Now and then (usually in response to comments) I’ve posed the question: what if the world is NOT as the BDSers perceive it? What if there’s even a one-percent chance that the suffering in the region is NOT fueled entirely by Israeli villainy directed at pristinely innocent Palestinians (with no role played by the rest of the nations in the Middle East)?
What if these non-Israeli players (including, God forbid, the Palestinians) have agency and what if their decisions (including decisions to reject one peace offer after another) contribute to the suffering of themselves and others? And what if there is even the smallest of chances that BDS (like other propaganda campaigns) send a message to the Palestinians that “help is on the way!” “Don’t compromise,” the message continues. “Don’t give up your hope of total victory. For eventually our activity (be it BDS or some other form of de-legitimization) will so cripple the Jewish state that you will get everything you want without having to give up a single thing.”
Even if you reject the premise that someone other than Israel has primary responsibility for the misery in the region, accepting that there is even a tiny chance that my counter-narrative might be true means accepting there is a non-zero chance that BDS is contributing to the very suffering it claims to be fighting to end.
Which brings up the question of what is the mindset of those who blindly follow the BDS route and refuse to consider any possible negative consequences? It’s easy to accuse BDSers of pure cynicism, of claiming to be battling for peace, but secretly longing for war (whatever the cost to, among other people, the Palestinians the boycotters claim to care about). But I’ve generally been of the mind that the primary factor behind this phenomenon is not cynicism or secret longing for violence (at someone else’s expense, of course), but fantasy.
As I’ve described before, in the BDSers mind they are part of a bold, far-thinking, virtuous vanguard, the only people who see the world as it really is and act accordingly. Under that framework, why should it matter if BDS might cause an increase in suffering of Israelis or Palestinians or fellow church, school, city or co-op members? After all, these individuals are not really people, but are merely props in a drama taking place in the boycotter’s own head (or, more accurately, in the interaction between BDSers who are simultaneously indulging in a common fantasy).
I ran across two examples to illustrate this concept, both drawn from the recent dust up at Olympia. I first stumbled on this piece while looking for confirmation that the boycott decision was made by the Olympia board with only members from the BDS community (and no opposing voices) in the room. But reading this piece more closely, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. No doubt I will be accused of insensitivity to someone’s heartfelt confessions about how the boycott has impacted him personally. But in reading this piece over again, the two words that spring out (since they’re repeated more frequently than any other item) are “I” and “me.”
For this writer, the Middle East is not about Israelis or Palestinians, it’s about himself or, more specifically, his own feelings about himself as a ‘white, owning class, straight, Christian, able-bodied man” contending with his own courage in speaking truth to power despite feelings of his own vulnerability. Yes, stories of alleged Israeli atrocities dot his narrative, but only to demonstrate why he has chosen to act so selflessly. There is no need to confirm that these stories are accurate, or to put them in context since the subject is not Israelis or Palestinians or the Middle East or the US or the Olympia Food Co-op, but the all-encompassing, all-critical, all-important “I”.
In a second example, local BDSers have taken recently to discussing whether or not their participation in a boycott constitutes a great act of bravery. While some commenters (again, demonstrating their own selflessness) point out that their courage is nothing as compared to those confronting repression directly, at least one person has dug out the old “death threat” trope to give the impression that someone taking an anti-Israel stand in Olympia Washington is doing anything other than making the safest choice imaginable.
Given that a few Olys occasionally comment on this site, I strongly suspect that we’ll soon be re-visited by some of these valorous fantasists angry over my refusal to accept at face value their accusations of having received uncountable death threats. To which I would simply reply that every time I attend a publically advertised pro-Israel event in Boston, part of the evening always seems to involve walking through a metal detector. And never, in all my years of activism, have I heard any of my friends who also partake in these events bragging about their courage for joining programs where such security measures are necessary.
When BDS meetings in Oly start requiring similar security, then perhaps their claims of being under siege can be taken seriously. Until then, their alleged courage (like their alleged virtue) – while dripping from every pore of the BDSers fantasy selves – is in remarkably short supply here in the real world.