Radio Daze

23 May

I’m frequently asked what will be the next “target of opportunity” for the BDS “movement.”

After years of alienating decision-makers and members of colleges and universities, Mainline Protestant churches, municipalities and unions, they have been left, after all, with only “soft targets” to pursue -such as aging rock stars and food co-ops. Regarding the former, while a couple of once-hipsters like Elvis Costello heeded the boycott-Israel call, this simply left them exposed as uncool enough to be dissed by Deep Purple (ouch). As for the co-ops, a string of boycott failures indicates that this category is also nearly immunized from the BDS virus.

Since it is the BDSers who have the initiative to continually prowl for new civic organizations to exploit, it’s tough guessing where they might strike next. Although it’s a pretty sure guess that their target will be an institution with a progressive political bent, a vulnerability to pathos-based presentations and arguments, with either a weak governing structure regarding subjects like boycotts (a la food co-ops) or leaders somewhat at a distance from those they are supposed to represent (a la European unions).

Well now it’s safe to say that they have found their opening with (wait for it…): radio stations!

Not major commercial radio stations or public stations such as NPR mind you. These organizations, after all, understand that formally embracing a political propaganda program is not compatible with their core mission (otherwise known as journalism). In fact, a few years back the leadership of one of those aforementioned European unions (Britain’s National Union of Journalists or NUJ) voted in an Israel boycott only to see members revolt stating that they couldn’t enter the Middle East carrying a BBC ID claiming they were professional journalists as well as an NUJ card claiming they were allied to a party to the conflict.

No, in this case, it is community radio stations, those small local stations such as… Well, I can’t think of any right now. But the important thing is that the World Association of Community Broadcasters (whose acronym is AMARC – which makes sense in Spanish) voted to embrace the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement at their annual conference in Argentina.

Now if BDS follows its usual pattern (which can be counted on with the same confidence as expecting night to follow day), it will just be a matter of time before small stations around the world are recruited by their local “Israel-is-always-wrong-and-now-shouldn’t-even-be-heard” community to shun their Israeli colleagues in the name of solidarity (based on a decision by an organization almost no one ever heard of, participated in by almost no one being asked to implement it).

In the case of radio, however, BDS has those pesky little problems of journalistic integrity and editorial freedom to contend with. To begin with, community radio (having not previously been infected by the BDS virus) many not understand that the moment they sign their name on the BDSer’s simple “human-rights-solidarity” document, it will just be a matter of minutes before boycott supporters fan out across the globe to announce that “Radio Station XYZ is all aboard the Israel = Apartheid bandwagon, so you should boycott too.”

To cite another problem, (and the resolution rejecting a boycott by the Davis Food Co-op puts it best), signing up to the BDS program means that the signing organization “ accept the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine (BDS) Campaign’s characterization and judgment of Israeli actions as fact.” But the point of a media organization is to question such facts and assumptions, rather than accept someone else’s opinion as “The Truth.” Yet to follow the advice of the aforementioned AMARC group, a station is being asked to officially agree with one view regarding what is true and what is not in a highly contested political situation. And if the station signs up to such a program and later decides to air the voices of people who don’t share these views, the boycotters would have a legitimate complaint regarding why the station was allowing voices on the air to talk about things that the station itself has formally agreed to proclaim untrue.

And what of editorial freedom? To pick a few scenarios, if a publicly funded radio station in Israel produces a program regarding a subject of scientific or environmental importance, who gets to decide whether or not it is aired, the radio station or the boycotters? And who gets to decide if Israel has changed its behavior sufficiently for the boycott to end? Apparently, to take part in this boycott all stations must supplement their existing editorial policies with a new test, (the BDS test) before allowing certain voices over the airwaves.

As I have discussed before, it is no accident BDS asks participants to sacrifice their most sacred assets in order to participate in a boycott. When BDS came knocking at the door of the UCU (the British teacher’s union), they didn’t call on this group to divest their pension funds from Israeli companies. Rather, they asked the teachers and professors making up the union to officially boycott their Israeli colleagues, putting the sacred principle of academic freedom into the fire in the process. And when the Presbyterian Church was asked to divest from Israel, this was presented not as a political decision but as something demanded of them by “Christian Witness,” i.e., a decision that was being made in the name of God himself.

If radio stations get offered the same deal rejected by the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of whether to link arms with the partisan campaigners selling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, they are in effect being asked to throw editorial independence and journalistic integrity out the window in the name of some alleged, but ill-defined higher virtue.

No doubt Israel would survive the addition of one more weak-willed organization to the ranks of institutions that have immolated themselves on the sacrificial fires of BDS. One cannot necessarily make the same claim for any radio station foolish enough to fall into the trap that’s been set for them.

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