Commenters to my latest posting brought up extremely good questions about how to defeat a project like BDS that (1) doesn’t stop what it’s doing no matter how many times it is rejected or loses; and (2) insists that its’ success be measured solely by its’ refusal to stop what it’s doing.The current rise of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which just held its’ first conference, might provide an answer to this dilemma (or at least something to think about).
First off, we need to start with the observation that anti-Israel activists exist and will continue to exist on college campuses.We may find their activities distasteful, we may find their behavior appalling, we may loath their hypocritical subversion of the language of human rights and peace and be shocked by the number of Jews and Israelis who man their ranks.But as long as there is a war on between Israel and the dozens of rich powerful countries that surround her on all sides, then those rich and powerful countries will find allies abroad and getting angry at their existence is about as effective as shaking your fist at a storm cloud.
So given that they will exist, their success will be based on (1) their ability to organize and (2) the organizations they create being effective.I’ve already noted that anti-Israel organizations tend to be unstable, lasting at most 5-7 years before their own internal inconsistencies blow them apart (after which anti-Israel activity remains unorganized for a while before a new organization is incarnated).
Back in the early days of BDS we were dealing with the now-defunct Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM) which built its success on the ability of divestment campaigns on college campuses to generate media coverage.But the failure of that buzz to create any actual divestment coupled with internal politics soon doomed that organization.And after a period of dormancy, the shiny new SJP has arisen to take its place.
But SJP’s claim to fame, the reason it got on the map in the first place, was its’ “victory” at Hampshire College in 2009.But as has been noted many times before, that “victory” was, in fact, a hoax.You will never, for example, get a Hampshire SJPer to produce a statement by the college saying they have divested in the state of Israel for political reasons (as they did with Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s).You will never get them to demonstrate that Israel-related investments are not in the college’s current portfolio or that Hampshire has a policy to not buy them in the future.
In short, you cannot get them to produce a single bit of evidence that the college has actually done what they say they did.Which is why they befog the air with statements and timelines and even a movie that does a masterful job at pretending the college did what it clearly did not do.
And so the emerging organization underlying the current campus BDS “movement” is based on a lie.And if you look at the long list of BDS “successes” in this BDS Guidebook (recently published in Australia), a majority of them are either fabrications (like Hampshire and Blackrock), outdated (such as the National Union of Journalists which rejected a short-lived divestment vote years ago), anecdotal (such as a handful of celebrities who chose to boycott Israel, failing to mention the hundreds of others who have rejected boycott calls) or simple examples of the BDSers themselves running ineffective campaigns (like divestment petitions submitted to Evergreen College and TIAA-CREF that were rejected by the leaders of those organizations).
So getting back to the original question of how to win in a political environment (like college campuses) where the boycotters demand they be deemed a success by their existence alone, it is our obligation to define success in its normal sense of actually achieving something.And by any imaginable measure, BDS has been a campaign defined by more than a decade of failure.And the organization that is taking the lead (SJP) has been built on a foundation of lies, not just the usual lies about “Apartheid Israel,” but lies about their own track record which is built on telling lies about the very communities they claim to represent and in whose name they demand to speak.
One of the BDSers few political gifts is their ability to deflect criticism by simply ignoring their critics.And they have a ready store of stock answers when confronted by accusations of hypocrisy or anti-Semitism.But, as I’ve said before, what is the defense against being accused (accurately) of being a bunch of losers?Only the insistence that “we’re not losers!” (something only a bunch of losers would say).