The BDS Twitocracy

Before giving the Presbyterians a rest for the next couple of years (wouldn’t it be great if the BDSers could ever bring themselves to say/do the same thing?), some momentary reflections on not the content of the decisions made during last week’s General Assembly, but the medium in which those decisions were communicated.

As background, I first started using Twitter in 2010 in order to follow what was going on at UC Berkeley when the student council was making decisions on a high-profile divestment resolution.  Because those debates were not public, Twitter seemed like the only way to obtain real-time information on what was happening at ground level 3000+ miles away.

At the time, I believe I would have been referred to by other Twitter users as (what’s the technical term I’m looking for?), oh yes – an imbecile.  With no followers and no understanding of the importance of hashtags and at-symbols, I spent my first 20 minutes as a tweeter shouting out messages into the void, oblivious to the fact that no one else on the service knew I existed, much less was seeing what I was typing.

Fortunately, I quickly switched to listen mode, and was able to read about debates and votes as they were happening, an experience I repeated just a few months ago when the Park Slope Food Coop shot down an Israel boycott “live” on Twitter.

By the time both Park Slope and the two big church votes came upon us earlier this year, I moved from being a complete Twitter dolt to someone who knows how to use the service adequately, still mostly listening but occasionally contributing commentary (with appropriate hash tags this time around).

Those who are experienced Twitterers can skip this paragraph, but for those unfamiliar with the service, Twitter allows you to post short, 140-character (or less) messages (called tweets) which can be seen by anyone who chooses to follow you.  In addition, you can mark your messages with hashtags (words in front of the # number/hash sign), and ask Twitter to show you an ongoing stream of all tweets that contain that hashtag.  In addition to typing your own Tweets, you can also “re-tweet” a message you like, which means it will get rebroadcast to everyone who follows you.

In the case of both the Methodist and Presbyterian divestment votes, hashtags were selected by those interested in covering the debate (#churchdivest for the pro-BDS folks and #investinpeace by Israel’s supporters).  You could also follow the debate on general Presbyterian hashtags such as #presbyterian and #ga220.

I’ve noted in the past how Israel’s foes seem to be more adept at using this new technology than her friends, something that manifests itself when following streams such as #churchdivest and #ga220 where pro-BDS tweets and re-tweets seemed to outnumber anti-divestment messages by as much as ten to one.

But as I looked at a dizzying dashboard of messages, I began to see the same generic BDS messages appearing again and again (Repression! Apartheid!!  Justice demands!!!, yadda,  yadda, yadda), reflecting the dozens or even hundreds of times these messages were passed on via re-tweet or hashtag-laden repost.  It was only then that I realized why this communication technology has been so effective for the BDS types.

For if you’ve got a small group, no more than a few dozen people, dedicated to repeating the same talking points ad infinitum, Twitter rewards you by not just filling up all relevant timelines with your posts, but by giving higher weighting to frequently re-tweeted tweets.

But this ability to dominate the airwaves comes with some unexpected downsides.  With both the Methodist and Presbyterian votes (as well as the Twitter coverage of the Berkeley vote from two years ago), the BDS bombast was coming fast and furious, implying that a vote in their favor was just moments away.  But once the vote went against them, suddenly there appeared the new voices of “lurkers” (people who had been following the Twitter discussion, but not contributing to it) bewildered as to why they had just lost a vote that seemed to be going their way until mere moments before.

The instantaneous content creation and dissemination nature of Twitter also provides an electronic paper trail of what people are actually thinking when events unfold, vs. the spin they try to put on things later.  The ALL-CAP curses with lots of exclamation points that hit the airwaves the minute after the Methodists and Presbyterians voted no are an example of this.  But so too were the tweets before the big divestment votes insisting that divestment was the only issue that mattered.

Now with regard to the recent Methodist and Presbyterian Assemblies, this sentiment happens to be completely accurate.  The Jewish community was far more concerned about a repeat of the PCUSA’s 2004 divestment vote vs. symbolic votes regarding, for example, boycotts companies like Ahava.  And given that anyone who knew church politics understood that BDS forces were assured of winning these symbolic votes, the fact that BDSers spent thousands and flew people in from around the country to lobby at both church events demonstrates that they too understood that divestment was the only game worth winning.

Which is what makes all the post-GA spinning that says “the settlement boycotts are an even bigger victory than divestment” or making hay of some last minute “relief-of-guilt” option the Presbyterians voted on that means less than nothing is not only contradicted by the facts.  It is also contradicted by the BDSers own statements made during the heat of battle (one of the few times you can fish a little bit of truth out of what they say).

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8 Responses to The BDS Twitocracy

  1. fizziks July 15, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    The other thing to keep in mind is that a settlement product boycott is supported by a number of pro-Israel, pro-Zionist people, whereas divestment is opposed by all.

    • Anonymous July 16, 2012 at 12:33 am #

      Why would you boycott products illegally produced in the OPT but not divest from companies illegally operating in the OPT? I'm not making an accusation, just sincerely wondering what the difference is.

    • fizziks July 16, 2012 at 1:23 am #

      Well not me, because I don't personally support a settlement boycott, but some people would draw the distinction in the following way, because unlike BDS they support Israel's right to exist, just not the occupation. Let's take Caterpillar as an example:

      Someone might say that the sum total of Caterpillar's corporate behavior is pretty good as corporations go. They build good manufactured products in North America – not China – and employ lots of people. Only a tiny portion of their products make their way to Israel, and only a portion of those are involved in maintaining the occupation. All other uses of Caterpillar equipment in Israel, including military uses, are legitimate, to the extent that they help defend Israel against terrorists and extremists.

      You could make a similar argument about Motorola or any other company. Only a small portion of their business in Israel has to do with the occupation, and we support Israel, but not the occupation, so to express that one would support a limited boycott of settlement products.

      Me, personally, I don't support any boycott, settlements or otherwise (and that is a change from several years ago when I did support a settlement boycott). I believe that Israel is a tiny miniscule country surrounded by a sea of enormous enemies that it has been under constant assault from since day one. And these enemies maintain a stable of useful idiots in the West who have perversely dedicated themselves to destroying Israel, within any borders, in the process becoming irrational lying monsters who believe things like the Khazar hoax, and to concede even a rhetorical millimeter to these monsters is a huge mistake.

      But that's just me, and my perspective having become aware of who these BDS and anti-Israel people really are over the past few years. I understand why others would support a settlement boycott but not a divestment.

    • DrMike July 16, 2012 at 3:50 am #

      I would not even accept at face value the Anon statement that anything related to the occupation is illegal. The fact that it is an occupation does not make it illegal. The occupation of Germany by the Allies and Japan by the US was entirely legal. And I'm not sure what is illegal about a company such as Sodastream setting up a factory in the West Bank that employs Palestinians at wage and
      benefit rates equal to those within Israel itself– ie higher than Palestinian firms pay their workers.
      What is an issue far more than legality is the wisdom of continuing to establish settlements beyond what would be Israel's security needs (enshrined in resolution 242).

      More importantly though, Anon ignores the founding principle of BDS– that all of Israel is “illegal” and that the “occupation” includes Tel Aviv as much as Ariel. So a boycott of settlement products isn't adequate because it is only targeted at settlements. Divestment is targeted at much more– companies whose activity in supporting the occupation are trivial compared to their other activities in Israel. CAT doesn't even sell to Israel. It sells to the US govt that then transfers that equipment to Israel. CAT has no control over the destination of its products.
      It's the same argument that the BDS cru makes for boycott of Israeli universities– since students and some faculty serve milu'im duty and some students and faculty live in settlements, the whole university must be boycotted. Because we understand their point– to paraphrase the Rajin' Cajun James Carville, it's really not the settlements, “it's the Jewish state, stupid”.

  2. Anonymous July 15, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    Here's a handy little trick for you twitter neophytes out there. See that little “t” under Jon's column? Click on it, sign in to twitter, and magically, Jon's column will be added to the voices on Twitter. Add a choice hashtag of your choosing (I'm partial to #BDS fail)
    You can do the same with the little “f”. That will put things on your facebook page.
    Easy, right?
    Magnifying the voices of truth. Its an easy way to help Israel. Come on- try it- you know you want to.

  3. Jon July 15, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    So that's what those things do!



  4. downtown dave July 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    I would like to know from the Methodist and Presbyterian BDSers where in the Scriptures does God call on the Church to punish the apple of His eye? I can say with confidence that God has not done this.

  5. Anonymous July 16, 2012 at 1:23 am #

    Its not just Twitter

    “I began to see the same generic BDS messages appearing again and again (Repression! Apartheid!! Justice demands!!!, yadda, yadda, yadda”

    Check out the transcript of the debate between Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah Jonathan speaks of history and facts- Ali just repeats the spurious charges of racism, apartheid and yada yada yada

    Its not much of a debate

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