I seem to be struggling to work up a good head of stem about this week’s BDS brouhaha in Brooklyn, partly because it’s just the latest January gathering of the Israel-hating like-minded (does anyone remember anything about last year’s PennBDS weekender? – I thought not), but mostly because of its headliner: Omar Barghouti.
Why is it so hard to take seriously this uber leader of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions crusade? It can’t just be because he looks as though he’d fit in comfortably with the cast of Big Bang Theory, or that he continues to buy his clothes from the same Good Will costume rack I take my kids to every Halloween.
Perhaps it is his stunning level of hypocrisy, one which makes him an asset to both sides of the BDS wars, that makes it difficult to feel threatened by him or the “movement” he claims to lead. For as much as he and his followers insist we should not talk about the fact that Barghouti leads the cause to have Israeli academics (among others) globally shunned while he himself enjoys his perch in Israeli academia, there is no getting around the fact that he exemplifies the “Do as I say, not as I do” mentality that is the Alpha and Omega of BDS.
I’ve often wondered how Barghouti gets away with continuing his dual role as perpetual Tel Aviv University graduate student and leader of the movement to have people like himself boycotted.
When people on our side point this out, the obvious response from Barghouti and his supporters is to simply ignore what we say (just as they ignore any criticisms or questions they cannot answer – which pretty much includes all topics of substance related to the Middle East). But given that the Dear Leader of the BDS Internationale swims in the shark-infested waters of anti-Israel politics, it’s been pretty amazing that none of his rivals have managed to land a glove on him over this issue.
If I were to guess as to what might provide him this coating of Teflon (at least among the BDS ranks – like those who will swarm to Brooklyn to swoon over his stock speech on Thursday), I’d probably zero in on the one skill he has ably demonstrated over the years: the ability to break into outrage at a moment’s notice.
He’s outraged that you would bring up his private life in a political conversation (despite the fact that he’s trying to meddle in the private life of his fellow Israeli student by having them boycotted). He’s outraged that Israelis would lobby to have him kicked out of TAU for his global campaign against Israeli academia (thus proving how Apartheidy Israel really is). But he’s even more outraged that the school refused to punish him (thus demonstrating the ends those foul Israelis will go to hide how Apartheidy they really are).
If these and all the other inconsistencies that barnacle Mr. Barghouti bewilder you, keep in mind that his ability to burst into flame at the merest mention of anything he doesn’t want to hear (or have others hear) represents the BDS leader’s one asset and the key to his success.
I’ve talked before about Argumentation from Outrage as a tactic that is the cornerstone not just of BDS but of anti-Israeli rhetoric generally. For whenever the BDSer is confronted by a fact or argument they cannot ignore, the next (and only other) arrow in their quiver is to work themselves into an hysterical rage in hope of raising the emotional temperature so high that a reasoned argument (which they were sure to lose) cannot continue.
The trouble with outrage politics is that it also becomes the vehicle through which Israel-haters engage in their own internal dialogs. Which explains why practitioners of this particular tactic seem to rise to the top of most anti-Israel organizations, and why there is so little reflection among anti-Israel activists about why some tactics work and others do not.
BDS is the perfect case in point, given that it’s gobbled up over a decade worth of anti-Israel activist energy, only to deliver embarrassment and failure at every turn.
A normal leader and movement might reflect on these facts and change course (or at least look for alternative strategies that might prove more successful). But to Omar Barthouti and his worshipers, mention of such things (even from fellow Israel-haters) is an outrage.