One of the great pleasures in battling BDS is that rare opportunity to watch the boycotters try to defend their indefensible actions and behavior.
I say “rare” because, for the most part, any reversal, defeat or excess experienced by the BDS “movement” is routinely ignored, or spun into just another form of victory (just like “No” is actually “Yes” to a different question). But with the backlash against the American Studies Association boycott so huge, so diverse, so colorful and complete, supporters of the ASA have had no choice other than to respond.
Perhaps “respond” is too strong a word, since their activities in no way, shape or form resemble anything like those of someone interested in engaging with the substance of what critics have to say. Rather, they are simply rolling out the same sad set of rhetorical tricks that only work well within the BDS bubble.
First, there’s an attempt to minimize the significance of things like hundreds of college Presidents lining up to condemn the boycott for being what it, in fact, is: an assault on academic freedom. My favorite practitioner of this technique is one of the few defenders of ASA on the Facebook page the organizations set up to foster “dialog” who (in between howling about AIPAC’s control of America and questioning the official “narrative” of 9/11) sneers that 200 Presidents condemning them represents less than 5% of the total and thus should be seen as a BDS win.
Where to start? First, you’ve got a fallacy the Greeks ridiculed 2500 years ago that assumes failure to condemn translates into active support. I suppose I could similarly argue that the thousands of academic organizations that have not instituted a boycott must now be considered full-throated friends of Zion (if doing so wouldn’t cause me both logical and rhetorical embarrassment).
But also keep in mind that the BDSers would be masturbating themselves into unconsciousness if just one of these college Presidents came out in support of their polluted program (not to mention spending every waking moment insisting we all accept such hypothetical support as unquestioned proof of their impending moral and political victory). Yet when hundreds of the very college leaders they have been lobbying for over a decade to embrace their project instead come out swinging against it, suddenly the men and women leading America’s colleges and universities are transformed into “The Man.”
This fits in with another frequent counter-backlash argument that characterizes college presidents as part of “The Establishment” coupled with implications that their condemnations were made at the behest of donors and other powerful interests. (Gee, who do you think they’re talking about?) While such a strategy is based primarily on defining principled resistance to BDS out of existence, this focus on college leaders also allows the boycotters to ignore that other members of the academy I mentioned yesterday (notably academic associations and American Studies departments) that have either refused to support, or outright condemned, the American Studies Association boycott.
But when it comes to sheer rhetorical hubris coupled with ineptitude, nothing beats the boycotters’ attempts to put their opponents on the defensive. My second favorite of these attempts is BDS Love Letters, a web site set up by someone with access to e-mail sent to members of the ASA leadership team which posts only those missive containing stupid, ugly or potty-mouth invective.
The goal of such a site is to give the impression that such nastiness represents the Alpha and Omega of the response that has been generated by the American Studies Association boycott (rather than a carefully culled set of letters selected by someone looking for swear words and hitting the Delete button whenever they encounter a well-worded, competent argument). But given how much thoughtful disagreement has been published on the ASA affair to date, BDS Love Letters is just one more demonstration of how boycott supporters are ready to do anything to avoid engaging with their opponents.
You are no doubt curious about my favorite attempt at BDS jui-jitsu, and that award would have to go to the new President of the organization, Lisa Duggan who, in the comment section of this piece, tried to claim that reference to her scholarship on gay issues was actually a coded homophobic attack (with the implication that boycott opponents are not just potty-mouthed paid shills but also bigots).
In a way, this form of attack is the compliment vice pays to virtue. For Duggan would only attempt to put her opponents on the spot through such a move if she assumed them to be sensitive to the anti-Other bigotry that is part of all of us. The interesting thing, of course, is that such sensitivity is purely a one way street. Which is why any attempt to prick the boycotters’ conscience by pointing out the plight of gays in Gaza, for example, is met with shouted accusations of “Pinkwashing” screamed primary to block out things the shouter doesn’t want to hear.
Now most of these techniques (fallacious math, attempts to define and “freeze” the opposition, selective or fanciful use of evidence to put opponents on the defensive) are ones I see all the time from Students for Justice in Palestine type groups made up of college undergraduates. So the only thing really unique about the ASA counterattack is that the people using these tools are PhDs at the steering wheel of a madhouse who can’t even pull off the rhetoric tricks taught to them by the eighteen year olds they are supposedly paid to teach.