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.

, , , , , , , , , ,

9 Responses to Interlocutor

  1. fizziks December 31, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    I agree. I would really like to see a sincere, honest answer sometime to my three main issues with BDS. Not obfuscation, but answers as part of a dialog

    1. Why would a one state outcome, which BDS advocates for, be a just outcome, given that it would take away the right of self-determination from the Jewish people?

    2. Why the Israel obsession? are all of the other stateless and repressed groups in the world – Tibetans, Darfuris, Uighurs, Kurds, and so on, who have suffered far more than the Palestinians and who have never turned down their own state – not worth of the same if not a greater level of activism? Why are we not being urged to BDS China, Sudan, or Turkey? The standard line I am given on this – that they focus on Israel because Israel gets a lot of US aid, is clearly a lie because the sum total of US economic dealings with China is much larger, and Turkey is such a close ally that it is in NATO.

    3. Is there any acknowledgement of the irony, amidst charges of “apartheid” that BDS was founded in part by an Arab student studying at Tel Aviv University on the government's dime?

  2. Anonymous December 31, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Dear Jon,

    I recently had a debate on another blog about an issue in Israel (Shomron). The debate was going along nicely until a woman told me that regardless of how many bad acts the muslims committed, the Jews were still stealing their land and that this was wrong.

    I gave this answer some thought and decided to write this back. I told her that I did not know much about her, but here was what I did know.

    She had never cracked a history book, had never read a white paper, had never looked up the Geneva Convention. Continuing, I said that she did not have even a passing understanding of International Law, nor had she ever read what a lawyer specializing in International Law had to say. Ad far as she was concerned, land won in a defensive war was still stolen and should be given back post haste. Whenever she debated anyone in person, she did not listen to a word they said, rather she waited until their lips stopped moving so that she could righteously say that ‘stolen land is still stolen land and that is that’.

    Since she thought the muslims owned all of Judea and Samaria, she probably agreed that the muslims also owned Spain, even though they had not lived there since the 720 A.D. She probably also thought that the Cypriots should give the rest of their island to the Turks.

    She probably had no idea why the muslims wanted to name the Ground Zero mosque, Cordoba House but always thought it odd that they would want to name this controversial mosque after a type of shoe.

    I accused her of not having an original since she was five, and looked at the plethora of facts presented by me and others and mere fiddle-faddle designed to confuse her.

    I was deliberately outrageous and over the top. I choose a wide range of topics, hoping that she would have at least a passing knowledge of one of them. My agenda was to have her defend herself with her own set of ‘facts’, sparking more debate.

    All I received was deafening silence. And even worse, none of her liberal friends came to her rescue. If the situation had been reversed, not only could I have defended my self, but plenty of other people would have chimed in to verify what I said.

    It seems that with liberals, regardless of the topic, be it Israel, the muslims, world politics or local politics, the lack of knowledge is breathtaking. They, to a man, make up a mantra that sounds good and chant it whenever they get a chance. They debate, not with facts, but with emotion.

    Jon, if you want a debate with the BDS crowd, you are in for a long wait. There are no facts to support their positions. As you pointed out in a previous post, liberals do the things they do, not because it helps their cause, but ‘because it was, in his words, good for his soul.’

    If you want a rousing debate, maybe you should introduce some other topics such as waterboarding, torture or Guantanamo Bay. Or if that gets too heated, maybe the merits of cooking beef with cinnamon (I am against). At least with these topics, you will not get dead silence.


  3. DrMike December 31, 2011 at 11:20 pm #

    The other way that the pushers of BDS (and those in other movements advocating the elimination of Israel) manage to obfuscate the facts and avoid debate is to throw out various statements to bolster their position. These assertions deal with various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they all have one thing in common– they are lies.

    Some examples– some of them related to the BDSers core arguments, and some not, because that's the way the BDSers use them (sorry, I don't have time at the moment to search for all the links, but if any BDS pusher wants verification of them, I'll ask them to do the same that they insist we do– prove that those statements were NOT made, and/or admit that those on your side DO make them):
    “Arabs are not allowed to own land in Israel”
    “Israel is an apartheid state”
    “Christians are not allowed to practice their religion in Israel”
    “There are no trees left in Gaza”: (seriously, this was said by Lynn Gottlieb, a JVP activist, after Operation Cast Lead)
    “Israel is doing to the Palestinians EXACTLY WHAT [emphasis mine] the Nazis did to the Jews”
    “Occupation is the greatest crime in the world”
    “Arabs are not allowed to serve in the IDF”
    “International law requires that Israel give back all the occupied territories”

    Now responding to each one of these lies takes a modicum of time and effort. In some cases quite minimally, because about 1 minute on Google will take you to reliable information to disprove it. But in the time honored tradition of resorting to lies when the facts aren't on your side, the BDS pushers want to force us to make the effort to respond to each of those lies. And just like the BDS movement views its failures as successes, they also view the attempted and discredited lies as successes–because after all, the topic is always about what Israel is doing wrong–whether the statements are correct or not.

    So in any respectful dialogue, I would expect your interlocutor to refrain from throwing lies up in an attempt to obfuscate the discussion. Whether he or she accepts that will determine a lot about his/her integrity as a discussion partner.

  4. fizziks January 1, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    @ SarahSue: That liberal bashing is uncalled for. I am a liberal and so are my many pro-Israel friends. We even have a whole blog of progressive zionists:

    Every political movement has its ignoramuses. Don't get me started on how ill-informed and proudly ignorant many right wingers are! How many of them still think that Iraq was behind 9/11, let alone believe garbage like the world is 6000 years old??

    But I don't pretent that means that ALL conservatives are ignorant, or that none of them have something worthwhile to say. I know many of them do. I suggest you embrace your liberal allies rather than attempting to mock and pigeon-hole us, based on the actions of an ignorant few.

  5. Stop BDS Park Slope January 1, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    It seems I missed quite a party here! I just finished reading all the comments.

    Jon, you and Dr. Mike are awesome.

    Another answer on the rhetoric question of why do we respond if they are such losers is because they deliberately misrepresent the situation in Israel. It is worth refuting their claims, even if the BDS efforts are futile.


  6. DrMike January 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    I'm with fizziks on this. While I will certainly acknowledge that most of today's Israel bashing comes from, and finds a home in, the left– and the right is much more unified in support of Israel– it is unfair to characterize the moderate/responsible left as anti-Israel.
    Plus, from the point of view of practical politics, we don't need to worry about pitching support of Israel to conservatives; they are already there. The “salvageable” audience is the same one that BDSers are trying to win onto their side. The challenge is not to get conservatives to support Israel; it is to explain to liberals why they as well should support the country that upholds Western values such as civil rights, freedom of religion, etc against those who would rather support a homophobic, misogynistic, intolerant terror organization that publicly mourned Osama bin Laden. I always try to paint the BDS movement as Hamas in fake “human rights” garb. After all, not only does BDS promote the same goal, but– as Jon has pointed out– they are one of the leading groups behind the movement.

    And thanks for the compliment Barb, but I too am on this site just to admire, support Jon's very impressive work and to learn from him.

  7. Jen January 2, 2012 at 3:34 am #

    Thanks, fizziks, you got there before I could.

  8. Anonymous January 2, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    Jon, thank you! I've just come upon your blog and I am quite impressed by the depth of knowledge and your optimistic approach.
    If I may though, I find the term “pro-Palestinian”, given to those with who work hard to delegitimize Israel, misleading and detrimental. Such hypercritical groups and individuals and more accurately described as “anti-Israel”. In Canada there is a group named, “Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle-East”, whose efforts are almost exclusively dedicated to harming Israel. They are afforded undue credibility in no small part because of their laudable though misleading names.
    I believe that if more accurate terms were ascribed, fewer fair-minded people would be attracted to the BDS proponents. While such candour may attract people in Kandahar? it wouldn't go over as well in Canada or the US.

    G-d bless the ignorant; and give the rest of us strength to deal with them.

  9. Jon January 3, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    Thanks for everyone's kind words, which has inspired me to get off the fence on a slightly ambitious project in preparation for the PennBDS event. Stay tuned for further developments.

    Regarding the discussion on left-right issues, I posted something on this subject way back when that probably says all I can add to the conversation:



Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes