Tek Talk

12 Oct

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is why a “movement” like BDS, which has proven such a bust in real life, seems to continue to capture headlines.  How does a project that has found it virtually impossible to win any genuine significant victories still manage to get its self-characterization of “unstoppable momentum” into the news?

A credulous media (including US and European papers ready to print BDS press releases verbatim and, sadly, a partisan Israeli media ready to use BDS campaigns to bludgeon political rivals) might provide some explanation for this phenomenon.  And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of the BDSers’ relentless inconsiderateness to generate attention (the most recent example being the unmitigated gall of a group that celebrated disrupting a major Jewish Federation event demanding that that same Federation hail their leader as a community hero and fork over a cash prize).

But there is one aspect of the competition between Israel’s defenders and detractors that needs to be highlighted, one area where Israel’s foes have traditionally outclassed its friends: the use of the new media (including blogs, social networks and other Web 2.0 communication tools) to get their message out.

This disparity hit home last month when dueling stories regarding BDS success and failure (the latter written by me) appeared in the online Israeli news daily Ynet.  This piece (written in an emotional frenzy by an Israeli supporter) managed to generate over 1000 Facebook recommendations and was Tweeted close to 250 times.  My rejoinder, in contrast, barely broke the hundred mark on Facebook and never got past low double digits on Twitter.

Assuming every connection generates another round of re-forwarding and re-Tweeting, it’s safe to say that the ten-to-one disparity between the two stories meant the original tale of BDS success found a home in thousands of more places than the corrective.  And thus, once again, a lie is traveling around the world at the speed of light while the truth is still trying to find its socks.

Given how every BDS debate attracts at least one argument about how people truly interested in boycotting Israeli will have to give up their computers, their cell phones and the Internet as a whole (since much of that technology is based on Israeli inventions), I’ve often wondered why we marvelously inventive Jews haven’t managed to use all this technology half as well as our opponents.

Part of this might be an age issue.  While there are plenty of young people involved with pro-Israel activism, my sense is that average age skews a bit higher on this side of the divide vs. the other.  If this is the case, you’ve got a pro-Israel community comfortable with some aspects of online communication, such as e-mail and Web surfing, but not others (such as social networks, Twitter and other technologies that are in the process of replacing mail as the prime communication vehicle for young people).

I can sympathize since I am part of this cohort, someone who is happy to spend more than an hour writing a blog entry every few days who is not ready to spend 20 minutes a day recommending and relinking stories written by others in order to elevate them in Google search rankings.

Fortunately, there has been some movement in the right direction over the last couple of years.  Web sites like this one and are a big improvement over the sites you’ll still find hosted by larger Israel advocacy organizations in that they act as starting and endpoints for multiple mechanisms of communication and community building.  And even the aforementioned Jewish CommunityHero site is based on key elements of Web 2.0 success: openness and trust.

At the same time, attempts by BDSers to exploit that openness (as we saw with the Community Heroes controversy) demonstrates one additional advantage Israel’s foes have over its friends.  For just as they steadfastly demand we open every conceivable forum to them or face accusations of “muzzling” and censorship, they will never reciprocate by opening their online spaces up to potential critics (in the form of maintaining open or unrestricted comments sections or any other option that would give critics the same freedom they demand for themselves).

Thus Web 2.0 savvy combines with general BDSholiness provides the forces of boycott, divestment and sanctions a bit of an edge.  But given that we’ve been winning every other battle over the boycotters, there’s no reason to believe we won’t figure out a way to win this one as well.

4 Responses to “Tek Talk”

  1. Mike October 12, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

    It's worth stressing that a possible contributing factor for the imbalance has to do with the fact that for many of the WE-HATE-ISRAEL BDS foot soldiers (at least those whom I've brushed elbows with), this essentially is their full-time job, whereas folks on the other side have real jobs, have families to tend to and have lives.

    Our friends clearly don't take days off (unless, of course, they are “occupying” Wall Street); we obviously can't afford to either in this propaganda war that is BDS.

  2. Anonymous October 12, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    You are absolutely correct about this.

    For example:
    The ISM just sent out an email urging the use of hashtag #Tweepstrike. “Join the ISM in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners held under harsh conditions in Israel’s jails, a new twitter trend emerged today from Gaza. The trend is #TweepStrike and is an open invitation to everyone across the globe to go on a hunger strike “

    We could and should respond. My plan:
    We should have everyone use this hashtag to tell the world that whole chickens and free cable TV are not inalienable human rights.

    The Palestinian hunger strikers demands include:
    Ending the ban on college education for prisoners
    Ending the policy of provocative incursions and invasions of prisoners’ cells
    Stopping the handcuffing of prisoners during visits by family members and lawyer
    Allowing the broadcast of satellite TV channels
    The prisoners had previously demanded whole chickens. The prison authority has capitualted to that demand.

    ****************

    Yes, it a minor issue, but we as a group are not optimizing our use of social media. We need to learn from our opposition.

  3. Anonymous October 12, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    Part of this might be an age issue. While there are plenty of young people involved with pro-Israel activism, my sense is that average age skews a bit higher on this side of the divide vs. the other.

    BDS reasoning favors immaturity, and thus youth.

    Young people, seeking the next stage in identity formation,turn to so-called “social justice” and other riskless ways to play a role of “brave” “righteousness,” etc. This is very important for many middle to upper-class youth who feel “unworthy” due to their pampered background. Wagging their finger at someone else offers some relief.

    As people mature, most lose the insecurity that this assuaged, and many become more savvy about worldly matters, less satisfied with simplistic contrived morality plays. They started out cheerleading for lefty causes from kindergarten onward, taking satisfaction in how much more “moral” they are than the greedy “haters,” etc (indicating the adults, basically). Later, with experience of life, as their teen identity emotions slough off, they look anew at the political causes that they'd so self-righteously occupied the dean's office over with chagrin.

    Many BDS supporters go through this, but it takes 20 years.

    Johnny

  4. Anonymous October 13, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    “If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain.” Winston Churchill

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