Several striking bits of good news on the campus-wars front from both the Right and Left Coasts.
Here in New England, it looks like the student body of Bowdoin College shot down an academic boycott measure by a massive margin of nearly 5:1.
In this case, the BDS measure was particularly sweeping, consisting as it did of a call for the school to reject any and all academic and cultural connection with the Jewish state. And while the school administration (as always) explained that they had no intention of acting on this measure if it passed, the decision of the student body of a well-respected school to say “Yes” to the BDSers’ maximum demands would certainly have given the boycotters a major propaganda boost.
Fortunately, that student body shouted a definitive “No.” And while I don’t expect to hear anything from our friends in BDS-land beyond more “by losing we really won” rhetoric, when you combine this defeat with the many others they have been handed this semester (including Northeastern, Princeton and UC Santa Barbara – all of which rejected divestment by comfortable margins), it seems as though the “domino effect” BDS champions were planning on (and illustrating) has encountered steel rather than the expected mush as the school year comes to an end.
This phenomenon is best illustrated by the extremely high-profile double defeat that was handed to BDSers this week in California.
First off, the student government body representing all Community Colleges in California rejected a divestment motion by another large margin. No doubt, those advocating for this motion expected to find another student government body detached from the actual needs of those they represent ready to strike a pose (a la UCSA). But instead they found a group that seems to have understood what they were really being asked to do (attach their name and reputation to someone else’s political vendetta). And, as usual, such understanding tends to spell disaster for the forces of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
Speaking of disasters, remember that victory orgy the boycotters threw at UCLA earlier this year (not to mention the appalling behavior they demonstrated on campus before and after that vote)? Well the party that has been at the nucleus of those controversies, the party which has embraced (or been infected by – take your pick) Students for Justice in Palestine and their ever-devouring agenda, was just handed a resounding and historic trouncing at the polls.
Apart from the good news all these stories represent in and of themselves, they also reflect a few points we should keep in mind as we prepare for more BDS battles over the coming months and years, namely:
(1) When divestment seemed to be cropping up on campus after campus this year, many saw this as a sign of increasing momentum for the forces of BDS. But remember that this particular propaganda campaign has a penchant for chasing after any win that seems close at hand, no matter how meaningless or trivial.
For instance, once a boycott had been stuffed down the throat of the Olympia food coop, the boycotters spent the next two years trying to get other cooperatives to follow Olympia’s lead – all to no avail.
Similarly, finally getting a few UC Student Senates to pass divestment resolutions after years and years of failure convinced SJP et al that the dominos were finally falling their way, leading to a tripling down on student government resolutions. But, as with campaigns targeting different civic organizations, tainted wins create antibodies that immunize similar organizations from the BDS virus. And while we will likely see anti-Israel campaigns continue on college campuses for years to come, there now far more precedent for saying “No” vs. “Yes” for other student governments to follow.
(2) Getting back to the UCLA election story, as easy as it might be to think ill of the party that lost, given the corruption scandal they found themselves in (not to mention the knee-jerk effort by some louder members to claim their defeat was based solely on racism), the Principle of Charity (as well as familiarity with student politics) inclines me to believe that this party includes many, many kids genuinely interest in making a positive difference for minority students on campus.
If those hopes are being taken advantage of by more aggressive (and self-serving) party leaders, that is certainly a tragedy (albeit one repeated endlessly in politics – with or without the corruption scandals). But it also needs to be noted that the priority this party gave to divestment – at the behest of their SJP allies – was a significant reason for their defeat against a coalition of student groups opposed to BDS and those who wanted to see student government actually focus on the needs of their constituents (not play Model UN and embarrass them on national television).
Now I don’t know how much effort SJP put into the recent election campaign, but it’s safe to say that whatever campaigning they did on behalf of the losing party was not enough to overwhelm the damage caused by their insistence that divestment be at the top of everyone’s agenda – food for thought for any other minority organization or coalition being asked to make the BDSers’ goals their #1 priority.
(3) The steel vs. mush reference above is a repeat of an old Lenin proverb I’ve highlighted previously on this site: “Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, advance. If you encounter steel, retreat.”
Another aphorism worth pairing with that one is: “You can’t defeat something with nothing.” And in each and every case when Israel’s supporters have been victorious, it is because they got their act together, put aside differences and focused on the challenge at hand: showing BDS the door.
Such victories should not be seen as the start of a new Zionist Renaissance on college campuses. For the campus is certain to remain a war zone in the Arab Israeli conflict (and – as the Prophet Ruth Wisse points out – a laboratory for mainstreaming anti-Semitism in America) for the foreseeable future.
But Wisse has also pointed out that the way to win the propaganda war is for Israel and its supporters to start acting like every other self-respecting nation and community in the world and stop apologizing for the continued existence of and love for the Jewish state. Instead we should demand that others show us the same respect they insist we pay to their nations, ethnicities and causes. And while such universal resoluteness is still a distant hope, all of the stories you’ve read about in this piece demonstrate that it is a concrete goal worth working towards, not some impossible dream or Utopian fantasy.