We’re Pretty Lame, Activists Say

In re-reading the Globe piece on BDS last night, it occurred to me that a bit more research would have shown the weakness of the three examples (Elvis Costello, the SF Dockworkers refusing to unload an Israeli ship, and the Olympia Co-op boycott) being held up to demonstrate that boycott and divestment advocates have the wind at their back.

After all, the ripple effect of Elvis Costello’s decision to boycott the Jewish state didn’t extend to the rocker’s own bedroom (Costello’s wife Diana Krall played Israel this month). Nor did it prevent other aging pop stars like Elton John and Johnny Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols) from flipping boycotters the bird as they traveled to Israel to play to packed audiences.

In San Francisco, the ship that local protestors demanded dockworkers refuse to unload turned out to be from the People’s Republic of China (not Israel). It was hours after the protestors left the docks patting each other on the back for a job well done that a ship containing Israeli goods arrives to be unloaded without incident.

And as for the Olympia Food Co-op, I’ve already extensively covered the exceptional nature of this boycott, given that other co-ops (notably ones in Davis California and Seattle Washington) gave boycott advocates a hearing before giving their proposals the heave ho. Interestingly, co-ops that refused to heed boycott calls seem to be doing just fine, even as Olympia has to hire professional facilitators to keep proponents and opponents of the boycott from tearing at each other while the organization’s leaders flounder around trying to justify why they bent (and possibly broke) the organization’s rules in order to make their boycott decision behind the backs of the membership.

But I believe the thing that struck me the most while re-reading the Globe piece was not anything the original author wrote, but the headline given the piece (a decision usually made by an editor): “Support Builds for boycotts against Israel, activists say”. Well they would say that, wouldn’t they? After all, what are their alternatives?

“Boycott and Divestment has been Failing to a Decade Now, but We Will Continue to Push It Since it Makes Us Feel Good, Activists Say”

“We May Have Gotten Caught Trying to Pass Off Another BDS Hoax Last Week, But That Won’t Prevent Us From Trying Again, Activists Say”

Or how about (God Forbid) a headline that actually reflects the facts such as “Israel Boycott Attempts Still Controversial after Ten Years”.

The whole “activists say” trope reminded me of a piece by Jonathan Cristol I read recently on the challenges of writing about a post-modern BDS movement that considers every success and every failure an example of its own unstoppable momentum:

“So an article or incident that is in favor of BDS is proof that BDS is gaining steam; and an article or incident against BDS proves that it is gaining steam so quickly that the writer or publication is nervous about it. A victory is a victory and a loss is a victory.”

So what does another newspaper article on BDS add up to? I’ll give Cristol the last word:

“BDS has had so few triumphs that every extremely minor victory is blown up as “proof” that the movement is gaining steam. I suspect that this phenomenon is the natural psychological coping mechanism of people who have devoted themselves to an ineffective, offensive, and hopeless cause.”

24 thoughts on “We’re Pretty Lame, Activists Say”

  1. Hi–I enjoy the blog, as I am very interested in BDS issues. But aren't you giving a lot of ink to the Oly Co-Op people that they don't really deserve. I would never have heard about the action of the Co-Op if not for your coverage. Even here in Ann Arbor, where the local co-op people are pretty out to lunch about Israel, they couldn't pass a BDS motion.

    Has anyone else in the Co-Op movement nationally followed their lead?

  2. Interesting article in Haaretz today regarding Norway govt run fund that is divesting from Israeli companies that enable the occupation and settlement construction.

  3. Dear Anonymous – I did a quick search on “Norway” over at the Haaretz site and didn't see the story you mentioned, although I did find these pieces: “Norway: Celebrating Nazi-Sympathizer Unrelated to Holocaust Education,” “Hamas Visit to Norway postponed due to delay in visa processing,” and “Gaza TV Journalist said seeking asylum in Norway.”

    Those last two pieces look interesting, given that the journalist in question seems to be fleeing from Hamas (the very people whose visas are being delayed). If I were a BDSer, I'd probably be sending out press releases right now claiming “Norway delays Hamas visas in protest of repressing of press in Gaza.”

    What were were talking about? Oh yes, a pension fund! Can you send me a link to the story?

  4. Avni – I take your point on the whole Oly Co-op thing. My only defense is that I occasionally find it valuable to focus on a smaller story in order to learn wider lessons. Usually this involves significant institutions (such as the Presbyterian Church, discussion of which took up much of June), rather than an obscure food store. But given that co-ops are the latest “targets of opportunity” for BDS, I thought it would be valuable to learn all I could about the only co-op that has managed to pass a boycott motion (at least temporarily) in order to contrast it with the rest of the co-op movement has avoided falling into the same trap.

    The science essayist Stephen Jay Gould once described himself as being like one of those baseball pitchers whose convoluted wind-up gives you no clue as to what kind of pitch will eventually be going over the plate. Following his lead, I’ll be posting something over the next day or two that constitutes my “pitch” on the subject of co-op boycotts. You can decide for yourself if all my recent Oly blather constitutes a necessary wind up, or a waste of time.

  5. Keep searching Jon I am sure you will find the piece on the Norway government run pension fund that divested from 2 Israeli companies that enable the occupation and participate in the illegal and immoral settlement enterprise. You can google it because it is all over the web.

    Also, you (and the very few readers of this blog) will be better served by trying to understand why the BDS movement is gaining momentum, slowly but surely, around the globe instead of comparing it to Count Dracula. And no I am not an antisemite nor a self hating Jew.

  6. So I’m obliged to find the story for you?

    Very well, I found it and, yes, it seems to be the case that a selloff of Israel-Africa (IA) shares is in the news.

    Given that the offloading of IA last year due to the stock’s collapsing price (Israel Africa was highly leveraged and highly concentrated in the troubled commercial real estate market) by institutional investors such as Blackrock and TIAA CREF was fraudulently presented as political vs. economic decisions, it seemed prudent to determine if the actual investor (in this case the Norway Oil Fund) was claiming this sale was made for political reasons. And sure enough, they have. Well done!

    Recall that I have never denied that BDS has had some successes, even if they tend to be concentrated in just one country (Norway) or within a 10 mile radius of Rachel Corrie’s house. That being the case (and with regard to your claim that BDS is “gaining momentum,”) can I presume that you are in full agreement that Israel-Africa’s return to profitability, not to mention the doubling in size of the Israeli economy in the ten years since BDS has been active, demonstrate a positively overwhelming global level of support for the Jewish state?

  7. Jon–Thank you for your comment on the Oly Coop. The funny thing is that I thought the Presbyterian story disappeared too soon! I spend a good deal of time studying Christian Antisemitism as expressed in the New Testament, and the MESC report was a very significant subject in that regard, though intensely complicated.

    I will look forward to your next post on the Co-Ops.

  8. Jon

    I think you will agree with me that in the past few years Israel has done a miserable job of public relations, thanks in great part to the internet and the resulting near instant availability of news, photos, videos, etc. throughout the globe. The recent war in Lebanon, the massacre of 1,400 Gazans in 2008/2009 (though not one journalist was allowed in Gaza due to “security” concerns), and most recently the flotilla massacres are just 3 examples.

    Prior to the advent of the internet, Israel's great PR accomplishment/lie was the rewriting of history as related to the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. The world is increasing becoming aware that these Palestinians did not “voluntarily leave” their homes but were forced out.

    An understanding of these events in 1948 and the Israel's ensuing occupation and settlement enterprise is essential to an understanding of the BDS movement and its relevance/importance to the Palestinian struggle for a homeland.

  9. Avni – I suspect that the Presbyterian story could have pre-occupied me for many more months, especially given its relevance to so many other interesting topics such as Jewish-Christian relations and the decline of the Mainline Protestant churches.

    The dynamic within PCUSA is for defenders of Israel to let things slide during the period between GAs while the Israel haters continue their word during these intervening periods. So while we continue to leverage the fact that the membership is not inclined to embrace anti-Israel positions, we tend to scramble the last few months before a GA to catch up with the other side.

    I've been told that this will not be the case this time around, that some of the larger Presbyteries have finally awoken to the fact that small groups are going to keep trying to hijack the organization unless someone stands up to them. I can only hope this interpretation of 2010 events is correct.

  10. The old “I think you will agree” trope is pretty tough to pull off by even sharp writers and thinkers, and unfortunately I don't believe you fall into either of those two categories.

    Certainly the Internet has allowed propagandists like you to spread your version of events far and wide, and has helped BDS advocates connect with one another to share ideas. Unfortunately, it also allows those of us who communicate the truth to push past all of the lies, and to organize our activities (best exemplified by Buycotts which have generally turned anti-Israel boycott attempts into wild welloffs of Israeli products).

    The Internet also allows folks like you to surround yourself only with people who agree with your interpretation of events, and allow you to organize your life without ever having to have your opinions or interpretation of facts (no matter how innaccurate) challenged.

    So all in all, while I'm happy Al Gore (and Israel) invented the Net, with regard to sane politics, I'm afraid this new medium is at best a mixed bag.

  11. You and I certainly don't agree, but I don't see any challenges to my “opinions” or “interpretation of facts” to use your terms. Please challenge anything I stated in my post and I will respond.

    Who would be “those of us who communicate the truth” ? Anyone that sees the world as you do and puts together a blog called “divest this”?

    It appears that the premise of your blog and your commentary are ” pretty lame”.

  12. Stating the obvious (that we both agree to disagree) is a much more accurate description of the situation than your original “we can all agree on my opinions as facts” gambit. So, in that regard, we’re making some progress.

    But given that we have both agreed that we hold differing opinions on the Middle East and hold different facts as important, what is left to us other than the he-said/she-said back and forth that characterizes 99.9% of what constitutes discussion of the conflict?

    You believe the key points in history are the alleged expulsion of Palestinian Arabs in 1948 which you assume are solely the fault and responsibility of Israel. I believe that this is simply an example of the Arab rejection and expulsion of minorities in their midst (including Jews) projected onto Israel. You see the Gaza war as a genocide directed against civilians. I believe it was the result of a genocidal Hamas regime in Gaza that decided to see how far it could push Israel and found out that 10,000 rockets fired at civilians was around the limit.

    If you want to debate the success vs. failure of BDS, that would be appropriate for this site (vs. the thousands of others where general debate over the Middle East occur). If you want to discuss that matter, I can point to the fact that the Israeli economy and exports have both doubled in size and popularity of Israel in the US has jumped 20 percentage during the ten-year period when BDS has been trying to get all of these trends to go into the opposite direction. If you want to add up the Norwegian pension funds, remote food co-ops and aging rock stars to balance against these numbers, go for it.

  13. Your statement that the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 is an “example of the Arab rejection and expulsion of minorities in their midst (including Jews) projected onto Israel” is so preposterous that I will not dignify with a response.

    Hamas did not exist prior to 1987 and was formed in response to israel's ongoing occupation and illegal & immoral settlement enterprise. The fact that war crimes were committed by Israel in Cast Lead is not an opinion but documented in the Goldstone report. The photo documentation of 100s of civilian deaths (including children and women) is readily available on the web.

    As to the BDS movement I think it is alive and kicking, and I will send you periodic updates so you can make bask in your self promoting, pseudo witty and shallow commentary.

  14. Gosh Anon – Can I play this game too? OK, then everything you and any other critic of Israel has ever said or ever will say “is so preposterous that I will not dignify [it] with a response.” I win! (Boy, that was easy. I wish you had taught me this technique earlier, as it would have saved me years of wasted effort making reasoned arguments in online debate. Thanks!)

    I suppose I just have to be satisfied with holding political positions that don’t require me to pretend historical events such as the invasion of Israel in 1948 by five Arab armies, the expulsion of nearly a million Jews from the Middle East or the firing of 10,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel either never happened or are something other than an act of war or a war crime. As someone once said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although not their own facts.

    Regard your offer to periodically post the latest triumph of BDS, feel free although I generally monitor the ether for such news (unless I’m busy helping my son wash his chickens as I did all morning – long story). And just so readers here can understand the true magnitude of the victories you plan to post, since BDS started in 2001, the Israeli Gross National Product grew by $89.4 billion. So could you please make sure to include a calculation that expresses the latest BDS win as a percentage of this total so that we can monitor your progress in real terms?

    Again, many thanks.

  15. You know Jon, as you wash those chickens, you should realize that among the arbitrary items forbidden to be shipped into Gaza by Israel were heaters for chicken coops. Your chickens are warm, dry and comfortable because they are American chickens. Had they been Gazan chickens, they'd be shivering uncomfortably in the, er, desert sun.
    Oh, never mind…..

  16. Jon

    Israel may have had a $90 billion growth in its GNP in the past decade, but that will not erase the facts:

    1. Israel occupies land and has built illegal and immoral settlements on these lands in defiance of international law and numerous UN resolutions.

    2. Israel will never live in peace as long as there is no justice. Occupation, settlement construction, apartheid policies and brute force will not bring peace but simply reinforce “fortress Israel”.

    3. Every nation on earth with the exception of the US and a few others condemn Israel's rogue behavior. No amount of economic development and GDP growth will mask this embarrassment for Israel which claims to be a democracy.

    As mentioned earlier Israel's PR machine has done a magnificent job of masking the truth and playing the victim, but that is all changing.

    So you continue to ridicule and marginalize the BDS movement with your economic statistics and the BDSers will continue to do what they believe is right. In the end justice (and not the Israel-lobby bought US Congress) will prevail.

    Adios for now

  17. But doesn't the BDS movement have as its founding premise that financial decisions regarding whether or not to do business with the Jewish state represent profound moral judgements (not simple economic choices)?

    In other words, if a Norwegian pension fund sriking a pose as it sells off a few million $$$ worth of plummeting Israeli real estate stock represents a moral rebuke to the Jewish state, then the fact that Europe invests more venture capital into Israel than it does into any European state can only mean (again, by the BDSers own logic and standard) that Europe loves Israel even more than does the United States!

    Unless, of course, the entire BDS premise is faulty (and should thus be abandoned), or (more likely) is simply a propaganda exercise masquarding as a peace movement.

    Anyway, I'll let you be off to commune with your fellow small, tiny voices in the wilderness that make up the BDS movement (which, strangely enough, including the world's wealthiest oil states that also happen to be the world's worst human rights abusers – funny how that works). Best of luck continuing to embrace Goliath as you convince yourself your Gandhi.


  18. Financial decisions do indeed represent moral judgements. (By the way the “Jewish state” you refer to has a 20% non Jewish population so your terminology is by definition exclusionary and racist.) However, financial decisions are not the only tools available to the BDS movement and the palestinian struggle for freedom and a homeland. Non violent protests and boycotts are two examples that have negligible financial impacts but are significant and increase awareness. When Elvis Costello cancels a concert in Israel a significant message is sent to Israel and the world; the financial implications are irrelevant. Sorry but these do not fit well in your world of GNP and venture capital.

    I agree that the European investment in Israel is all about economic choices and making a buck and has nothing to do with how these investors feel about israel's policies of occupation, settlements, and apartheid. One of the goals of the BDS movement is to bring attention to israel's illegal and immoral behavior so that the costs of doing business with Israel increasingly outweigh the benefits. Remember South Africa? Many corporations were making a lot of money in SA, but eventually had to pull out and stop doing business with the racist regime. The decision to pull out of SA by these corporations was an economic one; funny how economic choices can work both ways.

    Ordinary citizens all over the world are sick and tired of israel's rogue behavior on the one hand and the unconditional and blind support the US has given to israel on the other. The Goliath in the Israel/Palestine conflict is Israel that is armed to the teeth with the latest killing machines and over $3 billion in aid supplied by the US.

  19. I see for the previous comment that the BDS monitors and posts to your blog. You must be having an impact. I am in Olympia, and I assure you that this is a big deal to many of us here. It has devastated many longtime members of the co-op. The fight to rescind this boycott has just begun We will picket and boycott the co-op until they feel great economic pain and remove the boycott.

  20. Anon – I thought you said you were leaving? (Sheesh, can't these BDSers even tell the truth when they say hello and goodbye?)

    Michael – Glad to know you're still in the fight. I'm about to post something specifically about co-ops that I hope will be of help to both you and other co-op organizations facing similar situations.

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