (which hovers somewhere between hobby and obsession) is derived from how much suffering I’ve seen when institutions such as Somerville, MA, the Presbyterian Church and other organization’s endure when BDS is snuck in via the back door.
The notion that fellow temple members would wake up to discover that their synagogue was sponsoring something they did not support, and that the decision to do so was made under less-than-ideal circumstances appalled me. Especially so since this type of truncated process (done not innocently but purposefully) is at the heart of the BDS project.
How many stories have you read here about BDSers maneuvering behind the scenes to get resolutions passed that would stuff their words into the mouth of an unsuspecting organization? How many tales of manipulation, moral blackmail and outright fraud have I presented which ended up with community citizens, church members or co-op shoppers waking up to discover that they were now unwilling members of a global propaganda campaign to smear Israel as an “Apartheid State?”
Now my failing was accidental and fixable, and the outcome positive (support for an important program) vs. negative (getting an institution to condemn my political enemies for me). But it did reinforce for me just how vulnerable our civic institutions can be to manipulation, a humbling but important experience that only redoubles my commitment to ensure that the precious civic ecosystem that undergirds our society be protected from those who would manipulate it for their own narrow and often-wicked ends.