I’ve been presented with two challenging questions in the last 48 hours, one in the comments section, one via e-mail. As it turns out, these two correspondents are both friends and allies (their challenges standing in sharp contrast to the deception- and pathos-laden arguments made by BDS proponents – a subject for another time).
Both questions pretty much amount to the same thing: could my characterization of BDS as a “loser” lead to supporters of Israel letting down their guard (why target time, energy and resources fighting against something that may not be such a big deal after all?).
This is an excellent point, one which requires more than just a stock answer (such as “I’m just telling them like I see ‘em!”). Not that describing the actual success and failures (mostly the latter) of BDS does not serve a purpose. For whenever one is confronted with an opponent (be it in sports, war or political debate), it is important to first gauge that opponent’s actual (vs. perceived) strengths and weaknesses. There are many things one can do with that information once it’s been accurately obtained and assessed, but there are few situations when believing a potential fiction (such as BDS being “on the march”) does much good with regard to thinking and planning strategically.
There are also tactical benefits to characterizing BDS (accurately) as a loser. After all, boycott and divestment proponents have a ready store of responses if they are charged with (for example) anti-Semitism. In fact, they will often mischaracterize any criticism of their position as an insincere accusation of anti-Semitism in order to tap into this bag of automatic responses (usually consisting of striking an indigent pose and accusing their accuser of “muzzling”).
But how does one respond to the charges, backed up by facts and figures, that BDS is indeed a loser? Only by claiming that “we’re not losers!” (a response only a loser would make). And so anyone looking to get off the defensive when challenged by boycotters seeking to play prosecutor and judge with Israel in the dock could do worse than pointing out how little success or support BDS has ever achieved despite a decade of tireless effort.
As for tamping down fears and possibly causing Israel supporters to lose interest or momentum in fighting against BDS, this is a legitimate problem but one which says more about the lack of militant thinking within the Jewish community (a blessing in most instances, but one which does not necessarily lead to good decisions when faced with a militant challenge, such as the propaganda campaign of BDS).
For in traditional military situations, when you’ve got your opponent on the run that is exactly the time to redouble your efforts and hit them again and again, making sure they lose as much momentum as possible and limiting (or, at least delaying) their ability to regroup. Now it may be that overstating the BDS threat is just the thing to keep supporters of Israel on campuses and elsewhere perpetually sharp and on the lookout for divestment threats to put down. But even if one is convinced that BDS is not an imminent threat, the best way to keep it from becoming one is to smack it down wherever it rears its ugly head (especially since there are so many resources – notably precedent of BDS being rejected over ten years – to tap into).
Then you’ve got the fact that divestment, while not a threat now, can become one very quickly if given even a small toe hold. After all, the “I hate Israel” crowd managed to leverage their brief support by the Presbyterians into two years of turmoil that Israel supporters had to deal with between 2004 (when the church passed its divestment resolution) and 2006 (when it overwhelmingly rejected it). Which is why my message has always been “Don’t panic, but don’t become complacent.”
Finally, it needs to be repeated that BDS is simply one part of a broader strategy of de-legitimization of Israel as a whole and any steps Israel takes to behave like a normal country (by defending itself from military attack, for example). And this broader de-legitimization strategy is not driven by a few goons shutting down an Ahava store in London. Rather, it is pushed by wealthy and powerful states that use their influence at forums such as the United Nations to fund and launch attacks on Israel (in the form of, among other things, the now-discredited Goldstone Report).
As I’ve noted earlier, within this panoply of de-legitimization efforts, BDS is actually the weak link, a program so loathed and unpopular that it has the power to turn neutrals (i.e., those with no dog in the fight of the Middle East conflict) into active allies of Israel supporters.
This being the case, the need to put the pedal to the floor when fighting against boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns serves two purposes. Firstly, it helps ensure these efforts are defeated and never find fertile ground to grow. But secondly (and more importantly) it helps expose the cynical and dishonest nature of all efforts to de-legitimize Israel and its actions. In fact, the embrace of a loser tactic like BDS by Israel’s opponents should be treated for what it is: manna from heaven in the form of a discredited project that supporters of the Jewish state can wrap around the neck of the entire de-legitimization effort.