Interlocutor – Definition
One who takes part in dialogue or conversation
Having blogged about BDS for close to three years now, one of my greatest disappointments is the lack of BDS advocates ready to engage in a serious discussion or debate over their political project.
Sites of organizations that advocate for BDS rarely allow comments, and even when they do, comments challenging their opinions tend to quickly disappear or get caught in moderation forever.
I still hold out hope that Young Jewish and Proud will answer the invitations I’ve sent them to debate this issue publically (especially since they announced a plan to engage in dialog through their upcoming Go and Learn program). But given historic refusal of Jewish Voicefor Peace’s (parent organization to Young, Jewish and Proud) to share their civic spaces, even as they demand entrance to everyone else’s, my hope to find a good set of interlocutor’s within that group is dimming.
Of course, this site has always been open to comments, and a number of BDS proponents have visited us over the years. To date, however, these visitors have scrupulously avoided discussing any issues brought up on this blog, preferring instead to show up, hurl an accusation (or leave a link) completely unassociated with anything mentioned in my posting, and demand we debate that subject instead. And even when we follow their lead, they tend to make themselves scarce once their accusations or opinions are effectively challenged.
We recently had an above-average visitation from a young man involved with the big BDS conference that will take place at the University ofPennsylvania in February. On the plus side, he provided us interesting information on his new organization (PennBDS) and how it relates to at least one other pro-Palestinian group on campus.
Now a number of Divest This regulars came at him from a number of directions, but my biggest issue with him was the initial attempt he used to try to put me on the defensive.
As many of you know, I’m quite interested in the use of political language, and the rhetorical technique he attempted falls into the category of red-herring fallacy coupled with some judgmental language. This combination is a fairly typical in any heated debate (especially online) and starts with finding some point in an opponent’s argument that is vague or ambiguous. In this case, he fixed on a statement I made that Penn BDS advocates were working “morning, noon and night” to get U Penn to divest, which I claimed put into question statements of the conference organizers that they don’t care about the University distancing themselves from the event.
My opponent pointed out that his group, PennBDS, is new and is focused primarily on this upcoming conference, and thus the statement that they were working “morning, noon and night” on an actual Penn-based divestment effort was false. More than that, he claimed that this was an outright lie, a lie he demanded I admit to (which would no doubt help him make the broader case that, as the author of this site, I am an admitted liar whose words cannot be trusted on any matter).
The loaded language comes in when insisting that a rhetorical flourish not necessarily meant to be taken literally (was I really claiming that he and his organization worked every morning, every afternoon and every evening on just one BDS-related effort?) was an act of deliberate dishonesty and refusing to accept other more-likely interpretations.
And when I pointed out that the broader point (that as a BDS organization at Penn, PennBDS does indeed care if the university shows interest or disinterest in the BDS agenda) is more than valid, he retreated to an unrelated argument (that BDS must be successful, otherwise why would I and other pro-Israel activists put so much time into fighting it?).
This is an argument we have heard before, especially from a “movement” that has so few actual victories to hang their hat on and must thus look to the existence of opponents to demonstrate their effectiveness. While there are many plausible reasons why people like me do what I do that don’t necessarily require us to be frightened of the stupendous success of the boycott and divestment “movement,” his original argument is another example of an effective rhetorical strategy, given that it puts Israel’s defenders in a lose-lose situation of either staying silent and letting Israel’s defamers run wild, or challenging them (at which point we become the basis the BDSers use to demonstrate their success).
As usual when talking about rhetoric and argumentation, I am probably going on too long about too little. Still, it would be nice to find an interlocutor ready to stay the course in what I promise will be a respectful, if challenging, dialog with someone whose passion on this subject is at least as great as that of any BDS champion. Absent that, we seem to be dealing with a “movement” that is willing to do anything to push forward their cause short of actually defending it.