The motto “Don’t panic, don’t be complacent” continues to be my mantra when dealing with BDS and other variants of the propaganda war (masquerading as a “peace movement”) targeting the Jewish state.
After all, panic can lead to handing the BDSers mountains of free publicity, especially if we get worked into a media-covered frenzy over trivialities, or what turn out to be frauds and hoaxes. Remembering that the propagandist’s job is to create the appearance of political momentum (in hopes that this appearance will eventually turn into reality), we need to make sure that our political choices don’t feed into the public narrative they are trying to create.
At the same time, serious political action sometimes requires a sense of crisis as a motivator. And if you look at the biggest BDS story so far this year: the choice of US state governments, and now the federal government, to impose sanctions on those who participate in BDS, one could argue that this real (vs. fake) political movement (which may eventually expand to dozens of states) represents a backlash against perceived BDS momentum over the last 12-18 months.
William Jacobson makes a direct link between today’s “Sanctioning BDS” frenzy and the American Studies Association (ASA) academic boycott put into place at the start of 2014. And while my first thought was that such a mono-causal explanation might be a bit reductionist, it did remind me that my own return to battle was motivated by outrage over ASA shenanigans.
If a more comprehensive narrative is written years from now (hopefully after BDS has return to its coffin), I suspect that the ASA boycott (ineffective as it eventually turned out to be) resembles the Hampshire divestment hoax of 2009 – a faux “success” which convinced an Israel-hating coalition that is always looking for new ways to push forward its war agenda that pressing down on the BDS pedal was the way to go.
The year before ASA’s boycott made headlines, the BDSers had to contend with fairly thin gruel (repeats of a few campus fights, Steven Hawking, continued boycott threats – but little action – in Europe). But once ASA started generating the headlines all boycotters crave, it galvanized them to embrace the BDS tactic more closely. And with last summer’s Gaza war (combined with the need to shout ever louder to drown out the cries of millions being killed or driven from their homes in the non-Israeli parts of the burning Middle East), anti-Israel frenzy paired to BDS campaigns grew in both number and visibility.
And even if any one of these stories could be contextualized or minimized (the Presbyterian’s embrace of BDS as a last act of a dying church, the cowardice of ASA leaders who refuse to actually implement the boycott they forced on the organization, the irrelevance of student council votes, etc.), taken together they created a real sense of fear that BDS might be going somewhere after all.
But if every political action has an opposite and much larger reaction, then the backlash against the perception of success the BDSers were cultivating was equally inevitable.
You see this backlash playing out when Israeli officials take off the gloves and condemn he boycotters for the bigots and warmongering propagandists that they are. You see it in the choice of pro-Israel organizations and their funders to make the fight against BDS a priority. And you see it when Israel’s natural allies – the American people, through their representatives in state and national government – decided that they would turn the tables and vote in sanctions against those who support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions “movement.”
Anyone who has ever had to deal with the law-making understands that it often takes a crisis to get legislators to prioritize certain issues. Which is why a sense of urgency (sometimes triggered by panic and hysteria) can sometimes serve a useful role. And since many political bodies only tend to act when others have gone first, anti-boycott law in a couple of states motivated by a sense of crisis might eventually turn into a majority of US states putting the world (especially Europe) on notice that playing footsie with Barghouti is no longer cost free.
Speaking of Europe, even if hysteria played some motivating role with regard to the current frenzy for anti-boycott legislation, as Jacobson points out in the piece linked above, that legislation is extraordinarily strategic and pragmatic.
For the only place where sanctions with genuine teeth posed any sort of economic threat to the Israeli economy was within the EU where triangulating government officials and business people continue to search for ways to suck up to Israel’s enemies in ways that don’t put their overall economic interests at risk. And while Startup Nation (and natural gas) might eventually put Israel on economic par with its foes (which is likely to generate new “moral” calculations on the Continent), recent US legislation puts Europe on notice now that they can either have their cake or eat it, but not both.
So should I revise my slogan to start with “Don’t panic, unless it leads to useful results…”? Not necessarily. For even if a few wise (and calm) souls managed to channel energies generated by hysteria towards useful purpose, we should not lose sight of the fact that fear of their success creates the Oxygen the boycotters need to survive.
Which means that even as the BDSers try to use the reaction against them to prove their effectiveness, we need to continue to point out that all they have ever managed to succeed in doing is create wall-to-wall revulsion against them and everything they stand for.