Well August vacations coupled with the fact that kid #2’s Bar Mitzvah is just five days away has kept posting a little light this month. But an interruption that’s been unfolding over the last week or so has shed light on one of the most valuable assets many of those involved with fighting against anti-Israel propaganda bring to the battle: trust.
Specifics regarding what’s going on are not something I can discuss right now (other than to say it involves a typical High Holiday hatchet-job at a local community). But in dealing with the matter, I’ve been pleasantly reminded how much trust built up over time becomes a vital commodity when action is required.
In this particular case, I’ve had to reach out to community leaders I’ve known for quite some time, people who have come to trust me as someone who would not approach them just to push my own political agenda. And, in turn, they have been able to reach out to other community leaders who trust them based on years of working together as colleagues.
But this trust factor goes beyond the local level. For – as most activists understand – the pro-Israel community is large and diverse, with multiple competing agendas both local and global. Which means getting them to prioritize your concerns is often a challenge, especially when major issues (such as the current Iran debate) are of higher priority.
But in this case, I am not cold calling fellow activists and pleading for attention as a stranger. Rather, the folks I’m asking favors from are people I have done favors for in the past. In other words, they are not hearing from someone who only shows up when something is needed. Rather, we are all interconnected into a community built on mutual support and respect which has created considerable levels of trust over time.
As usual, I bring up these (admittedly vague) references to highlight a broader point: that the time to build up such communities of trust is not when a crisis is underway. Rather, relationships need to start small, be based on mutual respect (rather than one-sided requests or demands) and be allowed to develop over time to the point where that precious commodity of trust can build organically.
If you think about where the BDSers have been the most successful, it has been their efforts to build coalitions with communities sharing comparable agendas. Now these agendas might be radical and controversial, and the boycotters commitment to allies might not extend past trying to use them for their own political gain, but I think it is fair to say that the reason why BDS has found a foothold in movements like “Black Lives Matter” is that they have found ways to build relationships with fellow activists that let them portray their agendas as reflecting a common cause.
And as we prepare for the next SJP onslaught on college campuses across the land starting this Fall, it’s worth asking how much effort has been put into creating similar levels of commonality with people outside the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
Certainly at places like UCLA, such commonality has led to coalitions that have been not just effective but stupendously successful. And many of the student activists I have met over the years have highlighted the importance of reaching out to other groups on campus to ensure that pro-Israel groups don’t stand alone with BDS comes knocking.
But are those relationships short-term ones based on immediate interest (such as seeing BDS defeated in a Student Senate vote) or are they long-term ones where our side is making a commitment to allies, creating a naturally cooperative environment where genuine concern for the other person’s (or group’s) interest becomes a natural part of the dynamic?
Absent trust, all we have is interests to fall back on. And, as history has shown, a tiny people and tiny nation is going to have less interests in common with those trying to build relations with people and nations more numerous, powerful and wealthier than we are (who continue to be mobilized against us).
But just as strategic thinking is a force multiplier, trust is something that builds substantial power – but only for those with the patience to prioritize it over long stretches of time.