BDS Overreach

Commentary Magazine recently ran a piece about the bad month just experienced by the forces of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

My regular reader will be familiar with the three stories cited as examples of the BDSers shooting themselves in one-another’s feet: their Matisyahu/Sunsplash fiasco, the immediate rescinding of a boycott motion in the capital of Iceland, and some damp-squib protests against a concert in South Africa over the performer’s crime of being sponsored by Woolworths (don’t ask).

Long-time BDS watchers will also be familiar with some themes linking these three debacles.

First, there’s the sheer obscurity of the targets. To the BDS mind (such as it is), history might turn on what happens in a remote Reggae dance-and-dope fest in Spain or the city government of Reykjavik, but can you think of any other political movement that rested its legitimacy by alleging such a peculiar klatch of supporters?

Second, all three BDS “triumphs” lasted days or hours before not just being reversed, but blowing up in the boycotters faces – and in the process demonstrating to the world that the distinction Barghouti et al pretend to make between “The Occupation,” Israel and Jews is all but non-existent.

But the most important thing to realize from the BDSers’ bad summer is how much it demonstrates the kind of overreach that inevitably takes place when a radical political movement becomes convinced that they’re on the ascendant.

The mechanism leading to such behavior is remarkably familiar to long-time BDS trackers.  First, an SJP-type group gets off the ground, usually by presenting enough of a moderate face to be able to attract new members whose empathy for a suffering “other” far outweighs their knowledge of the region, its history and current events.  With such “loose change” swelling their ranks, the group begins to take steps to get their program enacted on a college campus or within some other community or civic society organization.

Once that critical mass leads to progress (such as getting a divestment motion introduced into student government), one of two things happen – both of which lead to the same result.

One is that they “win” (by getting a divestment measure passed in student government, for example), after which a sense of vindication, triumph and impending total victory over the “Zionist Entity” and its supporters leads leaders of the group (and some of their more lunatic followers) to let their id off the leash, turning a local victory to a nationwide embarrassment (the best example of this being UC Davis where the news coming out of a vote that went SJP’s way focused on one member declaring that “Hamas and Shariah law have taken over UC Davis.” – nice).

This tends to not faze the group itself, since such over-the-top celebrations are largely designed to give themselves a sense of significance and potency.  But just as groups like SJP et al like to infiltrate organizations in order to co-opt the agenda of others, the very perception of success they broadcast attracts infiltrators from other branches of the anti-Israel movement.  And since aggressiveness and indifference to the suffering and damage they cause (even to allies) is the coin of the realm for BDS partisans, current leaders either get replaced by more radial ones or must increase their own radicalization in order to appear second to none in their hatred of the enemy.

And if the group loses their fight, once they’re done declaring that loss a disguised form of victory, the internal knives come out against “squishes,” i.e., those lacking the zeal and hostility required to win the next round.

In both cases, the next step is further radicalization of an already radical group, coupled with the galvanization of opposing forces (again, as you’ve seen on college campuses) and alienation of moderate members who leave, giving the nut jobs ever more say in what happens next.

Inevitably, this ends with the disintegration of particular instantiations of the “movement.”  In the early 2000s, for example, a group called the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (or PSM) which drove initial divestment activity on college campuses dissolved itself once leaders realized all their resources were being spent keeping others from infiltrating and trying to take them over after their perceived success.  And after each loss during the municipal divestment debate in Somerville between 2004 and 2006, the group behind that effort (called the Somerville Divestment Project or SJP) imported more radicals into their ranks, shedding moderate supporters in a process that ended with their dissolution.

Which means that even if they have the numbers and organizational wherewithal to set up branches on 100+ campuses and run a national conference, the same end result is inevitable for Students for Justice in Palestine.  The only question is, what can be done to speed this process along?

Exposing the radical and bigoted nature of such groups early and often is clearly one step already underway.  And even if an SJP or similar group on a particular campus may be low key and led by people who don’t continually say stupid, embarrassing things, it is well within our rights to wrap the Matisyahu, Davis and similar stories around the necks of every anti-Israel group in the land, regardless of any direct connection.  For the nasties behind those fiascos are part of the BDS brotherhood, and given that every BDS group fights in common cause, they should be answerable for one another’s behavior.

Also, since popular politics tends to get driven by story formation, we need to increase our efforts to replace the BDSers prime story (that Israel is the successor to Apartheid South Africa) with our own tale: that the fervency of SJP and other member of the anti-Israel network is designed to cover up the fact that they fight alongside forces currently tearing the Middle East apart, requiring the Israel haters to shout ever louder to drown out the screams of the victims their allies are creating in untold numbers.

Now the inevitable demise of one anti-Israel organization doesn’t mean the fight ends when this or that group dissolves itself.  For anti-Israel politics is driven by anti-Israel fanatics whose self-righteous hatred is never squelched when the organizations they lead or belong to go down the tubes.

But just as Israel has managed to not just survive but thrive by not giving in to hatred even as those that hate her prove their anti-Zionist cred by slitting one another’s throats and reducing their own societies to rubble, so too we must never shake our resolve – even if armies of hypocritical bigots insist that everything they are responsible for is our fault.



One Response to BDS Overreach

  1. Brian Goldfarb September 28, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Jon, this sounds remarkably like the tale unfolding here in the UK regarding the British Labour party. And I speak as a leftists who hasn’t felt able to vote for his natural party for the last two general elections in the UK.

    Now, it’s worse: the party has elected as leader a far-leftist (Jeremy Corbyn) who has failed to distance himself from nasty people like Hamas and Hezbollah,who remains Chair of the national Palestinian Solidarity Committee, and so forth.

    There are even stories in the UK national press that his allies on the far left are preparing to infiltrate local parties to deselect “moderate” MPs and are re-admitting even farther left ex-members who were expelled in the 1980s as infiltrators.

    One thing is clear: if they remain in charge of the party, it will lose the next general election in 2020 by a huge margin. Before then, they will either implode (because of a fight-back by the “centre” and “right” of the party), or they will destroy it.

    Unlike a disappearance of the BDS movement (an outcome devoutly to be desired), this will leave a devastating hole in UK politics, because the other centre-left party (the Liberal-Democrats) have also disintegrated.

    This is not good news for a genuine democracy: no viable opposition to keep the government honest.

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