For the first time, I’m stacked up with two promised essays. This one closes off the discussion of tactics from last week. And Sandy – I promise some thoughts before the holidays on your situation regarding what to do when you feel you must do something about problems in the Middle East.
So wrapping up a discussion of tactics, one thing that makes tactical decisions easier is when there is a model or metaphor within which to envision your choices.
In the case of BDS, their metaphor is clearly “Apartheid,” or more specifically the struggle against Apartheid in the 1980s. While Israel’s defenders would strongly object to this characterization for a variety of legitimate reasons, this does not diminish the Apartheid metaphor’s power to frame debate. Such a metaphor also simplifies the selection of language (use terminology from previous Apartheid campaigns) and tactics (do similar things to what was done in the 1980s). As an aside, the Apartheid metaphor also provides BDS activist a framework for social bonding (a topic for another time).
I’ve talked about the metaphor of the siege, largely as a way to help Israel’s defenders (Jew and non-Jew alike) think past the stale debate of “offense vs. defense” which frequently adds up to nothing more than the argument between compromise and zealotry that has characterized Jewish politics for centuries. I won’t repeat the significance of the siege metaphor except to point out that while it gives Israel’s defenders a useful framework to select effective strategies and tactics, it does not supply the content needed to counter the Apartheid metaphor that is the basis of BDS.
For an additional metaphor, I am indebted to Charles Jacobs whose recent thoughts on Jewish susceptibility to any sort of accusation can be found here. But I am particularly purloining from Professor Ruth Wisse whose recent work brings up an image that has been stuck with me since hearing her speak some months ago: the metaphor of The Trial.
I capitalize those words not just to highlight the Kafkaesque nature of Israel’s experience in the dock over the last several decades, but to also point out that “The Trial” like “Apartheid” are both real and metaphorical concepts. Apartheid, as noted above, has been at the heart of the BDS project for its entire existence, but so has the nature of the trial, with Israel as the defendant and her accusers acting as both prosecutor and judge.
But in a real trial, one side does not get to hog the stage for day after day, year after year, decade after decade with the other side limited simply to object here and there until a decision is ultimately made. In any trial, eventually, the other side gets to take center stage and present its case while the first side is forced to sit and listen. (You’ll see in a minute why I’m avoiding the terms “prosecution” and “defense.”)
Now Israel’s accusers have had the floor for over six decades now, and have certainly refused to yield the stage during the BDS decade. And thus it is more than fair to say that the time has finally come for them to grab a chair, sit down and let someone else make their case.
In other words, it is now our turn to turn from defendant to prosecutor and force Israel’s foes to answer our questions for once, not simply dismiss any issues we bring up with a scoffing laugh or an insistence that they are a distraction from “the real issues” which consist solely of the accusations they want taken at face value. These critics have had years, decades, to make their case stick and if they have not succeeded in doing so yet (testified by the failure of BDS over the last ten years), that does not entitle them to continue their case for another six decades until they finally have their way.
So now, finally, it is our turn as prosecutor and someone else’s turn to be in the dock. Fairness, the underpinning behind both real court justice and the trial as a metaphor, demands nothing less.
As exchanges in my last posting’s comments section will attest, Israel’s critics will fight tooth and nail to resist relinquishing the prosecutor/judge role they demand for themselves, but this is their problem not ours. For after 60+ years, the time has finally come us to say: “Good point, Mr. BDSer, but you’ve been making the same point for decades. We’re all familiar with it, you’ve made yourself clear, we get it. And now is the time for you to answer our questions for a change.”