It’s temping at the end of a school year to play the numbers game: toting up wins and losses on each side to see who’s on top and who’s gaining momentum. And in a year where student votes have gone against the BDSers 15:3 – or maybe 16:4 after Davis rejected divestment (again) but SJP narrowly won a referendum at DePaul – you’ve seen Israel supporters highlighting an unusually high concentration of BDSFails while the boycotters try to define everything (including defeat) as victory in disguise.
I’ve written before about the hazards of relying too much on head-counting (or, in this case, vote counting) which can lead to poor tactical decision-making based on the sometimes irrational faith people place in numerical information. But dwelling on wins and losses within student government bodies also obscures a more fundamental truth that gets lost in the drama of nail-biting ballot races. For as the BDS propaganda campaign closes in on its fifteenth birthday, student government votes are not what the BDSers have accomplished but what they have been reduced to.
I’ve been doing this gig long enough to remember when the first campus divestment petitions cropped up at places like Harvard and Yale. And during those early days, it was not at all clear whether or not some school might actually respond to calls to divest (or at least treat the BDS agenda seriously, giving the “movement” the credibility it so craved).
In retrospect, such concerns were unwarranted. For as we’ve seen over the last decade and a half, college administrators well understand that divestment and boycott calls represent the views of an aggressive, fringe minority willing to put things like campus comity and academic freedom at risk for the sake of their own selfish agenda. Which (as demonstrated by the ASA backlash) has led college Presidents (and other assorted adults) to not just reject BDS demands but to vocally and eloquently condemn it.
Which means everything we’ve seen on college campuses over the last several years: the all-night Student Senate meetings, the blanketing of campuses with anti-Israel propaganda, the shouting and the bullying are ultimately forms of Kabuki drama (albeit delivered via megaphone) where the BDSers ignore both their immediate losses and the fact that their “wins” have never amount to anything.
You need evidence? OK, so let’s go back to the first divestment vote taken by a US-based student government (Wayne State in 2002). Remember that one? I thought not. For a record of this decision only carries on in those “victory” lists the boycotters routinely trot out to demonstrate their unstoppable momentum, documentation that never takes into account that (1) the initial vote led to nothing other than rejection and condemnation by the administration, and (2) subsequent student government votes on the matter didn’t materialize for another decade. And the choice of student government as a target only got made when a freshly minted SJP organization realized it could never convince a school’s administration to divest, nor convince the media to pick up on any more post-Hampshire divestment hoaxes.
How about student referenda like the one that passed at DePaul last week? Well how about the last BDS referendum that passed at Evergreen College in 2011, another forgotten story that led to absolutely nothing since even the staggeringly indulgent administration of Evergreen drew a line at taking student statements on Middle East affairs the least bit seriously.
Again, I don’t want to minimize the role these campaigns play in pumping anti-Israel toxin into a campus environment, lies which a certain percentage of uninformed people will end up accepting as truth. But we should also not minimize the fact that every action triggers a reaction. And, in the case of BDS, this has involved a newly energized pro-Israel community ready to brave the fight (no small feat, given the lengths their opponents will go to shout and shut them down) in order to deliver the truth the Israel-haters are trying so desperately to suppress.
Because no one believes any of these votes and referenda reflect the consensus of the student body, media coverage of this year’s campaigns has been nearly non-existent. And given that the goal of the BDS “movement” is to create an illusion of momentum which they hope can be used to build a self-perpetuating bandwagon, it’s just as well that no one outside of the fever swamps of Mondoweiss is paying much attention of which student councils are voting divestment up or down (mostly down).
At the same time, there is a news story to be found in all the controversy being artificially inseminated into student life, the story of the outrageous lengths anti-Israel groups are willing to visit on campus after campus regardless of the cost to others.
I’ve written before about Israel haters running amok, but the lengths SJP has been willing to go this season surpasses anything I can recall. Their failed attempt to haul political opponents before a student judiciary at UCLA might just seem like the latest chapter of BDS proponents finding new institutions to exploit and corrupt for their own gain. But the fact that SJP chose to not include one of their allies on their suspect list – despite the fact that he had taken the exact same trip SJP was condemning others for going on – demonstrates a level of cynicism I’ve not seen in over a decade of BDS fighting.
Getting back to that DePaul story, about 10% of the student body cast a ballot in last week’s referendum with the pro-divestment side getting 1575 votes and the anti side 1333. If those numbers ring a bell, it’s because you read that piece I mentioned earlier that describes most college campuses where 10% of the student body feels strongly about the Middle East (half on one side and half on the other) while the other 90% either don’t care or wish partisans of all stripes would just shut up and leave them alone.
But for the BDSers, that margin of 242 votes (or around 0. 9% of the student body) means just one thing: DePaul is theirs to do with as they please. And given the behavior we’ve seen on campuses this Spring (including at DePaul), one can only imagine the mayhem they are likely to unleash now that they can pretend to speak for the entire student body.