Lack of Concrete Victory is Incidental

Some stories that have appeared over the last couple of weeks highlight the fact that a lot more people seem to be chasing fewer and fewer BDS challenges this year.

For example, just last week The Forward published a survey that found only 17 instances of any significant BDS activity since 2005 on college campuses, along with an article raising questions of both BDS proponents and opponents as to why a project with so little impact is being treated so seriously.

Interestingly, both advocates and critics of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions efforts criticized the method the paper used to decide who got onto their list. And the metric the Forward chose: “a boycott or divestment effort that was significant and well-organized enough to draw an active official response from a student government or campus administrative body” does open up some questions.

BDSers, unsurprisingly, would like to receive a “win” credit every time they pass out a flier or leave a BDS-related comment on the web site of a school newspaper. In fact, my favorite line in the piece sums up this phenomenon of BDS champions demanding they be allowed to define the metrics for their own success and failure: “Advocates of BDS…meanwhile, say that the lack of concrete victories is incidental to the movement’s success.”

How nice for them. But anti-divestment activists bring up another criticism that BDS efforts defeated by their pro-active campaigning create non-incidents that, by definition, never reach the Forward’s threshold of significance. For example, just recently students succeeded in preventing a divestment vote from being re-introduced for the umpteenth time at the University of California in San Diego. But does that mean BDSers weren’t trying to win and opponents weren’t trying (successfully) to make them lose?

Part of the reason for this confusion stems from the fact that the Forward takes as the start date for the BDS “movement” BDSer’s preferred date of 2005 which leaves behind the most significant period of BDS success and failure, 2001 (when BDS was selected as the tactic of choice by anti-Israel activists meeting at the Durban I conference) to 2006 (when the Presbyterian Church voted to reverse their previous divestment position – the flagship victory for BDS since it was passed in 2004 – by a margin of 95%-5%).

Once you take into account the entire sweep of BDS “history” over the last decade, it becomes clear that boycott, divestment and sanctions is merely a tactic being deployed by a decades-old anti-Israel community that has tried different tactics at different times. While their efforts seemed to make some headway very early on in this period (at least with regard to garnering headlines), their ultimate failure led the whole divestment project to largely go into remission in 2005-2006 (the years BDSers currently claim as the birthday of their project), only being resurrected in 2009 after the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted in Gaza.

It is in this resurrected “rump” BDS campaign that the Forward is analyzing, one which boycott proponents are trying everything they can (from selecting increasingly marginal targets to fraudulently reporting pretend successes to demanding they be allowed to define their own criteria for victory) to recapture that feeling of momentum they once enjoyed.

But unlike the first half of the BDS decade, more people are onto them now. This includes not just pro-Israel activists ready to pounce or pre-empt a boycott or divestment vote at their school, church or food co-op. It also includes members of those civic institutions unallied with either pro-Israel or anti-Israel forces who simply don’t want to see the Middle East conflict imported into their organization.

So all in all, while the amount of BDS and anti-BDS activity is certainly larger than what the Forward article would indicate, its actual impact is even less than their survey describes.

In fact, beyond giving pro- and anti-Israel activists something specific to rally around, the only significant winner I can think of during this era is Omar Barghouti, the nominal leader of the resurrected BDS “movement,” who gets to leave the Israeli university he’s enrolled in to travel the globe on someone else’s dime explaining why the world should boycott their Israeli colleagues (not him, of course, just the Jewish ones).

Why every college, church, union, food store, and aging rock and roller (not to mention Israelis and Palestinians generally) must pay the price for his fame is beyond me, but then again he has a book contract and I simply have this blog. So what do I know?

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14 Responses to Lack of Concrete Victory is Incidental

  1. Occupynomo May 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    What happened to the Ahava flagship store in London?

  2. Jon May 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    Was that the store that those bigoted mindless British Nationalist Party (BNP) thugs managed to get to not renew their lease by disrupting store activity by (among other things) dragging concrete blocks into the entrance?

  3. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Interestingly enough, the huge Dayton Hudson chain, which includes Target stores now carries a full line of Ahava products. Does that count as a BDS failure? It's not Ahava's top end. It's a mid level product called Dead sea essentials.(Target does not cater to a crowd that spends $60 on mud masks). The witch hazel hand cream is particularly lovely. It has a delicate fragrance, and dries quickly without that greasy feeling you so often get from cheap lotions. Pick up some for your mother.

  4. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    No Jon that would be the Pro Palestinian BDS activists who protested in front of Ahava's flagship store in London for 2 years until the landlord decided against renewing Ahava's' lease.

    Funny how this barely got a mention on your site !

  5. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    That's not divestment or boycotting, anonymouse. Thats bullying into compliance. That's not a political victory in anyones book, but I suppose when you are so hungry for anything that feels like victory, it will do.
    Hey, Jon, why no mention of the huge divestment defeat at UCSD? Lemme guess- the defeats are flying so fast and furious you just can't keep up?

  6. Jon May 7, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    My mistake, my mistake. After all, what could be more different than stormtrooping fascists of the British National Party trying to shut down an Israeli shop using violence and intimidation and “Pro-Palestinian BDS Activists” using these same tactics to accomplish this same goal:

    Funny how these details never made it into your commentary (although you are right that the Ahava London story does deserve mention on my site, which it shall receive once I can turn my attention to more European matters).

    And speaking of Europe, if we take at face value your implied argument that the use of violent intimidation to shut down a retailer represents some kind of a political victory, I believe that these “Pro-Palestinian BDS activists” of which you speak have some catching up to do. After all, Europeans did this whole thing much more efficiently and effectively in the 1930s.

  7. Jon May 7, 2011 at 9:07 pm #

    I made mention of UCSD in the piece above, although you are correct that as the academic year winds to a close BDS efforts to repeat last year's formula at Berkeley are also coming to a close with (surprise surprise) nothing to show for themselves.

    The year ain't over, but it does seem to look like student government (like food coops) have been immunized from the BDS virus for this year. Which may explain why this year's BSS “movement” seems to be characterized by violent tantrums, like the one discussed here in the comment section.

  8. Anonymous May 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm #

    Oh yes the old familiar anti-semite excuse. The closing of the Ahava store had nothing to do with the fascist/antisemitic BNP but everything to do with the ISM.

    Speaking of acronyms maybe you should do a piece on the relation between the EDL (English Defence League) and Zionists.

    you DFA (that would be dumb f—–g asshole)

  9. Jon May 7, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    Boy, it usually takes more than a couple of hours to get a BDSer to reveal his or her true face as a vulgar, bafoonish hellhound. Congrats on breaking all previous records on this site!

    And you are correct that the stormtrooping that took place at Ahava was the work of the ISM, not the BNP. But if the behavior of the two groups is indistinguishable, that's something you'll have to take up with the ISMers, not me.

  10. Anonymous May 8, 2011 at 12:35 am #

    Should have the last anonymous post sign-off say you[rs]DFA? Otherwise the post makes no sense.

  11. Anonymous May 8, 2011 at 1:46 am #


    You said that:
    …beyond giving pro- and anti-Israel activists something specific to rally around, the only significant winner I can think of during this era is Omar Barghouti.

    I think that there have been lots of winners in this fight. Trader Joes refused to give in to the boycotters and gained significant prestige with the pro-Israeli crowd. Various liquor stores that were boycotted in the US and Canada had their Jewish/Israeli wines sold out in minutes. The people that supported the Buycott as well as BIG (Buy Israeli Goods) were winners as well.

    You said that it gave us something to rally around, but even more noteworthy, it gave us something we could do that was positive.

    As a supporter of both those events, I went on the internet armed with a credit card and discovered Israeli products that I never knew existed. It was the most fun I had had in months.

    I am willing to bet that the hundreds of people that did the same thing as I did, and discovered what I did…that there are a plethora of products I never would have discovered has it not been for BDS. Perfect example of the law of unintended consequences!

    The BDSers also inspired many videos that showed just how many products and innovations that the Israelis have given us. I found them entertaining, enlightening and a real pock in the eye to anyone wanting to boycott Israel.

    All in all, I think that many people have benefited from what started out as a push-back against the BDS.

    Do you not agree?

    SarahSue-conservative American Jewess

  12. Anonymous May 8, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Jon –

    On Thursday night, I attended a Stand With Us fundraiser and Alan Dershowitz was the speaker. He spoke specifically about the Forward article you mentioned and its poo-pooing of BDS activities. He said it should not be poo-pooed, and that it was part of a broader anti-Israel narrative being spread throughout college campuses. He said we need to speak up and make our viewpoint known.

    Thanks for your comment over at the Brooklyn Paper.


  13. Uncle Yo-Yo May 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    Now now, let's not be ungracious. Let's accept that — after six concentrated years of trying — the BDS movement has managed to bully one landlord to not renew one lease for one store in one street in one country (while not affecting Ahava, Israel, or people's opinions regarding the Middle East one iota). Kudos on all the momentum!!!

    One little question: at this rate of success, what is your estimate for when BDS will achieve its professed political goal of ending Israel's existence (not its actual goal of giving a handful of nihilistic losers the semblence of a life).

    Got to hand it to Omar Barghouti though, like most cult leaders he sure is carving out a nice little lifestyle for himself.

  14. Jon May 8, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Uncle Yo – One small correction, the BDS “movement” actually started in 2001. The 2005 date is based on Barghoutian time which measures creation from the moment he became involved with the boycott and divestment project. (It also helps flush most of 2001-2006 – the period of BDS's greatest success and failures – down the memory hole.)

    And speaking of Bartoughi, I couldn't agree with you more and hats off the the chap for figuring out a way to make a pretty nice living off this whole BDS gig.

    If only my current job was not so fulfilling (I do freelance reviews of coloring and connect-the-dots books for various children's magazines), I might try to find a way into the same racket.

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