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.