One brief note to start this piece: My invitation to debate BDS published here and on Jewish Voice for Peace/Young Jewish and Proud’s new Go and Learn site was recently released from moderation. I eagerly await their first response, which will give them the chance to participate in that discussions the rest of the Go and Learn site indicates JVP desires above all else. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, my mind recently began wandering to the subject of veterans.
In our modern age, we tend to think of the outcome of warfare being decided primarily by technology and logistics, with armies able to deploy and utilize complex weapons systems in the land, sea and air being superior to those who cannot. And even when you look at asymmetrical warfare, which tends to utilize roadside bombs, terror tactics and propaganda instead of aircraft carriers and robot drones, success in this field requires mastery of technical and political skill, rather than fighting experience.
But if you look back throughout the thousands of years of history when war was conducted primarily with the same hardware (swords, spears, bows, shields, armor and the like), the factor marking the difference between a successful and unsuccessful army was the experience of the soldiery.
Troops loyal to Julius Caesar, for example, were not referred to as “Caesar’s Soldiers” or “Caeser’s Legions,” but “Caesar’s Veterans,” highlighting the fact that soldiers who spend decades fighting side by side provided the edge in battle even against far larger armies.
Even the strategic genius of a commander is frequently the result of a general himself being the veteran of numerous campaigns, providing him the chance to try different things at different times and experience both victory and defeat.
I bring this up since another strength BDS warriors bring to battle (along with Web 2.0 communication skill and complete indifference to the needs of others) is their experience waging their propaganda campaigns over many years and even decades. For most of us, the thought of engaging in a divestment debate in our student union or town hall is appalling not just because of the nature of the subject matter, but because few of us have experience engaging with (in this case) aggressive political warfare that is likely to create tension and conflict (the very things many of us spend our lives trying to avoid).
But years of experience battling against the boycotters eventually provides us the veteran’s perspective, helping turn what might have originally felt like distasteful conflict into a battle we eagerly anticipate for the thrill it provides (especially in victory – the familiar result for pro-Israel activists engaged in a BDS fight).
I can attest to this personally as someone addicted to the rush of watching a BDS vote (even on Twitter– which I still barely know how to use) go down to defeat. And my eagerness to mix it up with folks like Young, Jewish and Proud derives from longing to engage in arguments I’ve been writing about for years with no interlocutors ready to engage in some serious intellectual jousting.
But the veteran’s experience can also be seen in the wider Jewish community, best exemplified by this report from the Reut Institute on how 2011 was the year Israel’s supporters fought back (successfully and unapologetically) against the still-more-experienced defamers of the Jewish state. As time goes on, more experience should drive more success and success will drive our desire to obtain more experience, creating new generations of vets capable of continuing to stare down the BDS threat, regardless of the ruthlessness of our adversaries.
As a final note, I’d like to pay a brief tribute to a veteran of many wars who finally lost out to the one enemy none of us can avoid forever. Christopher Hitchens may have never been a great friend to the Jewish state. But he was a great friend to others who earned his sympathy (such as the people of Iraq) and Hitchens fought for their cause, regardless of what previous friends and allies had to say on the matter. While I am sad that this iconoclast of great wit and letters passed away without embracing the justice of Israel’s cause (or the Jewish world of which he was a part), I shall miss him and his words, even (or especially) the ones with which I disagreed.