While Israel, it’s friends and allies can be stubborn – even bullheaded – about issues (even when we’re wrong), I still give us the edge over our fantasy-laden opponents who don’t just ignore things they don’t want to hear but have constructed their own version of reality in which to dwell.
This is not to say that fanatical verve doesn’t pack a political punch. But so does stopping to look – and relook – at reality as it is. To draw from my most frequently used rhetorical quiver, the IDF’s ability to defeat much larger armies over and over is due less to sophisticated weaponry than to their ability to learn from past errors (strategic and tactical) when faced with an enemy that continues to make the same mistakes again and again.
I bring this up because my recent participation in the StandWithUs anti-BDS conference got me thinking about a couple of issues I’ve spent a good deal of time talking about here at Divest This over the years, and questioning whether my stance on those issues is still accurate or relevant.
The first one I’d like to publically consider is my whole shtick regarding BDS being a “loser.” Long time readers know that this has been a theme of many a piece on this site, and characterizing BDS in such a way is an important part of the strategy I have either used or recommended to those fighting boycott and divestment activities in their communities. But few other positions have generated as many arguments between me and my allies in the anti-BDS project.
Now I could be come up with glib answers to questions regarding how I can call a “loser” a movement that is generating so much controversy on college campuses, and has even managed to knock off organizations like PCUSA after hammering on them for a decade. Sure, it’s fun to mock the boycotters when they break into a riot or bust into tears when they lose a battle, but given that their strategy involves relentlessly refighting the same battle over and over again until they win, is “loser” still an appropriate term for the BDS “movement?”
But rather than dismiss such questions as examples of panic or falling for the boycotter’s own propaganda, it is worth giving consideration to the overarching question of whether the situation has changed since the fight against BDS began.
Keep in mind that my choice to use and reuse the “loser” term was not just an attempt to attach a label to our opponents that is very difficult for them to take off (since declaring yourself not to be a loser is only something a loser would do). Rather, it was based on a set of facts – many of which are still highly relevant.
For example, a successful boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (like the ones that targeted South Africa, Sudan and – until recently – Iran) should involve significant numbers of people actually boycotting, divesting or sanctioning the target of that campaign and should at least be able to demonstrate the ability to deliver an increment of financial pain.
But after close to a decade-and-a-half of effort, the “successes” the boycotters keep pointing to – added all together – would barely sum to a rounding error on one month of Israel’s balance-of-trade figures. In fact, just as Israel’s alleged “genocide” has resulted in a Palestinian population explosion, a fifteen-year program to make the Israeli economy suffer has been accompanied by an explosion in economic growth, exports from and investment in the Jewish state.
Similarly, even if you just presume BDS is a convenient tactic to get respected institutions to lend their reputation to the defamation of Israel and its supporters, consider whose reputation has been more tarnished over the last year: the American Studies Association and PCUSA that embraced the BDS agenda or the nation they formally chose to condemn?
And winning movements with serious momentum don’t continue to pass off pretend victories as real ones, or dress up their true agenda in fake outfits in order to trick people into voting for them by claiming the vote is really about something else. In other words, the very deception that makes up so much of the BDS playbook is another sign of the “movement’s” weakness rather than strength.
All that said, I would be remiss to ignore the power BDS campaigns have to insinuate themselves into a community and generate headlines at the expense of Israel and its friends (not to mention at the expense of the insinuated organization). And successful tactics (such as taking over student governments you failed to convince) are both clever and troubling since they are easy to replicate and generate headlines (and thus perceptions of momentum).
Still, I’ve never been convinced that the most recent incarnation of BDS which began in 2009 has ever truly generated its own momentum vs. attaching itself parasitically to the momentum of other events. For example, BDS efforts always seem to get redoubled after a Gaza war breaks out, which is no accident since they are the propaganda adjunct of those who insist on starting and restarting those wars. And the Red-Green alliance that has the Greens conquer territory while the Reds explain why the rest of the world has no right to stop them has become the greatest threat facing humanity since the fall of the last century’s dictatorships, with BDS such a small player in that alliance to hardly merit notice.
And let’s not forgot that claims regarding Israel’s imminent threat of isolation and official sanction only seem less the stuff of fantasy due to the appalling behavior of the current US administration which has decided to make Israel their preferred villain as the entire Middle East (and beyond) bursts into flames. After all, a less unpredictable (and genuine, simple) “critic of Israeli policies” would have made sure the boycotters of the world understood that the US remained a bulwark against their efforts, even as they dinged Israel and its leaders over this or that disagreement.
I guess this is a long way of saying that, even though we find ourselves fighting against BDS on more fronts that before, that this still does not change my mind over the program falling into the category of “loser.” A winning boycott or divestment program, after all, would have generated genuine results by now. It would be able to leverage the gifts they enjoy (such as support of some of the world’s wealthiest dictatorships) to even slightly move the needle on the public’s support for the Jewish state. And it would lead, rather than follow, the rest of the well-funded, well-organized and well-staffed anti-Israel delegitimization campaign.
But BDS has done none of that. Which means that rather than confusing mayhem with momentum, we should still consider it the weakest link in the de-legitimization chain, one we can continue to pull on by handing the BDSers their next defeat, and ignoring or dismissing their latest claimed victory as decisively as they ignore all of their massive failures.