Several years ago, I listed three people (two real, one fictional) who have provided inspiration during the BDS wars and other battles in life. But today, I’d like to add three contemporary names to a new Cool Guys list based not on their physical strength or military prowess, but because they are so damned interesting.
Truly intriguing talk is often in short supply when you’re engaged in the anti-Israel propaganda wars. Mostly this is due to the fact that the propagandists don’t have the slightest interest in genuine dialog, which is why they ignore and shout down ideas they don’t want to hear or cannot understand, much less rebut.
Conversing with people on our side is obviously much more interesting than our opponent’s anti-dialog. But given how many of these conversations must start by educating new allies on the basics, or helping friends keep their head when emotion (and the error emotional decision-making can lead to) are running high, it’s always fun to run into thinkers you’d love to share a beer with while arguing out fine points that might not make it into a one-minute speech before a Student Senate.
That first beer would be cracked open with Russell Berman, Walter A. Hass Professor of Humanities at Stanford and the man who delivered this remarkable speech at the annual convention of the American Philosophical Association (APA) regarding why philosophers should shun the blandishment of BDS.
Berman had written before on the subject of academic boycotts, but his APA presentation eloquently explained one of the most important problems with academic boycott proposals targeting Israel: not that they are wrong, simple-minded or anti-Semitic, but that they represent an assault on what the academy and particular fields within the academy holds dearest.
Anthropologists, for example, were asked to throw away the very thing that made their field distinct (appreciation for the extraordinary diversity of human beings and the societies and cultures those human beings create) in order to embrace a narrow, error-ridden interpretation of human reality crafted for them not by scholars, but partisans. They fortunately dodged a bullet that other associations, like the one representing Women’s Studies, gleefully let hit them dead on, ripping out the guts of their presumed belief system as they submitted to the (mostly male) BDSers who now dictate which women they can and cannot fight for.
Philosophy, as the father of all disciplines, would be a particular plum for academic boycotters, giving their hollow program the veneer of thoughtful rigor. It would have also allowed the BDSers to punch above their political weight far more than they can when mushy disciplines like American Studies tries to pretend their political vendettas are compatible with their educational and scholarly mission. This is why Berman’s words – all of them – are well worth reading more than once.
The second cool guy on my list is David Schraub, a fellow peripatetic blogger who has been writing at his Debate Link site for twelve years. I only discovered him recently, and his site has much to agree and disagree with, which I suspect would result in many beers and long conversations if I ever have the good fortune of meeting David in person.
Where we would likely find the most agreement is on the subject of BDS where Schraub, a man fully comfortable in his Progressive skin, continues to tear the BDSers ever more new assholes whenever they try to portray their political demands as the only conceivable choice for those who share David’s political belief system.
As I frequently mention whenever the whole Left vs. Right battle heats up, the fact that most BDS-related debate takes place on the Progressive landscape means we can either treat “The Left” (whatever that means) as the enemy, or as a battlefield on which the BDS wars are being fought. The tough minded defense offered at The Debate Link for both Israel and the blogger’s own Progressive beliefs continues to demonstrate to me why we must avoid treating the Arab war against Israel as a surrogate for domestic Left-Right struggles.
Finally, my last beer(s) would be shared with David Hirsch, probably the most well-known member of this list (at least within BDS/anti-BDS circles). More than anyone else, this David has been battling anti-Israel propaganda within the UK academy, and no one I can think of has written or thought more about the subject. In fact, many current arguments about why we should think of BDS as an anti-Semitic movement are grounded in the coherence he has brought to the subject over more than a decade of writing about it.
Would the work of any of these writers and thinkers fit on a flier or cardboard poster? I suspect not (except perhaps in very small type). But the ideas thoughtful people like them bring to this important subject creates the vocabulary the rest of us use when either penning our own complex arguments, or trying to build those arguments into more pithy statements and strategies that can help us win this or that debate, or kick BDS to the street corner one more time.