Reaction

Of all the accusations made against the BDS project on this site (that they represent a militant propaganda campaign masquerading as a “peace movement,” that they manipulate and exploit civic organizations for their own gain with no regard to whom they hurt, etc.), the one that stands out as the most easily measurable is simply that BDS is a loser.

After all, we are now entering the 11th year of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project and, despite tireless campaigns on campuses across the country, the number of schools that have divested from Israel stands where it did a decade ago: at zero. Once supportive churches flee from their program, municipalities kick them down the stairs, and even tiny victories (like the one coerced from a single food co-op) simply immunize similar organizations from being manipulated into the boycott fold.

Keep in mind that all of this has happened in a decade where not only has Israel’s economy (the target of boycott and divestment campaigns) doubled in size, but other divestment campaigns (such as ones targeting Iran and Sudan) have both gotten off the ground and won impressive victories (real ones, not the pretend ones fraudulently lauded by the campaign to similarly divest from Israel). So by any objective standard, the equation of “BDS = Loser” is hard to refute.

Which is why BDSers regularly retreat to their own definitions of “victory,” in which everything they do (including losing) is re-defined as a win. “We may have lost the vote, but we started the conversation,” is a frequent formulation heard at the end of the umpteenth BDS rout, even if this “conversation” tends to include the boycotters simply carrying on their usual talk with each other (regarding Israeli crimes and unvarnished sin) while the rest of us carry on a different conversation about what cynical jerks the BDSers are, coupled with joy at seeing them get the boot again and again.

There is one argument they make, however, that carries a bit more weight regarding the “movement’s” effectiveness: that the reaction of the Jewish community to their efforts proves that BDS is having an impact.

It cannot be denied, after all, that many Jewish institutions (such as JCPA, AJC and even the Israeli government) have pushed the campaign against the “de-legitimization” of Israel (of which BDS is a part) to the top of the community agenda. Major reports are published on the subject. National events take place to discuss it. Resolutions are passed condemning it. There is even a multi-million dollar effort to create an organization to fight it. So how can I claim that a project that gets so much attention is a loser?

This is actually quite a strong argument, and given that this BDS backlash involves numerous individuals and organizations making political decisions, one that cannot be answered definitively. However, as someone who has put a fair amount of effort into participating in (and hopefully cultivating) this backlash over the years, I can offer a few alternative theories as to why so much effort is being made to defeat a campaign that is already losing.

First. historical: When BDS first came on the scene in the early 2000s, it took most of us (individuals and institutions alike) by complete surprise. So a certain amount of over-reaction since divestment’s attempted resurrection in 2009 might simply be the case of people not wanting to get caught flatfooted again.

Second, emotional: Campaigns which target Jews for economic punishment have a resonance that go back a long time and have never led to anything other than disaster. And despite efforts to claim BDS is only targeting Israel (not Jews) or “the Occupation” (not Israel), at the end of the day if an academic boycott ever got passed anywhere (to cite one example), it would not be all Israel students and professors that would be impacted, just the Jewish ones.

Third, institutional: Larger organizations (particularly well-established ones) tend to value internal cohesion and perceptions of strength. And thus they try to avoid issues that could divide their constituencies or battles they stand a chance of losing. Which is why embracing the fight against BDS is a winner for these groups, given that the “movement” is so universally loathed that the chance of splitting the community over it is small. And the fact that BDS has proven such a loser means that participating in the fight against it will likely place you on the winning side (a preferable home for both individuals and institutions).

Finally, strategic: As noted above, the resources the Jewish world is marshalling are targeted at the broader issue of “de-legitimization,” of which BDS is simply one aspect. And the bulk of this de-legitimization effort doesn’t come from people trying to bully Israeli cosmetics off of store shelves, but from wealthy and powerful governments manipulating international institutions (such as the UN) to declare any Israeli action (if not the country itself) as criminal. It comes in the form of efforts to exclude Israelis (and only Israelis) from global political, economic, and academic bodies, or to leverage ambiguity in national or international law to harass Israelis at home or abroad (otherwise known as “lawfare”).

Within this broader de-legitimization campaign, BDS is actually the weakest link (as demonstrated by its almost universal failure). So by wrapping the hugely unpopular Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions project around the neck of the entire effort to brand Israel an illegitimate state, the fight against BDS offers a way to de-legitimize the entire de-legitimization effort.

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15 Responses to Reaction

  1. Anonymous April 30, 2011 at 7:13 pm #

    “Which is why BDSers regularly retreat to their own definitions of “victory,” in which everything they do (including losing) is re-defined as a win.”

    Have you seen Eric Walbergs recent article dissidentvoice.org/2011/04/bds-breaking-new-barriers/ where he does just this? He quotes Omar : “Israel’s version of apartheid is more sophisticated than South Africa’s was. It’s an evolved form”.

    Yep. An evolved form- a one person one vote democracy, with full equal and civil rights for all its citizens. Highly, highly evolved.

  2. Anonymous May 3, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

    BDS as “loser”

    From the US campaign to End the Occupation
    “For six years, our member groups have been working to hold Caterpillar accountable…”

    And after 6 years, what do they have to show?

    Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) The world's largest maker of mining and construction equipment rose 3 percent Friday after its earnings increased more than five-fold.

    Hmmm, BDS'ers. How does it feel to be irrelevant?

  3. Anonymous May 6, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    Sorry Jon but since your blog is generally boring and hardly generates meaningful discussion…..a bit of noteworthy news I came across last night. Tony Kushner, Pulitzer winning playwright, is denied an honorary degree from CUNY (City Univ. of NY) after one trustee speaks out against Kushner's for his “disparaging of Israel”.

    Article in the NY Times
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/nyregion/cuny-blocks-honor-for-tony-kushner.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

    Tony Kushner's response
    http://www.thejewishweek.com/tony_kushner_responds_cuny_board_decision

    Reaction from UCLA professor Kleiman
    http://www.samefacts.com/2011/05/international-affairs/israel/note-from-a-former-zionist/

    Another misguided attempt at silencing and punishing critics of Israel. Fascinating comments in the Kleiman's piece.

  4. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 1:08 am #

    PS to anonymous above: CUNY backtracks !!
    Benno Schmidt signals Kushner will (most likely) get degree because Kushner's political views have nothing to do with the honorary degree AND because trustee Wiesenfeld's objections came in the form of a thuggish/11th hour muzzle tactic.

    http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2011/05/06/statement-of-chairperson-benno-schmidt-of-the-city-university-of-new-york-board-of-trustees/

  5. Original Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    The “backtracking” you mention would not have been possible if it were not for the outrage in the community:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/may/06/tony-kushner-supporters-renounce-degrees?CMP=twt_fd

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/07/opinion/l07kushner.html

  6. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Right now, CAIR is desperately trying to prevent a speaker they don't like from giving a talk at Everett Community College. So, anonymous, are you going to take a stand for academic freedom, or is stifling free speech ok when it's someone you don't like?

  7. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 5:03 am #

    I don't know who or what “CAIR” is, but regardless, I will always vote for free speech. This is America, let people say what they want and what they believe in.

  8. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 5:32 am #

    As pathetic as it is to compare the 11th hour muzzling of Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer prize wining playwright (with 15 honorary degrees !) to a group (including many christians and Jews) who oppose Ibrahim's talk because he preaches the hating of Muslims is well ….pathetic. Nevertheless, I agree that Ibrahim should be allowed to speak and say whatever he wants.

    The real question is why you feel it is OK for an anti Muslim to spread his hatred? Is it Ok, in your opinion, for an anti-semite, to speak at Everett College and spread his message of hate for jews?

  9. Jon May 7, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    To our May 3 Anon – I couldn't agree with you more than things have gotten kind of boring around here compared to last year when there was some real BDS news to cover (notably at Berkeley, the Presbyterian Church and Olympia Food Co-op). But I don't know if you can blame this blog for the complete lack of significant BDS news to cover so far this year.

    As for the quality of discussion in the comments section, I think you're right on that front as well and it's actually a big disappointment to me that those who can't refute what I talk about in postings such as this one choose instead to start irrelevant conversations about things like aging, overrated playrights denied their umpteenth honorary degree. But, there again, you'll have to look somewhere else to lay the blame for this phenomenon (perhaps a mirror).

  10. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    can you identify specific examples of his alleged “hate speech”? He seems highly credentialed,

    RAYMOND IBRAHIM is associate director of the Middle East Forum and author of The Al Qaeda Reader.

    A widely published author on Islam, Mr. Ibrahim regularly discusses that topic with the media, and has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, CBN, NPR, and various radio talk-shows. He guest lectures at the National Defense Intelligence College and other universities, briefs governmental agencies (such as U.S. Strategic Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency), provides expert testimony for Islam related lawsuits, and has testified before Congress regarding the conceptual failures that dominate American discourse concerning Islam.

    Born in the United States (1973) to Egyptian parents, Mr. Ibrahim was raised in a bilingual environment and is fluent in Arabic, including colloquial dialects. He received his B.A. and M.A. (both in history, focusing on the ancient and medieval Near East, with dual-minors in philosophy and English) from California State University, Fresno. There he studied closely with noted military-historian and Hoover Senior Fellow, Victor Davis Hanson. His M.A. thesis examined an early military encounter between Islam and Byzantium based on medieval Arabic and Greek texts.

    From 2003-2009, Mr. Ibrahim was employed as a reference-assistant at the Near East Section of the Library of Congress, where he worked closely with Middle East language materials, primarily Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. He was regularly contacted by, and provided information to, defense and intelligence personnel involved in the fields of terrorism and radical Islam, as well as the Congressional Research Service.

    It was at the Library of Congress that he discovered hitherto unknown al-Qaeda treatises written in Arabic, which he went on to translate and annotate into the well received Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007). Based solely on al-Qaeda's own words, this collection of translations, according to Mr. Ibrahim, “proves once and for all that, despite the propaganda of al-Qaeda and its sympathizers, radical Islam's war with the West is not finite and limited to political grievances—real or imagined—but is existential, transcending time and space and deeply rooted in faith [p. xii].”

    During his years in Washington D.C., Mr. Ibrahim continued his graduate studies at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies of Georgetown University—taking various courses on the history, culture, politics, and economics of the Arab world—and studied Medieval Islamic history and Semitic languages at the Catholic University of America.

    Mr. Ibrahim's writings, translations, and observations have appeared in a variety of publications, including newspapers such as the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Times Syndicate, United Press International , USA Today, Washington Post, and Washington Times; scholarly journals, including the American Foreign Policy Council's Almanac of Islamism, Chronicle of Higher Education, Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst, Middle East Quarterly, and Middle East Review of International Affairs; and conservative websites and magazines, such as American Thinker, FrontPage Magazine, Hudson NY, National Review Online, Pajamas Media, and Weekly Standard.

  11. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    His name is Ibrahim and he is of Egyptian descent. Could be be of Islamic heritage? Can someone of Islamic heritage be accused of Islamic hate speech? We keep hearing that people of Jewish genetics can't possibly be anti Semitic. Doesnt that also hold true for people of Islamic heritage?

  12. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    These playwrights become even more “overrated” when they are critics of Israel don't they?

  13. Jon May 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    Actually, I've never let the anti-Israel positions of David Hare (one of my favorite modern playwrites) get in the way of my appreciation of his work (especially from the 1980s).

    Kushner was never my cup of tea, however, even before his political pieties grew to encompass his current positions on the Middle East and embrace of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace. (My opinion of his as an overrated, pandering hack goes back to Angels, the play which put him on the map, but left me cold.)

    But that's just my opinion. And speaking of which, might it be possible that the point you are struggling to make (that some people assign value or lack thereof to artists based on their political opinions, rather than their talent) better characterize Kushner's fans, rather than his critics?

    Just asking!

  14. Jon May 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    I don't know, perhaps because boycotts (and similar activities, such as divestment and sanctions) are for losers?

    And if you're getting so worked up about a pampered playright being denied his hundredth honorary degree, no doubt you find activities such as efforts to deny Israeli academics and artists their place in the world community even more loathsome and loserish.

    See, we can find agreement even on contraversial issues such as boycott, divestment and sanctions! Job well done.

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