Shouts and Pouts

In one sense, it’s great to be the “new kid on the block” with regard to a political “movement,” something Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are discovering now that they have become the go-to organization with regard to anti-Israel activity on US campuses. The press automatically turns to you when they need quotes from “the other hand” during a Middle East campus controversy, and the dozens of anti-Israel organizations outside of campus are ready to support your cause, man your events, and provide you advice and resources.

At the same time, the spotlight comes at a price. If SJP activists on a particular campus cannot expand their group beyond a tiny core, this lack of interest reflects not just on them but on the wider SJP network, exposing them as simply the latest reconfiguration of the same gaggle of Israel-dislikers that have been around forever, rather than the vanguard of a grassroots uprising.

But even if they can get their ranks to a decent number and are lucky enough to be led by people with strong organizational skills, they also run into a bigger challenge of actually having to produce results.

Given that this new iteration of “the movement” continues to embrace BDS, this means trying to get colleges and universities to divest is automatically on their agenda. But given that no school has given into BDS demands despite a decade of asking, everyone knows that bringing this issue back to school administrators for the umpteenth time is a dead end. And because the cornerstone SJP “victory,” the one that put the organization on the map (Hampshire College) is known beyond BDS circles to have been a hoax, these same administrators are well aware of the risk they run by simply giving BDS activists the time of day, limiting SJP options still further.

After the 2010 divestment controversy at UC Berkeley, student government seemed an easier target since it simply involved getting a small subset of the student body to strike a pose (vs. getting actual administrators to take an action). But the BDSers only succeed (temporarily) at Berkeley by getting their divestment resolution passed in the dead of night before anyone else on campus knew what was going on. And once word got out, that divestment vote was reversed within weeks.

In politics (as in physics) every action creates an opposite reaction. And in the case of student government, Berkeley created a spirit of vigilance among pro-Israel organizations to ensure that BDS activity within student government takes place in the light of day, efforts which led to the defeat of such divestment votes on other campuses since the Berkeley brouhaha.

If getting others (administrators, student government) to do what you want becomes too daunting, SJP can (and has) fallen back on activities that do not require anyone but themselves to do anything, such as writing letters to the editor and building their mock walls and holding their Israel Apartheid Week events. But as these annual rituals become increasingly shopworn, they are also being met by pro-Israel letters, speakers and programming to counter them.

This led to a new phenomenon over the last 1-2 years of anti-Israel activists disrupting pro-Israel events, most notably in California where organized interruption led to a shutdown of a talk by Israel ambassador Michael Oren (leading to similar shoutdowns on other campuses).

But here the boycotters pushed too far, causing administrations usually somnambulant to Jewish student claims of harassment to take action, which meant that (heaven forbid) students participating in disruptive anti-Israel activity might face personal consequences for their behavior.

The tactic of loud disruption was recently modified into a so-called “Silent Walkout” where SJP students and supporters arrived early at a pro-Israel speaking event, took all the seats and once the speaker began they put tape over the mouths and walked out the door, leaving the hall empty. While creative as a tactical variation, it faced the same problem all new tactics face in our wired age of being well known by the time it was to be used again. Which meant that pro-Israel students were also showing up early and administrators were able to set down ground rules for respectful behavior, leaving SJPers with little to do than tape their mouths shut in the back of the room and slink out with few people paying attention to them.

As these attack and defense routines play themselves out on campuses this year (which I still predict will end in stalemate), SJP must struggle with whether it exists to have actual political impact, or is content to be known as an organization most dedicated to create YouTube and Facebook entries demonstrating their ability to act naughty in front of grownups.

9 thoughts on “Shouts and Pouts”

  1. It makes me a little sad to get here and see no new comments. I guess everyone else is like me — reading regularly, but with nothing of import to add to your analysis.

  2. Israel (as a Zionist expansionist state) is inherently “anti-Palestinian”. Using the term “anti-Israel” to describe people working to realize Palestinian human rights is just a bit narcissistic.

  3. I agree Jen, and I guess I don't feel I have much to add to Jon's very astute commentary.

    Of course we could play with the troubled anonymous visitor, looking hopelessly for expiation of his privilege guilt. But we already know he couldn't respond to the contents of this or previous articles. Not bad, kid – your false premise and your projection aside, you have earned an honorary moment of respite (pats his head).


  4. Jen,
    The BDS movement (as typified by never-say-anything-intelligenters like the other poster in this thread) has so little momentum behind it, with so many lame and easily debunked arguments, and has been so thoroughly stripped of standing by Jon's analyses, that I find myself agreeing with what he's saying and not having all that much to add. And, just speaking personally, I tend to post in order to add substantial isnights; I've never liked those Huffington Post-type groupies who type “Yeah!F&F!”/”You tell them, Helen Thomas!” Just be sure there are other DT! fans out there who feel strongly about this site's valu as you do.

  5. All your kind words are much appreciated. While many a blogger (including me) claim (accurately) that we're doing this to get something off our chests, I'd be fibbing to say that receiving comments (even negative ones) wasn't still a major highlight of my day.


  6. SarahSue

    To the person who said ‘Israel (as a Zionist expansionist state) is inherently “anti-Palestinian”.

    Israel is against any entity that wants to destroy her. Anti-Iran, anti-Egypt, anti-Turkey, anti-Syria, anti-Lebanon, take your pick. The muslims living in Israel have been trying to destroy her for over sixty years. Is it not time to declare them the enemy? And given that the muslims have proven to be the enemy, is it not time for Israel to expand and move them out of her heartland? I think this is a great idea and should be implemented forthwith. Despite their best efforts, the muslims have failed. Maybe they should think of going to Europe and becoming part of the great social experiment, Multiculturalism where you get paid for being a perpetual victim and a continual whiner.

    You try and libel Israel by calling her a Zionist expansionist state. Zionists, of which I am one, want Israel to succeed. If this means expanding to include the disputed territories, then I am all for it. The Israelis have given the muslims sixty years of chances, now it the time to realize the muslims will not change. Therefore, Israel must move ahead and do what is good for her.

    You said, ‘Using the term “anti-Israel” to describe people working to realize Palestinian human rights is just a bit narcissistic.’

    The muslims living in Israel have the same rights as all other Israeli citizens. The muslims living under the Palestinian Authority have very few rights. It is the Palestinian Authority that keeps the muslims living in ‘camps’. It is the Palestinian Authority that gives their aid to terrorists in prisons and ‘workers’ in Gaza, rather than to the common folk. It is the Palestinian Authority that will not give their people citizenship, whereas three million muslims living in Israel are citizens. It is the Palestinian Authority that boycotts Israeli goods causing muslims shopkeepers to lose their livelihood. Yet rather then fight the Palestinian Authority to make them change their ways, you fight Israel.

    So, yes, I call you anti-Israel and feel comfortable doing it. The muslims and the Palestinian Authority need new leadership to get them out the huge hole they have dug for themselves. They do not need some do-gooders championing for ‘rights’, rights the muslims interpret as the 'right' to commit mayhem and chaos without any consequences.

    How about you champions of the ‘Palestines’ give the Palestinian Authority some grief rather then Israel for a change? You know, the people responsible for their horrid lives. How about you call the Palestinian Authority an apartheid territory since no Jews can live there? How about you petition the Palestinian Authority to rescind the law that gives the death penalty to any muslim that sells land to a Jew? How about you petition the Palestinian Authority to destroy the refugee camps that only exist in the land they control? How about you condemn the Palestinian Authority for supporting Ahlam Tamimi, a terrorist that was delighted when she found out she had killed seven Israeli children, not three, like she had thought. How abut you condemn the Palestinian Authority for threatening a third intifada if they do not get their way?

    There is lots of good things that people could do regarding the muslims. But first, they need to recognize the real enemy of the muslims, their leaders and the koran.

  7. SarahSue


    I read all your posts. They give me information that I cannot get elsewhere. One of my happiest days was discovering your blog. Before that, I thought the BDS movement was winning! The main stream media always had big headlines proclaiming a vote on divestment from Israel, but they never followed up to tell me that they had been defeated. Sanctions were threatened but never materialized. Boycotts were fun because of the Buycotts.

    It is hard to comment on a subject (BDS) when you know next to nothing about it. No one else seems to think this subject is important. You do, and I thank you for it. Most of what I know comes from you.

    The other commenters seem to agree that there is not much to talk about. We absorb your posts and agree.

    Maybe in the slow times, you would write more about Israel. She is one of my favorite subjects. I know a tremendous amount about Israel and the Middle East. But every now and then someone gives me information I did not have. I appreciate the new knowledge. Your commenters are a lively bunch and we could have some interesting discussions. Then there are the don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts liberals that are always fun to pick on.

    Because there is a dearth of BDS victories, there is a death of news, even though news of their failures is always interesting. Maybe this blog could diversify a little. Just a thought.

    But regardless of what you do, Jon, I will always include this blog in my daily reading. Thanks for writing it.

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