Somerville Divestment Revisited – Propaganda

Over the course of August, I’m republishing a series of posts from a now-defunct site that covered the first major municipal divestment fight that took place in Somerville MA between 2004-2006.  A description of how that issue played out can be found here and I hope these essays will continue to be useful for those battling against the BDS propaganda arm of the anti-Israel war movement (as well as demonstrating how divestment was and can continue to be soundly defeated by people of good will ready to take up the fight).  

A fellow named Rich Cowan wrote a couple of articles a few years back on “Confronting Right Wing Actions and Arguments.”  Part of the work he posted to the Internet referenced “seven hallmark tricks of the manipulative propagandist” originally described by The Institute for Propaganda Analysis, a now-defunct organization created to help counter right-wing propaganda in the 1930s.

Below is a list of Institute’s seven “tricks” along with excellent examples of how such tricks have been used in Somerville’s current divestiture debate:

Name Calling – Hanging a bad label on an idea

Such as taking the enormously complex issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict where 22 Arab nations have been warring with one Jewish state directly and through proxies for generations, and reducing everything to the simple, inaccurate term of “apartheid.”

Card Stacking – Selective use of facts or outright falsification

Such as presenting suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza while making no mention of the role the Palestinian’s own murder campaign has played in creating their plight, much less ever once mentioning the 1000+ victims of Arab terror that might provide some context for Israeli actions.

Band Wagon – A claim that everyone like us thinks this way

Such as highlighting a few shaky “successes” (like the Presbyterian Church) while failing to mention of the fact that divestiture has failed on every campus in the country.

Testimonial – The association of a respected or hated person with an idea

Such as dishonestly presenting a fringe Israeli voice (see Voices) as representing popular Israeli support for divestiture.

Plain Folks – A technique whereby the idea and its proponents are liked to “people like you and me”

Such as creating a “grass roots” Somerville organization whose leadership is made up of the same, non-Somerville people that have been at the forefront of every anti-Israel activity of the last twenty-five years, and presenting it as a local movement.

Transfer – An assertion of a connection between something valued or hated and the idea or commodity discussed

Again, read “apartheid.”

Glittering Generality – An association of something with a “virtue word” to gain approval without examining the evidence

The list is long.  In this debate, the terms “human rights,” “fairness,” “socially responsible investing” have all been used to dress up a petition which calls for Israel, alone among all nations in the world, to be economically punished.  If the petition is ever passed, count on these soft words to be replaced by a much harder message: that Somerville has declared Israel to be a racist, apartheid state that the rest of the world should join Somerville in punishing.

Interestingly enough, the author of this article on countering right-wing propaganda offers an acknowledgement to Ron Francis, currently a member of the Somerville Divestment Project, thanking him for discussions that helped with the presentation of his arguments.

How is it then that this same Ron Francis is responsible for using virtually every propaganda “trick” described above?  How can a movement which wraps itself in progressive and human rights vocabulary be following the same rules that in another context would be condemned as right-wing propaganda?

An answer can be found if one looks past the rhetoric to the reality.  Despite its pretence to liberality, the divestment movement has been rejected by virtually every progressive place where it has been introduced.  America’s universities in particular have overwhelmingly rejected divestment, Harvard being just one example where divestment was out-petitioned ten to one.

Having lost on the campuses, and being on such shaky ground with municipalities that they have to try to sneak in a resolution vote without public notice, the divestment movement finds itself with few natural allies.  Actually, that’s not quite right.  Their movement is loudly supported by almost two-dozen Arab governments, including some of the most repressive, racist, sexist, homophobic, reactionary regimes left on the face of the earth.

With allies such as these, and so few friends among those who both understand and care about Middle East issues, is it any wonder that tactics divestiture’s champions would condemn as right-wing if used by others are the only remaining arrows in their quiver?

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