IAW Comes and Goes

I was going to provide some coverage of this year’s “Israel –Apartheid Week” (IAW) campus activities, until I realized that IAW had come and gone already.

I was surprised that it made such a small ripple in 2012, even in the Jewish press (which – outside of BDS Web sites, is the only place that tends to cover IAW activity).  After all, according to IAW organizers more US campuses than ever before held Israel Apartheid Weeks (42 is the number I heard).  And (needless to say) the organizations behind those IA Weeks have universally hailed themselves as brilliantly successful.

Now some campus-based Israel advocates claim that their own efforts to counter IAW with Israel Peace Week programming (which took place on over 75 campuses) helped blunt anti-Israel messaging at colleges and universities.  And while that may be true, I suspect this primarily contributes to the campus stalemate I talked about at the beginning of the year.  On some campuses, opposing forces galvanizes both sides to higher levels of activity, while on others the existence of a strong opposition will dampen the spirits of BDSers who tend to “probe with bayonets,” advancing only when they encounter mush and retreating when they meet steel.

Checking on what went on in a few campuses, it also seems like IAW programming was fairly subdued this year with the ubiquitous Omar Barghouti speaking to no more than 30 students on one campus, and the same films and speakers making one more circuit around the country.  Even when BDS/IAW groups opted for “direct action” (i.e., obnoxious behavior) they seem to have not moved past the usual Apartheid Walls and mock checkpoints we’ve seen pop up on campuses for over a decade.

This sameness might have something to do with lack of interest in the whole subject, even by Jewish leaders and journalists who once paid more attention to this aspect of the overall anti-Israel propaganda parade.  Doing and saying the same things year after year (especially in the same venues) tends to create diminishing returns in terms of student interest and press coverage, and with pro-Israel activists ready to counter those propaganda messages IAW becomes just part of the background noise of anti- and pro-Israel messaging on campus (which tends to get tuned out by the majority of students who remain unaffiliated with either side).

But, adding my own guess as to why IAW seems to be running out of steam (even as it expands to more physical locations), I suspect that the continued embrace of BDS by the “I Hate Israel” community is beginning to take its toll.

For showing films, giving speeches and acting out in public is one thing (and whether or not those things happen is completely under the control of the IAW/BDS types).  But actually implementing BDS requires other people to agree with the boycotters and do something, and as I’ve been documenting here for years, that’s proven to be a nearly insurmountable goal.

Even as they show their movies and give their speeches, colleges and universities are falling all over themselves to expand their ties to Israeli academia.  And with Israel now the safest place for investors worldwide, university endowment and retirement portfolios will continue to include (and likely add) more and more Israel and Israel-related companies to their list of chosen stock picks.

As predicted, student union votes endorsing divestment continue to go nowhere (UC San Diego finally had a vote on the matter – just to get the whole thing over with – and, needless to say, BDS lost again).  Which leaves SJP types scrambling to organize hummus boycotts and other trivialities (which also fall flat, thanks the simple counter-tactic of Buycott).

Under these circumstances, a retreat to more IAW-type events (even big ones, like January’s PennBDS conference or the One State conference that took place at Harvard) which consists of boycotters repeating the same messages to the like-minded makes sense as a means of keeping the propaganda flowing and the troops ginned up in the face of growing opposition to both their message and their behavior.

And that behavior is the one part of the story I’d like to focus more time on next.  For the only really new thing I’ve seen this year is a dramatic increase in bullying on the part of BDS activists who seem to be ratcheting up the nastiness factor to eleven, either as a way to gain some attention, shut up their opponents or simply find an outlet for impotent rage.

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