PennBDS: BDS 2.0

As with many of the topics being covered at the upcoming PennBDS conference, I’ve written previously on the subject of BDS in the context of the Web 2.0 communications revolution.  I’ve also written about some of the unintended consequences of the ability of BDS advocates to successfully leverage these new technologies to spread their message.

While you should probably read both stories linked above to get a full sense of the phenomenon, in summary: Web 2.0 communications is one of the few areas where Israel’s foes have a leg up over the Jewish state’s supporters.

This may be a result of age and associated comfort level with sites such as Facebook and Twitter, or it may derive from differing goals and strategies between the two sides (BDSers, for example, do all they can to smear the Jewish state in as many forums as possible, while Israel’s supporters are not waking up every morning trying to figure out new ways and places to sling mud at their adversaries).

Wherever the phenomena originates, it’s safe to say that if a BDS story breaks anywhere, it will quickly travel across the globe and shoot up the Google rankings by the time the rest of us are getting our shoes tied.  The unintended consequences mentioned above derive from having a well-developed channel of communications coupled with virtually no real news to push through it.

This leads to things like breathless announcements that some French academic no one ever heard of has decided to not visit Israel for political reasons (even though, in looking at him, I suspect he decided to skip the trip so he can take a nap).  I suspect it is also the reason why the boycotters continued to push BDS hoaxes into the pipeline, even knowing that people are out there ready to expose their fraud within hours.  For when if you’ve got an audience that has been promised (and is hungry for) any sign of progress and you’ve got a quick and easy way of communicating with them, it becomes almost impossible to resist the urge of typing something into the RSS, WordPress, Twitter or Facebook feed and hitting the Send button, even if it might end generating little more than embarrassment.

All this said, it really is a crime that we in the pro-Israel/anti-BDS camp have been so slow in picking up the techniques needed to get our own (true) stories out into the world at least as fast as our opponents spread their trivialities and lies.

I’ll admit to being one of the worst offenders of not utilizing tools and techniques I know work to get the word out beyond a core audience.  For example, it was just in the last month (after more than two years of blogging), that I started Tweeting and commenting on third party sites (hopefully with relevant comments) in order to draw people to arguments collected at this PennBDS-Oy landing page, a page I set up specifically to present arguments appearing on this blog in the same order these subjects will appear on the PennBDS agenda.

Simple techniques, such as posting early and often about a subject, and utilizing key text (such as “PennBDS”) in blog titles has helped with search engine rankings (especially given that the conference is a “small-news” topic, generating little media that is not written by parties involved with the conference itself).

Probably the one question I’m asked more often than any other is where the BDSers are getting the money they use to fund their campaigns.  In response, I usually point out that the things they do (at least in the US) don’t require a lot of money, just time, a certain level of Web savvy, and a willingness to commit yourself to (among other things) running around the Web a certain amount of time per day “Liking” and linking things that support your cause.

While it would be nice to have the Netherlands fund a paid staff for Divest This (and I can think of good uses to put the kind of money needed to sail fleets of ships across the Mediterranean), I can attest that you can accomplish quite a bit with nothing more than some simple effort, combined with the most important thing any online content creator can do for their cause: create material worth reading.

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15 Responses to PennBDS: BDS 2.0

  1. Anonymous January 29, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    So hilarious to see you mocking BDSers for monopolizing web forums and comment threads when you comment on and shamelessly promote your self-glorified blog on nearly every single article on PennBDS I've ever seen.

    • Jen January 30, 2012 at 2:34 am #

      Jon is mocking BDSers for being ridiculous hypocrites. And he is commenting and promoting his commentary on PennBDS wherever that happens to be relevant. Successful on both counts, I believe.

    • Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 5:37 am #

      And I respect his commentary. I respect the fact that the rhetoric in Jon's writing, unlike that of the vast majority of articles I've seen about the conference, is tame and relatively amiable (although with a tinge of humorous sarcasm). I support BDS to some degree, but I question the efficacy of full BDS. While I disagree with most of the arguments in Jon's blog, I think they've been helpful in highlighting some of the weaker approaches to BDS, and they've made me take a more nuanced approach to the tactic.

      It's funny though, because arguing over the tactic of BDS with Jon is pretty useless. Before debating the efficacy of BDS as a tactic, you first have to come to the shared conclusion that Israel is culpable of human rights violations. Jon will always oppose and criticize BDS, not necessarily because it isn't/won't ever be an effective tactic, but because he doesn't agree with BDS' fundamental premise that Israel systematically oppresses the Palestinians.

    • Jon January 30, 2012 at 11:42 am #

      I can't tell you how good it is to hear that someone has read and taken the arguments I've been presenting seriously, even if you have legitimate disagreements.

      And you are correct that I do not agree with BDS' fundamental premise, believing as I do that all of the problems in the Middle East (including Palestinian suffering) ultimately derives from the dysfunctional politics of the countries in the region outside of Israel. But the fact that we don't start and argument from a shared conclusion is the only way we can have an true debate at all. If I were to insist that you agree to my conclusions before I would agree to discuss anything with you, then why have a debate in the first place? The whole point is to provide evidence and arguments that help people decide between *different* conclusions and different world views. And, as the exchange you and I are having demonstrates, this is a debate I am more than happy to have.

  2. Jon January 30, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    A reasonable point, my Anonymous friend. But to be fair, I have done all I can to provide the PennBDS organizers and their many friends and allies with the debate on the subject of BDS they claim to crave in their press releases, editorials and announcements to the public.

    And rather than just condemn the event, or highlight questionable statements participants have made in the past, I have instead taken each and every item on the PennBDS agenda and put time into providing detailed responses (which you may not agree with, but you can’t claim were never provided).

    I have communicated with people in the PennBDS organization, as well with the Jewish Voice for Peace members who are organizing meetings across the country (in a program they claim is designed to engage with allies AND critics) and have even offered them space on my site to provide rebuttals. Yet despite giving BDS forces the debate they are telling the public they desire above all else, the response so far has been to pretend that these detailed responses do not exist.

    Because BDS champions choose to hide from genuine discussion (while simultaneously claiming that others are denying *them* such dialog), I have been forced to communicate the existence of these arguments via whatever mechanisms I can (including leaving comments on third-party sites which – unlike BDS sites – provide a mechanism for feedback).

    That said, why don’t we make a deal? You are obviously either a PennBDS member or someone who (for some unknown reason) follows all Web sites that mention PennBDS closely enough to know I have been commenting there. That being the case, why don’t you reach out to your friends and allies and ask them to finally drop the pretending and take part in discussion?

    After all, if BDS arguments are so powerful, it should be child’s play for the dozens of speakers or hundreds of BDS advocates coming to Philly next weekend to make mincemeat of my arguments and prove to the world that you are both willing to engage in debate and win it. Absent that, the only impression the uncommitted will be left is that the mighty forces of BDS are afraid to take on a single guy with a blogger account.

    And if I’ve got a real debate to participate in, there will then be no reason to seek outlets elsewhere.

    Fair enough?

    • Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 4:03 am #

      If you're genuinely interested in debating proponents of BDS, why didn't you register for the conference? You could have raised your concerns to the most prominent members of the BDS movement (and I'm sure you would find yourself inundated in new material for several months to come). But on the point of civil public discourse, PennBDS did invite several organizations that vehemently oppose the movement, like yourself. (#2 in http://pennbds.org/press-releases/a-message-from-pennbds) They all declined. It seems to me that it wasn't that PennBDS “hid from genuine discussion” but that the prospects of any honest debate were precluded by the almost ubiquitous notion in the pro-Israel community that BDS advocates are anti-Semitic and therefore not worth debating.

    • Jon January 30, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      Part of my reason for not attending your event is logistical (I live outside of Penn, and can't make it away for a whole weekend). And, as someone pointed out, the opportunities for debate would be pretty limited if I did attend (since I wouldn't expect you to open your stage to me, which would thus limit “debate” to 1-2 questions from the floor).

      This is why I created an online forum over at http://www.pennbds-oy.com which provides space for you to reply to my arguments in a virtual place where more people are visiting each day than have attended yours or anyone else's BDS conference ever.

      And if you don't like the forum I created, why not create your own? Or, better yet, why don't we together create a place where transcripts from your event can be paired with my responses and an agreed-upon mechanism (comments or some other device) can be used to keep the conversation going?

      There are all kinds of ways that PennBDS can demonstrate their commitment to dialog that don't require you to ask me short questions that I can accept or refuse to answer (or vice versa). And the Internet allows you to demonstrate this commitment (as well as your allegedly powerful arguments in favor of BDS) to the widest possible audience.

      I'm ready for such a challenge if you are!

  3. Anonymous January 30, 2012 at 7:33 am #

    “If you're genuinely interested in debating proponents of BDS, why didn't you register for the conference?”

    And what good would this do? Generally, at any anti-Israel talk, people are limited to one question. Thats not a debate and hardly even a discussion. And generally, if the organizers suspect there are Israel supporters in the audience, they ask for questions on cards, and discard any challenging ones. At the last few of her talks, for example, Dalit Baum refused to answer any questions that portrayed a different point of view than hers. She simply refused.

    You want Jon to debate? I'm sure he'll be willing. All you have to do is ask. But frankly, I dont think there is a BDS'er out there thats up to the challenge.

  4. uncle yo-yo January 30, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    Anonymous: Let's drill down on two of your statements:

    1. “I support BDS to some degree, but I question the efficacy of full BDS.”

    So, you question the efficacy of BDS, but you remain expressly OK with its goals. And those goals are? Telling how you (and all BDSers) are always silent on those goals unless pushed. This is because it is so hard to sound reasonable and claim the mantle of being a supporter of human rights when your end goal is the destruction of a state and the subjugation, dispersal, and likely killing of its people (well, Jews anyway).

    2. “Before debating the efficacy of BDS as a tactic, you first have to come to the shared conclusion that Israel is culpable of human rights violations.”

    As Jon pointed out, no you really don't. And even if I did, I can even agree that Israel is culpable of human rights violations, while also being against BDS because, to give you three independent reasons: (1) the goal of BDS will lead to much greater human rights violations; (2) every country in the world has as bloody (or bloodier) a historical resume as Israel without being deemed worthy of dismemberment (tell you what, Anonymous, identify the country you are from and I will show how that country is worse than Israel from a human rights perspective); and (3) a two state solution will solve the problem of occupation and end the “human rights violations” faster and without causing a genocide of Israeli citizens like the one-state solution advocated by BDS.

    Please note that the last reason should be why any REAL supporter of Palestinian rights should be against BDS, leaving the field clear for BDS to be run by its current crew of fools, fascists, jew-haters, genocide enthusiasts — all of whom are ready to corageously fight to the very last Palestinian (from the safety of the Penn campus, of course) rather than compromise their beliefs.

    To sum: do not lie to yourself and think that what you are doing is heroic or good or in the name of human rights — it is just the opposite.

    • Anonymous January 31, 2012 at 12:17 am #

      …And now we're back to the typical Zionist hyperbole. I'll tell you what. I'll come back and have a civil discussion with Jon once his “followers” stop calling me a foolish, fascist, jew-hating, genocide enthusiast. Good job of destroying Jon's only hope of debating a BDSer. Lol.

    • Jon January 31, 2012 at 1:22 am #

      I appreciate your sensitivity to what you consider to be unfair accusations regarding your principles and motives and hope what you are feeling gives you sensitivity to what I and other opponents of BDS must feel like.

      After all, for the better part of three days this weekend there will be an event on your campus dedicated to the proposition that Israelis are racist mass murderers, and that anyone saying otherwise are apologists for racism and genocide.

      Yet despite such attacks, I remain open to engaging with any BDS proponent ready to honestly and enthusiastically defend their positions. If you change your mind and decide to be one of these, my invitation remains open.

    • Stop BDS Park Slope January 31, 2012 at 4:00 am #

      Anonymous @ 4:17PM

      I, too, welcome to hear your position and I am glad you have come here to engage in intelligent debate.

      I would ask you this question: Can I assume that you are in favor of the end of violence in I/P? If so, what evidence can you present to me to demonstrate that if the 3 demands of the BDS platform were to be fulfilled, it would lead to the end of conflict?

      Looking forward to your response,
      Nycerbarb

  5. uncle yo-yo January 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Anonymous BDSer. Let's continue examining your postings, shall we:

    1. You seek to characterize as a “debate,” or a willingness to debate, your three prior postings which consist of (1) mocking Jon and accusing him of some light hypocrisy (“so hilarious to see you mocking BDSers when …”); (2) trying to set and pre-determine the terms and bounds of any debate before you even get started (“Before debating the efficacy of BDS as a tactic, you first have to come to the shared conclusion that Israel is culpable of human rights violations”); and (3) accusing Jon of bad-faith and not really wanting to debate (“If you're genuinely interested in debating proponents of BDS, why didn't you register for the conference?”). That is no debate or even a demonstration of a willingness to have a real debate.

    2. When you get challenged on some of your assumptions, you pretend your feelings are hurt so you don't have to substantively respond. I also should note the immediate resort to victimology and blame-casting — this choice of tactic reveals a great deal (more on that below).

    3. This tactic (and that is all that it is) keeps you from having to admit in writing that you and the BDS bunch wholeheartedly support the destruction of a state or grapple with what that says about you (and whether the words I used in my previous post that you take issue with (e.g., genocide enthusiast) have more than a grain of truth to them).

    4. This tactic (“you have hurt me and by doing so are preventing the debate I so desperately otherwise want”) is classic BDS all wrapped up in a nice bow: (a) it ensures no debate takes place; (b) it blames the other side for not having that debate; (c) it creates a fantasy of a villian and a champion; (d) it makes Anonymous the champion of that fantasy; (e) it makes it all about Anonymous again, rather than the Palestinians (funny how that always happens); and (f) it keeps Anonymous from having to actually deal with the fact that, in real life, he is no champion of good and justice but supports a goal that is demonstrably harmful to PALESTINIANS — who he/she pretends to support, but is willing to sacrifice to a fantasy starring him/herself.

    To sum: Anonymous is a classic, run of the mill, BDSer peddling classic, run of the mill BDS strategy. At the end of the day, there will always be the “three nos of BDS”: NO debate, NO logic, NO honesty, together with a display of some serious emotional issues just below the surface.

  6. DrMike January 31, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Here's my response to BDSer Anon:

    OK, I'll “come to the shared conclusion” that Israel is culpable of human rights violations as long as you come to the shared conclusion that Israel's human rights record AS A WHOLE– the good and the bad together– is not only far better than that of its neighbors, and not only far better than those of many US allies, but far better than the USA's own record during times of war.
    Once we have that shared basis for discussion, then we can discuss your view that BDS is an appropriate tactic to promote ONLY against Israel. Deal?

  7. Marni Jane February 2, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    Being one of the 20 something year old Zionists out there, i always take a bit of umbrage whenever anyone for or against characterizes us as all so very aged and not with the times. And i suspect that were the numbers crunched, even if a majority of young american jews didn't self identify zionist, that many would fit the definition. J street supporters, as bumbling and obnoxious as they can be, may not identify as zionist for example but certainly couldn't be said to be part of the BDS team and hold values not alien to liberal zionism.

    But back to your original musings on why we're down in the web 2.0 game. And i'm commenting b/c my experiences/takeaway have apparently been vastly different than yours. The people i see posting the most noxious content are just mad individuals with no political or media power. Their facebook pages, their meetings, are just one massive circle jerk. On a more substantial level, huffpo for instance, i see a lot of rhetoric that seems to be a nod at the far left (which i was a part of). When i came to the left it was already an enshrined truth that one could not be both progressive and zionist. So i just have to wonder, how much of the difference in web success is due to actually not getting the tech versus “why would i want to subject myself to a slew of hate questioning my ethics, my humanity, calling me a racist, calling me a white european colonizer…” the list goes on. I mean, look at the comments on your own blog. Hell if you want some real fun look at the list i encounter regularly up on mine. I just wonder if supporters are even posting in the first place let alone getting to the maximize search results stage.

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