As has been noted previously, Europe has not just been a test-lab for BDS activity but is also a continent where Israel-dislikers routinely probe to see how far they can push the limits of civilized behavior in the name of their political agenda. And in the UK, where intimidation and even violence are part of the anti-Israel toolkit, those with an ax to grind against the Jewish state seen to have found a home at Comment is Free.
This manifests itself in a number of ways, including comments on stories having to do with Israel which attract five to ten times the number of comments on most other pieces, with a higher percentage of moderator deletions than you will find elsewhere at Comment is Free. An extra level of supervision seems to be required for such Israel-related stories, partly to prevent arguments from getting out of hand, but mostly to avoid an embarrassing paper trail of anti-Semitic graffiti that might alert the public about the nature of a large part of the Guardian’s audience.
This Wild Wild West nature of online political discourse goes back to the beginning of the Internet when forums such as UseNet seethed with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by bizarre characters such as Israel Shahak and Hal Womack. My favorite was a fellow named Joachim Martillo who spent his UseNet years railing against Arabs (which he characterized as uncivilized brutes in need of immediate re-conquest), only to transform into a passionate Jew hater in love with the Palestinian cause in the years (and forums) since.
To a certain extent, advocates for BDS (and their fans) avoid online embarrassment by simply not allowing comments on the many, many sites they manage. For example, when I took part in my last real session of online debate a few years back (at the Jewish Voice for Peace’s Muzzlewatch, a site dedicated to the dubious proposition that anti-Israel points of view – screamed from the rooftops of every campus in the land – is somehow stifled or “muzzled”), the owners of the site eventually became embarrassed both by both their critics and supporters.
You see, critics routinely embarrassed them by pointing out the ridiculousness of their site’s premise and challenging them to defend their positions. And (as at Comment is Free), JVP supporters embarrassed the organization by spewing anti-Jewish bile (including calls for Jews to be deported from the US), providing a window into the soul of JVP/Muzzlewatch’s fan base.
Rather than deal with this problem through a judicious use of moderation, Muzzlewatch simply shut down their comment section entirely under a pretext of avoiding anti-Jewish and anti-Arab hysteria from poisoning discourse (despite the abundance of the former and complete lack of the latter). In addition to avoiding further embarrassment, this allowed them to avoid staring too deeply into the abyss of what their political activity has wrought.
Why bring this up at an anti-BDS site? Well as has been noted before, online commentary is a good barometer regarding how much a community has been poisoned via the importation of the Middle East conflict. And while open forums such as Comment is Free have decided to live with the fallout of creating a discussion of Middle East conflict open to all, other organizations (notably BDS supporters) demonstrate that opening your community up to debate on every issue of the day is purely optional.
In short, every college, every church, every food co-op, every radio station, every civic organization is not required to take a stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict (and, in the process, allow the raw sewerage represented by the hysteria found at CIF to flow unchecked into their community). Despite the fact that the BDSers demand immediate access to the civic space of everyone else, they also demonstrate by their own behavior how protective they are of whatever spaces and forums they control.
So before taking the boycotters seriously when they next insist that your school, your church, your city or town must open up their doors and let photos of bloody babies and accusations of illegality and bigotry be shoved in the face of everyone in your community, keep in mind that a debate over BDS or anything else is purely optional. And just as champions of BDS routinely decide what can and cannot be discussed and debated within their communities, so too your choice of which issues are to given a hearing is just that: your choice.