They recently added a new session to the PennBDS program on “Palestine and the Occupy Movement” (speaker still TBD). (Just as an FYI, I’m doing my best to write these responses in the order as the Penn schedule, but since that schedule is a moving target I’ll probably wait until the end to arrange them to fit the final program.)
Housekeeping aside, what is there to add to this short piece I wrote on the subject of the interaction between the Occupy Wall Street purposeful un-organization and the highly-organized, highly-motivated and totally ruthless anti-Israel “movement” that today travels under the BDS banner?
Now that “Occupy’s” tents have been un-pitched, it’s worth asking what chance any political project that dedicated itself to avoiding hierarchy had against not just “The Man,” but against ostensible political allies with a far more highly focused set of priorities?
Movements like BDS have a term for people like last year’s Occupy protestors: “Loose Change.”
Generally, this refers to people who show up at a political march or rally, not because they are life-long members of an organization dedicated to that issue, but because they feel a burning need to “do something,” especially in the face of what they perceive to be an injustice. The fact that anti-Israel rallies can attract hundreds or thousands during a period of conflict, but shrink back down to dozens between crises is that during a shooting war ranks temporarily swell with people disturbed by suffering and desirous to “do something,” – anything – to make a difference.
On the whole, these passions are a good thing (even if we might not all agree on the causes the passionate flock to). But this frustration tends to be directionless – much like the directionless-ness that was frequently commented upon by those trying to figure out what Occupy stood for or wanted. In fact, the Occupy project’s attempt to build their movement around principles of political anarchism (in which every man and woman was a leader) made it difficult for them to figure out for themselves what the point was of their program, other than to symbolize a general frustration with inequity in our society.
The Israel-haters who pitched their tents within the Occupy camps had no time for such murkiness and ambiguity. They knew what they wanted – to get the Occupy “brand” wedded to their “movement.” And they knew how to get it: by insisting that any organization or institution that claims to represent progressive values must buy 100% into the anti-Israel cause (which today includes an embrace of BDS) or be “exposed” as traitors to their own principles.
This is why it was only a matter of time before a subset of protestors left their camp in Boston and stormed the Israeli Consulate, all in the name of the “Occupy” movement as a whole. Never mind complains and protests within the Occupy group that these decisions were being made by a narrow few (rather than by consensus). Never mind the symbolism of alleged global activists storming just one consulate (the Jewish state’s) and leaving the rest of the world alone. Never mind that such an incident helped alienate potential supporters from the Occupy project and provided ammunition to enemies ready to cast it in a dark light.
The BDS crowd couldn’t care less about any of that since, at the end of the day, they got exactly what they wanted: YouTube videos showing off their edgy “direct action,” and the ability to say that they get to speak in the name of the Occupy movement in its entirity.
Remember that this is what the BDS “movement” is all about: not peace, not justice, not human rights, but
(1) the ability to use those virtuous concepts as weapons against a political enemy and (2) the attempt to get those words to come out of the mouth of an institution more well known and respected than BDS itself (which pretty much includes everyone).
This is why BDSers sneak around in the dead of night to try to get their divestment and boycott resolutions passed by institutional leaders behind the backs of the membership (as in Somerville, Olympia and the Presbyterian Church), regardless of the cost to communities. This is why drag their squalid little divestment resolutions before college Presidents and student councils again and again, regardless of how many times they say no. This is why they boast of big names like Hampshire College and TIAA-CREF as divestment successes, even though stories of boycott and divestment by those institutions were exposed as fraudulent years ago.
Occupy is not the first progressive movement that’s been co-opted by anti-Israel forces ready to bend other people’s missions to their will. Look at the Green Party which once managed to field a successful Presidential candidate, now reduced to endlessly trying to shove Israel boycott policies down the throats of an increasingly diminishing membership. Or the Lawyer’s Guild which, when not acting as consigliere to BDS groups, resembles little more than a rotting corpse with ruthless Israel haters working its skeletal mouth like a hand puppet.
In theory, you can have an organization in which everyone is the leader and everyone the follower. But in practice there usually ends up being someone ready to insist that their priorities take precedent over everyone else’s. In those latter cases, what term best describes those who “hang in there” hoping that the virtues upon which their political project was founded will overcome the ruthlessness of those trying to co-opt and manipulate them?
“Optimist” would be generous, and “loose change,” a bit obscure. But the word “sucker” certainly (and sadly) comes to mind.