Every year or two, one BDS story becomes a major media three-ring circus. Back during “The Old Days,” (i.e., 5-10 years ago), it was a petition-driven divestment campaign at Harvard and MIT that drew headlines and heated debate in 2002, followed by the first big municipal divestment fight in Somerville in 2004 and finally the Presbyterian Church’s 2006 debate to rescind an earlier (2004) divestment vote.
All three of these were defeats for divestment advocates, the last one being big enough to put BDS into remission for three years. But once it metastasized again in 2009, the circus returned at Hampshire College (a 2009 BDS hoax), Berkeley (a 2010 BDS defeat) and this month, the Park Slope Food Coop (outcome TBD).
It’s not entirely clear why certain BDS stories vs. others receive this level of broad media attention. The old adage that “Jews Make News” could be part of the story, at least for a New York locale like Park Slope, given the high percentage of both Jews and media outlets in the vicinity. But I strongly suspect that it is the BDS PR machine (which is especially good at Web 2.0 media communication) which creates these kinds of periodic groundswells of news. The BDSers aim, after all, is to make every one of their activities a major media event. And given that their program consists of dozens (if not hundreds) of campaigns a year in different parts of the world, odds are in their favor that at least once every couple of years they’ll luck out and get a story into The Times.
Those who wonder why the boycotters go to such lengths to force things like a boycott fight/vote at the Park Slope Food Co-op (which both appalls huge number of members and bypasses the consensus-driven decision-making that has informed every other political boycott at the store), may gain some insight at this Tuesday’s meeting where the issue will be fought out among over a thousand co-op members.
For at that meeting, like similar meetings that took place at Harvard, Somerville and Berkeley (not to mention other similar locations that didn’t make the news), the BDSers will get to do what they love more than anything else on earth: gather in large numbers under the banner of someone else’s institutional brand and tear into Israel for hour after hour, wailing at the suffering of Palestinians they claim to uniquely care about, holding aloft pictures of bloody babies, pointing accusing fingers (both at Israel and anyone who disagrees with their diagnosis and demanded course of action), and insisting that morality and progressive thought requires that their personal political opinions be made the law of the land.
And while these accusations and wails and demands are being made, the digital cameras will be rolling, allowing this public testimony to live on at countless web sites where they will be used to prove that BDS is alive and well, even if (as with all other circus performances to date), the actual outcome of a vote goes against a boycott.
If one understands that creating a situation where they can act out in public is the goal of those pushing for boycotts (not winning a vote, not educating others, not advocating for peace, and not improving the lives of others here or in the Middle East), then their willingness to push for some kind of dramatic climax (even just a vote for a vote at a little-known food co-op in Brooklyn) makes sense. And it also highlights a point I’ve been trying to wrap words around recently regarding how BDS stands outside the realm of what I call “normal” politics.
“Denormalization,” a word embraced by those in adhering to the “Israel is wrong about everything” school, describes an effort to make everything associated with being an Israeli feel strange or abnormal. That is why Israelis (although just the Jewish ones) are targeted for academic boycotts, to politicize the normal activity of engaging in regular academic discourse. That is why disruptions take place not just at political events that feature Israelis, but cultural events as well (to create the impression that the right to engage in free speech and perform art without interruption are allowed for everyone in the world except for Israelis and their supporters). That is also why protestors take to the streets whenever Israeli exercises rights automatically granted to every other nation in the world (such as defend itself against military attacks across internationally recognized borders).
And in all these efforts, I would posit that Israel’s foes have successfully engaged in denormalization: of themselves.
Just looping back to the Park Slope story, from what I have heard, this organization is likely filled from top to bottom with people who hold passionate views about all kinds of political matters. And given the infinite elasticity of notions such as “Food is Political” embraced by the BDSers, there is no doubt that many of these issues could be translated into the expulsion of one or more products from the store’s shelves in order to make a political statement in alignment a the political pet peeve of one or more particular co-op members.
But that doesn’t happen, does it? Oh sure, an uncontroversial boycott may be enacted once an issue achieves widespread consensus not just at the co-op but within the wider society (such as the fight against Apartheid). But under most “normal” circumstances, co-op members (even those with strong political passions) are willing to channel those concerns and energies elsewhere, rather than forcing an organization based on cooperation and consensus to do something that would cause immense pain to hundreds if not thousands of people within the community.
But the boycotters do not operate in such a normal manner. Rather, they look at the pain, anger and division they cause and simply conclude “Who Cares?” (presuming they ever consider the consequences of their selfish actions at all). For their end goal is not to change minds, or change the world for the better, but to engage in self-indulgent political theatre, occasionally under the spotlight of the media, regardless of the cost to anyone else.
Such behavior and thoughtlessness, especially when their efforts – even if successful – will achieve absolutely nothing is the textbook definition of abnormal (or, if you prefer, denormal) politics. Which is why sending the practitioners of such deformed, self-centered politics back to the dusty church basements from whence they came is a pre-requisite to getting life back to normal for everyone else.