In one of the chapters of Like Romans (which first appeared as this essay), I proposed a test we could apply to determine if any political action we take is strategic vs. something else.
That test involves thinking about goals (either our overall goals or goals of a particular campaign) and explaining the steps required for a chosen tactic to lead to those goals. If those steps seem realistic and sensible, then the action is strategic. If they seem contrived or implausible, it might not be.
For example, when I first started blogging on this subject I focused a great deal on BDS failures, fiascoes and excesses by exposing BDS hoaxes, demonstrating what little financial impact the “movement” had on the Israeli economy, and parodying the BDS program and its leaders. While I wasn’t thinking strategically at the time, in retrospect that work could be seen as a tactic to diminish the effectiveness of BDS proponents through ridicule.
Applying the test I just mentioned to this tactic, if my goal was to discredit the BDS tactic to the point where anti-Israeli activists abandoned it (as they briefly did in the mid -2000s), that would require my exposure and parody to reach such a wide audience (either by itself, or through similar ridicule it inspired) that the boycotters would eventually grow weary of a tactic (BDS) whose failures were exposed at every turn and abandon it.
Note that this goal is not the elimination of anti-Israel activism in the world, much less an end to the war on the Jewish state in general, goals too enormous to be achieved by a single tactic. While I could (and have) made the case that discrediting BDS can lead to a “knock-on” discreditation of the wider propaganda campaign that travels under the name “de-legitimization,” for purposes of this analysis, the more modest goal of getting BDS pulled off the world stage is ambitious enough.
The steps required for the ridicule tactic to reach critical mass would involve (1) others picking up on these themes and writing or talking about them often; (2) all that work leading to distrust and laughter being the common response to BDS and its proponents; and (3) BDS activists becoming so distraught over this response that they abandon the tactic.
Now steps being plausible does not mean such steps actually occurred (or occurred yet). For example, exposure of BDS hoaxes has gone mainstream (Step 1) which has led to BDSers not being trusted by the media when they make claims of success (Step 2), and fear of exposure has made them more wary of claiming success they know will be double checked (Step 3). At the same time, wider attempts at ridicule (beyond the #BDSFail meme) have not caught on widely, and the boycotters show no sign of abandoning this tactic due to fear of being made fun of.
It is fair to argue over whether this lack of success was the result of the tactic not being a good one or just not being used widely enough. But I think it’s fair to say that narrower success in the area of BDS hoaxes means the steps outlined above are at least plausible, and thus the ridicule tactic was (and is) strategic.
Now a tactic being strategic doesn’t mean it represents the right strategy, and it is incumbent upon us to reflect on whether we should continue with a tactic that might not be working (or might not be working any longer). But a hard-headed look at how to link what we’re doing to what we want to achieve can at least help us determine if our activity is serving a wider purpose in the first place.
This kind of analysis is particularly important when deciding whether to apply a tactic that is likely to have negative consequences for our side. For instance, a tactic which has caused considerable controversy recently involves the late-night postering of fliers on college campuses that link named anti-Israel activists on campus to Hamas and other terrorist groups. This has caused quite a few problems for on-the-ground pro-Israel students who have been put on the defensive for a campaign they had no part in – as well as creating general rifts within the pro-Israel community.
Now these types of sacrifices might be worth it if such postering campaigns are strategic, meaning (through an analysis like the one you just read) someone can list plausible steps that would lead from this activity to the wider (but reasonable) goal of diminishing BDS activity on campus. These steps might involve anti-Israel activists becoming so embarrassed and distressed that they leave the field demoralized, or the wider campus embracing the link between SJP and terrorism and rejecting BDS.
Personally, I don’t see either of these things happening on the campuses where this tactic has been utilized (quite the opposite – at least so far). But if someone who is involved with this tactic or supportive of it can provide a more thorough, frank analysis (similar to the one you read earlier regarding the ridicule tactic), that would give us a way to determine if this tactic is in service of a strategic goal vs. representing something designed to achieve the non-strategic goal of satisfying the emotional needs of activists.