Continuing our run-down of symptoms indicating that BDS has succumbed to Jump-the-Shark syndrome, we now move onto the issue of enthusiasm.
As with a post-shark TV show where you can tell the cast and writers are barely phoning it in, it’s easy to spot when political players are just going through the motions. Take, for example, this interview with Pastor Brian McIntosh, spokesperson for a BDS group within the United Church of Canada. In it, the interviewer asks why McIntosh believes his tiny group (which consists of 15 people) feels it can speak for the wider church and whether they are considering boycotts for any other countries in the name of “human rights.” His answers are the usual evasions and boilerplate, but delivered with such listlessness that you wonder if the Pastor is more concerned with “The Struggle” or his afternoon nap.
Something similar seems to be going on in this piece written by an Australian graduate student in response to an article critical of BDS written by Naomi Chazen (head of the New Israel Fund). In this case, we see not listlessness but quasi-academic gobbledygook about “dialectical cycles of futile circularity” spread like a crust over what mere mortals might interpret as an agenda-driven analysis consisting of equal parts ignorance and contradiction.
This last example points out another shark-jumping symptom: backstage division among the cast and crew. We saw it with Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels (or at least I did), and today you can see more fissures appearing between those who hate Israel and want to focus all of their attention on BDS as a tactic, and those who hate Israel but think BDS may not be their best method of attack moving forward.
As the last sentence makes clear, this is an argument over tactics and not ideology or ultimate goals. And if you read the internal scuttlebutt passed between anti-Israel activists, there have always been some people who question whether BDS is doing the “I Hate Israel” (I mean the “Peace and Justice”) Movement more harm than good. When divestment has been in the ascendant, it was easy to dismiss criticism by invoking the holy writ of Omar Barghouti or questioning the loyalty of BDS critics to the cause. But with so few BDS results to show after so many years of effort, it is becoming harder to ignore (or purge) a growing number of internal critics.
Which brings us to our last and most significant symptom: victory (or lack thereof). As my regular reader knows, despite a decade of endless bombast of impending victory, BDS has succeeded almost nowhere (which is why they continue to redefine victory as including anything – including defeat). The recent decision by the grownups that run Evergreen College in Olympia Washington (ground zero for BDS in the US) to reject divestment requests is simply the latest demonstration that the people who actually make financial decisions at BDS-targeted institutions (such as colleges, churches and investment firms) want nothing to do with this propaganda program masquerading as a human-rights campaign.
Keep in mind that a political program needs more than energy and noise to be successful. It must, at some point, actually accomplish something. And if, after ten years, it has failed to do so it will inevitably face a crisis of credibility (especially if it regularly employs triumphalism rhetoric in the context of imaginary victories).
For those of us who have followed divestment et al for many years, we are entering familiar territory. In 2004, two years of divestment failure at colleges and universities created credibility issues and loss of momentum which were only reversed (temporarily) when the Presbyterian Church decided to climb aboard the divestment bandwagon. Once the church’s enthusiasm for BDS dissipated in 2006, the air quickly went out of the boycott balloon, putting the BDS virus into remission for nearly three years.
The new “BDS Movement” which emerged in 2009 after the Gaza War resembles a fourth generation Xerox of the original, with marginal organizations (such as remote food co-ops and local radio stations) replacing major institutions as targets for boycott and divestment campaigns and a majority of major BDS “victories” turning out to be easily-exposed hoaxes.
In other words, the current BDS project may turn out to be not simply a Jump-the-Shark phenomenon, but a remake of a series that jumped the shark years ago. And we all know how well that went for Knight Rider.