Burden of Proof

As some of you know, I’ve become interested in the philosophy of argumentation over the last few years, with a particular interest in the fallacies people use to try to “prove” points that can’t be demonstrated using standard techniques (such as providing accurate and relevant evidence organized into proper and logical arguments).

I suppose interacting with BDSers has given me the experience needed to see this type of fallacious argumentation in action, since the boycotters seem to tap every fallacy in the book to push forward their storyline of momentum and victory (despite all evidence pointing to a starker reality of catastrophe and defeat).

Regarding calls in this piece making the humble request that BDSers actually prove their claims, and this one providing them examples for how comparable claims of divestment victory have been presented historically, my simple (and perfectly reasonable) request is motivated by the boycotters’ tendency to fall back on demands that the burden of proof falls on others to demonstrate the a BDS victory did not occur (vs. on the BDSers to prove that it did).

I could be a pretentious dweeb and provide the Latin name for this particular fallacy (okay, it’s called onus probandi).  But the key point is that if a company (like Blackrock) or retirement fund (like TIAA-CREF) or college (like Hampshire) has supposedly divested from the Jewish state, is it too much to ask that the actual organizations allegedly doing all this divesting tell everyone this is what they’re doing (and why)?

It seems like a straightforward enough request.  And, as noted previously, it consists of nothing more (but also nothing less) than the evidence provided by any other political boycott or divestment campaign in history.

But instead of such clear-cut, unambiguous statements, we get convoluted explanations that are supposed to be telling us why an institution that has never said anything on the subject of divesting from Israel (or who have explicitly said they are not divesting) have, in fact, joined the BDS “movement” wholeheartedly.  Or (as with the Quakers) we get unattributed quotes strung together with statements by people who had nothing to do with the decisions being described, all packaged together to create a press release claiming a divestment “win” that cannot be discerned without “helpful” assistance of BDS tea-leaf readers.

The latest example of this phenomena is this extended “analysis” from yet another Palestinian Solidarity Activist with a really Jewish name who spends over 2000 words trying to get around the fact that the companies his fellow activists have targeted for years and years have yet to even mention BDS as even being on their radar with regard to business risk.

As far as I can tell, the argument the author is presenting is that the fact that BDS bogeymen like SodaStream, Veolia and Caterpillar are not talking about the impact BDS  has had on their bottom line is itself evidence of the boycotter’s “impact” (which is so impactful that large powerful companies are afraid to even mention it).

The piece is littered with “evidence” of BDS “victories” that are supposed to be harming these companies as we speak, even though most of those victory tales (such as Veolia) have been exposed as fraudulent or irrelevant long ago.

Which means we are left with the fact that the only genuine controversies these companies face are controversies generated by the BDSers themselves.   In other words, the 2000+ words the author has written on the subject boils down a tantrum over why these companies don’t admit that they are suffering from the artificial controversies the author and his allies have manufactured.

I supposed these companies can simply be hiding their boycott decisions for fear of retribution from an all-powerful “The Jewish Lobby.”  But in the inductive logic game there is an old saying of “If you hear hoof beats behind you, assume it’s horses and not zebras.”

Which, in this case, the horse translates to: “Companies face business risks – including boycott threats based on bogus information – all the time, from partisans on all kinds of issues.  And if they’re not acknowledging the alleged importance of your particular boycott call, perhaps it’s because they haven’t even noticed you, much less thought about doing what you insist is their only choice.”

If and when BDS-land actually lands a big win, believe me we will all know about it.  For just as with “real” divestment projects (like those targeting genuine human rights catastrophes like South Africa, Sudan and Iran), the companies and universities and churches and municipalities and unions taking part in these boycotts and divestment decision will loudly and proudly tell the world what they’re doing.

But in the absence of such clear-cut, unambiguous evidence, the burden of proof remains on the boycotters to show us that BDS has taken place, rather than on us to prove that it hasn’t.

23 thoughts on “Burden of Proof”

  1. Hello Jon. What is your response to this new study? :

    “The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don't want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don't want their children in the same class with Arab children.

    A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

    A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter – 24 percent – believe separate roads are “a good situation” and 50 percent believe they are “a necessary situation.””


  2. And hello to you, Anon. Since you don't seem to have any objection to the terms I laid out in this article and two previous ones regarding how BDS supporters can prove their claims of success, I'm going to assume that you are comfortable with this very reasonable formula and will join me in future discussion of alleged BDS victories in asking those claiming such wins to supply the appropriate evidence of success. Just let me know if this is an incorrect assumption on my part.

    Meanwhile, that link you sent me to seems to behind a premium wall, so if you can send me information regarding the poll, I'll be happy to take a look at it.

    Regarding polling generally, whenever I'm evaluating survey-related information (even, actually especially, if the poll results seem to “prove” a political opinion I support), the first thing I want to look at is the data behind the poll (especially sample size, the nature of the sample, and the actual wording of the survey questions).

    Skipping all this and jumping right to assuming the conclusions to be 100% accurate creates the risk that you might fall for what is called “Proofiness” (https://www.google.com/webhp?source=search_app#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=proofiness&oq=proofiness&gs_l=hp.3..0l4.1040.2647.0.2847.…1c.1.l7_KZ68uNSU&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&fp=bb2e79c6c9080287&bpcl=35466521&biw=1366&bih=643), the automatic assumption that numerical information is superior to any other kind (a fallacy people tend to fall into, especially if the numbers seem to support positions they already believe).

    1. Funny, anon, that the author, Gideon Levy, is characterised (I'm sure totally unjustified) as an exponent of pro-Hamas views. Given that this comes from Wikipedia, I'm sure that Anon has a reasoned response. Further, as Jon notes, given that Haaretz is now hidden behind a pay wall (their economic decision, but my pocket isn't that deep), Thus, it's up to Anon to rpovide the details, with accessible links, so that we can evaluate the results of this survey for ourselves.

      As a sociologist, I'd certainly want to ask critical questions of the survey: what were the questions asked and how were they phrased? (that is, were they leading, in that they virtually demanded a given answer?); what was the survey population? was it representative of the Israeli-Jewish population as a whole?; how large was the population? was it preceded by a sample survey?

      Given the critical nature of the claimed results, these are the least we can demand of the item concerned. Given this info, we can probably think of further critical questions, but these will do for a start.

      Answer them appropriately, and we might start to have a serious debate. Otherwise…

    2. I thought I posted a long post about the pollster yeaterday but apparently I lost it.

      In any case, it is important to know that the pollster, Camil Fuchs, is employed by Haaretz and that he has done polls in the past that Haaretz has also interpreted creatively.

  3. Interesting who were the 503 Israelis they questioned. I certainly didn't get a call and I don't know anyone who did.
    Camera has already debunked Akiva Eldar's interpretation of that data.

    1. Sylvia, this isn't so surprising. Small numbers can be representative of larger populations. Further, the “founder” of modern social surveys, Mark Abrams, a Brit, established this 80 or so years ago – it depends how well it's done. See, on Mark Abrams himself, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Alexander_Abrams, and on his work, his book “Social Action and Social Surveys”

    2. That book I linked to above (Proofiness) spends a lot of time talking about surveys in connection with the author's thesis that our belief in the perfection of numbers leads us to believe untrue things.

      Personally, I think the author was too dismissive of polls generally since, as you point out, they underlie a century of successful social science and market research.

      But I think the author does have a point with regard to polls dealing with hot political topics (such as this year's election) which need to be carefully evaluated particularly closey with regard to accuracy, relevancy, bias and timliness since the temptation of people to believe the poll results that fits with their existing biases is just too great.

  4. No one has seen the actual poll or methodology. So let's wait to see what it is about.

    Moreover, attitudes don't matter as much as actual laws.

    1. The trouble is that BDSers routinely show up here (and elsewhere) and make an accusation with their only evidence being a link to some other source with no acknowledgement whether that source is accuate or inaccurate, biased or unbiased, sound or unsound.

      For example, we were recently visited by someone trying to tell us that the Quakers were the latest BDS victory. But by the very standards for measuring BDS success you have acknowledged through silence (which at least demonstrates your unwillingness or inability to challenge this sensible standard), we now know the Quaker story to be false.

      Now you are asking us to believe serious changes of Apartheid based on a poll no one but you has seen the results of, which you have not yet provided background information on.

      Once you provide actual evidence (and not just a link to a story you were ready to believe before it was printed), then we can have a conversation.

      Until then, focus on supporting your assertions, rather than just rewording them.


  5. Don't be so quick to dismiss our Anonymous friend's question until he's had the chance to provide us the information needed to evaluate his assertions ourselves (which he is no doubt busy right now trying to track down).

    In the meantime, I think the big win for both pro- and anti-BDSers who spend time on this site is that our anonymous BDS supporter seems to be OK with the argument I've been making regarding where the burden of proof lies regarding BDS victories. Otherwise, why would he gloss over responding in favor of discussing an unrelated poll?

    So unless we're told otherwise, I think it's safe to say that we have agreement that the evidence of BDS success will be the same as in all previous instances of divestment politics: a public statement by the organization doing the boycotting declaring in no uncertain terms what they're doing and why.

    See, you can make progress on contraversial issues online!

  6. Why are you guys even addressing this question by Anonymous? I think you should be clear that until a BDSer responds to the content of any one of these very substantive last several posts, you will not be entertaining side discussions with them.

    Anyway, why does Israeli public opinion matter to this discussion? When the University of Maryland polled Arabs throughout the middle east they found things that were much worse, such as that more Arabs think that Israel was behind 9/11 than think Al Qaeda was, or that less than 5% of Arabs liked Jews (http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/feb09/STARTII_Feb09_rpt.pdf). So I guess based on those much more scientific poll results that place his preferred side in a negative light, Anonymous will want to stop championing Arabs? Fat chance.

  7. I agree with one of the Anonymous that attitudes don't matter as much as actual laws. If you polled a group of racist white Americans who wanted segregation brought back, could you then claim “78% of Americans believe in segregation”? Israel is NOT an apartheid state and grants rights and priviledges to all its citizens. Mmmm, let's see a poll from Saudi Arabia on the rights of women.

  8. I think tis analysis should answer at least some of the questions about the methodology of the Ha'aretz pool. Ha'aretz pretty clearly distorted the poll's findings in places and there are clear problems with the poll in other places.


    Our anonon BDS BSer shouldn't worry though. I'm certain he will find plenty of reasons to describe Israel as the worse place on earth. It's not like civilians are being massacred in in Syria or the Baha'i face actual Apartheid in Iran.

    1. If the best defense you can muster is, “Well, at least we're not as bad as Syria/Iran/Saudi Arabia”, you know you're in trouble.

    2. It's not a defense. It's pointing out BDS BS and the movement's general hypocrisy. If you look on the BDS Website, there a are a number of Syrian groups on the list of BDS supporters. Of course any Syrian group is affiliated with the Syrian government.

      The various flotillas also went through Syria. I particularly like the photos of some of Galloway's flotidiots posing with an SSNP flag — the SSNP being a fascist organization whose members right now are out on the streets murdering innocent Syrians.

      So BDS and the anti-Israel movement were more than happy to associate with the Syrian government and more than happy use the Syrian people. Now that all those Syrian connections are embarrassing, you are happy to remain silent while the Syrian people are devoured by the lions.

      The BDS people can't even be bothered to hold a march against the Lions. Instead you spend your time peddling excuses on why you have abandoned the Syrian people.

      You are cowards. I dare you to go Damascus and hold a march supporting the people who you were so happy to use just a year ago.

      BDS isn't any kind of human rights movement anymore than all those “peace activists” who go to Iran and meet with the government but never speak against what's happening to the Baha'i or Kurds or Arabs or Baluchis in Iran actually care about peace. And not surprisingly, lots of these peace activists are associated with BDS and other anti-Israel movements.

      Why don't you be honest for once — admit what we all know that BDS will support any dictator or terrorist or murderer as long as they are anti-Israel. Of course that will never happen. Instead, what we will see is a long list a excuses for why you are silent while your former allies die.

      And I notice you totally skipped any mention of the Ha'aretz poll now that it's clear it was a sham. Sort of like BDS in general.

    3. How was the poll itself a “sham”? The article to which you linked (unconvincingly) argues that the the Haaretz reporter, embellished the facts, but accepts the vast majority of the poll's findings, admitting the following:

      “Are the survey findings entirely rosy? They are not. 59% of Jewish Israelis believe Jews should receive preferential treatment when applying to work in government ministries (34% are opposed) (see question 4), and 49% believe the state should care more for the needs of Jewish Israelis than for those of Arab Israelis (an equal number, 49%, are opposed) (see question 7). 50% of Jewish Israelis believe Arabs are discriminated against when they apply to work in government ministries (29% say they are not) (see question 3), and 39% believe new immigrants are (35% say they are not) (see question 2). 47% of Jewish Israelis would like to see Arab citizens of Israel put under Palestinian control (40% are opposed) (see question 14).”

      If you're OK with this account, even with the apologist “Storify” author omitting some of the more disturbing details, I feel sorry for you.

      The comparison to Iran (and Syria, and Saudi Arabia) is, of course, absurd. The United States does not endow Iran with $3 billion in economic aid every year. We don't equip Iran's military with the most advanced weaponry or share classified national security secrets with them. Our politicians don't sculpt American foreign policy around Iran's expressed interests. Our presidential candidates don't mention their duties to protect Iran against foreign aggressors 31 times over the course of a one and a half hour foreign policy debate. And surely, our politicians don't praise the Iranian government even when its policies directly contradict U.S. interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.

      Moreover, because all Americans are (negatively) affected by the U.S.-Israel love affair and because this problem can be solved domestically (through political pressure), it is certainly both our right and our obligation to speak out. On the other hand, I, and I think many of my BDS friends think very much about the situations in Iran and Syria, but In both those cases, I personally feel that our government is currently doing all that it can and should do, and because of that, I wonder what kind of impact “holding a march” would have on the situations in those two countries. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

      Finally, your accusation of “supporting dictatorships” is simply wrong. The only reason why the recently deposed tyrannical Egyptian dictatorship was one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid over the past 30 years (look it up) was because they had to be “bought” to maintain their inorganic peace treaty with Israel. This was, of course, fully supported by your side and opposed by mine. When the Arab Spring broke out, we liberal BDSers embraced democratic revolution while AIPAC and its friends first asked, “What will this mean for Israel?” The U.S. has a long history of financially supporting Arab dictators who submit to American and Israeli interests. This policy is not something BDSers have ever supported.

    4. Wow, even for a BDSer, that's a pathetic answer. What a sad, hateful and ultimately small group of people you must be. Now that the Arab Spring has hit Syria, BDS is silent. You were happy to use the Syrian people to promote your cause, happy to stand with Assad and the SSNP and now that the Syrian people are being slaughtered, you can't be bothered with them. You've spent more time making excuses for your inaction than you have trying to help them or anybody else for that matter. What a bunch of frauds.

    5. Look, we all understand that the BDS playbook says you should never respond to questions you cannot answer, and keep bringing the conversation back to your own unsubstantiated questions again and again.

      But in this case, the subject of the story you have chosen to respond to (that the burden of proof falls on BDSers to substantiate their claims) is one you have already acknowledge through silence that you either agree with or have on answer to. And this burden of proof applies not just to alleged BDS “victories,” but to the accusations of bigotry you make as well.

      In this instance, you have made an accusation related to a specific poll and have been asked to provide details on several occasions. While waiting for you to substantiate your claims (something my kids are now learning to do in elementary and Middle School writing classes), the adults in the conversation moved to other topics (such as BDSers selective morality).

      But responding to those side conversations by tapping into your ready store of clichéd counter-arguments is not a substitute for coming up with the evidence that is still your responsibility to provide, given the accusations you've made.

      So until we see it, we must only assume that (1) you don't want to acknowledge that the burden of proof does indeed fall on you; (2) you can't substantiate your claims (and don't even see the need to); and (3) you feel that simply restating your claims (or pretending that side comments represent the only things you have to deal with) will distract others from your inability to hold up your end of the argument.

      Let me know if I've missed anything.

  9. No mention of the millions Hamas received from the US government to attack us with 80 rockets in 24 h.
    Their moral compass is stuck somewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.