I promised myself to give the whole Park Slope story (and those who participated in it) a rest, but not before commenting on the spin the BDSers predictably gravitated towards in the wake of last week’s significant defeat for their “movement.”
First, you have a demonstration of the boycotters’ uncanny ability to read the minds of the voters on both sides of the issue. Those who voted “Yes” in the “Vote for a vote for a boycott,” for example, now apparently represent an unquestionable demonstration that support for the BDSers’ political project and positions tops 40% (in the heart of Brooklyn no less!).
Never mind the fact that the boycotters own campaign focused less on Middle East politics than on democracy at the co-op, as reflected in these bannersthat summed up a key theme of their campaign: that a boycott must be decided by a ballot of the total membership, and thus a vote for their motion was a referendum on democracy within the coop itself.
Now one can debate this risible proposition, but even accepting it in full demonstrates that last week’s ballot was presented – by the boycotters themselves – as something other than a simple up or down vote in support of BDS or a judgment on who is right and who is wrong in the Middle East conflict. We have anecdotal evidence in the form of people who attended last week’s meeting who claimed that they would vote “Yes” on the ballot (in the name of what they felt was democratic principle) after which they would resign from the coop in protest of the whole mishagas. Again, one can debate such a seemingly contradictory stance. But one cannot debate the fact that some percentage of the people who voted “Yes” did so based on what the boycotters said the vote stood for last week vs. this week.
Last week’s losers also seem to have the ability to read the minds of those who voted against them, claiming that they made their choice because, on this issue, their Jewishness trumped their liberalism. Putting aside the fact that a vote took place in this particular fairly-Jewish and largely-liberal location specifically because the boycotters themselves forced one, how can they possibly know whether or not “No” voters saw one bit of contradiction between their progressive and Zionist principles? Clearly the Israel haters feel these two positions are contradictory, but why should everyone else be forced to agree with them just because they keep shouting their opinion on the matter in everyone’s face?
A couple of weeks back, I asked a boycott supporter visiting this site whether he would be comfortable if Israel’s friends claimed a BDS loss in Park Slope represented a vote of enthusiastic support for the Jewish state at one of America’s most progressive institutions. No, he politely explained. It would simply demonstrate that a majority of coop members did not want to take part in a boycott.
And this is a position to which I wholeheartedly agree. Which is why I find it absurd that the BDSers are now busy reading unlimited support for themselves into their minority share of the vote while dismissing the opinions of those who voted against them as little more than tribal identity trumping all other values.
And speaking of supporters vs. opponents, another standard meme that permeates the Mondoweiss piece is that defeat was not a rejection of BDS positions by members of the Park Slope Coop or the result of local grassroots efforts opposing them, but instead occurred due to the intervention of vast, powerful and wealthy forces arrayed against them.
It should come as no surprise that when you assault the Jewish state in the middle of a Jewish community, Jewish organizations will fulfill their mission to respond to such an assault. And organizations and individuals who support Israel and/or fight against BDS did indeed offer help to those fighting against a Coop boycott. Similarly, the BDSers did what they always do and reached out across New York, the country and the world to find allies who could support their campaign.
But the notion that one of these support networks overwhelmed the other due to their wealth and power would only make sense if wealth or power played a role in either side’s campaign. But neither the BDSers nor their opponents ran TV ads, rented billboards or hired sky-writers to tout their positions and critique their opponents. Instead, this was a retail, grassroots campaign that required clever message positioning (that both camps had), letters to the editor (free), blogging and social networking (also free) and some tabling, leafleting and the working phones and personal networks. As usual, the fantasy that their opponents spent millions to defeat them is just a salve for the BDSers wounded pride when the members of an organization they have targeted tell them to take a hike.
Regarding the whole “when we lose, we actually win because we started the conversation” blather that routinely gets trotted out after a BDS loss, this amounts to little more than claiming “Victory!” based entirely on the BDSers own refusal to ever shut up.
As a final note before leaving the Park Slope story behind, I frequently criticize (constructively, I hope) our side’s inability to capitalize on our successes as well as the boycotters capitalize on theirs. But this time around, I think the “BDS Loses Again” message traveled pretty well and pretty far (a stint on the Daily Show probably didn’t hurt in this regard). But it dawned on me this weekend (as I look forward to moving onto other topics) why we will inevitably have to take a backseat to the Israel haters with regard to long-term capitalizing of our own victories.
For everyone I’ve talked to who was directly involved with this effort can’t wait for it to be over and for things to get back to normal – or, as normal as anything gets in Park Slope . They will not be creating web pages and making movies about their genuine victory (like the kids at Hampshire did about their fake one). They won’t try to leverage their success to get other organizations to take a political position of any kind (even if their story helps other coops avoid falling into the traps being set for them by the BDSers).
In other words, even those of us who became activists specifically to fight the boycotters are not going to cause more division and misery in our communities in order to leverage recent sensible decisions to achieve wider political aims. The owners at Park Slope voted to get BDS out of their system, and we respect their choice. Wouldn’t it be nice if the partisans of BDS could put aside their selfishness and do the same?