TIAA-CREF Hoax – Clarification

9 Jul

After watching the Presbyterians vote down divestment another 3-4 times on Friday (and seeing them boo someone trying to continue to drag it back on the agenda), I decided I could take a couple of days off before wrapping up the PCUSA story.

But before that, it’s time to keep a promise I made before the Presbyterians took center stage to clarify any remaining confusion over the recent TIAA-CREF divestment story/hoax.

Now that a week or so has passed before that story broke, we can now say with certainty that any story indicating TIAA-CREF itself has engaged in BDS activity (i.e., politically motivated divestment from Israel) is unambiguously false.

The company still maintains close to a billion dollars worth of investments in Caterpillar Tractor, and they have made statements before, during and since the recent “divestment” announcement that they are neither making investment or divestment decisions based on Middle East politics (Israel-related or otherwise), nor are they responding to any political campaign (by Jewish Voice for Peace or anyone else) to make politically motivated divestment choices.

So stories that announce or imply that CREF has done anything but make automatic buy and sell choices based on existing indexes (financial or otherwise), especially those like this one that assign specific human and political motivation to such decisions, should be seen for what they are: a deliberate attempt to deceive the media and the public.

The second story associated with recent events has to do not with TIAA-CREF but with MSCI, an indexing organization that is followed by CREF and others.  This organization, which maintains an investment index based on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, did recently remove Caterpillar from its list of approved investments.  And because MSCI indexes are followed by TIAA-CREF, this is the reason why CREF removed Caterpillar from the one fund it maintains that is tied to MSCI’s ESG-related recommendations.

Now to be fair, MSCI did release a statement saying that “The key factors determining the rating include a January 2012 labor dispute and subsequent plant closing in Canada, an on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories, management of environmental issues, and employee safety.”

But the company also made another statement indicating that they use an “established methodology” to determine which companies are listed and de-listed.  But, as previously noted, the company has an unambiguous way to specify a prohibition on certain countries (a prohibition they place on countries like Sudan, but not Israel).  It could be that MSCI was responding to campaigns by JVP and others which put Caterpillar on their radar.  The trouble is, MSCI also makes it clear that “decisions are not based on representations from interest groups.”

Fortunately, this most recent statement published by MSCI finally clears up this seeming inconsistency.

In it, they indicate where issues like the Middle East conflict fall into their decision-making matrix (as a component of “Community & Society” which constitutes 10% of their overall score for a company).

Significantly, they state explicitly that their analysts “do not make judgments on the positions of the interested parties” but rather follow political controversies (Middle East related and not) to determine if they might cause a risk to the investments or reputations of index members.  In other words, because a controversy regarding Caterpillar and Israel exists, MSCI is professionally obligated to follow it (as they must follow any political controversies related to an investment), but only to determine if they pose financial or reputational risks to investors (not to make moral or political judgments on the parties or issues involved).

Given that MSCI is not a BDS organization, they most likely don’t see the Arab-Israeli conflict as the only issue impacting “Community and Society” in the universe.  So, at most, this controversy must weigh as just a fraction of the 10% MSCI assigns the “Community and Society” category as a whole.  But was this fraction of a percentage enough to tip the scales against Caterpillar this year?

Well apparently, this item has been incorporated into MSCI’s calculus since 2004, an eight year period during which it caused no changes to Caterpillar’s status.  So was 2012 the tipping point when the boycotter’s cause célèbre finally got Caterpillar bounced?  NO according to MSCI, (the horse’s mouth), who says that this political factor “did not trigger the rating downgrade in February 2012.”

So there you’ve got it.  TIAA-CREF did not divest from Israel (again, defining divestment as the BDSers do as a decision to sell assets in order to make a political statement).  And if MSCI used as a factor in its decision making “an on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories,” that factor (1) could only have been weighted as fraction of 10% of their decision; (2) reflected no political or moral judgment on the part of MSCI regarding Caterpillar, Israel, the Palestinians or anyone else; (3) has been included in their decision-making for close to a decade without affecting MSCI’s inclusion of Caterpillar in their ESG indexes; and (4) did not play a role in this year’s decision to remove Caterpillar from their list of recommendations.

Walking through these details takes some time, and I’m sure the “TIAA-CREF/MSCI divested!” meme will continue to propagate and morph faster than this speed at which the truth can catch up.  (In fact, a comment left here has somehow merged the TIAA-CREF, MSCI and Presbyterian stories to create a fiction whereby TIAA-CREF had divested not just from Caterpillar, but from other BDS targets – Motorola and Hewlett Packard as well.)

Now it is the propagandist’s job to stress any information that supports their version of events (even if it consists of a single phrase in a press release) and ignore all other information that might get in the way of their storyline (such as the subsequent statements noted above which provides the context and clarification needed to genuinely understand the issue).  And I don’t in any way want to deny BDS activists the right to do their job.

But the rest of us are allowed to look at a picture bigger than JVP et al would prefer others to not think about.  And we are also allowed to take into account the boycotter’s multi-year track record of trying to pass off business decisions as politically (i.e., BDSily) motivated, only to be exposed as trying to sell false information in an effort to generate momentum for their otherwise flailing cause.

28 Responses to “TIAA-CREF Hoax – Clarification”

  1. Stop BDS Park Slope July 9, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Do I understand this? The only factor in MSCI consideration of Caterpillar's rating vis a vis its the I/P conflict is the potential damage to CAT's reputation due to the fact that a political group targets it?

    Nycerbarb

  2. Jon July 9, 2012 at 10:18 am #

    I believe they mean potential damage (both financial damage and damage to reputation) of investors in a fund that included CAT. In that case, any political controversy about any issue (Middle East or otherwise) would go into that 10% of their decision having to with “Community and Society” (alongside things like Caterpillar's labor issues in Canada).

    The same formula would apply to any company in this ESG portfolio. And, again, the issue is not who is right or wrong in a politically controversial issue, but the fact that a controversy exists at all.

  3. Anonymous July 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    But, this does represent a BDS victory. By creating controversy, they have influenced the financial decisions of investments. Part of their tactics is to create controversy.

    Stan

  4. Jon July 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    It's one thing to create controversy (which the BDSers, like anyone, can do by just making lots of noise). But to be effective, this controversy needs to gain traction in the wider world. And in the case of this particular story, the facts are that close to a decade of effort has only made this a minor factor that did not actually impact the decisions of either MSCI or TIAA-CREF.

    And, if you look at the wider economic picture, a decade of creating controversy that is meant to put economic pressure on the Jewish state was met with an investment explosion in Israeli enterprises and a vast expansion of Israeli exports (which is why the BDSers have so many boycott targets that didn't exist when they first started their controversy-creation program).

    So if we are to give them credit for making a lot of noise, we must also judge them on how the public has reacted to that noise by doing the opposite of what the BDSers say they must.

  5. Anonymous July 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    I argue the effectiveness of BDS from a different standpoint. I think they are effective in that they give something to do for the otherwise stagnant anti-Israel crowd. They are a rallying point.

    As you accurately point out many times, the BDS movement seeks to hijack organizations to act as a whole despite the actual wishes of the organization's membership.
    In this situation, the BDS movement by its very vocal existence was able to influence a financial analysis company that other companies look at for guidance.
    I am not saying that this right, moral, or just, but from their standpoint, it is something that worked for them, and is in exact line with their overall strategy. They can now have a very small seed of credibility for stating that TIAA-CREF has divested, because of the fact that TIAA-CREF changed its investment due to the report of MSCI which was influenced (in small part) by BDS' existence.
    It puts the success claim of BDS into the category of “bogus” instead of “completely bogus”.

    Stan

    • fizziks July 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm #

      Also, as hypothesized by one of the many Jewish posters who has since been driven off of Daily Kos, things like BDS give the “anti-Israel” crowd something to do and someplace to channel their energies, away from, say, burning crosses on my lawn.

      It may be that BDS activities are the lesser of two evils, if we consider how those hands might otherwise be employed if allowed to idle.

  6. Jon July 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    You are right that BDS provides an anti-Israel community that's always with us something to do and rally around. It also provides them a ready set of targets since, effectively, they can use ownership of no more than a single share of Caterpillar to drag a BDS battle into any institution of their choosing.

    Where I disagree is how effective this strategy is over time. It would be one thing if these advantages had led to a long list of organizations now on-board the BDS bandwagon. But remember that BDS has been the strategy of choice for this anti-Israel community for most of the last decade, and to date they have virtually nothing to show for it except their own internal cohesion (which is more and more held together with fantasy victories).

    I've often said that if we pro-Israel activists could pick a strategy for the other side to use that would be guaranteed to suck up all their resources and only leave hostile potential partners in their wake (given how much even PCUSA clearly disliked being used by the “movement”), we would be hard pressed to select a better choice than BDS.

  7. Aaron Levitt July 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Aaron Levitt July 11, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

    “Reputational risks,” in this case, are financial risks to a company due to its association with unethical labor practices, human rights violations, etc. MCSI has determined that Caterpillar's reputation is at risk due to the company's involvement with human rights violations in the occupied territories, and has stated that was one factor in delisting the company. Given the extensive influence of MSCI's indices, this is probably a bigger deal than had TIAA-CREF made the same move independently. As a strong supporter of BDS, I consider it a significant short-term victory, and it would seem just as significant (though obviously less positive) were I an opponent.

    I say a “short-term” victory because the goal of BDS isn't to harm either Caterpillar or Israel, but to get Israel to respect Palestinian rights, which would be good for everyone concerned. If you find it comforting to believe that BDS is commonly about being “anti-Israel” (and you'll have lots of company), or serves as a substitute for cross-burning (which is pretty original, at least in my experience), that's obviously your prerogative. It's just false.

    • uncle yo-yo July 12, 2012 at 2:45 am #

      The 3 “pillars” of BDS are by definition and intent anti-israel. So you are either a liar or an idiot or both.

    • Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 3:12 am #

      Well, I'm certainly not a liar, and people who actually know me don't consider me an idiot, whether they agree with me or not. Maybe you're just especially perceptive.

      Good night.

    • Jon July 12, 2012 at 9:40 am #

      A couple of small points leading, I hope, to a larger one.

      First off, the “reputational risk” you mention regards risks to an investor’s reputation by being associated with a controversy, not with actual wrongdoing. MSCI has indicated that it makes no judgment regarding who is right and wrong in its decision-making, so at most they would be reacting to the existence of an issue that could be described as manufactured by the BDS “movement” for the sole purpose of generating such controversy.

      Secondly, you and other BDS supporters are taking for granted that this controversy DID play an issue in MSCI decision making. But, as spelled out above, the organization has also indicated that while they were tracking this political controversies (as they must track all political controversies – real or manufactured) this factor did not cause any change to Caterpillar’s status from 2004-2011 and “did not trigger the ratings downgrade in February, 2012.” So, at most (and even here we’re stretching things, given the evidence) BDS supporters could might be able to claim that “possibly the issue we’ve been trying to generate controversy over may have played a small role in MSCI’s decision making (although we’ll never know for sure).” Not quite the unquestionable “victory” associated with the BDS bombast being broadcast throughout the Internet over the last week.

      Continued…

    • Jon July 12, 2012 at 9:42 am #

      The bigger point is that I can’t remember any other boycott or divestment campaign that required so much tea-leaf reading to ascertain the motivation of others.

      Certainly when people boycotted or divested in South Africa back in the 1980s, the people doing so (schools, churches and financial firms, for example) stated clearly what they were doing and why. They didn’t need a group of anti-Apartheid activists to interpret their motivations for them, for they were standing alongside those activists at press conferences jointly reporting financial decisions based on political choices and moral judgments. You’ve seen similar statements by the actual people doing divesting in places like Iran and Sudan over the last decade.

      But during that same decade, anti-Israel BDS partisans have been perpetually telling people how to interpret financial decisions made by others (often in the case of outright denials of political motivation by those third parties). We saw it with Hampshire, with TIAA-CREF (twice), with Blackrock and Harvard. In each and every one of those cases, these institutions were alerting the world that they had not participated in BDS activity, regardless of claims made by BDS activists.

      The MSCI story is more ambiguous than the outright BDS hoaxes noted above, but only slightly. So before insisting we all accept this as a victory for the BDS “movement” (small or otherwise), I think it’s fair to ask why everyone else is required to accept “the movement’ interpretation of events (especially since members of this “movement” refuse to acknowledge, much less grapple with, the facts and interpretations presented by others – such as how a divestment campaign can consider itself successful when investment in the country it has been targeting has doubled in just the last year alone).

    • Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      To the best of my recollection, there was no South African counter-lobby that remotely approached the influence of today's “pro-Israel” folks. Organizations are understandably worried about reprisals for taking any measures that are perceived as “anti-Israel” and this presumably influences their communications about those actions as well as the actions, themselves. How much, I don't know and have no way to judge.
      I'm not sure what you mean when you say that anyone “is required to accept” BDS supporters' interpretation of events. Are people being prosecuted, or something? The BDSers, “pro-Israel” people (none more effectively than yourself), organizations, and politicians all do their best to spin events. That's just life, as I'm sure you know perfectly well. I personally dislike all of it and try to steer clear, but, well…that's life.

      As for your basic points, MSCI said that Caterpillar's Israeli entanglements were a factor in their decision. Both the fact and the admission were, so far as I know, unprecedented, and therefore a big deal. Quite likely Israel/Palestine issues weren't the last straw (of whatever weight), but that's largely beside the point. It's like first-quarter versus last-quarter scoring: a cumulative effect. The last quarter is more exciting, but obviously every point counts.
      It does appear that MSCI doesn't make ethical/moral judgments about stocks for its SRI index, but only evaluates the extent to which general perception of a company's behavior threatens its reputation. I never would have guessed this, frankly, and think it's pretty pathetic for reasons that have nothing to do with Israel/Palestine. In the present case, though, I consider MCSI's perception of the public mood far more significant than their personal / organizational moral judgment would have been. I think most neutral analysts (if there are any on this topic) would agree.
      As to whether the BDS campaign has succeeded thus far, I entirely agree with your argument: obviously not, although I think it has managed to shift the discourse, which is a partial success. The real questions are whether it's growing more successful over time,and whether it has the potential to actually do some good over the longer term. To these, I think the answers are obviously yes and a strong maybe. Presumably you agree (except re the “good” bit), or you wouldn't be investing such effort in this blog.

    • Jon July 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

      For someone who eschews spin, you seem to be able to cram quite a bit of it into a single comment (either consciously or sub-consciously).

      There is, of course, another possible reason why BDS targeting Israel has failed while similar campaigns targeting South Africa, Iran and Sudan have succeeded that has nothing to do with the alleged power of Israel’s supporters. Rather, they may simply reflect the fact that most people simply don’t buy the whole Israel = Apartheid paradigm that underlies the BDS program.

      The fact that support for Israel among the US population as a whole hovers between 60-80% (while support for her adversaries rarely gets above 10–15%) indicates that your perception of the conflict is, at best, the opinion of a partisan minority that most people think is wrong. In fact, it is this level of public support that gives Israeli advocates high degrees of influence they have, not the other way around.

      Oh, and far from being tiny, stilled voices in the wilderness, the BDS movement does have the advantage of being allied with some of the world’s most wealthy and influential states (which explains why the Palestinians get to be the cause célèbre of the planet, while Kurds and Tibetans are left to their own devices).

    • Jon July 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

      Just to make sure I cover all your points, regarding MSCI, you are free to continue reading their statement that the Middle East conflict ““did not trigger the ratings downgrade in February, 2012” as actually meaning the opposite. For without the ability to claim to speak for other people and organizations (most of whom have made it clear they want nothing to do with your campaigns), the forces of BDS would be rendered largely mute.

      And finally, does your argument that the existence of people who argue against you (such as me) proves your success work both ways? In which case, I guess the existence of the BDS movement must mean Israel is one of the most successful and beloved countries in the world. (Otherwise, why would BDS supports put so much time and energy running campaigns against it?)

    • Aaron Levitt July 13, 2012 at 1:22 am #

      OK, one last response, in thanks for your courteous message below:
      1) The disproportionate influence of (all) special interest groups in their areas of focus is a well-recognized phenomenon. In many cases, opposing groups more-or-less balance each other out; in this one, the U.S. “pro-Israel” lobby obviously dwarfs its pro-Palestinian counterpart. If you honestly doubt that, great, I hope you're right! And of course the strong U.S. public support for Israel relative to the Palestinians plays a huge role in the current situation; surely *I* don't need to tell *you* that. The relationship between public support, special interest propaganda, and special interest influence is, however, both complex and multi-directional.
      3) I'm not sure what “being allied with…wealthy states” looks like. If you think that BDS groups are getting meaningful funding from the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, all I can say is from your mouth to G-d's ears. A Jordanian immigrant did give JATO $200 once, though, which I believe was our top donation that year. JVP and the U.S. Campaign are the only groups I know of that have even one paid staff member, and you can check their Form 990s to see what their budgets are (try comparing them to AIPAC, if you want a chuckle). If you just mean that a bunch of dictators are sending out nice thoughts to non-violent pro-Palestinian activists, or something, I seriously doubt it, and it wouldn't be much use if they were. There are plenty of reasons why Palestinians are currently getting more attention than Kurds and Tibetans, and you hardly need me to explain them.
      4) I very carefully did not say that I/P issues “triggered” MSCI's decision; I said that they were a factor. Since I haven't heard of anything similar happening previously, that seems like a big deal to me. If it seems trivial to you, that's fine (though I'd find it pretty odd), but I'm not spinning anything; I'm just calling it like I see it. Just to be totally clear, I'm not saying that the BDS movement caused this decision, only that it's an important development.
      5) If you're distorting my comments intentionally, I wish you'd cut it out and just give real counter-arguments. Anyway, I didn't say that your activity proves, or even suggests, that BDS is a success (thus far, at least, it isn't). What I said is that your activity shows that you consider BDS a significant potential challenge to Israeli interests as you understand them. Unless you really want to claim that you're doing all the work on this site just for giggles, that you're putting out a manual on how to stop BDS even though stopping BDS is of no consequence, etc. I get that you need to maintain your messaging, but let's keep it credible, huh? And of course people in the BDS movement consider Israel a formidable power, in both military and economic terms, and *of course* we realize that getting the state to change its policies vis a vis the Palestinians represents a major challenge. Only a blithering idiot would disagree with that.

  9. Anonymous July 12, 2012 at 12:24 am #

    “If you find it comforting to believe that BDS is commonly about being “anti-Israel”…

    Although even your adverb – “commonly” – admits that there is a good bit of that, I too notice a different, perhaps more interesting, motivation structure.

    “Being anti-Israel” actually is just a means to an end, for the lefty Israel-obsessed types.

    “Opposing Israel” is about seeking respite from the guilt feelings of Western 1st-world privilege. You are shopping for privilege expiation. This requires being opposed to something identified in some way as Western, in defense of something “other” (non-white, Islamic, etc).

    Criticising Sudanese muslims for their human rights atrocities (among many many many many other candidates) won’t plant you in that privilege-assuaging role, because it positions you as criticising one who is naturally a victim – due to non-Western status. Thus, it gives you no privilege expiation feelings (or but a shadow of those you get from slamming Israelis).

    It just isn’t therapy.

    Since it doesn’t give you that gratifying relief, you have no “fire” for it, *nothing* like you do for Israel.

    Johnny

  10. Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 3:06 am #

    I used “commonly” because there are a handful of BDSers with that motivation, although in my (considerable) experience it's a tiny percentage.

    The people you describe in this post are more common, albeit still a clear minority (though, to be fair, I think “privilege expiation” is a nice turn of phrase). I'm not among them, however, and I've encountered far more BDS supporters and activists who are engaged in human rights issues (including the Sudan) unrelated to this analysis, some of them very deeply involved. Personally, I find Sudan-related activism challenging, given the numbers of rabidly bigoted Zionists I've encountered in the movement who care nothing about any Sudanese beyond their propaganda value as victims of “muslim” genocide. I hope (and assume) that you're not one of these.

    It is quite true that, as a Jew, I have a special “fire” for issues involving my people (and thus Israel), particularly when I see us assuming the role of our own oppressors in so many ways (and by “see” I mean at first hand and repeatedly). As an American, I have a further fire for injustice that is funded / shielded by my country and tax dollars. It is the combination of these factors that makes Israel/Palestine issues so compelling. As both an American and a vet, I have a further concern about foreign involvements that jeopardize our national security, increase the likelihood/frequency with which our service members are placed in harms way, and the hostility they encounter. There are numerous other honorable motivations for supporting BDS; these are just the ones most important to me.

    As I said before, the beliefs you choose to shield yourself are your prerogative, but they remain false. As regards the ultimate success or failure of BDS…time will tell, and the universe will be equally unmoved by your predictions or mine. Of course, you may well be right: my “side” may lose, and your “side” may “win”. Much like the Eastern European pogromists “won” when the Jews fled, or the Germans “won” when we died, or white Southerners would have “won” had Jim Crow endured. Only the losing is real, and often the “victors” lose even more than the vanquished.

    For whatever it's worth, I'll give a prayer tonight that both you and Israel will win in truth.

    • fizziks July 12, 2012 at 3:58 am #

      Wow, a Jew and a vet! I've never seen a BDSer claim that before! And such a nice and unmistakably Jewish name! Tell me, do they give you index cards to help post these essentially identical posts all over internet comment boards, or do they just expect you to memorize it?

      And while you're at it, you can tell me why, if as you claim BDS people also care about the situation in Sudan and other human rights issues, that 100% of the articles and comments at Mondoweiss, the site that every last one of them is constantly pasting links to here and everywhere else, are about Israel, and effectively zero percent are about Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, or any other country – unless of course there can be some tie-in to slam Israel. I mean, you'd think that if they cared about anything else related to human rights, they could maybe dedicate 1% of their website to it, no?

  12. Anonymous July 12, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    Fizziks makes a very good point, which demonstrates what I was undertaking to describe. No, all the other issues get dwarfed by Israel. Those other issues don’t purchase the same coin for the activist, as they must condemn “us” (something western) to feel any redemption.

    Regarding the privilege-expiation seeking pattern, you affirmed,

    The people you describe in this post are more common, albeit still a clear minority

    but demurred

    I'm not among them.

    Of course not.

    An expiation seeker feels discomfort outright criticising or condemning a non-white non-western non-Judeo-Christian person for their unethical actions, even for the most unspeakable atrocity. And even if the evil and suffering caused exceeds anything “kosher” for their condemnation by a thousand fold. They’d class it “racist” or “bigoted” to do so, and if they mention it, it is with reserve, with some respect – by ingrained reflex. They *don’t even notice* how strange that is – it’s as assumed as water is by a fish.

    So for you, those who actually condemn the Sudanese barbarity, or have the “illiberal” gall to note its Islam-driven nature, make you uncomfortable, and you dismiss their perceptions as insincere and motivated by “bigotry.” But they turn super-dooper-self-righteous at the mention of Israel. This warp perhaps does live in you. Hmm.

    Well, Mr Civil Rights, because of the Islamic revival, chattel slavery is returning, there have been increasing calls to legitimately reinstitutionalize it, because Islam formally justifies it. In fact, it’s happening now, in the the just now domino-ing Arab Spring (er, um, Ice Age?).
    http://www.raymondibrahim.com/11952/egypt-sex-slave-marriage
    But just like all at Mondofront, you aren’t moved to activism by *this*, in a manner similar to what I described. Just as you screen out the fundamental upsidedown false narrative of Palestine and Israel’s so called “sins,” as you screen out the shocking hatred of infidels, and in particular Jews, to a truly evil degree in Islam both historically and today, and the teaching of hate in the mosques across the world, the Moslem Brotherhood’s plans to conquer the infidel with not an iota of conscience, the history of this such as the Hindu Holocaust (what’s 80 million slaughtered for infidelhood, after all, if it was by infantalized responsibilityless non-westerners). And so on. Yet you easily dismiss as “bigoted” those who are concerned with the results for themselves and others of this resurging current. You have no problem objecting to them, but you haven’t objected to the hate preachers in mosques from London to Mindinao, have you, and you feel they shouldn’t either?

    Whether you are a just a propaganda true believer, or seek to expiate, or something else, your position is one that motivates you to duck a rather vast amount of inconvenient data.

    Johnny

    • Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      I was making a reference to a subset of *extremely* bigoted Zionists I've encountered in the Sudan/Darfur movement. I wasn't claiming that all Zionists are bigoted, nor denying that there are Zionists working on those issues who are sincerely concerned about Sudanese victims. There certainly are, friends of mine among them.

      I certainly am concerned about several of the specific issues you mention, have taken action on some, and by no means dismiss all concerns in these areas as bigotry. For the reasons I gave earlier, my personal focus is on Israel/Palestine. I'm not ducking anything and, since I value truth and justice rather than ideology, from my perspective there is no such thing as “inconvenient data.”

      At any rate, I need to get off this thread before it sucks up even more of my time. I'll leave the last word to you and yours!

  13. Jon July 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Hi Aaron – Sorry I joined this conversation so late and before you sign off, I wanted to let you know that I appreciate an articulate voice from “the opposition” taking time to participate in discussion here.

    Speaking only for myself, I respect your sincerity, as well as your openness about using your real name when participating in debate. All I ask is that as you go out to find other places to discuss these issues, please extend that respect to Israel's supporters who also try win debate through argument (not pressure via an alleged repressive lobby).

    If this conversation would continue, I would likely focus not on anyone's lack of conviction that they were doing the right thing (which both of us share), but a determination of how we know we are in fact doing the right thing. This subject is certainly worth thinking about (even from separate corners of cyberspace) since the vast, vast majority of evil done in the world is not done by people who know they are doing wrong, but people who are sure they are doing right.

    Best wishes,

    Jon

    • fizziks July 12, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

      Jon,

      Unless you actually know this person, I would completely dispute the assumption that they are using their real name, or that they are in fact Jewish and/or a vet and/or anything else as claimed.

      From my days on that other large blog, we had a constant pattern of allegedly new users showing up, with names like “Yoni Stern” and “Bruce Shapiro” who would each then declare basically something identical to this poster, that they are a proud Jew who is concerned with human rights and used to love Israel but are now fed up with its racism, etc. The management of that site, which at one time used to care a little about these things, would eventually discover that the person was posting from the same IP address as a previous one and so ban them, only to have the whole process repeat a few weeks later with a different name and the same claim.

    • Anonymous July 12, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

      Typical fizziks. Head over to his blog and read a few of his posts. I doubt he would write all of that just so that he can lie about his “Jewishness” to Jon.

    • fizziks July 12, 2012 at 8:29 pm #

      The funniest fake Jew from those days was “Hymen Stein” who showed up out of the blue to defend the Khazar hoax and accuse those who denied the Khazar hoax of being racist… against Khazars.

      Ah, the profound intellectual depth of the anti-Israel movement.

  14. Aaron Levitt July 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Thanks, Jon, I appreciate the courtesy, and actually think you've done an excellent job on the posts I've read on this blog. That doesn't mean they're not spun, of course, but they're spun well, and the spin-to-substance ratio is better than most. I think you said at some earlier point that your day job is writing children's books. If that's true, I imagine your readership is a pretty sharp group of kids.

    I agree that most evil is done by people who believe that they are doing good, at least superficially. It's been my experience, however, that many of the most dogmatic / aggressive / defensive are suppressing serious doubts about the rightness of their actions. I've found that to be true on both “sides” of the present issue, and particularly so among “pro-Israel” liberal/progressive Jews.

    I would be very interested in a discussion / debate on why we each believe we're doing the right thing (certain knowledge is more than I'd claim), but I've been relatively disengaged from the issue while working on my dissertation in an unrelated field. To do the subject justice, I'd need to brush up on the background research I did before first getting involved, as well as developments over the past couple of years.

    I'm not sure whether you've already posted on this fundamental question, as opposed to specific BDS claims, etc. If you'd like to, and wouldn't mind letting me know when you do(email aaronjlevitt@gmail.com), I'd be happy to respond and remain engaged until we agree that the thread has exhausted itself. It's unlikely that I'll notice your post without notification, at least for the next 12-18 months. If you're able to give me *advance* notice of the post, I'll take some time to refresh my knowledge base, and my contribution will probably be of correspondingly higher quality.

    On the off chance that anyone both genuinely doubts and genuinely cares: As regards my Jewish identity, I was a member of West End Synagogue in Manhattan for many years and a Trustee for three. Concerning my veteran status, I served as a Gunner's Mate on the USS Charleston (LKA-113) in the late 80's. I post comments from my home and (occasionally) my office (only “off the clock” at the latter, of course), and I never use any name other than my own. I doubt very much whether anyone else is posting to this site from either IP address. Hmm…actually, I think my home service uses dynamic IP, so I'm not sure what that will look like. At any rate, you're more than welcome to check.

    Regards,
    Aaron

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