But before that, I wanted to plug a hole in the narrative about BDS and community by looking at a city I’ve not gotten to until now: the little BDS-wannabe town of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Usually, when I’ve talked about communities dealing with BDS issues I’ve focused on places like Boston or San Francisco where Israel’s active supporters and detractors are pretty evenly matched numbers wise (which makes those places good test cases for support for Israel vs. BDS within the wider communities in which these two sub-groups operate).
At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got places like the Happy Valley in Massachusetts or Olympia Washington which demonstrate just how miserable a place can become when the forces of BDS are in the ascendant.
But Ann Arbor, Michigan is a case all its own.
In a state where there exists a high percentage of Arab and Muslim Americans, you tend to find a fair amount of anti-Israel activism in Michigan (especially on college campuses). Many BDS campaigns and even some boycott proposals have circulated in the state (one student union divestment bill even passing many years ago in Wayne State).
I’m not sure why these stories rarely make it onto the radar of even the Jewish press beyond Michigan’s borders. Perhaps the media’s (and general Jewish communy’s) focus on the coasts makes activity in “flyover country” less noticeable than similar activity in places like Berkeley or Brooklyn. Or perhaps because much of this activity (at least on college campuses) happened so long ago and led to nothing makes this a nothing story.
But I suspect that one reason BDS activity in places like Ann Arbor is so marginal is that the BDS activists themselves put so much energy into marginalizing themselves.
I hate to use the word “cult,” lest I start sounding like you-know-who, but in the case of Ann Arbor, I don’t think there is another word that could better describe the organization that has taken center stage with regard to Israel protests and BDS activities in the area.
Much of this activity centers on an organization that (at least for a while) went under the name of Jewish Witnesses for Peace. And while this group has been involved with the usual failed BDS attempts here and there with regard to hummus boycotts and support for campus divestment activities, their primary “campaign” involved haunting the biggest synagogue in town with hostile protests (complete with angry and bigoted signs waved by people with coats over their own heads) during worship services for years and years and years.
And who came up with a stratagem that seems almost custom-made to appall everyone in the Jewish and non-Jewish community and cause every aspect of the anti-Israel agenda to be rejected in disgust?
Well credit seems to go to one Henry Hersovitz, a longtime anti-Israel agitator who apparently went by the name “Henry Henry” previous to finding his calling by picketing a synagogue he claims to have once attended (although no confirmation of that claim can be found). You can begin to grasp the scope of dementia that fuels the Dear Leader of the local BDS movement from this site designed to counter the work of the “Herscovites” (the name these anti-Hersocovite forces have given the local protestors).
The reason I think “cult” is a good descriptor for this group is the way they seem to deal with any internal protest from people questioning a strategy that that has led to nothing outside the galvanization of the entire community against the BDSers and their cause. In fact, who is “in” and who is “out” of the group seems to be solely dictated by someone’s willingness to participate in activity unquestionably detrimental to the cause the protestors claim to champion. Which makes doubting the leadership a crime worthy of ostracism.
I bring this up since the BDS groups in general could soon start looking more like Ann Arbor than vice versa.
Like the Ann Arbor protestors, the nationwide (really worldwide) BDS “movement” has faced nothing but failure, their achievements primarily consisting of inspiring the creation of successful pro-Israel organizations to fight them. But outside of Ann Arbor, most BDSers cling to their fantasies of immanent victory at least to the point of still being able to feign enough humanity to occasionally fool those unaware of their real intentions.
This allows them to act in a semi-civilized fashion (until they lose, of course, at which point they show their true colors by throwing a public tantrum). But what will happen if (as I suspect) the continued failure rate of BDS projects causes more and more people to “go Finkelstein” and question the competence (if not the sanity) of those who continue to push a program that has been proven to be such a loser for more than a decade?
We’ve seen some answers in those loud protests designed to shut down opposing views on college campuses, or other forms of bullying and harassment that might generate a few minutes of digital footage for BDS web sites but continue to alienate more and more people (as well as provide ammunition for sites like this one).
So how much farther does “BDS Global” need to devolve before we can accurately claim that “They are all Herscovites Now?”