The leadership of the American Studies Association (ASA) had a bit of a problem as their conference wound to a close last week.
Even before that event began, claims that January’s vote of 16% of the membership represented democratic support for the boycott seemed at odds with the fact that not one American Studies department in the country has shown solidarity with the organization by implementing that decision. And given that the organization’s California and Northeast branches have joined 250 college Presidents and the largest academic organizations in the country in condemning ASA’s boycott motion just increased the number of topics the organization did not want discussed (despite claims that their boycott was started to “open up conversation”).
And then you have the spectacle of an organization insisting it be treated as the inheritors to the tradition of Martin Luther King coming under the scrutiny of California law enforcement for civil rights violations. With that spotlight upon them (not to mention scrutiny of whatever press they could not freeze out of their event), we saw the final unraveling of the policy as ASA’s leadership (which clung to the notion that the boycott was in effect if Israelis who attended their conference did not do so as representatives of their institutions) had to swallow hard as the remaining shred of their boycott was mocked as it went unenforced.
Now there has been some reporting that the boycott has been enacted by individual scholars refusing to work with Israeli colleagues for undisclosed reasons. And while I’m a bit leery of using a couple of anecdotes to demonstrate a trend, if US-based American Studies professors are quietly shunning Israeli students and professors, this would indicate the existence of what is called a furtive boycott, the most cowardly (and ineffective) format the loathsome BDS “movement” can take since it involves taking political action (boycotting fellow academics for political reasons) without letting anyone know your decision represents a political act (since that might get the BDSer into trouble).
With the ASA’s squalid little policy reduced to a mass of contradictions the organization was too incompetent to untangle, it was just a matter of time before the leaders of that organization took to the airwaves to try to regain the initiative. And what better way to do so than to roll out the old “death threat” trope which claims that critics of the boycotters are so hysterical (and potentially dangerous) that they have been showering the organization with calls for blood.
A couple of years back, I actually gave the BDSers the benefit of the doubt when they claimed that some of the criticisms they received contained threatening talk – potentially extending to threats on people’s lives. After all, one need only descend into any comment section of a news story covering the Middle East to see people reduced to shouting accusations of Nazism at one another. So in the heated world of Internet anonymity, it’s certainly possible that some deranged boycott critic might have ratcheted their verbal violence to the level of a death threat.
But then I encountered the “death threat” phenomenon in Olympia Washington, a community where BDS derangement tends to get magnified large enough to where it can be studied like a mutant oversized biology specimen.
In that instance, people who forced a product boycott onto a food co-op in the area were not just saying they had received the odd threatening e-mail. No, at Oly they were telling critics (and, no doubt, each other) that they had received hundreds of personal death threats which had caused many boycott activists to go underground in fear of their lives.
It was only when they were pressed to explain how opponents of the boycott even knew where to send these supposed hundreds (if not thousands) of threats or asked what steps the boycotters took with local law enforcement to deal with what was supposedly a life-threatening emergency that the those hurling “death threat” accusations actually went underground (avoiding any request for evidence of their claims).
It was at that point I realized that the death threat trope seems to be trotted out every time a BDS story broke, which mean that either (1) boycotters routinely receive genuine death threats when they try to enact their program, but never do anything about it (neither to protect themselves nor expose the threateners for shaming purposes); or (2) the entire “death threat” shtick is a fake, designed to put opponents on the defensive while also demonstrating the allegedly threateend boycotter’s stunning bravery.
Given that no security measures were taken during the ASA conference itself (as opposed to cops I had to hire when the new Israeli Consul visited my temple earlier this year to support his own security staff), I’m going to go with option (2) and say that Lisa Duggan’s claims to face threat to life and limb for her courageous stance is just one more clumsy attempt to throw her political opponents off balance and disguise the abject cowardice of everything and everyone involved with the ASA’s boycott.
If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please forward it and I’ll be happy to publically correct this interpretation.