ASA and Oxfam – Another Thought Experiment

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Thought Experiments

Time for yet another thought experiment, this one designed to answer the question I ended my last piece with, namely, what makes the nature of BDS so unfathomable to those who (like ASA and Oxfam) become its willing victims?

To kick things off, think about a political issue you care passionately about.  Maybe it’s pollution or global warming, or perhaps you are outraged by the genocide the government of Sudan has practiced in Darfur or the behavior of China in Tibet.  This political passion might even have to do with the Middle East conflict.  For instance, I happen to hold beliefs no less passionately regarding who is right and who is wrong in that conflict as do the BDSers (although hopefully more informed by facts and reason).

OK, now think about the various institutions you belong to and possibly even lead: perhaps a church or synagogue, maybe a professional or civic organization.  And from this list, pick one that, if they endorsed your political beliefs, would help amplify your positions far beyond what you can do on your own.

But let’s say that after some consideration and talking with other members of the civic group you have chosen, you learn that others do not share your beliefs (or, going even further, hold beliefs opposite to yours with the same vehemence as do you).   And in addition to offending these members (who may, in fact, hold a minority view within the chosen group), you know with certainty that getting this organization to officially endorse your views will cause significant damage to its central mission.

So what do you do next?  Well, if you are a normal person, you might find other outlets for your political activity (such as joining or starting a different organization that has advocating for your beliefs as its primary purpose).  Or, if getting this or that civic group to participate in your chosen political activity is absolutely vital, you might spend time educating members in order to achieve consensus around both your beliefs and the need for the organization to act on them.  But even if you went down this controversial route, I would guess most of you would try to find some form such an endorsement could take that would minimize wider fallout.  And I suspect you would be willing to ultimately take “No” for an answer.

Now that you have thought through how a normal person (or political movement) might behave, think about how much this diverges from the behavior of those pushing boycott, divestment and sanctions directed against Israel.

To pick a couple of examples, when BDSers determined that their boycott program would offend many, many members of food coops around the country, they simply leveraged the loose rules those coops had in place regarding product boycotts (rules that never had to be air-tight since they were based on the assumption that coop members would take one-another’s needs into consideration) to force boycott votes (or simply implement a boycott behind the backs of the membership).

Or how about the Presbyterian Church which has official voted down anti-Israel divestment motions in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Again, a normal political movement would get the message and move on.  But, as we’ll see when the church meets this summer for their 2014 General Assembly, the BDSers are willing to force a vote again and again and again (possibly forever) until the organization “gets it right” by doing what they say.

This type of militant politics must seem strange to the typical groups targeted by BDS: progressive organizations with a concern for human rights (even if acting on that concern is not central to their mission) who presume that anyone bringing a political matter before them is sincere about their goals and acting in the normal fashion outlined in the thought experiment that started this piece.

The notion that a food coop, or the Presbyterian Church, or the American Studies Association or Oxfam are just a means to an end for the BDSers is what is unfathomable to these organizations.  For most people participating in a civic institution understand that members of that institution have different (often opposing) beliefs and needs – which makes harmony within such groups a marvelous thing since it means those individuals have put aside differences to work together for a common good.

In contrast, the BDSers perceive these groups as existing for one purpose and one purpose only: to pass their BDS resolutions.  And not just pass them, but do so in ways that will cause maximum damage to the institutions primary purpose.

I happen to sympathize with critics of ASA’s boycott policy that are equally hostile to some of the anti-boycott legislation being proposed at the state and national level.  But then why are statehouses and Congress even talking about ASA, except for the fact that the association decided to take a stance that has brought the wrath of the academy and others down on everyone’s heads? And rather than contemplate the role their own behavior played in creating these controversies, the very same ASA leaders who triggered a crisis are now demanding everyone in the field take sides in a debate that should never have gotten started (one over who gets to decide where and how much academic freedom can be limited based on political need).

Moving onto Oxfam, this is an organization dedicated to doing good in the world (they are one of the most important groups helping victims of Syria’s civil war, for example).  And, no doubt, having Scarlett Johansson as one of their ambassadors has also done some good in terms of raising their profile and funds.

But rather than allowing the organization to express disappointment and agree to disagree over the film star’s decision to endorse a soda manufacturer, members of an alleged “international human rights community” who are BDSers first, Oxfamers second, required – once again – that everyone choose a side.

One of the dilema’s Oxfam finds itself in has to do with ambiguity.  For, from my perspective anyway, the role of the SodaStream (a company that is consciously trying to build bridges to peace through economic activity) and its location (on a piece of disputed territory likely to end up as part of Israel in any peace agreement) is complicated.  And while Oxfam is free to claim that this situation is, in fact, crystal clear, that leaves them limited room to claim ambiguity as a defense when it comes time to explain why a branch of the organization giving money to organizations central to BDS are doing so for purposes other than promoting BDS.

One of those organizations happens to be called “Who Profits?,” and to end this piece (finally), I’d like to ask the question of who profits when an organization is attacked, lets down friends and allies or is torn apart in order to ensure Omar Barghouti has something to boast about on the pages of The New York Times? Not ASA (or its members).  Not Oxfam (or the people it is trying to help).  No, the only people profiting from the manufactured BDS controversies over the last few months are the boycotters themselves, which makes the real question why other people are willing to pay such a high price for someone else’s political bragging rights.

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13 Responses to ASA and Oxfam – Another Thought Experiment

  1. Betty February 8, 2014 at 4:03 am #

    1.Political correctness trumps all. It’s about appearing to be doing what you say you are doing and getting in the donations for whatever you actually end up doing.
    2. These organisations are infinitely vulnerable because a determined minority can take over the decision making processes by using the very democratic means and constitutions that are meant to make theses organisations carry out the will of the “majority” . One need only look at the tactics used at the ASA to get an idea of how the rules can be subverted and “right ” decisions passed. It wouldn’t be the first time that a determined minority have taken power and then peverted the organisations aims. Another example is Human Rights Watch.

  2. Michael Lumish February 8, 2014 at 5:16 am #

    I guess the question that I have, Jon, is who are these western BDSers and where do they come from?

    Which is to say, what political movement do they come out of? Are they Neo-Nazis? Skin-heads? Klansmen? Hard-line right-wingers?

    Or do they come from someplace else on the political spectrum?

    What are their venues? When you look at their magazines and newspapers and on-line blogs and political journals, do you find them to be of a particular political cast or do they represent some amorphous unidentifiable grouping with no general political orientation?

    I come out of the Democratic Party and the political left.

    So, just who are these people?

    • Michael Lumish February 10, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

      No response?

      Gosh, who are these hard-line right-wing haters of Israel?

      • Fred Milton Olsen February 11, 2014 at 1:36 am #

        This is a great question. In their haste to stifle the story, loyal American MSM sayanim have also managed to keep knowledge of who is on either side of the controversy out of the hands of the public. They consider this knowledge to be a necessary casualty.

        Instead of killing the story, I say let’s give every institution a chance to stand up and be counted for or against.

        How will Jews know who their friends or enemies are? It’s easy to spot a skinhead, but how do you spot a person whose opposition to Israel isn’t based on bigotry, but instead on rational thought and self-interest?

        Unless American Jews are getting secret briefings from Israel via their Rabbis, they are as ignorant of who is on who’s side as anyone.

      • fizziks February 12, 2014 at 1:07 am #

        Hard-line right wing haters of Israel include Ron Paul, Pat Buchannon, and David Duke.

        • Michael Lumish February 12, 2014 at 6:23 am #


          please believe me when I tell you that this is not personal and that I hold your advocacy for Israel, and thus the Jewish people, in great respect.

          But surely by this point you are willing to acknowledge that BDS is a political movement… of sorts… that primarily comes out of the Left in the west.

          I think that you are a good man, but my message is that you have been betrayed, ultimately, by your own political allies.

          This is not what I want, but there it is before our very eyes.

          • fizziks February 12, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

            BDS is a movement of the far left, but your question was who are the right wing haters of Israel, and I answered it. To that, I could add Golden Dawn and Jobbik. Israel hate is on both sides.

          • Michael Lumish February 13, 2014 at 6:10 am #


            you are mistaken.

            The question that matters, the question that I am asking, is from what part of the political spectrum does BDS primarily come from?

            Perhaps I was not precise enough in my language, but that is, indeed, my question. I find it remarkable that at this late date you are still essentially denying that BDS is primarily a movement from the Left in Europe and the US.

            And the thing of it is, as you know, I come out of the Left, myself.

            The difference is that when I stood there at Civic Center, in San Francisco, at my tenth or twelfth anti-war rally and saw that Nazi Swastika intertwined with a Shield of David, I knew at that moment that the Left had betrayed their core values.

            You talk to me like I am an enemy from the right.

            I am not.

        • Fred Milton Olsen February 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

          I agree that Pat B. and David D. have it in for Israel.

          Ron Paul is a different matter. You can read his political positions here at Wikipedia, including on Israel. Paul would like to cut aid entirely to the Middle East. He states that “the surrounding Arab nations get seven times as much aid as Israel gets and also a recent study came out that showed that for every dollar you give to an Arab nation it prompts Israel to spend 1.4 dollars.”[325] Paul would not stop Israel from defending its interests in any way it saw fit.[325]

          • Fred Milton Olsen February 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

            Ron Paul also supported Israel’s bombing of the Osirak reactor site in 1981.

  3. Fred Milton Olsen February 10, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    >>>> In contrast, the BDSers perceive these groups as existing for one purpose and one purpose only: to pass their BDS resolutions. And not just pass them, but do so in ways that will cause maximum damage to the institutions primary purpose.

    This is not at all in contrast with AIPAC, who doesn’t mince words when they say that as far as they are concerned, the American congress is there for one thing and one thing only, to pass legislation beneficial to Israel. Collateral political damage doesn’t seem to concern them at all.

    Ride them goyim donkeys!

    • fizziks February 12, 2014 at 1:06 am #

      AIPAC never said that about Congress.

      Also Mr. Olsen’s comment should be deleted.

      • Fred Milton Olsen February 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

        Oh, so sorry. I forgot. AIPAC’s duties must be in service of getting legislation passed the benefits some OTHER country.


        You will ask that I be censored for quoting the founder of the Shas party?

        From Wikipedia:

        Ovadia Yosef (Hebrew: ?????? ?????; Arabic: ??? ???? ????? ‘Abdullah Youssef)[2] (September 24, 1920 – October 7, 2013)[3] was a Talmudic scholar, an authority on Jewish religious law (halakha), and the longtime spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-orthodox Shas party. Born in Iraq, he was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983. Yosef’s response (religious law rulings) were highly regarded within Haredi circles, particularly among Mizrahi communities, among whom he was regarded as “the most important living halakhic authority.”

        Yosef became a notable figure in Israel’s politics after founding the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party in 1984.[5] He later took a less active role in party politics but remained the party’s spiritual leader until his death. Shas champions the interests of Jews In an October 2010 sermon, Yosef stated that “The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews”. He said that Gentiles served a divine purpose: “Why are Gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat. That is why Gentiles were created.”

        In the same article in The Jerusalem Post, according to the journalist who interviewed him, Yosef compared Gentiles to donkeys whose life has the sole purpose to serve the master: “In Israel, death has no dominion over them… With gentiles, it will be like any person – they need to die, but [God] will give them longevity. Why? Imagine that one’s donkey would die, they’d lose their money. This is his servant… That’s why he gets a long life, to work well for this Jew. Gentiles were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel.”

        Please be specific about which, if any, of my points you feel you can challenge the factuality of. Nebulous, non-specific denials and ad hominems get NO points.

        Thank you for participating!

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