Regular readers may have picked up on my fondness for words. And while I’ve sometimes been (legitimately) teased for using more words than may be necessary to make a point, it’s often the case that a single word is all that’s needed to clarify an important issue. And for the PennBDS program event entitled “Talking to Beginners About BDS, Israel and Zionism,” the key word worth discussing is “Beginners.”
It’s easy to understand why college campuses are the places that BDS (and similar propaganda efforts) are so easy to create, revive or continue. For unlike institutions such as Mainline Protestant churches (where the same people tend to hear the same arguments year in and year out), in college and universities at least 25% of the population is turning over each year, and 100% will come and go within 4-5 years (generally).
This perpetual turnover means there will always be a new group of “Beginners” towards whom local BDSers can target their message (that Israel is an “Apartheid State,” alone in the world at deserving economic punishment). And while kids coming out of high school and entering higher ed are quite sharp and accomplished, they are not likely to be as worldly at the beginning of their college career as they will be by the end of it.
It is exactly this kind of “Beginner” audience that the boycotters hope will be attracted to their simple-minded, black-and-white storylines of Israeli villainy and pristine Palestinian innocence. And while pro-Israel groups are increasingly trying to counter anti-Israel propaganda with accurate portrayals of the Middle East, they are limited by their (appropriate) choice to tell the truth. And since the truth is more complicated than an immorality tale of Israeli witches and Palestinian virgins, there will always be some “Beginners” who prefer a simple falsehood to a complex and morally ambiguous reality.
But while willingness to ruthlessly push a simplistic, easily-absorbed storyline works to the boycotters’ advantage in some cases, the BDSers run into problems elsewhere when trying to recruit “Beginners” into their fold (even if they only plan to use them as “loose change”).
One of their biggest challenges is that among the 90% of students who enter college without strong opinions (or any opinions) regarding the Middle East conflict, there is a general feeling that dialog is good, with those perceived as being interested in dialog looked upon more favorably than those who are not. This raises a challenge for those pushing BDS who – as the PennBDS conference proves – are ready to talk at an audience, but not particularly interested in talking with them.
I harp a lot about the fact that pro-BDS organizations scrupulously avoid allowing comments on their Web sites, even as the people who run those sites routinely comment at places like Divest This where comments are open and uncensored. In fact, I’ve even provided a place at this sitewhere the PennBDS folks (or their supporters from anywhere in the world) are free to post a response to each and every one of my critiques of the items on their agenda.
Now I understand that people are not obliged to maintain comments on their web sites, and I certainly don’t feel that PennBDS (or anyone else) owes me a debate (or even a response). But it is telling that even when given open access to take on someone who has made the effort to discuss each and every issue they have identified as important – point by point – that their response is to simply pretend that such arguments do not exist.
The obvious reason behind this type of behavior is that, despite claims by groups such as PennBDS or Jewish Voice for Peacethat they hunger for dialog (especially with their critics) in fact they will go to almost any length to avoid genuine discussion, preferring instead to talk just to each other, and to find “Beginners” who may not be aware that alternative opinions are out there.
Interestingly, even pretending to be in favor of dialog rubs a number of BDS-types the wrong way, as attested by this weird comicin which the Israel-dislikers take it upon themselves to depict both sides of the “debate,” drawing and writing themselves as dedicated, thoughtful and thin (natch) and their opponents as bloated, doltish and manipulative.
Putting aside the infantilism such a “work” represents, it certainly highlights the BDSers strong preference to be allowed to select or represent both sides of what they consider to be a “genuine” discussion or debate. This dynamic reached absurd heights in thislistof “normalization” demands which translates roughly to “only after you agree to everything we have said, say, or will say in advance will we consider you ‘pure’ enough to engage with in ‘normal’ dialog with us.”
Back to the original point of how to “Talk to Beginners about BDS, Zionism and Israel,” (why do I suspect the word “Israel” is going to disappear from that title before the conference begins), if history is any guide, the way attendees at PennBDS will be directed to engage in such “Talk” is to:
(1) Accuse Israel of every imaginable (or simply imagined) crime;
(2) Pretend alternative viewpoints and arguments don’t exist;
(3) Accuse Israel’s supporters of trying to stifle or “muzzle” debate whenever they try to contribute to it;
(4) Flush all information that contradicts the BDS world view down the memory hole;
(5) Accuse student or university leaders who don’t agree with you of being in the back pocket of the Zionists;
(6) Ignore or deflect any efforts dedicated to genuine (vs. faux) dialog; and
(7) Accuse, accuse, accuse.
The gang at PennBDS (and any of the BDS luminaries who will be speaking at their event) are more than welcome to tell me if I got anything wrong. And given that they have ample opportunities to respond to this analysis directly, let’s all assume that silence = assent.